In this week’s matchup of Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Alec Zucker, challenges Sports Editor Chris Molicki, Sports Assistant Peter Fiorilla and Editor-in-Chief Brendan McGrath to answer questions about Joe Flacco’s elite status in the NFL, whether or not the Lakers can make the playoffs, and who will win the World Series, as well as who will be baseball’s biggest surprise.
1. After a stellar postseason combined with a Super Bowl Championship and the game’s MVP, Joe Flacco is on top of the NFL world. Where would you rank Flacco in comparison to the other top quarterbacks in the NFL? Should he be considered an elite quarterback in the league?
CM: After winning a Super Bowl with one of the most impressive four-game playoff stretches a quarterback has ever produced, there’s no doubt he is elite. He’s shown the ability to get it done on the biggest stage and he also has the most playoff road wins ever by a quarterback. His 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in these playoffs is something only accomplished by Joe Montana. Despite only slightly above average regular season stats, Flacco has jumped into elite status. In regards to him ranking among other quarterbacks, Flacco is certainly not in the Rodgers/Brady/Peyton/Brees tier and I still think he’s behind Big Ben and Eli because of their multiple Super Bowl rings. However, I can’t find another QB better right now. Kaepernick, Griffin, Wilson and Luck have all had too small of a sample size to really compete. He’s undoubtedly in front of Romo, Stafford, Newton and Schaub. The only signal caller that’s close is Matt Ryan, but he failed to make the Super Bowl that Flacco won.
PF: Let’s not mistake winning a Super Bowl with being a special talent in the mold of Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. I do hate to talk about who is “elite” and who is not, since no one really knows what it means, but it is also clear plenty of non-“elite” quarterbacks have won rings without sustained excellence. Jim Plunkett, Mark Rypien and Phil Simms were not amazing NFL players who won more Super Bowls than Peyton Manning ever has, and there are average players today who will continue that tradition. Joe Flacco is above average and played a tremendous role in the Ravens’ championship, but through the course of the season his stats — 59.7 percent completions, 3,817 yards, 22 TD and 10 INT — more closely resembled those of Carson Palmer than Rodgers. Flacco is obviously much better than Palmer, and credit to him for playing virtually perfect football in the playoffs, but next season he will probably return to his regular season form and resume throwing picks like everyone else. Going into 2013-14, I would say Flacco is the seventh-best quarterback option in the NFL: Rodgers, Brees, Brady and Peyton are obviously at the top, while Kaepernick and RGIII roll ahead of him based on potential.
BM: Joe Flacco is a very good quarterback, good enough that I’d say you could build a team around him. He is not, however, elite. I say this considering an elite quarterback to be among the top-five in the league. To me, Flacco is more of a top-10 guy. He’s been consistent over his first five years, and his career numbers so far are more than respectable (102 TD, 56 INT, 86.3 passer rating). He isn’t, however, outshining enough of the league to be elite. He was 15th in the league in passing touchdowns this year. There is something to be said for leading your team to the Super Bowl, which Flacco to some degree did (11 TD to 0 INT is nothing to scoff at), but I just don’t think that’s enough to call him elite. He is only 28 though, and there’s certainly a chance that he could raise his game to an elite level in the future.
Peter takes 3 points for comparing Flacco’s stats to historical elite quarterbacks and by acknowledging that nobody knows what “elite” actually means. Chris gets 2 points for mentioning Flacco’s impeccable postseason performance. Brendan gets 1 point with solid analysis about Flacco’s consistency throughout his career.
2. Since the loss of Dwight Howard, the LA Lakers have been playing well and are now only a few games out of a playoff birth. Will the Lakers make the playoffs, and what will they need to do to have a long playoff run?
CM: The Lakers have won six of their past seven games as of writing this, and are only a few games out of a playoff spot. This has come with Kobe Bryant averaging 17 points and nine assists in that stretch. Because the Lakers are a very smart organization, I think they’ve realized that they can win without having the ball in Kobe’s hands the whole time, and I think they will make the playoffs. There’s a ton of talent on this team, even without Howard, and Utah, Houston and Portland, all teams ahead of L A, are not postseason locks. By getting more good looks for Steve Nash as well as uncovering hidden gem Earl Clark, the Lakers should make the playoffs. The key to them having a deep run is staying healthy. They were a preseason favorite, so if they get hot down the stretch and sneak into the playoffs, it will show they’ve developed the chemistry that has eluded them all season and are playing at the high level they should play at. When playing young teams like the Clippers and Thunder, they will need a healthy Howard and a healthy everyone else because of their thin bench.
