1. After the Vikings victory over the Rams Sunday, do you think they are the best team in the NFC? How about the NFL?
Nate Leer: I think it is hard to call the Vikes the best team in the NFC after the Eagles beat down of the Cowboys Sunday night. However, they look like the clear cut #2 team in the conference given their decisive victory over the Rams and their win over the Saints earlier this year. Those teams along with the Panthers and Seahawks seem like the most likely threats to the Vikings run to a 1st round bye but the Vikes clearly have the upper hand.
Kras: I have to agree with Nate Leer on this one. The Vikes are not the best team in the NFC or the NFL for that matter. That said, I think the win over the Rams cements the Vikes in the top 3 in the NFC for sure and puts them in top 5 consideration in the NFL. The Vikes D is good and as long as they are healthy they will have a chance to win any game they play. Also, QB Case Keenum seems to be gaining confidence with each week. That only helps this O become stronger and more of a threat to win games on their own, even when the D does have their best outing. If the Vikes go into Detroit and steamroll the Lions, It will be hard to not consider this team a real threat to make some noise in the playoffs. A win against the Lions would put them comfortably in control of the NFC North and headed for a 1st round bye come playoff time.
2. Do you believe Wild G Devan Dubnyk needs to continue to play at the level he has the last week for this team to continue to win?
Kras: If Dubnyk can keep up this level, the Wild will be in good shape. However, it is hard to imagine Dubnyk producing multiple shutout games week in and week out. The Wild have been playing better as a whole team as of late and that is also the reason they have had a nice run now in the 2nd half of the month. For this run to continue, the Wild will have to get some production out of lines 3 and 4. Anything would help at this point. Having F Charlie Coyle ahead of schedule to return from his injury should help balance things out a bit more, hopefully providing much needed depth on lines 3 and 4. For the Wild to go anywhere this year it will need to be a team effort. They will need more than just a goalie standing on his head and F Jason Zucker goals to have any hopes of being relevant this year.
Nate Leer: They might not need him to be great to make the playoffs but to make any noise once there, yes, he will have to be great. This team just isn’t good enough offensively to beat good teams without shutdown G work. All the numbers over the last couple years indicate the Wild are just not that good.
3. Have you seen enough from the Wolves yet to be convinced they are a playoff team?
Kras: The Wolves look much improved over the last week or so but not enough for me to put them firmly in the playoff conversation. Yet. The Wolves had a good last week beating the Jazz, Spurs, and Mavericks before dropping a close game to the surprise Detroit Pistons, a game in which the Wolves had the lead late and let it slip away. The 10-7 record the Wolves have is good enough to be tied for 3rd in the West as of right now. If the Wolves can continue to improve and shore up some of the lapses on D, they will be a playoff team. Outside of the Rockets and Warriors, the West is muddled with mediocrity. Teams such as the Thunder and Spurs seem to have taken a step back this season and that makes it even more important for the Wolves to step up and keep improving. If they continue to play the way they have, they will make the playoffs. However, I need to see more evidence before I buy in 100%.
Nate Leer: I think so. We knew all along that there were going to be some struggles early for this new collection of talent. That said, the Wolves have looked very good for stretches and that is an indication of how good they can eventually be. This team seems to be improving defensively after the additions of Jimmy Butler and Take Gibson and PG Jeff Teague is looking more comfortable operating the O. If they can stay in the playoff picture while they learn how to play right, they will get in easily with a probable late season charge on the way.
1. Will the Philadelphia 76ers be the most improved team in the NBA this season? If not who will it be?
Kras: It is hard to say if the 76ers will be the league’s most improved team but they will certainly be in the conversation if they keep improving with the talented young core that they have. I believe the bulk of the success that the 76ers will have will center around C Joel Embiid and his ability to stay healthy and on the court. If all goes well for the 76ers, they may end up being a playoff team in the awful East. As it stands now, I would have to include the Detroit Pistons in the conversation as well. They have an 11-5 record, which is good enough to be tied for 2nd in the East and that’s making for an even better story so far than the 76ers. C Andre Drummond and PG Reggie Jackson have provided a nice spark for this club and running more of the O through Drummond seems to be paying off. Here again, team health will be a major factor in which way in the standing the Pistons head.
Nate Leer: I think it will be the Knicks. They are ahead of the Sixers in the standings and could remain there if PF Kristaps Porzingis keeps playing at an MVP level. The Knicks also get a big bump because of their history and the city they play in. They have always been the East Coast darling of the NBA opposite the Lakers in the West. No fan base is more loyal and it is good for the league when meaningful games are being played in Madison Square Garden late into the spring. The revamped Knicks were one of the biggest stories in the offseason as they finally moved on from F Carmelo Anthony. The move was clearly addition by subtraction as the team now revolves around a more talented player in Porzingis plus the Knicks did well to get a solid piece in C Enes Kanter. I am happy for Knicks fans who have had to witness a lot of ineptitude from their team at all levels of the organization but I think Kras is right that the Pistons are a real contender for most improved as well.
2. Do you think the Browns will go 0-16? Are they are the worst team in the NFL?
Kras: Although it is pretty tough to do, I think they have a real chance to pull it off. Only the 2008 Lions have managed the feat before and they are due for some company. The Browns are a mess. They have been a carousel at QB again this season and, even when they tried to trade for QB A.J. McCarron, they couldn’t manage to close the deal. Their best player, LT Joe Thomas who has been the 1 bright spot in this franchise for the last decade, is done for the year. I believe the Browns best chance to win will be their December 10th game at home against the inept Green Bay Packers. If the Browns can’t win that game, I see no other solution than 0-16.
Nate Leer: I get Kras’s reasoning about the Browns being in disarray and not better on paper than any one of their upcoming opponents but I would still bet on them winning a game or 2. After the next 2 weeks, the Browns remaining opponents could easily have nothing to play for, including the Steelers in week 17 who could have their playoff seeding finalized. Cleveland has some talent on D and it is possible WR Josh Gordon gives them a spark in his return from suspension. I think the Lions will continue to hold the title of the only completely defeated team in NFL history, which unfortunately seems appropriate.
3. Who is your NFL MVP to this point?
Kras: I would have to say that QB Carson Wentz is the MVP to this point. Wentz has led the Eagles to a 9-1 record playing sound football. Philly has a good all around team, including on the D side of the ball. Wentz has thrown 25 TDs and only 5 INTs so far this season. Good news for Wentz in both categories as his TD numbers have shot up and the INTs have dropped making him an extremely efficient QB this year. Assuming there is not a complete collapse with this team, Wentz for MVP.
Nate Leer: It is hard to argue against Kras’s pick. However, the player most deserving of MVP to this point is QB Tom Brady of the Patriots. He does the most with the least. As Kras points out, Wentz is leading a quality team whereas Brady’s Pats have holes all over the place. The only player that you could possibly replace Brady with and have a chance at success is nursing a broken collarbone. All that said, Brady is less likely to win the award because he is Tom Brady. He’s just been too good for too long. One dark horse candidate is Keenum. Yes, Case Keenum. I have doubted Keenum all year and still think he will regress hard at some point. However, he is excelling for a top contender and his playmaking plus charisma would be x factors in a popularity contest such as the MVP race. I can’t believe I am saying this but Keenum’s run reminds me of when Randall Cunningham took over in ‘98 early in the season. He could have easily been the MVP that year. While Keenum isn’t putting up the same type of numbers, he is delivering wins and making players around him better while being a very efficient QB.