Well dear readers, the days are getting shorter and the sun is out on winter vacation. But there are plenty of difficult driving conditions, last second school cancellations, and holiday fun and beer cheer just around the corner.
Just when you think your beloved NW sports teams are down for the count, they bounce back and knock the teeth out of their opponent – 4 out of 5 dentists agree! It’s been an up and down year for the Trail Blazers, Ducks, and Seahawks, and the road isn’t quite done being rocky just yet. The Blazers closed their two week road trip with just two wins, the Seahawks are on track to clinch a wild card playoff berth, but may need help down the stretch. And those pesky Ducks just keep on winning, right in the face of danger to their star QB. All three teams are in good standing to finish strong (or in the Blazers’ case, to finish the first half strong), but there are plenty of obstacles along the way.
In our weekly edition of the Fireside Sports Lightning Round (our test audience at the asylum agreed, it is best when paired with the Fireside Sports Podcast) we asked very brave (or very foolish) contestants for life Bryant Knox and Casey Mabbott to walk the plank, dive in to the alligator pit, and hypnotize a snake en route to solving the week’s best sports mysteries.
As always, feel free to submit questions and sports mysteries to their fearless producer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Each week we implore our readers and listeners to find our co-hosts on twitter (@oregonsportsguy and @bryantknox) and make them pay dearly for their opinions.
- Just two weeks ago, Portland sat at 10-3, and now are clinging to a record of 12-8 after 5 crushing losses in seven games. What can they do to turn things around?
(CM) Honestly, I think the trip ending will be the best thing for them. They haven’t looked fresh the last two weeks, and some of their losses were downright ugly. I can’t in fairness to their opponents say that they would have won more if they were home games, but that is most likely the truth. They only play three games this week, all three are winnable contests, and two of them are at home. I like their chances to turn it around and go 2-1 this week.
(BK) In the Blazers’ last three games, they’ve shot just 26-of-104 from the three-point line, dropped to 17th in Defensive Rating, and the bench has come down to Earth after a surprising start. The long ball is going to fix itself; Portland isn’t going to shoot 25 percent from deep for long. The defense is also going to improve as we sprinkle in more home games, albeit maybe not to the top-10 status they earned earlier in the year. As much as we shouldn’t have assumed the Blazers were going to keep the No. 1 seed all season, we also shouldn’t assume this is the end of the world. The whole league is trying to figure out who belongs where entering the regular season’s Q2.
- The Trail Blazers’ depth and bench play was a big reason they jumped out to a hot start this year, do you think the bench has taken a step backwards?
(CM) Not to make excuses, but I do believe the road beat up Portland more than we expected. I think we’ll see more action from the bench this week. This was going to be a strict test, they didn’t pass it, and now they can get back to playing more home games and winning with a whole team effort. This was never going to be a bench that blew people away, but it was exceeding expectations. After a rough couple of weeks, we might now see what they are actually capable of across a larger sample size. The law of averages is real, and it eventually settles everyone down.
(BK) The bench has regressed but that was always going to happen. What’s important is that we see continued improvement from certain players, not the whole bunch. Zach Collins is the first. If he lives up to his potential, he becomes Portland’s third-best player in 2-3 seasons. Then Mo Harkless. We still haven’t seen anything close to what he’s capable of either behind the three-point line or on defense. If Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas become even more reliable shooting, great; and if Meyers Leonard continues playing a competent brand of basketball, that’s a bonus. But Collins and Harkless are the two players who can have the biggest impact on this team, and quite frankly, both have a chance to earn starter status if the stars align.
- Seattle started out 0-2, but they have quietly strung a few wins together and are now 6-5 and in position to take the #6 seed in the playoffs over Carolina. Should we be surprised if they make the playoffs at this point?
(CM) They are playing really well right now and deserve a shot. I don’t know that they can beat the Rams, Saints, or Bears on the road in the playoffs, but I would very much like to see them try. If the NFC East is going to crown a division winner, I would like to see Seattle in the playoffs. And no, I won’t be surprised if they make it. Impressed given their start, but not surprised.
(BK) Surprised? Nah. Not the way Russell Wilson is playing. He’s willing the Seahawks to wins, and he’s doing it in historic fashion. But with his production comes confidence that goes around the roster. Making the playoffs is still an uphill battle, but while the size of the mountain hasn’t changed, the Hawks look more prepared to climb it.
- Russell Wilson has been asked to win week after week with an average supporting cast on offense. Why isn’t he being mentioned as a MVP candidate?
(CM) That’s a great question and one that deserves an answer. I don’t know why the national media routinely leaves him out of the conversation when he is basically asked to make something out of nothing week after week, but that’s what he’s doing and it’s commendable. Not taking anything away from Drew Brees or Patrick Mahomes, but I’d like to see them compete the way Wilson does if they were behind the wheel in Seattle.
(BK) Team success is always going to play a crucial role in the MVP race. In the case of Russell Wilson, he’s deserving of more credit than he gets, but his team just isn’t helping his cause. (How’s that for irony, by the way? He may be one of the best individual performers we’ve seen this season, yet it’s his team holding him back from winning an individual award. Sorry, Russ.)
- The Ducks handled the Beavers in the Civil War, despite losing Justin Herbert to a potentially serious injury. Do you expect this to impact his decision to stay in school or turn pro?
(CM) How could it not impact his decision? Instead of potentially wrapping up his college career with a giant bow by destroying his rival on their turf, he now has to ask himself if he feels his college resume is complete. For a guy who started as a Heisman candidate and grew Oregon into a surprising playoff contender, even if he wins their bowl game it will be a lost season. I think he should turn pro and move on but I would imagine this is going to impact his decision good or bad.
(BK) Sorry, Casey. Not a chance. Justin Herbert is enough of a competitor that he’d love the opportunity to end his Oregon career with a big win over the Beavs in front of his own home crowd. More importantly, he wants to play in a Civil War with meaning. No, it’s not likely we get a “War for the Roses” feel in 2019, but the Ducks can learn from this season and use next year’s Rivalry Week as a warmup for a Pac-12 championship. All that said, the bigger debate living inside Herbert is whether or not he wants to risk being a potential top-5 pick to try again a year later for consensus No. 1 status. He could enhance his draft stock (and his payday) by coming back for one more go-round, but if he does, he’ll also be going up against a certain Oregon-Recruit-turned-Alabama-Backup-turned-National-Championship-Savior-turned-Potential-No.-1-Pick in 2020.