Lions around the dorm

Big surprise, we’re trying to figure out who the toughest teams in the NFL are this week. But staff writer Steve Cohen, Sports Assistant Bobby Olivier and Sports Editor James Queally are also here to batlte over the future of the New York Yankees and the signifigance of the surprising U.S. victory at the Ryder Cup. Last week’s champion and recipient of the “Goofiest Around the Dorm Head Shot Ever” Award Pat Lavery will judge.

1. Question from a Yankees fan: With the team finishing out of a playoff spot for the first time in 15 years, can we expect drastic changes this offseason? Specifically, which players are on their way out the door, and will general manager Brian Cashman stay with the team?

SC: It’s safe to say change is on the way. Jason Giambi is obviously gone. The Yanks have been trying to unload him for the past three seasons. There are two guys the Yankees need to bring back. They already have a crowded outfield, but Xavier Nady would be a smart guy to re-sign. He can easily serve as an affordable replacement for Giambi due to Nady’s experience at first. Next is Bobby Abreu, who earned another contract by being one of the most consistent players for the Yankees since joining the club. I also expect to see big money spent on C.C. Sabathia, who will serve as a huge boost to the lackluster Yankees starting rotation. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see money thrown at Manny Ramirez, despite the crowded outfield. Lastly, while I don’t think the Yankees woes should be blamed on Cashman, I will not be surprised to see the Steinbrenners shake things up by letting him go.

BO: The normal Steinbrenner (George or Hank) trend is to make big changes every offseason, even when the Yanks make the playoffs, but I think this year will be different. The offense is solid, and while some people, namely second baseman Robinson Cano, third baseman Alex Rodriguez and even star shortstop Derek Jeter, had off years they still finished in the top 10 in batting average, total runs and home runs. The bullpen, with anchor Mariano Rivera, was efficient as well. The starting pitching, however, could use a facelift. Who knows if Andy Pettitte will be back and Mike Mussina will not repeat his miracle season next year. The Bombers need one more big-name pitcher and they should be good to go. Cashman will be back and the Yanks need to sign someone like C.C. Sabathia to take them to the next level. You know what? Bring back Clemens, he solves everything. That’s not a ‘roids needle, that’s my insulin.

JQ: What we’re going to see is the end of the big contract era in the Bronx. The Yankees formula of success, piling talent on top of talent and drawing big names away from other clubs by using money, has finally run its course. Now, with arguably higher draft picks than they’ve had in a decade and a half, the Yanks can start growing some players for their next run at glory. Remember, Pettite and Jeter were home-grown products, and those two names helped carry the load for the Bombers for a majority of that 15-year tear. Who’s gone? Giambi. Possibly Damon, since his arm is fading faster and faster each year. Either Ivan Rodriguez or Jorge Posada will leave, as one will not be content backing up the other. Cashman’s got the players’ approval to stay, so I doubt he turns tail just yet.

PL: There were a lot of common threads among these responses, so this was tough. Steve, you highlighted a key “insider” point I’ve also heard thrown around, namely the mutual interest between the Yanks and Ramirez. Even though I disagree that the Steinbrenners would rid themselves of Cashman, you made the strongest player-by-player arguments – 3 points. Queally, you were the only one who mentioned the draft, and relating it back to Pettitte and Jeter makes a very strong point. You were also the only one to acknowledge Posada and Pudge can’t possibly co-exist – 2 points. Bobby, I was all set to give you more points on this one because you gave props to the bullpen and emphasized the need for a guy like Sabathia … and then you brought up Roger Clemens. Only 1 point.

2. Last week, the Miami Dolphins blew away the New England Patriots, ending their 21-game unbeaten streak in the regular season. And the Detroit Lions (finally) dismissed CEO Matt Millen after seven pathetic years. Which event will have a bigger impact on competitive balance in the NFL?

SC: In the long term, giving Millen the boot will be a help to the Lions, but it’s not going to help fix their problems now, or in the near future. Blowing out the Patriots is going to be much bigger for the Dolphins here and now. While the Pats were playing without team leader Tom Brady, they still have all the pieces to be a strong force in the AFC this season, as they showed against the Jets in Week 2. It is important to remember they still have a great defense, which Ronnie Brown made look foolish last week. This gave both Brown and the Dolphins a lot of confidence and some momentum going into their next game, two things that make a world of difference in the NFL. Just ask the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.

