In the first round of the playoffs for Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Mike Herold challenges staff writer Mike Pietroforte, managing editor Brendan McGrath and correspondent Greg Oriolo to answer questions about the favorites in each conference to make it to the Super Bowl, if the Lakers can rebound from a horrid start, and what is the best sports’ superstition.
1. The NFL season just passed the halfway mark. At this point in time, which two teams do you see playing in the Super Bowl, and who’s going to win it?
MP: I’m one of those firm believers that defense wins championships when it comes to football. In the NFC, there are two teams that sport absolutely stifling defenses: the Bears and the 49ers. While the 49ers have definitely stepped up their offense this year, Alex Smith just isn’t a quarterback I feel comfortable getting behind. Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall struggled at first, but really hit their stride this past week and proved that they can be a truly electric tandem when they’re clicking. The Bears are my pick from the NFC. There are three teams that stand out to me in the AFC: the Texans, Patriots and Broncos. All three teams share explosive, high-scoring offenses that manage to regularly find the end zone, but I think what separates them is their defenses. The Pats’ defense is porous, and while the Texans do have arguably the best defensive player in the league in J.J. Watt, they suffered a serious loss when the leader of their defense, Brian Cushing, went down for the year. I think the Broncos match their dominant offense with a dominant defense and they are my pick to win the Super Bowl.
BM: I think the Texans will be able to squeeze through the AFC and into the Super Bowl. They have scored the second most points in the conference while allowing the least. Andre Johnson isn’t lighting up the league quite like he used to, but he’s still a great receiver. On top of that, Arian Foster has kept up his end of it, and Schaub is having a solid season as well. Couple that with their defense and this team’s going to be able to overcome anyone who stands in their way. In the NFC, I think it comes down to the Bears and the 49ers. I like the 49ers, but I think the Bears will pull this out. Their defense comes up a little short, but is still excellent, and they just have more firepower than San Francisco. In the end, this will be a close one, but the Bears will pull it out for their first title in 25 years.
GO: At the halfway mark of the season, my Super Bowl picks barring injuries for each conference is the Texans and Bears. The reason for this is because I feel that both teams are the most complete in the league and use the same formula to win games. Offensively, both teams are capable of running and throwing the ball. The trios of Schaub-Foster-Johnson and Cutler-Forte-Marshall are two of the best in the league capable of big numbers. Dating back the last two seasons, when these teams are healthy, they have won more games than any team in the NFL. Last year, if Cutler and Schaub did not go down, these teams were legitimate contenders. Now look this year while healthy, they are at the top of their divisions. Also, having a defense that can force turnovers and provide the offense is almost essential for winning a title. Look at the past Super Bowl Winners. Each team had a defense that was able to force turnovers at a high rate. The Bears and Texans are two of the best teams at doing this, which will lead to a big matchup in the Super Bowl this year.
Mike gets 3 points for picking a team based on defense first and offense second. Greg gets 2 points for pointing out that defenses that create turnovers are vital. Brendan gets 1 point for mentioning the Texans’ point differential playing a crucial role.
2. The NBA season has barely begun and already everyone’s saying the Lakers are doomed to fail. What’s your take on when/if L.A. will get it together?
MP: Does anyone remember when LeBron James and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach? Did that team dominate from the get-go? No. They lost their opening game in a record-breaking broadcast on national television, and were hounded by the media when they struggled to a 9-8 record. Basketball requires much more chemistry and team flow than most other sports. It requires five players to work as a unit. These things take some time. I would expect the Lakers to come into the All-Star break somewhere around .500 in the win-loss column. They’ll have their spurts along the way, but I expect them to become increasingly better as the season continues. I think they’ll truly hit their stride three quarters of the way through the season. Once Nash, Kobe and Dwight, all among the league’s elite playmakers, figure out how to share the court, they’ll be a very scary team to run into.
