In this week’s edition of Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Joe Caputo, challenges Sports Editor Chris Molicki, correspondent Greg Oriolo and Sports Assistant Peter Fiorilla to answer questions about who’s underrated and overrated through four weeks of the NFL, whether or not the new wild card format is a good thing, and which teams are the favorites to make it to the World Series.
1. With the NFL season nearly a quarter of the way through, who are the two most overvalued and the two most undervalued teams in the league based on record?
CM: I’d have to say the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings are the two most overrated teams in the NFL. The Cardinals have started off 4-0 thanks to their stingy defense, but a Kevin Kolb led offense is a recipe for disaster. Aside from Larry Fitzgerald, they really have no offensive weapons, and the NFL is clearly an offensive league. The Vikings have gotten great play out of Christian Ponder so far, but he hasn’t been the kind of guy who can carry a team in stretches and he doesn’t have a ton of weapons. Plus, the secondary is god-awful and that is something that can ruin a team all by itself. As for the underrated teams, I would pick the Detroit Lions and the Kansas City Chiefs. Both teams are 1-3, but still have serious potential. For the Lions, injuries have killed their defense and their offense has stalled very often. It’s only a matter of time before Stafford and Megatron go off like they did last year. The Chiefs don’t have the best quarterback in Matt Cassel, but they have one of the best running backs in Jamaal Charles. Combine that with a defense full of playmakers (Brandon Flowers, Tamba Halli, Javier Arenas), and I think they still have a good shot to contend in the AFC West.
GO: Through four weeks, the two most overvalued teams in my opinion are the Eagles and the Bengals. First, the Eagles have barely won against the Rams, Ravens and Giants. Each one of their wins has been by one point! The team could easily be 0-4 if it weren’t for a few good bounces and a missed kick. Also, their turnover ratio is five. If they keep this up against tougher opponents their record will fall. The Bengals on the other hand have had a very favorable schedule, beating the Browns, Redskins and Jags in consecutive weeks. After their bye, they play the Broncos, Chargers, Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, Steelers and Ravens, which in my mind they may only get one or two wins, showing they aren’t complete yet. The two most undervalued teams are the Vikings and the Chargers. These are two teams that no one is talking about. Right now, the Vikings D has been stellar. They shut down the Lions and 49ers offenses, and their offense has not made mistakes. If they beat the Bears or Packers, then people will pay attention. The Chargers are finally under the radar, which is helping them perform this season.
PF: It’s easy to look past the winless New Orleans Saints (0-4) and struggling Detroit Lions (1-3), who have both fallen prey to moderately difficult schedules — New Orleans is already out of the running to host a playoff game and the Lions have little room for error — but make no mistake, these are dangerous teams. Anytime Drew Brees is on the field his team has a chance to win, and the Saints and Lions have only lost their games by an average of 5 and 4.6 points, respectively. Meanwhile, the San Diego Chargers (3-1) and Minnesota Vikings (3-1) are above .500, but it’s hard to see them as even minor contenders at this point. The Chargers have taken advantage of a weak, AFC West-dominated schedule that includes wins against the Chiefs and Raiders, and since Norv Turner is still at the helm in San Diego, they stand no chance at winning a Super Bowl. The Minnesota Vikings have had to do more for their record, but considering how stacked that division — and especially the Packers — will be this year, I can’t see them keeping this pace up for long.
Greg gets 3 points for pointing out the Eagles’ turnover differential and the Bengals’ weak schedule. Peter gets 2 points for pointing out that the Saints and Lions both have lost many close games. Chris gets 1 point for pointing out that the Cardinals offense is not good enough to last.
2. Now that the new MLB wild card rules are finally coming into play, are you a fan of the new format? Additionally, do you think the winner of the wild card round will be put at a major disadvantage as they advance through the playoffs?
CM: I think the new wild card format is great for baseball. First off, out of all of the major sports, baseball has the least amount of teams that make the playoffs. More than half of the NBA makes the postseason. Football has two wild cards as well. Adding another team gives an extra spot for a deserving squad and makes the sport even more exciting. The wild card races have been fun to watch so far, and I feel like they have the potential to be even more insane. I do think the teams that win the one-game playoff are at a disadvantage based on two main reasons: pitching and travel. If you’re in a one-game playoff, you have to send out your ace, making him unable to pitch in the opening game of the next series if you advance. That puts teams at a huge disadvantage going into a series, which is even more crucial in a five- game series. The travel also hurts. Teams are expected to travel to their opponents right away if they win, while the opposition gets home cooking and relaxation for an extra day.
