Lions Around the Dorm

In the first Around the Dorm of the new semester, the “Ref,” Alex Wolfe, challenges Sports Assistant Kevin Lee, Staff Writer Brandon Gould and Copy Editor Hilarey Wojtowicz to answer questions about which team will break out this season in the post-lockout NFL, the chances that the NBA takes to the hardwood again this year, and the toughest low-seed team in the AL playoffs in the MLB.

1.The NFL lockout is (thankfully) over, and this season is shaping up to be a memorable one. Give me your breakout team of the year and why.

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KL: I’ll take the Houston Texans. The Texans have a dynamic offense, which was ranked fourth in passing and seventh in rushing in 2010. Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson are an absolutely lethal combination, and the emergence of Arian Foster as a top running back will only make this offense more dangerous. The Texans’ defense last year was horrendous. However, the improvements they made this year have me believing in the Texans big time. The additions of Jonathan Joseph and Danieal Manning are huge upgrades in talent over what they had in the defensive secondary last season. Of course there is stud linebacker Mario Williams, but the real x-factor is the hiring of Wade Phillips. Phillips might not have what it takes to be a good head coach in the NFL, but he has a great track record as a defensive coordinator, most recently as the leader of the aggressive 3-4 defense of the San Diego Chargers from 2004 to 2006. I’ll predict the Texans go 11-5, good enough to dethrone the Colts for the division.

BG: For the first time in a long time, the Dallas Cowboys are not being hyped up as one of the teams poised to make a Super Bowl run, and that is exactly why I’m picking them to break out this season and surprise people. It’s not long ago that Tony Romo was one of the up-and-coming quarterbacks in the league, and the cabinet’s full this year with receivers we know (Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten) ones that could be poised to breakout (Martellus Bennett and Dwayne Harris) and a solid stable of running backs (Felix Jones, Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray). Wade Phillips is a tough defensive mind to replace, but if there was anyone who could do it, Rob Ryan would be the guy. Ryan has the pass rusher his brother wishes he had in DeMarcus Ware, and once the two get accumulated with each other, watch out. A team with a good offense paired with a solid defense that will also be able to fly under-the-radar in the shadow of the Philadelphia Eagles — what’s not to like?

HW: As it is the first AtD of the year, I have to be true to myself and let everyone know upfront if they don’t already who my team is — the Patriots. Of course Tom Brady is going to carry the team far this season. It may only be preseason, but the Pats are starting it off strong in first in the AFC with a DIFF of +52. They’ve already had big wins over Jacksonville and Tampa Bay. It may be early, but I have faith in my team.

AW: Kevin gets 3, because the Texans do have potent run and pass attacks, and made some moves on D. Brandon makes a good point that nobody’s expecting much from the ‘Boys and gets 2. Hilarey gets 1, because the Pats were already the best regular season team of last year and thus are not exactly a “breakout” candidate.

2. Speaking of lockouts, give me the chances the NBA has a season this year, and why.

KL: I’ll say there’s a 10 percent chance there’s an NBA season this year. Many players already have deals in place to go abroad, and that takes away huge leverage from the owner’s side. This makes the situation even more complicated because NBA owners have said that the majority of them are losing money, which makes the owner’s side less willing to compromise. By the time the two sides agree on a deal, I think that it will be much too late to even start up a season. In addition to some players’ not having opt-out clauses from their abroad contracts, and the possibility of some players getting injured, I just don’t think it would be in the best interest of the league to resume if a deal isn’t agreed upon soon. It looks like I’ll be having as many rings as LeBron for one more year.

BG: The season is far off, but right now the chances that there will be one are grim. The NFL lockout consisted of players and owners arguing over profits, but the chatter during this lockout has been about anything but profit. NBA teams claimed that they lost $340 million in 2009-10 and $300 million in 2010-11. Their concern over money is so severe that there have been rumors of possibly eliminating a few teams — an absurd idea, I know. However, the owners, who caused their own financial struggles by throwing ridiculous amounts of money at mediocre players, won’t admit their own fault in the matter and instead will continue to insist a decrease in the players’ salaries. The players, meanwhile, will just play overseas and make their money in the meantime. Add it all together and you’ve got a potential season-long lockout on your hands.

HW: Right now, it’s not looking too good for the NBA. Players last made a proposal on June 30, and as of Aug. 2, the day after the meeting where the league filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, a lawsuit went out against the players. As of right now, it looks like there has been no change and I doubt there will be any change until games start getting canceled.

AW: Brandon gets 3 for pointing out the owners’ stubbornness in the matter. Hilarey gets 2 for pointing out that both sides won’t see the severity of the matter until games are canceled. Kevin gets 1 for bringing up the possibility that some players might not be able to come back from abroad right away.

3. The Yankees and Red Sox are battling it out for the AL East Championship/Wild Card once again, but the two teams should be looking toward their future opponents. Which team is the toughest playoff draw, the Texas Rangers or the Detroit Tigers?

KL: The toughest playoff draw for both teams is definitely the Rangers, and that’s more of a response to how bad the Tigers are. The Tigers have absolutely no pitching whatsoever behind Verlander, and the lineup is just as bad. Yeah, Verlander is going to be able to pitch two games in a short series, but seriously, who pitches the other games? Brad Penny? Max Scherzer? Rick Porcello? Doug Fister? Terrible. The Tigers don’t even have a good bullpen to shorten up some of the games. No, Valverede is not a shutdown reliever because he has 38 saves. Saves are a junk stat. Miguel Cabrera aside, the lineup is filled with low on-base percentage players and fluky players who have terrible split stats. Jim Leyland’s refusal to move Austin Jackson out of the lead-off spot is beyond me. Your lead-off man is supposed to get on base, and an OBP of .306 is nauseating. I just feel badly for the Rays and the Angels, who are vastly superior to the Tigers and will miss the playoffs.

BG: The Texas Rangers are a year removed from knocking the New York Yankees out of the playoffs on their way to the World Series, but it is the possibility of facing the Detroit Tigers that the Yankees should lose sleep over. The Tigers’ rotation is led by one of the only pitchers in the league that has the ability to best C.C. Sabathia — Justin Verlander. And the guys behind Verlander are no chumps either. As impressive as the Tigers’ pitching is, their offense is even more imposing. While the Tigers can’t claim the power numbers of the Yankees’ top sluggers, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, they do have four of the league’s most consistent hitters. Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila each have posted 60-plus RBI this year in addition to maintaining a .300 batting average. So, even though the Yankees’ minds should be set on winning the division, it wouldn’t hurt to take the wild card and head into the playoffs matched up with the Rangers.

HW: The Texas Rangers are definitely the tougher team to beat in the playoffs this year. They have a better record and a better cohesive team that has the experience needed to beat teams like the Red Sox or the Yankees. But of course, I don’t have any doubt that the Red Sox will still be able to beat the Rangers, as they just won that four-game series 3-1. The Rangers will definitely give both teams a better run than the Detroit Tigers could.

AW: Brandon and Kevin both get 3, because I couldn’t decide between the two. Good point by Brandon about Verlander matching up well and the big four hitters for Detroit. Also good points by Kevin, talking about Pettis and saves being a bad stat for Valverde. Hilarey gets 1 for blatantly hyping up Boston.

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Brandon wins the semester’s first AtD, 8 – 7 – 4.