PF: The only way the Lakers could make a long playoff run is by not scampering into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, since L A would not be able to manage going out without a whimper against the Thunder. Their old injury prone roster is not helping. With Pau Gasol out indefinitely, Dwight struggling through back problems, and Kobe playing with an elbow injury of his own, I don’t see any reason we should expect the Lakers to make the playoffs. If the current eight playoff teams continued winning at the same pace they have been all season, grabbing the final seed would require LA to have at least 43 wins and maintain a 70 percent win percentage until the end of the season. The team might have been able to win a dozen or more games in spite of Mike D’Antoni’s system, which doesn’t fit the personnel, if the personnel itself was as good as advertised. Big, young teams will be able to rough them up and the lack of any consistent presence at center means the Lakers have an early offseason waiting for them.
BM: It seems like the Lakers will be able to overcome an incredibly lackluster first half, one in which they added the best big man in the league and seemingly got worse. I think the amount of pure talent on this team will lead them to close the gap and take one of the lower seeds in the Western Conference. Kobe is still a great player and if he keeps up the level of play he has had this year, it won’t take that large of a contribution from the rest of this team to sneak into the playoffs. Once they get there, however, they will likely be put down in four or five games. If the Lakers make the playoffs, chances are they will face the Spurs or the Thunder. I don’t see how, absent Kobe and Howard gaining some epic form of chemistry, they can present a real challenge to either of these well-rounded teams.
Chris gets 3 points for discussing the depth of LA’s roster and mentioning the talent is still on this team even without Gasol. Peter gets 2 points for good analysis on the realistic chances of the team if they do find a way to make the playoffs. Brendan gets 1 point for discussing Kobe’s greatness and his lack of team chemistry with Howard.
3. With pitchers and catchers beginning to report to training camp, baseball season is right around the corner. Who is your favorite to win this year’s World Series and which team will surprise baseball fans the most?
CM: The team I like is the team that has made the most noise lately — the Atlanta Braves. The Braves were only a few games behind the Washington Nationals last year, the best team in the NL, and they’ve made some big moves in the offseason. By acquiring both B.J. and Justin Upton, they’ve put together an outfield with Jason Heyward that has the potential to score a lot of runs. And with Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen, the staff potentially has two aces, as well as a shutdown closer in Craig Kimbrel to go with a solid bullpen. As far as surprises go, I think the Oakland Athletics will be the surprise again. Not because they’ll be good, that’s expected, but because they will repeat as AL West champs. Their team is so young, but now has postseason experiences under their belts. All five of their starters had an ERA of less than 4.00 last year and Josh Reddick has blossomed into a complete haircut. Oakland will surprise people with their ability to sustain success and not be a one-year wonder.
PF: As The Signal’s baseball expert, I can say with total confidence that the Yankees will shock the world with a third-place finish in the AL East. Injury concerns to solid contributors (Rivera, Pettite and Jeter), the regression of once-great players (Teixeira and Granderson), the A-Rod sideshow and the incredible quality pervading the division make me think some combination of Tampa Bay, Toronto and Baltimore will knock the Yankees off their pedestal. The Rays are getting Longoria back, Toronto has potential to duplicate Washington’s 18-game improvement from 2011-2012 thanks to their massive Miami trade, and Baltimore’s young lineup will stay healthy and consistent like it managed to last year. I think the World Series favorite is Washington, though, which won 98 games last year on the strength of a first-place pitching staff despite shutting down Stephen Strasburg. Reintroducing him to a rotation that already includes Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren and Ross Detwiler — not to mention a superior corps of relievers that now includes Rafael Sorano — and it doesn’t even seem fair.
BM: The World Series is going to come down to the Nationals and the Angels. The Nats are the most balanced team in the bigs — the weakest part of their game is their offense, and it might be one of the top-five in baseball. They have three great starters, and two good ones. Throw in a deep bullpen and it’s going to be hard for this team to miss the playoffs, even if they suffer multiple injuries again. Once they’re there, their staff will carry them through, and they’ll find themselves in the World Series. In the American League, this is the Angels’ time. They have spent all of their chips on players who are going to really pay off this year. Put Pujols and Hamilton behind Trout, leave the starting pitching to Weaver and Wilson, and let their bullpen close it out. The Nats will beat the Angels in the World Series and I think the Yankees will surprise everyone the most. They have great players, but they have too many holes to overcome all four of the competitive teams in the AL East. At least two of them will finish ahead of the Yanks, and for the second time in 19 years, they will miss October.
Brendan gets 3 points for analyzing how powerful the Angels’ lineup will be and analyzing Washington’s pitching staff. Chris gets 2 points for mentioning Atlanta’s acquisitions this offseason. Peter gets 1 point for discussing the aging Yankees roster and the soundness of the Washington rotation.
Chris wins Around the Dorm, 7-6-5