GO: I am a fan of the new format of the MLB wild card. I am a firm believer that the more teams that have a chance to make the playoffs, the more exciting the end of the year becomes. Last season, the final day of the regular season was arguably the most memorable ever. Now imagine that happening every season. I was never more excited while watching regular season baseball and this new format enhances the probability of that situation occurring every season. I feel that saying that the winner of the wild card is put at a major disadvantage is tough to say. Honestly, it all depends on how the team is built. If the winner has a weak offense and is reliant on pitching (preferably three solid starters), then going forward they still have quality starters. On the other hand, if a team has only one solid starter, then going forward they will be in trouble (like if the Mets made the playoffs, maybe next year).
PF: I think the new format is awful. No, it’s beyond awful. The new wild card rules are what awful would be if awful spent years studying old Detroit Lions’ film. This is an unnecessary change more about getting stadiums a little extra revenue and artificially increasing excitement for the MLB than actually improving the product. A one-game playoff between the Yankees and A’s might be exciting, sure, but so would a 15-minute playoff between the Eagles and Saints or a one-period playoff between the Devils and Penguins. It is just not the way the game is meant to be played. Teams are built for a full series, not individual games, like what will be played this week. And since the winners of the wild card round will be without their aces in the second round, they will not go very far in the postseason anyway, making this a pointless change to a postseason that was fine as it was.
Peter gets 3 points for comparing the new first round format to a 15-minute football play-in game. Chris gets 2 points for pointing out that the MLB does not have as many playoff teams as any of the other sports. Greg gets 1 point for pointing out the last day of 2011, but he also brought the Mets into a playoff conversation.
3. Who is your favorite from each league to make the World Series?
CM: My favorite out of the National League to make the World Series is the Cincinnati Reds. They’ve got all the ingredients. Joey Votto is a monster and former NL MVP. When he was injured for an extended period of time, the Reds never lost a step, showing that their team is more than just him. They have an ace in Johnny Cueto and a very respectable staff behind him. Finally, they have arguably the best closer in the league in Aroldis Chapman. There are too many questions marks for the other NL teams, especially the Strasburg-less Nationals, to expect a pennant from them. As for the AL, I’m going to shock everyone by picking the Oakland Athletics. No one expected this out of them, and even after starting the season slow, they’ve been very consistent and winning a ton. They can thank their pitching staff for that, with four starters with an ERA of under 4.00, and the emergence of Josh Reddick. However, the reason why I like them the most is that they epitomize the way championships have been won in recent years. They’re a group of overachievers who have been hot all year long, and that’s how the St. Louis Cardinals did it last year.
GO: My favorite teams to make it to the World Series are the Cincinnati Reds and the Texas Rangers. Both of these teams have the combo of star power, quality players, solid pitching and experienced managers that are needed for a team to be successful in the playoffs. The Reds have the fourth lowest team ERA in all of baseball, which is a very important thing in the playoffs. The saying is that team is only as good as its starting pitcher that day, and the Reds have plenty of them to survive the grueling October playoffs. The Rangers on the other hand have the best hitting team in baseball. They have the highest team batting average in the majors, the fourth most team homeruns, and the highest slugging percentage. This shows that the offense is not only the most consistent, but also one of the most powerful. The key to all of the stats that I mentioned above is consistency. The pitchers of the Reds and the hitters of the Rangers consistently do what they have to do, and I expect them to do the same in the playoffs.
PF: The Texas Rangers will win the World Series, while the Washington Nationals will come out of the NL. Texas has been the most consistent team in baseball over the past few years as a result of smart personnel moves and leadership from the likes of Ron Washington, and despite recent success, this is a team that has avoided complacency. Moves to acquire starter Yu Darvish, starter Ryan Dempster and catcher Geovany Soto this year show the Rangers are still improving for another shot at the World Series, and there is no reason to think they won’t finally get one after last year’s fluky heart break. In the NL, the Nationals are the clear pick, and while their pitching (third in the MLB) isn’t noticeably better than Cincinnati’s (fourth), Washington has a noticeable advantage in hitting (10th to 17th in the league).
Chris gets 3 points for taking a risk and pointing out that the playoffs are all about who’s hot. Peter gets 2 points for pointing out the clear hitting advantage and similar pitching of Washington vs. Cincinnati. Greg gets 1 point for pointing out the consistency of Cincinnati and Texas.
Peter wins Around the Dorm 7-6-5.