BO: The better news for the competitive balance of the league is definitely the Matt Millen firing. The Dolphins’ win was only one game. The Patriots will regroup and be back to winning next week. Matt Millen held down the Detroit Lions for seven years. The city of Detroit has had an overweight gray monkey on its back, eating chocolate-covered bananas and drafting wide receivers for more than half a decade, and now they are free to actually put some sort of team together. The NFC North has been a three-horse race for too long and the Lions are going to start their turnaround very soon. Finally, a Detroit football team might actually soon be able to out-defend the Pistons, Red Wings and Shock. 2009 will be the year of the Lion.

JQ: Are … are you serious? The Lions maybe become an eight-win team in five years without Millen, barely nudging the “competitive scale.” Meanwhile, the AFC loses its juggernaut with the Patriots, evening out the field of Super Bowl-worthy teams in each conference. Outside of the NFC Beast (that’s East, with a B), none of the teams in that conference have proved to me they will challenge the Giants, Cowboys or Eagles for top-tier rights yet. Meanwhile in the AFC, you’ve got resurgent Bills and Broncos squads coupled with the ever-dangerous Steelers all vying to make a run for the title. This is an interesting question, but plenty of other NFC events – the revival of Donovan McNabb’s career, Kurt Warner’s resurrection in Arizona – have messed with the balance of power far more than Millen’s dismissal.

PL: Bobby, I have to agree the Patriots’ loss was only one game, and that Detroit could start turning it around with a smartly run offseason and draft, as they do have young talent. 3 points for you. Cohen, while you didn’t give Detroit nearly as much credit, you looked at the New England debacle from the Dolphins’ point of view – that upset will be a source of confidence for them and probably for some other bottom-feeder teams in the league. 2 points. Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. Last week you ripped me for mentioning the “resurgent” Broncos, so don’t act like you’re not trying to sneak that past me. I hardly think a team’s first regular-season loss in 22 games qualifies as “losing a juggernaut.” And I’ll only believe Kurt Warner’s “resurrection” when I see Marshall Faulk roll away the tombstone. 1 point.

3. For the first time since 1999, the United States took home the Ryder Cup championship last Sunday. Was this victory more significant or less significant for American golf due to the absence of Tiger Woods, and can this team repeat in 2010?

SC: This is a huge victory for the U.S., and it is that much bigger that they won it without the best player in golf. Winning the Ryder Cup is something the U.S. has been unable to accomplish since 1999, even with Tiger playing at full strength. This victory also did a lot for the sport as a whole. Golf had hit a lull with the loss of its best and most-recognized player. It was revitalizing to the sport to see the level of play the United States reached over that week thanks to a great effort from team captain Paul Azinger and Kenny Perry.

BO: Although it should be more significant that a team can win the Ryder Cup without superstar Tiger Woods, in the eyes of the American public, if no one’s wearing the TW logo, no one really cares. Unless people can turn on their televisions and see Tiger doing his celebratory uppercut thing on SportsCenter, they are not going to stay tuned to see guys who are usually getting swept away in majors by Woods out-golfing no-name Europeans. From what I can tell, golf does not seem to change much from year to year regarding who is good and who is not, so if a Tiger-less team can defeat Europe, I am sure one with Tiger can, too. Until I can watch the guy on the Gatorade bottle driving the ball 300 feet, I am going to stick to watching “I Love the ’90’s.”

JQ: Yes, it is absolutely more significant. This is the Knicks winning game 7 of the NBA Finals over the Lakers without Willis Reed. Woods has yet to relinquish his stranglehold on mastery of the PGA Tour. He’s the best player in the country and this Ryder Cup crew bested Europe’s aces without him. Repeat? It’s hard to judge. You never know who is going to show up with their “A” game at the Cup in 2010. Who in the hell thought Boo Weekely, Happy Gilmore club-riding dance and all, would be the catalyst to a U.S. win this year? It’s possible, but I won’t write it in stone one way or the other this week.

PL: Jimmy, you aced this one. While I might not put it on the Willis Reed scale, it’s huge for the game, and you were the only one who really gave any thought to the next go-round in 2010 – 3 points. Steve, you basically made a lot of the same points as Queally, and gave a shout-out to some of the U.S. players who made the difference on this team. 2 points for you. Bobby, while I felt you possibly had the most intriguing answer, it was a little bit too media-centric for my tastes. Casual golf fans will only consume what ESPN feeds to them, but close followers of the sport understood the Cup’s real significance this year – 1 point.

Cohen gets his first win of the year, 7-6-5.