1. Is it safe to say the Timberwolves will not be a playoff team this year?
Kras: I think when the season is over that will be a safe statement to make. This season is quickly turning out to be a season of learning experiences for the young Wolves. The West will be as wild as ever again this year and the Wolves will more than likely miss out on the fun. Even though things have not gone as smooth as we all would have hoped, I do think it is just a matter of time before Thib’s system and style sets in and the Wolves start to excel.
JJ Bens: This team is hard to understand. Before the Celtics game they were the worst team in the third quarter. They finally got it together last night but then gave up a 17-0 run late in the fourth quarter. Since this team is in the Western Conference, it will be difficult to make up the hole they have dug themselves.
Nate Leer: Yes, it is safe to say that. Realistically, talk of them making the leap into the playoffs this year was delusional. Yes, Thibs is a better coach than Sam Mitchell and, yes, the young players are a year more physically and professionally mature. However, this is essentially the same roster as the one that couldn’t get to 30 wins last year. That left the T-Wolves 12 games out of the playoffs. While they may be able to make up that gap with a strong 2nd half, other teams fully expect to improve on their records from last year as well (Pelicans and Utah being teams that expect jumps in win totals despite missing the playoffs last year). I suspect that it will take close to or over the 45 wins that the 8th seed in the West need in the 2014-15 season to make the playoffs this year. The West is that good.
2. What was the highlight of the Vikings win over the Cardinals?
Kras: I believe it was the defense that showed up again and saved the day. The offense was, meh. They didn’t do anything special but they didn’t hurt the team either. Bradford threw for 169 yards and a TD. The offense will need to do more from a scoring standpoint moving forward as they can’t expect the defense and special teams to continuously provide them with a surplus of points. The defense had a huge impact on the game this week forcing Carson Palmer to look on-edge and uncomfortable. I think the Vikings ship is far from righted but it was a much-needed win going into a short week showdown with the Lions in Detroit. The winner of that game will be in good position moving forward in the NFC North.
Nate Leer: I think the highlight was the 2nd half pass rush getting after Carson Palmer. Interceptions are great but getting consistent pressure on the QB is the best way to stymie modern Os. If the Vikes resurgent pass rush is sustainable, they will make a 2nd half push for the division. The first test is this week against the Lions.
3. Is there any cure for scoring droughts the Minnesota Wild have?
Kras: As we have seen over the past 4 years, there is no cure for the droughts that the Wild will go through. I was hopeful that the addition of Eric Staal would help open up the play for his line mates as well as add depth to other lines. That has not been the case. Additionally, Zach Parise is not the guy we need him to be-a 50-goal guy. Until the Wild have some of the long-term contracts expire, they will not be able to do much in the way of bringing a big-time guy in and they are still too good of a team to get high draft picks. #ROCKwildHARDPLACE!
JJ Bens: Unfortunately the only thing the Wild can do is what Coach did in the 1st period of their last game. Bruce totally mixed the lines up desperately trying to get a spark. Zach Praise has been nonexistent. He must not be totally healthy because he hasn’t played this poorly his entire career. The other thing this team has shown is that they can play defense so when they get opportunities on the power play and on odd man rushes, they must capitalize.
1. What is the weakest division and what is the strongest division in the NFL?
Kras: The weakest division very well might be the NFC North. The Bears, who are brutal and losing everyone to suspension, are not a factor at all and only looking to improve their draft position at this point. The Packers should start to consider doing the same as they are seemingly headed nowhere with 2 teams now several games ahead of them in the standings. That brings us to the Vikings and Lions, 2 teams that have winning records yet look far from being playoff-ready contenders. The Vikings are coming off a week in which they needed a win while the Lions almost choked it away in the 4th quarter to the Jaguars. The NFC North is a division with no clear front runner and, even as bad as the Packers look as of late, they still can’t be overlooked because of that.
The strongest division in football right now looks to be the AFC West. The AFC West of course, has the defending Super Bowl winning Denver Broncos closely followed by a breakout Oakland Raiders team and an ever steady, and Andy Reid led, Kansas City Chiefs. All that is bad news for the San Diego Chargers who are in last place in the division with a 4-6 record. Of the 3 teams listed above, the Raiders are the most consistent of the group and they are getting the best QB play of any of those teams. The Broncos still have long term questions at the QB spot and the Chiefs are dealing with an aging all-star RB in Jamal Charles. This might be time for the Raiders to make a move, other than the one to Las Vegas.
2. Are there 2 teams in the Western Conference you think can beat the Golden State Warriors in a 7-game series?
Kras: I think there are two teams that might cause the Warriors some trouble in a 7-game series. The first team, and the obvious answer, is the San Antonio Spurs. We all know about the Spurs and how they always find a way. The surprise team that I think will be able to give the Warrior some fits in the long run will be the Los Angeles Clippers. I have historically not been high on the Clippers but I think this might be the year. If for no other reason, the size of the Clippers will be hard for the Warriors to deal with. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin will be able to operate at will against and undersized Warriors team.
Nate Leer: Simply, no, I am not convinced there is 1 team that can push the Warriors to 7 games, much less 2. I will give the Spurs the benefit of the doubt and say it is possible head coach Greg Popovich can scheme up a few wins in a series. That said, I don’t see any other team having a shot. The Clippers usually wilt under the pressure and the team is not much better constructed than Golden State minus the plethora of high end talent. I expect the Warriors to have a relatively ease pass through the West playoffs before running into Lebron.
3. Are the Cleveland Browns going to go 0-16 this season?
Kras: I didn’t think it would be something that I would have to seriously think about for quite some time. The Lions tried to make 0-16 popular back in 2008 and it didn’t really take off then, so I doubt it will now regardless of the team doing it. The remaining opponents for the Browns are the Giants, Bengals, Bills, Chargers, and Steelers. The Browns will host the Chargers and that is looking like the most winnable game they have left. That said, I don’t think they will beat the Chargers. I think the Browns have a very good chance to go without a win. With Cody Kessler going out with a concussion, Josh McCown will yet again be the starting QB. The real question is who will the Browns have at QB next year?
JJ Bens: Personally I think they have a chance to win 1 of 2 games coming out of the bye against Cincinnati and Buffalo. The Bengals are pretty banged up and the Bills have laid some eggs on the field this year. The Browns have some talent and I think they will be better with Josh McCown at QB. Only 1 team has ever lost all 16 games, making it quite the feat. Even if they do lose them all this year, I really hope that they can keep the coach in place. Part of the problem is the number coaches they have gone through in the last couple of years.