Lions Around the Dorm: September 14, 2011

In this week’s Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Alex Wolfe, challenges Sports Assistant Kevin Lee, Correspondent Bryan Bellanca and Correspondent Kevin Black to answer questions about the NFC, AFC and Super Bowl favorites in the NFL this season, the Heisman frontrunner in a stacked field of competitors and the chances the Washington Nationals make it to the playoffs in the next few years.

1. Now that the NFL is underway, the question becomes, who will come out on top? The trendy pick is the Eagles vs. the Patriots, but give me your NFC Super Bowl team, AFC Super Bowl team, who wins and why.

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KL: The team that will represent the AFC is the Houston Texans. I’m a big believer in the Texans’ dynamic offense and the significant improvements they made over the offseason on the defensive end. With Peyton Manning sidelined for at least 12 weeks, the Texans will run away with that division. Health is the key for the Texans, but no one can really predict injuries. My pick for the NFC is the Atlanta Falcons. Last year, the Falcons showed us a glimpse of their potential but faltered in the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl Champions. The Falcons managed to have a top-five scoring offense and a top-five scoring defense, leaving them fourth in the league in point differential with a 13-3 record. The only thing that prevented them from making the Super Bowl last year was their youth and inexperience. This year, I think that they will be able to grow and reach their potential. So with the Texans and Falcons in the Super Bowl, I’ll say that the Falcons will win Super Bowl XLVI.

BB: The two teams I believe will play for the Super Bowl this year are the San Diego Chargers and the Green Bay Packers, with the Chargers winning the Super Bowl. Even though the Chargers did not make the playoffs last year, they had the best overall defense and offense in the NFL, and that was without their No. 1 target on offense, Vincent Jackson, who held out for most of the season. The Packers managed to win the NFC Championship with many key players injured, and I see no reason why they will not do it again when all they lost this offseason was Nick Barnett and Cullen Jenkins. The Chargers are one of the only teams in the NFL who have a good enough offense to match the Packers while at the same time having a good enough defense to keep the Packers’ offense in line, which is exactly why the Chargers will be the team to stop the Packers from winning back-to-back Super Bowl championships.

KB: Trendy picks are showing that it may be an Eagles/Patriots Super Bowl, but I want to go a different route. Due to the lockout, teams did not have the normal time to prepare for the season. Everyone started on July 26, which means if they signed any new players this offseason (if you can call it an offseason), you only had those five or six weeks during camp and preseason, compared to the normal four to five months, to get your free agents and top draft picks ready and acclimated to the new systems. I am looking at two teams who kept their rosters mostly together without any major losses, signed very few (if any) free agents and kept their quarterback/head coach combination together. History may not be on either of their sides, but these two teams show consistency, and one of them has become even healthier than last year. Having explained why these two teams will make it, out of the NFC, I will pick the Packers to return to defend their title against the team they beat to win it from the AFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers, with the Green Bay Packers repeating as champions.

AW: Good points all around, but I give Bryan the 3 because the Chargers do seem poised for a big year. Kevin L. gets 2 because although it’s a reach, both of those teams have a good shot. Kevin B. gets 1 because although those are good points, Super Bowl rematches almost never happen.

2. The Heisman field is stacked this year, with at least five candidates that have a legitimate shot at winning the prestigious award. Who’s your Heisman favorite for this year and why?

KL: Landry Jones will win the Heisman. Last season, Jones threw for 4,718 yards and 38 touchdowns. Jones has the talent and ability to put up a monster season. Putting

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statistics aside, Jones has several other factors that the front-runner pick Andrew Luck does not have in his favor. The Oklahoma Sooners are the No. 1 ranked team, and voters favor successful teams. Only one QB has won the Heisman with more than two losses at the time of the voting. The second point is that the Sooners have coach Bob Stoops, who has produced two Heisman quarterbacks in the past decade. In contrast, the Stanford Cardinal has hired a rookie head coach. Only three players have won the Heisman on a team with a first-year coach. There’s no denying that Andrew Luck is the best player in college football, but that doesn’t add up to a Heisman winner.BB: My Heisman favorite is Landry Jones of Oklahoma. Jones was second in the nation in passing yards and passing touchdowns last year, and everyone is returning for Oklahoma on offense except their two running backs, which will only lead to Jones passing more this season. Jones also benefits from having one of the best receivers in college football in Ryan Broyles. Besides having a good statistical year, the Heisman committee looks at how well your team does in determining a winner, and Oklahoma is currently the No. 1 team in the nation and favorite to win the Big 12 and compete for the national championship. The Heisman committee also looks at how players perform in big games, and last year Jones proved that he was a big-game performer with his best games coming against ranked teams. Jones, now entering his third year as the starting quarterback for Oklahoma, has improved over his first two years and has already gotten off to a good start in his first game. With a solid team behind him and a lot of chances to prove himself against ranked teams, Landry Jones will win the Heisman trophy this year.

