1. Is there anyway you see the Vikings losing their grasp on the NFC North? Do any of the Packers, Bears, or Lions have a chance to catch them?
Kras: At 6-2 the Vikings are in good shape moving forward but it is far from a lock as they proved last season when they got off to a 5-0 start before faltering after the bye week. The Bears have the worst record in the division at 3-5. They don’t appear to be a factor but are far from eliminated from a record standpoint. Of the Vikes remaining 8 games, the Panthers, Falcons, Rams, Lions, Packers, and Washington are games that I could see a situation in which they lose. If they were to lose the above games, that would put them at 8-8 and in a much more vulnerable situation. That said, 8-8 might be enough to win this division this year as nothing is certain. As it stand today, I would have to say the Vikes are in great shape and I would expect them to finish as division winners with a record around 10-6.
Nate Leer: Yeah, it’s certainly possible that they fall out of first place in the division especially considering that each of the teams is within 3 games of them. However, it seems pretty unlikely given they seem to clearly seem to be the least flawed team. They have a good D, above average special teams and enough playmakers on O to make up for the lack of top end QB play. As long as one of the QB options can stay healthy and not lose games with turnovers, this team will cruise to the playoffs. The question is whether they will continue to get solid play at the QB spot. Case Keenum does not seem to be a long term answer. Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford have balky knees that are not guaranteed to hold up even if they can get “healthy.” I think the Vikes will find a way to win the division but are unlikely to make any noise once they get to the playoffs.
2. Should the Gophers play Demory Croft the rest of the year to maximize his development or continue to play whichever QB seems to give them the best chance to win games this year?
Kras: As far as I am concerned, I would roll with Croft for the rest of the season. If t PJ Fleck and the rest of the coaching staff are convinced that he is the guy they want moving into next season, then I think this year is not that important. It will take a year or 2 for Fleck to get his recruits in place and having some consistency at the QB position would help make it easier for all. I am not completely sold on Croft yet but I do think he needs to get the run the rest of the year. Any bowl game they would go to and even win, regardless of QB, would be relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Worst case scenario, Croft can’t get it together and prove he should be the starter going into next season. They would be right where they are now and trending in typical Gophers fashion.
Nate Leer: Kras is correct. They really have nothing or at least very little to lose by playing Croft and a lot to gain. It is possible that playing Croft instead of Conor Rhoda will cost the team a bowl bid. However, it is at least just as likely that Croft gives them a better chance to make a bowl or that they are not able to make it with either of them running the show. So, they may as well play Croft because the upside is that he proves to be a capable Big Ten QB and that gives them a HUGE step up for next year. If Croft is the answer, this team looks to be 2-4 wins better next year than they would have if they were starting over at QB. Definitely worth the gamble for this young coach and restarting program.
3. Is Jimmy Butler that important to the Wolves that they can’t win without him? Who has to step up and fill the void on this team when Jimmy is out?
Kras: As of late, it would appear they can’t do it without Butler. However, they did win 31 games last season without him even on the team so I will give them the benefit of the doubt. That said, I do think his leadership on the court in the early going this season has been valuable to the young guys, Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Butlers ability to take away an opposing team’s scorers has been the difference as well as an A-Wig, half court, buzzer beater. If and/or when Butler misses more time, I think it will have to be a group effort to help fill the void he leaves. Shabazz Muhammad will have to score a few more points as well as Jamal Crawford. On the D side of the ball, the Wolves will need a better effort from A-Wig, Taj Gibson, and, hopefully, Jeff Teague. This team has some awesome potential but it is a work in progress.
Nate Leer: I think the Wolves will not make the playoffs if they don’t have Jimmy for at least 75% of their games. Hopefully he will not miss many more games. The ones he missed early this season were because of illness so there is no reason to expect he will miss significant time. However, we now know how the team will look without him. It isn’t good. Much like last year, the D shows a complete lack of effort and communication without Butler. They clearly need his leadership and stopper abilities if they are going to get to the next level.
1. What was the biggest surprise of the World Series?
Kras: I think it was the way in which each team handled the pitching situation. Clayton Kershaw’s 7 strong innings in game 1 was the only real run a starter had in any of the games, for either team. Justin Verlander had a couple of 6 inning outings in this series but was not the winner in either case. Yu Darvish and Dallas Keuchel were both slowed in this series and both went winless. Although the Astros have the weaker of the bullpens in my opinion, Brad Peacock was a big part in them getting to this point especially with his big game 3 performance in which he went 3.2 innings and earned a save. Chris Devenski has been a close second being able to come in and shut down the potent Dodger hitters. With all the extra innings in such a short amount of time, it will be interesting to watch these pitchers next year to see if there are any signs of the additional wear hurting them.
Nate Leer: To me the biggest surprise was the lack of success for the big name Dodgers pitchers. As Kras mentioned, Kershaw had one good start but otherwise he, Darvish and closer Kenley Jansen did not perform up to expectations. Maybe I should not have been surprised by the starters failings since neither was proven in the playoffs. However, I really did expect better starts from them. Add on to that the up and down performance of Jansen and it is kind of surprising that the series went all 7 games. I thought the dominance of Jansen would be the deciding factor in an LA victory but that did not turn out to be the case. Good work, ‘Stros and better luck next year, Dodgers!
2. Which move prior to the NFL trade deadline was the most intriguing to you?
Kras: In my opinion, the Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo trade is the one that has me scratching my head a bit. I think if you are the Bills or a Bills fan, you have to be crazy happy about landing a giant red zone target for Tyrod Taylor to throw the ball to. He is a great replacement after moving Sammy Watkins earlier in the year. I do question what the Panthers were and are thinking. The obvious answer to me is they see enough similarities between Benjamin and Devin Funchess and only saw a need for one of them moving forward. I think it is a mistake that the Panthers will regret moving forward. Hopefully for Benjamin, he can find a more expanded role in Buffalo and blow up. The Bills are looking even better now that they have Benjamin. If they can get the O going they will be a tough team to beat moving forward. Their D is already tough and proving to be one of the league’s best.
Nate Leer: The Benjamin move certainly took me by surprise. It looks like a great move for the Bills as they get a 1st round talent who has put up good numbers at times in the NFL. They only had to give up 3rd and 7th round picks for the WR. As far as the Panthers logic, I can only imagine there were some behind the scene issues that contributed to the move. Granted, Benjamin and Devin Funchess are very similar players but they are both so big that a good OC should be able to figure out ways to use both of them. I think they gave up on Benjamin too soon.
3. Which NBA rookie have you been most impressed with in the early stages of the season? Do you think they will be the ROY?
Kras: I have been most impressed with PF Lauri Markkanen of the Chicago Bulls. The 7 footer has been stellar in the early going this season. Realistically, he has been about the only thing the Bulls have going for them so far this season. Markkanen has been the beneficiary of a Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic fight days before the start of the season and he has made the most of his opportunities. I think he has made the case for himself to continue to start and why not? The Bulls are still in full on rebuild mode so they may as well let the rookie get the work in. So far this season, Markkanen has averaged 15 points and 9 rebounds per game while also adding 3 triples. If he keeps this pace and builds on it, he could very well be Rookie of the Year. It might be tough though given the team is deep in the tank.