In this week’s Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Chris Molicki, challenges Sports Assistant Kevin Lee, Correspondent Bryan Bellanca and Staff Writer Mike Pietroforte to answer questions about which team will come out on top in the NFC East, which of the surprising Lions and 49ers has a better chance to stay successful, and who will advance to the World Series in an upset-riddled MLB playoffs.
1. With the preseason favorite Eagles starting off slow, the Cowboys mediocre and the Giants and surprise Redskins up top, the NFC East seems completely wide open. Who will win the division and why?
KL: I still think the Philadelphia Eagles will take this division come season’s end. The Eagles had lofty expectations and many new additions to their roster. In many respects, the Eagles are like the Miami Heat. The Heat had huge expectations and even struggled to begin their season, similar to the Eagles. It takes time for teams with major roster overhauls to develop chemistry, especially for the Eagles due to the lockout that cancelled much of training camp. In addition, it’s always tough to live up to the immense hype and pressure that fans place on teams — at least initially. The Eagles will go on a huge winning streak very soon and will come out as one of the best teams in their conference, similar to the Heat. They are too talented not to.
BB: I believe the New York Giants will win the NFC East this year. In a division that has been known as one of the best over the last decade, this year is no different. The Giants are currently tied for first place with the Redskins and they are the most injury-riddled team in the NFL. Their two best players on defense, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, have been injured for most of the first quarter of the season, but both are close to returning, which will only make their defense better. The Giants are also without their first-round pick, Prince Amukamara, who should be ready to go in a few weeks and will instantly improve their secondary. So far, the Giants have found ways to win despite all their injuries, and I see no reason why they won’t keep it up as they continue to get healthy.
MP: The Eagles simply have too much talent to continue playing at this pace. I expect the Eagles’ offense to explode, but more importantly, I expect the defense to begin playing as they should. Expect the tandem of Asante Samuel and Nnamdi Asomugha to step up and make turnovers happen. My prediction is that the Eagles will win the division simply because their ceiling for success is drastically higher than those of the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins. The most crucial position in the NFL, especially in the last few years, has been the quarterback. I feel like the Eagles have such a superior quarterback in Michael Vick that Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Rex Grossman can’t be expected to lead their teams to victory.
CM: I’ll give Bryan 3 points because he points out all the Giants injuries, as well as Prince Amukamara’s eventual return. Mike gets 2 for saying that a team’s most crucial position is the quarterback. Kevin gets 1 because making a dream team for an NBA team is a lot different than making one for an NFL team.
2. Both the Lions and the 49ers have had surprisingly good starts this season, effectively reshaping the NFL landscape. Which team do you see continuing their winning ways?
KL: Although I think the Lions are a vastly superior team, I think the 49ers will continue their winning ways. The 49ers have an absolute cupcake schedule by playing in the NFC West. On the other hand, the Lions have yet to play the Packers and are scheduled to play them twice later in the season. Roster-wise, the 49ers have a good team as well. Alex Smith is playing very efficiently this season, and Frank Gore and Vernon Davis are legitimate offensive threats. However, the 49ers’ real strength is on the defensive side of things — the team currently ranks seventh in points allowed. They have an amazing rush defense, fourth in the league, led by beast middle linebacker Patrick Willis. The 49ers may not have the flashiest names on their roster, but they are a solid team with a favorable schedule.
BB: While I believe the Lions are a much better team than the 49ers, I believe the 49ers have a better chance of continuing their winning ways, and that is all because of the division they play in. The NFC West has been the biggest joke of a division over the past few years, when being a mediocre team got you into the playoffs. The Lions are going to have a hard time beating the Packers to win their division, and the Bears might even push them for second place in the division. The 49ers, on the other hand, don’t have the same challenge the Lions have since there is no competition in the NFC West. The one team that was thought to compete for the division, the Rams, has gotten off to a terrible start. Niners QB Alex Smith has finally shown that he can manage a football game and allow Frank Gore and his defense to win games for him.