KB: My pick to win the Heisman trophy is QB Kellen Moore from Boise State. I think this is the year the BCS buster school wins big and gets over the computer-polling hump, and he will be the reason. He doesn’t have Austin Pettis and Titus Young, the explosive receivers he had last year, but the man is a winner. He is on pace to be the winningest QB in college football, replacing Colt McCoy, and going for 261 yards, three touchdowns, only one interception, an 82 percent completion percentage and having a QB rating of 170.1 against a ranked SEC opponent in Georgia proves Moore is off and running and having a great start.

AW: Again, good all around, but Kevin B. gets 3 for saying that if Boise wins out, Moore gets it. Bryan and Kevin L. get 2 because their arguments were very similar and also very good.

3. Stephen Strasburg returned for the Nationals this past week and tossed a solid outing in his first appearance since having Tommy John surgery last year. He and the Nats’ minor-league hitting sensation Bryce Harper are considered to be the future, but give me a percentage chance that the Nats make the playoffs in the next three years and why.

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KL: I’m going to say a 90 percent chance. In the NL East, the only team better than the Nationals in three years is the Braves. The Phillies are a veteran team, and their hitters are not aging well. The fact that the Nationals have so many other assets aside from Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg is scary. On the major-league roster, the Nationals already have Ryan Zimmerman and Jordan Zimmermann, both of whom are already really good and have yet to reach their peaks. They also have a shutdown reliever in Drew Storen. Down in the minors, the Nationals have an excellent farm. Anthony Rendon is going to add a lot of punch to that lineup and quickly, too, forming one of the most feared 3-4-5 punches in Zimmerman, Harper and Rendon. Filling out the rest of the rotation alongside Strasburg and Zimmerman are Alex Meyer, AJ Cole and Matthew Purke. Those three pitching prospects themselves have top-of-the-rotation upside. I talk about all of these prospects as can’t-miss, but the fact that they are going to move through the minors extremely quickly makes their upsides a legitimate possibility. Finally, because the Nationals are built from the ground up, their payroll is small, allowing them to to add another impact bat or arm in a few years.

BB: I give the Nationals a 10 percent chance to make the playoffs over the next three years. The only reason I even give the Nationals a small percentage chance to make the playoffs is because they have a promising young pitching staff led by Strasburg, Lannan and Zimmermann. Plus, Nationals management has shown that they are willing to spend money by signing Jayson Werth to a $126 million contract. The problem facing the Nationals is that management needs to spend money a little smarter instead of overpaying for an average player. The other problem is that they are in a division with the Phillies and the Braves. Both those teams have pitching staffs that the Nationals just cannot compete against, even with Strasburg. Additionally, Bryce Harper is only 18 years old, and according to Baseball America, is not projected to reach the majors until 2013 at the earliest, so he will not factor in too much over the next three years. Unless MLB changes the divisions or has more than four teams make the playoffs from each league, the Nationals will not be in the playoffs anytime over the next three years, but they will certainly be more competitive and maybe over the next five to six years can finally make the playoffs.

KB: Ten percent. There is a chance, but that’s all it is. While Strasburg and Harper provide talent for the Nationals to build on over the next three years, I feel they have to do more and find more talent, whether it be youth or experience. Yes, acquiring Jayson Werth from the Phillies as a free agent was a start. Then again,  when you look at teams like the Boston Red Sox, you talk about the free agents, but most of the lineup has come from their farm system. So it must be asked, can just two superstars in a farm system overcome a plethora of pretty good farm players moving up on a team?  Another reason is that the level of competition in the National League will not substantially drop over the next three years. The Phillies and Braves will always find ways to reload in the East, and the pesky Mets and Marlins are always roadblocks, so winning the NL East will be difficult. Also, the wild card, with consistent teams like the Cardinals, Brewers and Giants and new on-the-rise teams like the Diamondbacks and Pirates are sure to be a problem. Their only hope is the rumored realignment.

AW:  Bryan gets 3 for bringing up that the Nats need to spend a little smarter. Kevin B. gets 2 for saying that their farm talent will need to blossom. Kevin L. gets 1 because minor leaguers are hard to bank on.

Bryan wins this week’s AtD, 8 – 6 – 5.