1. Will the Vikings running game and D be enough to get them to a 1st round playoff bye?
Kras: Their D, yes. Their run game I’m not so sure about. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon have become a nice 1-2 punch in the absence of Dalvin Cook but neither McKinnon or Murray have Cook’s explosive abilities. For that reason, I will have to say no, that it isn’t enough to obtain a 1st round bye. After watching how the Vikings 2016 season panned out, I think it is far too early in the season to be thinking playoff bye. I am still holding out hope that the Lions will figure it out and make a run at the division thus knocking the Vikings into a fun game to watch on Wildcard Weekend.
Nate Leer: I think a bye is unlikely. Even though the NFC looks pretty mediocre this year, I would pick the Seahawks and the winner of the East to get the top 2 seeds before the Vikes and it is entirely possible that Atlanta still makes a run at a bye. While the Vikes D is elite, their QB situation is not good as I expect Case Keenum to regress and they only have hope after him. Also, as Kras points out, their run game is more likely to be solid than great.
2. Which member of the T-wolves has to play a bigger role this season in order for the team to grow?
Nate Leer: I think PG Jeff Teague needs to get it figured out for team to reach its max potential. If he can do a solid job of directing this team, the upside could be awesome. Teague needs to consistently knock down outside shots and run the O effectively when the ball is in his hands. The team has good depth across the board but having an above average PG is a necessity for a true contender.
Kras: I think it is easy to say that the entire team needs to play better in order for this team to go anywhere this season. If I had to pick one member of the team I would have to say Andrew Wiggins. I think it is important for not only him but also the team that he steps up and plays a better defensive game this season. With the addition of Jimmy Butler as a star and D specialist, a step forward in D in Wig’s game would be huge for this team. Having 2 quality defenders at the end of games to take away the opposition’s ability to score easily will certainly add to the win total. Anything Wig does to improve on O will be building on an already impressive game that led to him averaging 23.5 PPG last season. He has shown the D ability in the past so we know he can do it. Now it’s time to do it on a nightly basis.
3. Is Zach Parise’s career over, or do you think he can get back on track after the latest surgery?
Nate Leer: I don’t think it is over. Hopefully the surgery actually fixes the issue. However, how long he lasts remains to be seen. He is an effort based, scrappy player so there will always be literal, physical pressure being applied to his back. That is not a recipe for success for a player who has broken down several times over the last few years. The best hope for the Wild is that he retires at some point but that does not make financial sense for the player.
Kras: Parise is listed as being out 8-10 weeks after this latest surgery and, at this point, I think they should shut him down for the year in hopes they can get a year or 2 run out of him moving forward. Parise is under contract for 8 more years and I don’t see any way he sees that through. His style of play is what was hard on his body and back to begin with. To think that he will be able to take the same physical toll for nearly another decade is laughable at this point. Zach was a great team guy and leader but I think we are seeing the end of the end of his career…
1. Who is your pick to win the World Series?
Kras: Houston Astros! Although I feel the Dodgers are playing the better ball as of right now, I think the Astros will come on strong now in the WS. If they can wake up the bats a bit and not press to get hits, especially against Clayton Kershaw, they can do it. I also like what the Astros are able to do from a pitching standpoint. Having Dallas Keuchel. Lance McCullers, Brad Peacock, and Justin Verlander will be helpful as each game holds more and more importance. I think Verlander becomes the star one last time for the Astros in the series.
Nate Leer: I’ve been picking the Dodgers and their game 1 win helps my case. Kershaw and the rest of the Dodgers pitching is just too good. The Dodgers also have more playoff experience throughout their roster and has a bunch of hungry players who know how hard it is to get to this point in the postseason. I think the Astros will get at least 2 wins in the Series due to their own high end pitching and potent lineup. This should be a great Series so let’s enjoy fall baseball at its best!
2. Are the Atlanta Falcons going to miss the playoffs this season, a year after the made the Super Bowl?
Nate Leer: History would say yes and their recent performances seem to confirm that. Most recent playoff losers have not made the playoffs the following year. Now the Falcons are struggling and QB Matt Ryan has plummeted back to earth. I would still bet they make it as they seem better on paper than a lot of the other playoff contenders but I would not put much on it!
Kras: If they don’t go out and get a win against the Jets this week I fear it will be a very difficult task. Having the Saints and Panthers ahead of them in the division does not bode well. The Falcons still have both games against the Saints and Panthers yet. If they have any chance of making the playoffs they will likely need to win 3 of those 4 games if not 4 of 4, depending on the hole they put themselves in before they reach those games. The most concerning stat I see when looking at this team is that Matt Ryan has only thrown 7 TDs yet has thrown 6 INTs. Not good. As it stands today I think they find a way to make it. I might not be as confident next week at this time.
3. Will the Boston Celtics still be a threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers even after the loss of Gordon Hayward, if they ever were?
Kras: Not a chance. Losing Hayward hurts and without him, good luck. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are nice pieces but not enough to compete with the Cavs. Guys such as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Marcus Morris are either unproven or nothing more than role players on a team. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are still young and may develop into more than role players. As it stands today however, they are not that, and their chances of making a deep run in the playoffs were hampered severely by the Hayward incident.
Nate Leer: Ask Kras states, simply no. Hayward is clearly their 2nd best player so losing him is a major blow. The Celtics have no one as good as LeBron so they need to be better in their 2nd and 3rd best players as well as in depth. Now that Horford is their 2nd best player, they are at best in a draw with Cleveland after the star on each team. Boston has better overall depth but it is, as Kras says, mostly youthful depth and that is unreliable down the stretch.