1. Are the Vikings the best team in the NFC North right now?
Kras: There is not best team in the NFC North right now. The Vikings have just as good of chance to win it as the Packers or Lions. The Vikings D can keep them in most games and they will have to. Jerick McKinnon has been a nice surprise since the loss of Dalvin Cook and has really help stabilize this O. The problem for the Vikes moving forward will be finding quality QB play. Case Keenum is not the answer to making a run at the playoffs and Teddy is far from proven, if and when he comes back. The man, Sam Bradford, is as questionable as both Case and Teddy and can’t be relied on to be there the rest of the way. The Lions are the only team in the North with their starting QB still standing but the way Stafford has been beaten the past few weeks, that may not be for long. The Lions have a fairly forgiving schedule the rest of the way 2 games against the Packers and Bears as well as 1 more with the Vikes on Thanksgiving. Injuries have the North in turmoil right now and no team looks better than the other.
Nate Leer: Kras puts it well that no team is “best” at this point. The Vikes have the best D but Case Keenum is not likely to be a long term solution at QB and their other playmakers are less than inspiring. Green Bay has been the dominant team but the loss of Aaron Rodgers exposes their many weaknesses. Detroit does have the best QB for the foreseeable future but Matthew Stafford has been hit so much that his effectiveness is suffering. Lastly Chicago is breaking in a rookie QB in Mitch Trubisky and are still very much in rebuild mode. I think the division will come down to the team with the best QB and the one with the best D. Hence Detroit and Minnesota are the favorites but picking between those 2 is really a crapshoot.
2. What or who is to blame for the Wild’s slow start to the season? Will it improve?
Nate Leer: I don’t think anyone is to blame. GM Chuck Fletcher put this team together so technically the slow start is on him as the slow start is just not that surprising to me. The injury to Zach Parise hurts but even that was somewhat predictable for an old, overpaid, marginal talent. However, it is really too early to judge the team especially given the injuries. I fully expect them to start slow, get hot at some point, then get swept right out of the playoffs. Have you heard this story before?
Kras: The Wild are not that good and that is the reason they are having problems. They are not getting the goaltending that they need nor are they getting good news on the injury front. With F Charlie Coyle being lost for a couple month as well as W Nino Niederreiter and LW Zach Parise’s near future questionable, it’s not looking good. As far as the injuries go, it’s tough to blame anyone for those. I do think upper management may be to blame for some of the issues for this team. The biggest add for this team in the offseason was 41 year old C Matt Cullen. Not an awful signing but if it is the best signing the team has, that might not be a good thing. The Wild have been handcuffed by the long term deals of Parise and D Ryan Suter and it is starting to show. It is early, but it is starting to look like the playoffs may be a longshot for this team.
3. Do you think the Twins were right to bring Paul Molitor back and should he have got more than a 3 year deal?
Nate Leer: The Twins definitely did the right thing but it is not as if they had much of a choice. I think fans and the team would have been up in arms if they didn’t resign Molly. He not only guided the team to a shocking playoff berth but has also bought into the analytics based approach of management. It also helped that Molly was willing to turn over most of his coaching staff. This season brought a new hitting coach who got the job done with players including SS Jorge Polanco, OF Byron Buxton and OF Eddie Rosario. Next year will bring a new approach to the pitching game with a fresh face as pitching coach. The Twins roster is far from a finished project especially on the pitching side. I expect them to struggle at some point over the next 2 years and it will be interesting to see if they stick with Molitor through a rough patch or 2.
Kras: I think the Twins had to bring Molly back. I was convinced that Molly would be let go but he did well by taking the Twins to the playoffs and forcing the hand of the new regime. I think Molly is a good manager and has a good vibe with this club and the young players he has. As far as if he should have got more than 3 years, I think it’s a good number for both sides. My guess is, if there is a big dip in production next season, Molly could be replaced then.
1. What does the loss of Aaron Rodgers mean for the Packers? Are they still a playoff team?
Kras: Clearly losing Rodgers is a huge blow to the Packers. With a broken collarbone, Rodgers will likely have to watch from the sidelines until 2018. The Packers seem to be committed to Brett Hundley as the starter in Rodgers’s place and, with a full week of reps under his belt, I would expect a better effort next week. I think the Packers can certainly be a playoff team. For them it will likely boil down to having to win the division. Given the shambles of the NFC North, it is possible. They have good weapons for Hundley to utilize but their D is injured and depleted, especially in the secondary.
Nate Leer: I think the Pack has a punchers chance of making the playoffs if Rodgers is out for 10 weeks or more. The only reason they have any shot at all is the lack of top end teams in the division. I could see the Vikes or Lions taking control of the division but it seems more likely that they both flounder at or just under .500 which gives the improving Bears and Hundley led Pack a chance to compete.
2. Which NFL team with a record over .500 will miss the playoffs?
Kras: As good as this team looked last week, I think the Saints are most likely to be left out. The Saints, to me, have the most to prove yet. This team has seemed to find its stride on O with Drew Brees and the 1-2 punch of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. The D is what worries me. For years the Saints have been dreadful on D and until I see them string multiple quality games together I can’t buy in yet. They will have to content with the Panthers who lead the division and the Falcons who are 3-2 as well and hungry to get back to where they were a year ago.
Nate Leer: Kras picks a good option in the Saints and the aforementioned Pack now seem likely to miss the playoffs without Rodgers. I also have trouble believing the Miami Dolphins are likely to get out of the AFC East. However, the most likely team over .500 to not make it to the playoffs is the other 3-2 team in the AFC East: the Buffalo Bills. I give the team credit for battling to 3 wins already but I find it hard to se them getting more than 5 more. If they don’t get to 9-7, I don’t see them having any shot at a wild card spot and even getting to 10 wins does not guarantee a playoff considering the strength of the AFC West that could yield both Wild Card teams.
3. With the Cleveland Indians eliminated, are the Houston Astros now the frontrunner to win the World Series?
Kras: In my opinion, yes. I think it has been the Astros year for most, if not all, of the season. The move by the Astros late this season to bring in SP Justin Verlander has turned out to be a good move. Verlander gives them 3 pretty good starters as they move through the playoffs. Couple that with the lineup that includes Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve and the Astros are poised to be World Series Champs!
Nate Leer: I think the Dodgers are the favorites to win it all and not just because the Astros still have to win one to get to the Series. The Dodgers SPs give them a dominant advantage against even the Astros. Plus, they would have the single best RP in the Series in Kenley Jansen who they could pitch up to 5 or 6 times for a total of 10-12 innings. I also give the advantage to the Dodgers in terms of playoff experience and just experience in general. Their 2 most important young players are wise beyond their years and otherwise the team is mostly comprised of players who have lots of experience in general and in the playoffs. The Dodgers O has been hot and if that continues, they may be unbeatable in a series.