1. Will Gopher men’s basketball team make the NCAA tournament this season?
Kras: The Gophers have gotten off to a solid start this season, going 6-0 before Mondays tilt against Florida State. It appears that there may be some pieces in place for Coach Richard Pitino to finally play the game he wants. Amir Coffey is going to be the guy that is looked to as the difference for the Gophers this year compared to last year. The freshman comes in with high hopes for a team that has been pretty bad in the past few seasons. I believe the Gophers will take a step in the right direction this season and they may even find themselves being a bubble team for the Big Dance. If Pitino can’t get this squad to respond and win some games, I’m not sure he will have much more of a leash to work with.
Nate Leer: I think they have a shot but there is obviously a long way to go. I think it will be interesting to see what happens IF they do make it to the NCAA tourney. Winning a game or 2 would be a big step for the program BUT it could be costly. If people nationally view Pitino as having successfully resurrected this program, he is sure to draw interest from other schools. He could get an offer that is too good to refuse. Then we start all over…
2. Do you think the Vikings still make the playoffs, assuming they don’t win the division?
Kras: They still have a winning record and they have a fairly favorable schedule going forward the rest of the season. They have the Cowboys, Colts and Bears at home yet with the Colts and Bears both being very winnable games for the Purple. The Vikings will go on the road to play against Green Bay and Jacksonville, both of which are also winnable. All things considered they are 6-5 and assuming they win 4 of the last 5 games, they will be in good position to make the playoffs. They still have a realistic chance at winning the division yet so don’t count them out. The Lions who are ahead of the Vikings have 3 tough road tests ahead yet in New Orleans, Dallas and New York Giants, all games in which the Lions could lose and let the Vikings right back into the race.
JJ Bens: If the Vikings don’t win the division I feel they aren’t making the playoffs. I believe the 2 wildcard teams with come out of the East this year. If the Vikings do win the division the Lions take the 2nd wild card. The fact that this team has lost 5 starters on O and are still in the playoff picture shows how much talent the roster has.
Nate Leer: As is usually the case this time of year, there are a bunch of teams in the NFC grouped in the wild card race. The Vikes are very much in the thick of that group. Their relatively favorable schedule means they certainly have a shot to get a wild card berth. I still think the D can get back close to how it dominated early this year and if they do, the Vikes would be a wild card favorite.
3. Is Mitch Leidner a draftable QB in the 2017 draft?
Kras: I think it is safe to say that whatever 1st round draft pick talk there might have been surrounding Leidner has been silenced this season. Although Mitch has “NFL size” (6’ 4”, 235lbs.) his decision-making skills leave much to be desired at times and the mistakes are just too costly. I believe Mitch will get a shot from a team or two, maybe more, but I’m not sure where he will be drafted or if he will be drafted at all. I could see him getting a look from teams on day 3 of the draft but I would be surprised if he was taken before then. Now, in fairness, let’s see how Mitch prepares this offseason for the draft and how he comes out and preforms at events such as the combine and pro days.
Nate Leer: Maybe. Late. I think he is more likely to be an undrafted free agent that signs with a team. As Kras says, he will get a shot as any QB talent is sure to get a look from NFL teams. His physical skills – size, athleticism arm strength – makes him appear to be an NFL prospect but his decision making and accuracy are underwhelming at best. Most likely he will end up on a practice squad for some team as he will not be ready to contribute next year at the NFL level but might be groomed for future action.
1. Which NFL team do you think had the most to gain with their win this week?
Kras: Any team that had a win over a division opponent this weekend has a lot to gain with their win. I personally think that the team that was helped the most with their victory was the Kansas City Chiefs. KC had a big win Sunday night in Denver against the Broncos. Alex Smith led a late drive that resulted in a TD to force overtime. In overtime, KC was aided by a missed FG by the Broncos to set them up with good field position. Seeing how the Raiders, Broncos and Chiefs are all still in the mix, it will be a race to the finish in the AFC West.
Nate Leer: I think the Lions were the biggest winners. They took what is essentially a 2 game lead on the rest of the NFC North. With none of the teams in the North being great, that may prove to be a lead that flawed teams like the Pack and Vikes are not able to overcome. Sure, the Lions could lose out just be another team that got hot for a stretch but faded. However, a 2 game lead with 5 to play looks pretty favorable.
2. Will Alabama win the National Championship again or is there a team that can beat them?
Kras: Until a team beats the Tide, which doesn’t seem likely, it will be hard to bet against them. They have rolled through the season with few challenges along the way, with Ole Miss and LSU being the toughest challenges so far for the Tide. The Tide will face Florida in the SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on December 3rd. It is hard to imagine them getting beat this season considering they have been the only consistent team in the top 4. With that said, if Bama finds a way to lose this game, there is still a good chance they will end up in the top 4 and in the playoffs.
Nate Leer: I would personally bet on ‘Bama versus the field to win the National Championship. Anything can happen in single elimination tournament but it is hard to believe another team is likely to beat this talented, well-coached and experienced team. The the rest of the NCAA field I say, “Good luck.”
3. With the Injury to Steven Stamkos, will the Tampa Bay Lightning still be a contender in the Eastern Conference?
Kras: It is hard to imagine the Lightning continue this season without being effected by the injury to Stamkos. However, I don’t think it will be a dagger and end their season. Stamkos is the best player on the Lightning and arguably a top 5 player in the league. The Lightning are 13-9-1 so far, this season and should be in the hunt for the 6th through 8th playoff spots in the East. The good news for the Lightning is, if they are still in contention down the stretch, there is a chance that Stamkos could rejoin the team and make them a dangerous opponent in the East when the playoffs start. Stamkos has already had successful surgery to repair his torn meniscus and will be out 4 to 6 months.
JJ Bens: The Lighting are very much still a contender in the east because of a young up and coming player named Nikita Kucherov. He is currently only behind Conner McDavid for the league lead in points and he is 6th in the league in +/-. The team showed in last year’s playoffs that they could win without their captain. The Lighting are currently in 3rd place in the East and are primed to make a playoff push.
Nate Leer: It looks like Stamkos could return for a late playoff push and/or the playoffs. The Lightning are a solid team so they just need to stay in the playoff race until their star can return.