Around the Dorm playoffs are here, baby. The top six sports squawkers will face off in a three-week tournament for ultimate bragging rights. The two semifinal winners and one wild card will meet in an epic final battle in the Dec. 3 issue of The Signal. This week, No. 2 seed Justin Jez, No. 4 seed Duncan Slobodzian and No. 6 seed Brandon Lee fight about the AFC East, Jake Peavy and the NBA. Suicidal Cubs fan Mike O’Donnell will judge.
1. Thanks to Tom Brady, the AFC East is one of the most muddled divisions in football. The top two teams stand atop the division at 6-3, with the Dolphins and Pats close behind at 5-4. Who is going to win that division and why?
DS: It’s going to be a dog fight, don’t get me wrong, but the good old New York Jets are going to close the deal. After all the hoopla surrounding the Brett Favre signing died down, the reality set in for the Jets faithful (myself included): We have a high-risk, high-reward quarterback who can make any game a nailbiter. That said, the 6-3 record that puts the Jets in a tie for first already denotes a two-game improvement from last season’s 4-12. Gang Green has shown they can more than hang with the rest of the division: They lost by a narrow margin to the Pats in the Meadowlands, they went up to Buffalo to beat the Bills and they topped the suddenly resurgent Dolphins down in Miami. While the defense looks questionable at times and the offense often struggles with finding an identity, the Jets have set themselves up to make a run. If they can continue winning the games they are supposed to win, and some they aren’t (like this Thursday’s game in New England), they can make the turnaround a reality and go from second-worst to first.
BL: I was about to choose the Jets to win, but then I thought Brett Favre was a pick six waiting to happen, and you can’t have that in your quarterback. Buffalo is 0-3 in the division. The Patriots don’t have a running game to protect their new quarterback and the secondary is terrible without Asante Samuel. The Patriots defense is also too old to stay healthy and produce the entire season. So that leaves the former 1-15 Miami Dolphins. Defense and forced turnovers win championships. The Dolphins are second in the AFC with a plus-9 turnover differential, second to only the Tennessee Titans, who have a plus-10 turnover differential. Forcing turnovers is extremely important during a game and keeps your offense on the field and your defense off it. The Patriots are No. 7, the Jets are No. 12 and the Bills are No. 13 in the AFC in that category. The Dolphins have a creative offense to mask their personnel flaws. If you focus your defense on Ronnie Brown, you’ll have to deal with Ricky Williams, Ted Ginn Jr. or even Chad Pennington. That’s how creative the Dolphins offense is.
JJ: My guess is either the Jets or the Pats will win the division. It would have been the Pats outright, but as I am writing this I heard the Jets won by nearly a million points an hour ago. Despite Brady’s injury, the Pats are built to win. Belichick simply keeps his teams mentally sharp and prepares his teams better than anyone in the league (even if he sometimes cheats). When the playoffs come, the Pats should be there. Unless Favre pulls off some of his magic, I see the Jets finishing somewhere around 10-6 and second in the division. Despite key injuries, the Pats have been playing good football. They’ll be healthy soon and will finish the season strong.
MO: This was a tough one to call, but I’m going to give the 3 to Brandon. As crazy as it sounds, you have to be impressed with the Dolphins’ turnover ratio and their Wildcat offense, which has them rolling through their weaker schedule this season. Duncan gets a very close 2 for pointing out how the Jets are actually winning games they’re supposed to this season, and not just the ones they aren’t. Sorry Jez, but you get the 1 for not providing enough backup on this question.
2. Jake Peavy has been the talk of the offseason baseball world, with several teams bidding for his services. As of now, the Cubs and Braves are the front-runners for him, with the Dodgers being tabbed as the long shot. Who is going to land the former Cy Young winner?
DS: I’ll say the Cubbies, if for no other reason than they are the most high-end and prominent locale. The Braves have lost a lot of their 14-straight NL East luster, and the Dodgers stand somewhat in disarray. There are plenty of questions surrounding the pitching staffs of those two teams, but few will question the abilities of Chicago’s finest: Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden are already in place, and adding a talent of Peavy’s caliber could make for a downright frightening rotation. The Cubs are coming off an immensely disappointing finish to 2008 (not that you would have to remind their fans) – over three NLDS games, they lost what took an entire year to build. If they are able to bring in Peavy, it could do wonders as far as rejuvenating an otherwise devastated city. Peavy might well be chomping at the bit when he thinks about the golden opportunity that lies ahead in Chi-town.
