The past, present and future of the Sports section do battle this week. Current Sports Editor James Queally faces off with Sports Assistant Bobby Olivier and former Sports Editor Brandon Lee as they try to predict the winner of Superbowl XLIII, the National and American League MVPs and which College sports teams will go all the way this fall. Last week’s winner, staff writer Duncan Slobodzian, is the ref.
1. The 2008 NFL season: It’s finally here. Who’s gonna win it all, and why?
JQ: The NFL is the worst sport to try and call on paper, so let me start off by guaranteeing in a few months, we’re all going to get this wrong. Anyway, the injury to Brady demotes the Patriots from contender status for now, and with Peyton Manning looking like Eli circa 2004 in Week 1, the balance of power has shifted to the NFC. I hate myself for this, but the Cowboys have to be the odds-on favorite. Dallas just has too many weapons. Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and Marion Barber make up one of the most potent offenses in the past decade, and if Romo can get over his playoff jitters (DUMP JESSICA) then “America’s Team” has a legitimate shot to make it to Tampa this February. Like the Pats, they have a good, not great, defense Romo can lean on when the offense is struggling, and they are probably the only team in the league that can survive shootouts with the more offensive-minded teams throughout the league.
BO: Now that Tom Brady is out for the season, the focus of Super Bowl contender shifts to other teams in the league. The only team that really looks like they have “their shit together,” if you will, is the team who took the Pats down last year, the New York Giants. The cliché is offensive lines win Super Bowls, but tank Brandon Jacobs has proved he does not need one. The G-Men’s O-line is satisfactory enough to protect Eli Manning, who is improving with each game, and his wide receiver core (especially Plaxico Burress) is solid enough to grab any ball that goes astray from his over-privileged hand. The Giants’ D proved in the season opener they are the real deal, allowing only 7 points to Washington and 209 total yards. The Giants will overcome any defensive line problems and chalk one up for the big apple again this February.
BL: I hate to say it, but the Cowboys will win it all. I’m a Giants fan, but the Cowboys could represent the NFC in Hawaii. I think this will be the year quarterback Tony Romo proves his doubters wrong, just like it took Peyton Manning a couple of tries in the playoffs to win the big one. The only hole the Cowboys have is a lack of depth in the secondary. They have a great running back duo in Marion Barber and Felix Jones, and playmakers in tight end Jason Witten and wide receiver Terrell Owens. The defense has gotten even better with linebacker Zach Thomas in the rotation and cornerback Adam Jones strengthening the run and pass defense.
DS: The HBO Hard Knocks darlings from Dallas have maybe the most talent on paper, so I understand Brandon and James’ thoughts. The 3 points go to James since he (accurately) was more convincing. Brandon gets the 2 and 1 point to Bobby since he overlooked some of the major structural flaws in the G-Men’s roster. But, as James accurately points out, we’re probably all wrong.
2. Lions fall athletics is about ready to kick it into high gear as well. Which autumn sports team do you foresee having the most successful season?
JQ: Women’s soccer. While some of the players have changed, they have shown the exact same strengths that made them a juggernaut in 2007. The offense is still potent as ever, crushing their opposition 9-0 during an opening week tournament. I’d type the name of that tournament out for you all, but it was annoying enough when I was editing last week. Right. Anyway, they can still score at will, and their defense is still scary tough. Only allowing three shots on goal over the length of a tournament last week? That’s just silly. And the goalkeeper tandem of junior Jessica Clarke and sophomore Katie Piotrowski looked unbeatable when the shots did reach the goal. Clarke only allowed five goals the entire regular season last year. This team is going to romp through the conference, avenge last year’s ghosts and finally win a National Championship.
BO: If history serves (no pun intended), the women’s tennis team is the obvious choice for the most successful fall team. They have won 121 straight conference matches dating back to the New Jersey Athletic Conference’s (NJAC) infancy in 1982. Besides never losing, the team has powerhouse junior Jackie Shtemberg, the reigning national champion in women’s Division III individuals, as well as the International Tennis Association’s Regional Champion. The Lions are ranked first in their division and will likely go undefeated in the fall. The women’s tennis team is a complete juggernaut, and this untouchable team is the clear choice for the most success.