BM: I think L.A. just needs time to mesh. I mean, no one actually thinks they are as bad as their record, it’s just a matter of how good they will be when they start to come together. I don’t know if firing Brown was necessary, but now they’ll have a new coach to go along with their new superstar. If Howard and Kobe get along and play well together, I find it hard to believe that they won’t be at the top of the league by the end of the season. I predict that this team will get it together soon, and that by Christmas, we’ll be talking about a strong surge they’re on. By March, they’ll be one of the top three favorites to win the championship, and in the end, they’ll have as good a shot at it as anyone. Take the team that did so well last year and replace Bynum with Howard. This team is likely a .667 winning percentage team, not the .333 team they’ve been so far.
GO: I think the Lakers will get it together, but I feel as if they really rushed things when firing Mike Brown. Early on, the team hasn’t played well because they don’t have chemistry yet. Nash has been hurt, Dwight is just getting into form after back surgery, and Kobe is frustrated. That does not equal early success. Two years ago, the Heat had a drought fairly early in the season and you didn’t see Pat Riley firing Spoelstra. It takes time for a team to gel and Mike Brown should still be there. In terms of this season, the team will contend for a title because of the talent they have. The NBA is a superstar heavy sport, and a team that has four of them on one team can cause havoc in the conference. Overall, I do not think they can get past the Thunder because they do not match-up well with the isolation offense and overall team defense of OKC. Nash can’t guard Westbrook, Kobe will have tough time with Thabo, and Perkins and Ibaka are the best defensive tandem in the post to guard Pau/Dwight. The season will end without a title for LA.
Greg gets 3 points for bringing up that injuries have played a role so far. Brendan gets 2 points for saying that a new coach isn’t the worst thing for this team. Mike gets 1 point for discussing the Heat’s problems from two years ago.
3. This election marked only the second time in franchise history that the Washington Redskins lost the game immediately before a presidential election and the incumbent won re-election. What’s the best sports superstition out there that hasn’t been recently debunked?
MP: One of the first thoughts that came to my mind was the 3-0 deficit in the playoffs. It can occur in baseball, hockey and basketball. I can vividly remember my Philadelphia Flyers coming back from a 3-0 differential to beat the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference semifinals back in 2010, and I think Yankees fans still wake up in a cold sweat from nightmares about the 2004 ALCS where the Boston Red Sox came back from being down 3-0 to overtake the Yankees in dramatic fashion. But to this day, no one in NBA history has ever come back from a three game deficit in a playoff series.
BM: I don’t really know too many superstitions, but I’d say the most successful one I can remember is the rally monkey. By my count, the rally monkey only had one major appearance, and that was in the Anaheim Angels 2002 World Series run. Now, I don’t actually think this thing had anything to do with it, but the Angels went on one hell of a run that year, and that monkey was everywhere. SportsCenter went nuts with it and the Angels probably sold a million of the stupid pieces of plush, but in the end they came up big and brought Anaheim from a 3-2 deficit back to win the series.
GO: Without a doubt I think the best sports superstition is the Madden Curse. Every year it is talked about like no other and it is remarkable to see the results during the season of the cover player. Whether or not it deals with injury or lack of production, the curse has affected almost every player who has had the honor of representing the NFL on the cover. This year, Calvin Johnson has been dealing with a knee injury and a nerve injury in his hand which he says is affecting his play. Last year, Peyton Hillis did, well, absolutely nothing. Remember what happened to Drew Brees two years ago in Seattle? He lost to a sub .500 team. Do I dare go further? 2002 Culpepper was the coverboy, next year goes down with inury. 2003 Marshall Faulk, next year career altering injury. 2004 Vick, next year broken leg. 2007 Shaun Alexander, next year broken foot! The list goes on and on that is evident a “curse” may well exist and as long as Madden has a cover athlete, the curse will always be talked about.
Greg gets 3 points for discussing the best ongoing superstition. Brendan gets 2 points for mentioning how silly some superstitions can be. Mike gets 1 point for saying that 0-3 is still an unbroken streak in the NBA.
Greg wins the first round of the Around the Dorm playoffs, 8-5-5.