BL: Peavy will be a Brave. The Cubs simply don’t have enough prospects to land him. It isn’t known what the Cubs are offering, but the Braves are offering a package of Yunel Escobar, left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes or right-hander Charlie Morton and a third player, who should be a top prospect. In that package you’re getting a solid major leaguer and a choice between top pitching prospects, along with another top prospect. The Cubs had the seventh-highest payroll in baseball at $118 million in 2008 and are also looking to re-sign Ryan Dempster. They would have to trade the farm for Peavy and then add more to a ballooning payroll. The Cubs also traded away Sean Gallagher, their top prospect, to the Athletics for Rich Harden.
JJ: O’Donnell wants me to say that he’ll go to the Cubs. Then he wants to hear something like, “They’ll be so good and they’ll finally make it to the World Series (maybe just win a series), and finish with the best record in the league once again.” Well, for lack of a better thought, I will say that. Seriously, baseball trades come down to money. The Dodgers are looting piggy banks to pay Manny, so they’re out. So, it’s between the Braves and the Cubbies. Personally, I think the Cubs need to land Peavy to get some momentum going into the season and show their fans that they are proactive in trying to win a World Series, building around their talented team. They will pay the extra cash to get him this offseason.
MO: Seeing as the media have tabbed the Cubs as the front-runner, I’ve got to give the top spots to those who picked the Cubs. Duncan gets the 3 for citing that Peavy is indeed chomping at the bit to play in Chicago. It’s his top choice at this time. Jez gets the 2 for for patronizing me and for not saying why the Cubs need Peavy for momentum. Brandon, the Cubs have made it known whom they are offering, including infielder Ronny Cedeno, Sean Marshall or Rich Hill, another young major leaguer and a pitching prospect. 1 point.
3. The NBA season is off to a roaring start, with the Lakers and Celtics being picked for a rematch. Will this happen again? Or is there a dark horse these elite teams should fear?
DS: It’s always a tough proposition to predict a finals rematch, and even though the early season returns have provided little evidence to the contrary, I have to dissent. I think there are too many hungry and talented teams out there – particularly in the Eastern Conference – to say that the same two teams will be ushered in. I think this may well be Cleveland’s year to break through; last year, they had the Celtics up against the ropes and took them seven hard-fought games in the conference finals. This year, it’s hard to forsee LeBron letting them falter if the same situation arises. He’s the kind of player who can will a team to victory and make his teammates better. On the other coast, the Lakers look real strong but will have to contend with the usual powerhouses: San Antonio, Dallas, New Orleans and the other contender du jour. I think Portland is primed to make a run, even sans Greg Oden. Rookie phenomenon Rudy Fernandez, coupled with bona fide stud Brandon Roy, make for a backcourt on pace with many of the other playoff-bound teams.
BL: The Celtics have a big three and now the Rockets have a big three. If Ron Artest continues to keep his demeanor the way it is now, the Rockets will be a force to reckon with. He’s the enforcer and the heart the Rockets have been lacking with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming at the helm. Not only do you have Shane Battier to shadow the likes of Kobe Bryant, but you have Artest to throw at him as well when he’s not protecting T-Mac and Yao. On offense, Artest can do a little of everything, from shooting the three to working the low post with Yao.
JJ: These two should make the finals again, but the NBA season is a long and dangerous one. Any major injury to either of these teams could deny them a finals appearance. Kobe decided to forgo finger surgery in the offseason, Lamar Odom has a history of major shoulder problems and Andrew Bynum could reinjure his new knee. On the C’s side, the “Big 3” are all over 30 and due for some nicks and bangs. In the East, Detroit and the Cavaliers are good candidates to benefit from a Celtics injury. LeBron proved a couple of years ago that he can lead a team through the East himself, while the Iverson trade has recently made Detroit a true contender. Over in the West, Houston and New Orleans could usurp the Lakeshow, barring a major injury. Houston’s own “Big 3” could prove a real force as they get used to Ron Artest, and NO looks good with Chris Paul and the gang healthy (for the most part) and one year more experienced. But, all things being equal, it should come down to another Lakeshow-Celts finals matchup.
MO: Brandon gets the 3 on this query for citing the Rockets as the top contender to the Lakers’ Western Conference throne and how their new acquisition can help them on both sides of the floor. As much as I think the Lakers are going to take it this season, the Rockets do offer the biggest challenge with their “Big 3.” Jez gets the 2 for discussing the Lakers’ injury questions, even though you really can’t predict an injury. Duncan, the Blazers? Unlikely. Enough said, 1 point.
Brandon is finals bound, 7-6-5. Duncan stays alive as a possible wild card.