MP: I can definitely see the success of the Detroit Lions continuing. They have legitimate offensive weapons in Matthew Stafford, Jahvid Best and Calvin Johnson. From years of losing and high draft picks, the Lions have grown from a team with a handful of promising newcomers to a team with a handful of playmakers. Thus far they’ve beaten only average teams — the Buccaneers, Chiefs, Vikings and Cowboys — but faced a true test Monday against the Bears. The 49ers on the other hand, depend on the shaky arm of Alex Smith and the seldom-healthy legs of Frank Gore. Although they play in a significantly less competitive division than the Lions, the 49ers will not be able to succeed with the mediocre-at-best Alex Smith at the helm.
CM: Kevin gets 3 for his mentioning that the 49ers having one of the best-ranked defenses in the league. Bryan gets 2 for saying that Alex Smith has finally shown he can win football games. Mike gets 1 for pointing out that the Lions have gotten a lot of playmakers through the draft.
3. With the Rangers and the Tigers meeting in the ALCS and the Cardinals and Brewers squaring off in the NLCS, who do you think will make it to the World Series?
KL: The Brewers will represent the National League. The Brewers already have the upper hand by being at home. They also have a favorable matchup by being able to start Zack Greinke vs. Jamie Garcia in game one. The Brewers’ rotation is absolutely filthy, led by Greinke, Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum. It’s a bit right-handed heavy, but that plays to their advantage considering the Cardinals don’t have a real left-handed bat. In addition, Matt Holliday is banged up, putting the Cardinals at even more of a disadvantage. In the American League, the Rangers will beat the Tigers. The Rangers are a very tough team to beat at home and have home-field advantage, boasting the second-best record at home during the season. I’ve also said this before, but I’m still not a believer in the Tigers’ rotation, especially against a good hitting team like the Rangers. The only reason why the Tigers were able to advance was because they played the Yankees in a short series, and the Yankees’ pitching was equally as bad. The Tigers had a –11 run differential in the ALDS. During the season, the Tigers were 20-16 against the AL East, 18-18 against the AL West and 50-22 against the AL Central. I just don’t think the Tigers are a very good team, and they are only in the playoffs because they were able to beat up teams in the terrible AL Central.
BB: I believe the Rangers and Brewers will play each other in the World Series. The Rangers have battled a lot of injuries throughout the season, but the entire team is finally healthy, and when healthy, they have one of the best lineups top-to-bottom in baseball. The Tigers’ pitching staff is not deep after Verlander, and I believe the Rangers’ bats will get to the rest of the staff. On top of their lineup, the Rangers are also very deep in the bullpen, especially since they put rookie pitcher Alexi Ogando in there. The Brewers were the best home team in baseball this past season and now have home field for the rest of the playoffs. On top of that, their game-one starter, Zach Greinke, has not lost a game at home all season long. The Brewers also have one of the best one-two punches in the middle with NL MVP front-runner Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Combine all of that with the Brewers’ deep bullpen and pitching staff and the Brewers will be a hard team to beat.
MP: After seeing the Phillies and Yankees lose this week, the rest of the playoffs seem completely up for grabs. The matchup that seems most intriguing to me is the Cardinals vs. the Brewers. They’re division rivals who really don’t like each other very much and have seen the benches empty this season. I think what will sway the series is the Brewers’ core of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. Both are game-changing hitters. I also like the top of the Brewers’ rotation much better than the Cardinals’. Yovani Gallardo is a big-game pitcher who racks up the strikeouts, Zack Greinke is a former ace who can still pitch like it, and Shaun Marcum has been very dependable this year. The Brewers also bring an intensity to their games that I think the Cardinals lack. After seeing the Tigers drop the opening game with stud pitcher Justin Verlander on the hill, I think the Rangers’ bats will be too much for the Tigers. World Series matchup: Rangers vs. Brewers.
CM: Kevin gets 3 for saying that Holliday is hurt and the Brewers have a pitching advantage. Mike gets 2 for pointing out that the Braun/Fielder combination is one of the best in the league. Bryan gets 1 for showing how deep the Rangers’ bullpen is.
Kevin wins this week’s AtD, 7 – 6 – 5