1. Last week, we had a question about the Philadelphia Eagles, but let’s talk about the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Where do you have them finishing: champs again, NFC East winners, wild card team or missing the playoffs, and why?
JCo: While I’m not very high on the NFC East and think it’s weak, I have to respect the Giants and congratulate them on their championship. With a record of just 9-7 last year, they were able to overcome a lot of short comings (2 losses to the Redskins!) and get hot when it mattered most. With the offensive losses of Manningham and Jacobs, it would appear that their offense might take a step back. However, their defensive line is one of the most fearsome in the NFL. With Tuck, Osi, JPP and a cast of others rotating in and out, the Giants’ front four will put a lot of pressure on the opposing quarterback which will lead to many turnovers to set up points for the offense. The Redskins are still a few years out from contending. The Eagles are lethal on offense, but can’t stay healthy, with Vick being injured twice in two preseason games. Tony Romo has proven that he is a very good QB over the past few years, but his Cowboy teammates have consistently let him down. With a revamped defensive backfield, the Cowboys may be able to push the Giants this season, but I believe they will fall short and the Giants will once again win the NFC East.
GO: I believe that the Giants will win the NFC East this season. First, no team in the division has a more consistent offense than the G-Men. Eli Manning has the longest active streak of consecutive games started at QB, their receiving core is as dynamic as any other in the conference and David Wilson may emerge as one of the steals of this year’s draft. Yes, the Eagles might be more explosive, but the likeliness of Vick playing every game is slim, which takes them out of the race. The Cowboys are also very talented, but Miles Austin can’t stay healthy, Demarco Murray is unproven and Tony Romo has yet to win a big game. Lastly, if you have to pick one team’s defense out of the division, there is no doubt in my mind that the Giants’ D is the most dominant. Their front seven is one of the best in the NFL, their safeties make one of the most skilled duos in the NFL and they may have the best defensive player in the league right now in Jason Pierre-Paul. I’ll take this team any day.
JCa: Judging by the past few seasons, the NFC East has been one of the most difficult divisions to predict. That being said, it’s easier to base the prediction off of past experience. Following their last Super Bowl win, the Giants came out firing on all cylinders in 2008, marching to a 12-4 record and a first-round bye. I see a similar result this year. They have retained their deadly pass rush, which I believe is the number one way to stop a good pass game in the NFL, and they’ve even improved their offense with the additions of Rueben Randle and David Wilson in the draft. Though they play in one of the toughest divisions in the league, their opponents have been nothing but inconsistent. No one ever knows what to expect out of Dallas, and who knows how Michael Vick’s health will play out. Not to mention the Redskins have now built their team around a rookie quarterback. Things are shaping up for the Giants to take back their title as NFC East champs.
Joe gets 3 points for pointing out how the Giants won the NFC East after their last Super Bowl run. Jim gets 2 points for saying how the Giants’ defense will be their strength. Greg gets 1 point for saying that injuries are hurting the other NFC East teams.
2. Baseball’s wild card race is going to be nothing short of wild, especially with the extra spot this year. In the AL, things are so tight that the Baltimore Orioles, Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels are all still alive. Who are your favorites and why?
JCo: While I am a huge fan of the Angels and Mike Trout’s amazing rookie year, I believe that their poor start in August will really cripple their chance of making it to the postseason. I think that the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays will be the final two. Detroit has arguably the best pitcher in the world in Justin Verlander, last year’s AL MVP and Cy Young winner, and they potentially have another MVP player in Miguel Cabrera. If Detroit can pull it together in these next few weeks, they could be the most dangerous team out there. As for the Rays, nobody has forgotten their unbelievable walk-off win in the final game of the season that pushed them ahead of the Red Sox and into the postseason last year. The Rays have a deep rotation featuring David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore and a solid bullpen as well. They also have a solid lineup that really knows how to step up when the game is on the line. Tampa Bay has been on fire recently and I don’t believe that any team would want to face them in the one-game playoff.
GO: Tampa Bay and Detroit both have quality pitching and explosive offensive players, as well as smart managers who will get their teams into postseason play. Also, both of the teams have been there before, so any pressure down the stretch in September shouldn’t phase them. Baltimore and Oakland are at the top of the Wild Card now, but Oakland is inexperienced and may falter in September, and Baltimore has a run differential of -46. Since the Wild Card began 17 years ago, only 3 teams have made it into the playoffs with a negative run differential. Another reason why I feel that Tampa and Detroit will get in is because of their respective aces, David Price and Justin Verlander. In late September, when each of these teams have a must win game, these pitchers will be on the mound, and I am confident that both teams will get that win.