BL: The women’s field hockey team has finished 17-3 the past two seasons as NJAC champions and made it to the NCAA Regional Finals. Look for them to finish with a similar record and become three-peat NJAC champions. The Lions have a very young team, but are loaded with potential. Keep an eye on freshman forward/midfielder Allie Barrington to contribute on offense with senior forward/midfielder Katie Reuther and sophomore forward Mary Waller to steady the group. On defense, the Lions return 2007 Longstreth/NFHCA Division III First Team All-American forward/midfielder Kelly Mitchell and All-NJAC Second Team honoree defenseman Jackie Gelinas. Look for them to be the backbone of this young Lion team.
DS: James gets the 3. The soccer team is one of the stronger fall programs on campus and, like the Pats of the NFL, they’re out for vengeance. Bobby and Brandon tie at 1.5 each since you both dropped all the right names and stats I needed to hear. It’s a coin toss as to which team is stronger, at least at this early stage.
3. As the MLB season winds down, it’s time to talk MVP. Make your picks for the AL and the NL, and back ’em up.
JQ: The National League is easy to call without any hometown bias. When your closer is down for the count, your team is slugging it out for a tight-knit division race, there’s only one guy who has consistently saved your ass night in and night out and he’s 85 percent of the reason you might make the playoffs, he is the MVP. I speak, of course, about Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado. Enough said. Now, the AL is murky. Dustin Pedroia is the popular vote among most sports journalists and I’m having a hard time disagreeing with them. He’s stepped into the role of offensive catalyst in the post-Manny era, and he’s on course to win the AL’s batting title, so it’s a similar argument to Delgado in the NL. I don’t think the Sox are necessarily out of the playoffs without him, but I think the breathing room between them and the Twins gets snuffed out without him.
BO: With only a few weeks left in the 2008 MLB season, the American League MVP is undoubtedly Red Sox second baseman Pedroia. He leads the league in hits and batting average, is tied for second in doubles, is third in total bases with a fielding percentage of .991. Also, he is on a playoff-bound team, a luxury Josh Hamilton, who has faded in the second half of the season, does not have. Pedroia has speed, with 17 stolen bases thus far. Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun is clearly the NL MVP. He leads the league in total bases, has a perfect fielding percentage through 127 games after switching positions, and has more doubles, home runs and RBIs than Albert Pujols, the only other contender. Milwaukee would be nowhere without Braun, and he deserves the award.
BL: For the AL, the loss of Carlos Quentin just opened the door for Justin Morneau and the Twins to grab the AL MVP award and AL Central pennant. The Twins are gaining ground on the White Sox and appear ready to take the lead, especially with Quentin out for the season. This is Morneau’s time to shine. He has 22 home runs and 113 RBIs, and a hot streak in the waning weeks of the season could earn Morneau his second AL MVP honors. For the NL, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has the gaudy stats and Albert Pujols’ Cardinals are fading, but lefty pitcher C.C. Sabathia has all but guaranteed the Brewers a spot in the playoffs. He leads the NL with six complete games and has a 1.42 ERA with nine wins and 94 strikeouts as a Brewer. He starts winning streaks and ends losing streaks and has kept the bullpen healthy. Sabathia was the player the Brewers needed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1982. Sabathia has changed the Brewer culture this season, and the Brewers are heading to the playoffs because of him.
DS: Bobby, you made the best argument here and get the 3 – both Braun and Pedroia have had seasons to remember and their teams are playoff bound largely because of their contributions. James, I wish I could get on board with the Delgado campaign, but his first half was just too weak. 2 points for you. And Brandon, it’s a pretty ambitious argument for both leagues but 1 point because I’m not sure how convinced I am either of those guys deserve it the most.
Queally picks up the win by a score of 8-5.5-4.5