1. What have the Minnesota Wild done in the first few games that is worth noting, good or bad?
Kras: Having won 1 and lost 1 in their 2 games thus far, it is hard to make too many conclusions as to what this team will be over the course of the season. In their first game on the road at St. Louis, the Wild looked sluggish and didn’t come out and impress. I don’t believe it was so much the Wild not playing well, but rather the Blues playing a good game from start to finish. On Saturday, the Wild played the Jets, at home, and looked much better in that outing. The Wild were the far better team on the ice the entire game. The Jets broke the 0-0 tie in the first period on a pair of late goals resulting from a lapse in defense in the Wild’s zone ultimately hanging Devan Dubnyk out to dry. From that point on it was all Wild. Eric Staal and Chris Stewart, both new additions this season, showed up on the score sheet for the Wild, which is promising. Scoring goals and getting the “new guys” involved right away this season will only help build confidence for this team and their coach.
JJ Benz: I think the main thing to note is about the power play and particularly the personnel that is on it. The second thing is the success the power play is having.
2. If Adrian Peterson returns this season, does he take over as the Vikings starter?
Kras: If it were my decision I would have to say no. He would certainly be involved, but I would be hard pressed to make him the clear RB1 on the team. The Vikings are still undefeated without him and the offense seems to have enough productivity without him that Adrian’s return isn’t the most important issue this team faces. A.P. is not the most accomplished pass blocker, which we all know, and that might be the bigger concern if he returns to the backfield. I think doing everything to keep Sam Bradford healthy is the most important issue for the Vikings. They have running backs (McKinnon, Asiata) on the team already that are serviceable and have got the job done to date.
JJ Benz: Adrian Peterson is a Hall of Fame RB and he has built up enough credit that he will undoubtedly take over the starting role when he is healthy.
Nate Leer: IF AP makes it back before the season is over, I am sure he will be re-inserted as the starter. The real question to me is how much the offense becomes tailored to his skills and how much of the workload he gets. It will be late in the year before AP even has a chance to play. The Vikes may be able to do something similar to what the Cowboys are doing with Tony Romo and ease AP back in only when he is fully healthy. Down the stretch and into the playoffs, having a threat like AP on the field is too valuable even if he is mostly just a decoy.
3. Is the 3-1 preseason record of the Minnesota Timberwolves anything meaningful?
Kras: It is hard to put a whole lot of stock into a preseason record but I do think it is a good thing to see the Wolves with a winning record. If nothing else, it gives confidence to the team, to let them know that they can win. I’m sure they all believe they can win but it is not something that the Wolves have done with any regularity in some time. The Wolves getting wins, preseason wins or not, is a good thing and hopefully it will translate to the regular season and beyond.
Nate Leer: The record really matters not at all. Getting the players some time under new head coach Tom Thibodeau is what is important at this stage. Confidence from some success could be helpful but the first time a regular season squad starts to put a run on them, that confidence will go out the window. Learning how to be mentally tough, play good team D and run efficient offense will be what makes these Young Pups better than past years. That can only come with time and effort, not hollow preseason wins.
1. Which of the remaining teams in the MLB playoffs is in the best position the win the World Series?
Kras: If the Cubs would have gone up 2-0 in the series against the Dodgers, it would make this easier to answer. That is not the case however, the series is 1-1 and it seems like whoever I have picked to win in this postseason has failed to do so. I would have to put the Cubs at the top of the list of teams to win it all, but it really is an open race to the finish line. The Cubs will make it interesting I’m sure, but their team depth will be tough outlast.
JJ Benz: I think that you could make a case for either the Cubs or the Indians. The Cubs have an extremely deep team in every way, the pitching staff is 3 or 4 deep and the bullpen is solid. Also it helps the Cubs that Kershaw can’t pitch every day. The Indians seem to have something magical going on with this team, more specifically the pitching staff. These guys are playing out of their minds and are close to sweeping two straight from some of the best offensive teams in the league. I have to wonder if Tito has sold his soul for post season success.
Nate Leer: I think, more than ever, the Cubs look like the team to beat. Sure, their hitters are young but Clayton Kershaw may be the only pitcher left who can effectively use their aggressiveness against them. Otherwise, the Cubs look like by far the most complete team with front-line starting pitching, elite arms at the back of the bullpen, good D, powerful O and an elite manager.
2. What NFL teams surprised in week 6?
Kras: This first team is not so much of a surprise but rather impressive, and that would be the Dallas Cowboys. They are a solid team by all accounts but going into Green Bay and getting a decisive 30-16 victory is impressive. The Cowboys are getting good effort from a defense that I didn’t think would hold up this well. Along with that, the QB play from Dak Prescott has been exceptional and Ezekiel Elliott has also been a monster and continues to gain big chunks of yardage behind an offensive line that is second to none right now. The Denver Broncos losing at home against a mediocre Chargers team is surprising as well, just not in any way positive. The Broncos defense has not played like a championship defense as of late. It was not all the defense though, as the offense had its share of problems. The offensive line had multiple holding penalties that called back more than 1 first down run by CJ Anderson. It was a sloppy effort to say the least. The Broncos leading receiver on Thursday was Emmanuel Sanders, who only totaled 40 yards. They are going to need to get more from their offense going forward in order to keep pace in the AFC.
JJ Benz: I think the most surprising team has to be the Carolina Panthers. The defense is so bad they can’t stop average passing games. They drafted 4 corners in the 2016 draft but only 1 played on Sunday. The rest of the guys look like practice team talent.
Nate Leer: The biggest surprise to me is also a team that is underachieving, the other half of the matchup Kras mentions – the Packers. While I never thought their D was that good, QB Aaron Rodgers and the O have looked very ordinary and I did not expect that. With WR Jordy Nelson back, this offense looked poised to re-emerge as a force. However, Rodgers just does not seem to be the player he was as recently as the first half of last season and clearly he makes the rest of the offense go.
3. What NHL teams have caught your attention so far this season?
Kras: St. Louis has looked good early. They got a big opening night win at Chicago and are now off to a 3-0 start. Jake Allen seems to be have bounced back nicely from last season’s injuries that kept him sidelined and in a time share with then backup, Brian Elliott (Calgary). Allen will be the main goalie for the Blues who are playing good hockey in front of the crease as well. Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko are off to hot starts this season as well as defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo. I think Toronto is worth noting as well. More specifically, rookie Auston Matthews netting 4 goals in his NHL debut. The Maple Leafs are going to need to get production from players other than Matthews if they want to be relevant moving forward. They are going to have a tough, uphill climb in the Atlantic Division and will likely be battling for one of the last couple playoff spots.
JJ Benz: The team that has caught my attention is the Edmonton Oilers. The first line has been pretty potent so far this year, number 1 in scoring. Milan Lucic addition might be the best move of the offseason. If the Oilers can get some good play out of their goaltenders, they might have a chance to make a run at a very crowded playoff picture.