JCa: The Detroit Tigers are my first wild card team. This team always tends to come alive late in the season, and their pitching staff will be the difference. Even looking past Verlander, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer have really been coming into their own, which was their recipe for success a season ago. Taking away his last start, Fister was 5-1 with a 1.57 ERA in his previous seven, while Scherzer went 6-1 over that same span. MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera is automatic with RISP (.351 BA overall, .462 with two outs) and will provide sufficient run support. My second wild card spot will be filled by a team lead by not an MVP candidate, but the MVP himself, Mike Trout. There is nothing this guy can’t do, and the Angels finally seem to be getting their pitching going (Greinke: 2-0, 1.84 ERA in last 2 starts). Their pen is the only slightly scary part of the team, but who knows, I’m sure Trout can step up and throw an inning or two if need be. But seriously, he can. Tigers and Angels in the one-game playoff.
Greg gets 3 points for saying that Baltimore’s run differential may ultimately be their downfall. Jim and Joe each get 2 points for citing the depth of both the Tigers’ and Rays’ rotations.
3. Blake Griffin claims he is healthy and “ready to go” after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Even if he is, are the Clippers serious contenders in the West along with the likes of the Thunder, Lakers and Spurs?
JCo: While Griffin and the “Lob City” Clippers are definitely one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA, it has become obvious over the last few seasons that the contenders in the NBA are the star-filled teams. We saw how Western Conference teams like the Lakers, Thunder and Spurs dominated last year with the help of their deep lineups and superstar power. While the addition of Chris Paul to the Clippers last season was certainly a good one, I do not think this simple 1-2 punch of Paul and Griffin will be enough to keep up with the rest of the pack. This knee surgery should be more of a concern than anything, as it will be the second so far in Griffin’s short NBA career. Teams such as the Lakers and Thunder have also vastly improved. The Lakers stole the offseason spotlight with the blockbuster trade to bring Dwight Howard to Hollywood, and the Thunder continue to mature and improve with superstars such as Durant, Westbrook and Harden. The Clippers will compete, but I would not call them serious contenders.
GO: To me, a serious contender in the NBA is a team that is “likely” to win their conference in the playoffs. In the West, I personally believe the only two teams that have a shot, barring injury, are OKC and the Lakers, so no, I do not feel as if the Clippers are a serious threat. They have a talented team, but I just don’t feel that Blake Griffin is as good as advertised. He survives on athleticism, and the fact that he just had knee surgery for the second time in the last four years is not good. Also, their best player, Chris Paul, is coming off of a summer injury which may affect his play early in the year. Combine that with an aging Caron Butler and an overpaid center (DeAnre Jordan) who does the exact same things as Blake Griffin, and that equals a team that will get the five seed and lose in the first or second round of the playoffs.
JCa: If it were up to me, I would answer this question with one simple word — no. But since this is a competition, I guess I’m required to provide an explanation. In my eyes, the Thunder are still the best team in the Western Conference. Although the Lakers drastically improved this offseason, 2/3 of their “Big 3” are definitely past their prime and Dwight Howard is still somewhat of a question mark coming off his recent back issues. The average age of the Thunder’s “Big 3?” — 23, yes, 23 years old. With Durant and Westbrook not going anywhere anytime soon, and Harden’s recent indication that he would like to stay in OKC, this is a team that has arrived as the favorite in the West, and will remain there for years to come. Though the Clippers do have some very nice pieces, their ceiling is not as high as the Thunder, and they still lack the small forward that can put up 30-plus on any given night. In my eyes, the only way they will ever be able to break through the ceiling is if they can find someone even slightly comparable to a Kevin Durant. If not, it will be a long upcoming 5-10 years on the Clipper side of Los Angeles. Hey, at least they’re used to it.
Greg gets 3 points for saying how Griffin isn’t the kind of star to carry a team. Jim gets 2 points for saying that the West has too many deep and star-filled teams for the Clippers to contend. Joe gets 1 point for saying that the Thunder will be nearly impossible to beat for the foreseeable future.
Greg wins Around the Dorm 7-6-6