ATD 10/2: NFL pretenders, Paul George, NHL favorites

In this week’s Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Mike Herold, asks our panel three questions: whether some of last year’s top NFL teams are pretenders, if Paul George deserves his new contract extension with the Indiana Pacers, and which two NHL teams enter the season as favorites for the two conferences.

1. Some of the teams people thought would dominate the NFL have had rough starts to their seasons (Atlanta, Green Bay, San Fransisco). Which, if any, of these contenders are actually pretenders?

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Amy: Green Bay is a pretender. Their defense has reverted to its 2011 form and the running game is nonexistent. And Greg Jennings hasn’t been replaced at wide receiver. Also, Aaron Rodgers may not be on the same page as head coach Mike McCarthy. As for the other two, I don’t think Atlanta is good enough on the road against decent teams to be a serious threat. I like San Francisco as a wild card team. Their offense is very strong on both sides of the ball, and they have a ferocious defense. Jim Harbaugh’s team was one step away at last year’s Super Bowl, but with a more experienced Colin Kaepernick in place, the Niners definitely appear championship ready.

Andrew: While Green Bay and San Francisco should find their way into the playoff mix shortly, the Atlanta Falcons fans should be  concerned, but not disheartened, because the season is still young. Although they are currently 1-3 and in serious trouble, I do expect the Falcons to rebound and squeak into the playoffs.  Besides their record, the biggest issue holding them back is injuries. Once pro-bowlers Steven Jackson and Asante Samuels get healthy, they will then be much more of a threat. In the meantime, they will have to play a few more weeks without their key leaders. This will be easier to do as the Falcons’ schedule lightens up the next four weeks as they compete against teams with a combined record of 5-10.

Gabe: The Falcons (1-3), Packers (1-2) and 49ers (2-2) were all penciled in to make the playoffs in the NFC this season and contend for the Super Bowl. It’s still very early and anything can happen, but slow starts combined with some key injuries have severely damaged the likelihood that all three teams will be able to advance to the postseason. The 49ers rebounded well coming off of two ugly losses, and their schedule seems pretty friendly looking forward. Matt Ryan has looked really shaky for Atlanta, but I think their upcoming schedule will help them get their heads back above water quickly. Right now, despite my doubts about Jay Cutler and the Bears and Matt Stafford and the Lions’ ability to maintain their winning ways, I think the Green Bay Packers will have the hardest time making it into the postseason due to their tough schedule, apparent lack of running game and questionable defense.

Amy wins for manning up and picking a pretender, Andrew gets 2 points for noting the injury factor, and Gabe gets 1 point for not detailing any one team’s woes.

2. Paul George of the Indiana Pacers just signed a max contract extension. Did he deserve it, or did Indiana just overreact to his stellar Eastern Finals?

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Amy: Paul George deserved a max contract. Who else are the Pacers going to spend their money on? Big-name free agents aren’t interested in joining the Pacers. Plus, there are many reasons why he’s worthy of being paid approximately $18 million for each of the next five seasons. His willingness to play hard, his quick feet and his height make him a great defender. On offense, his 7.6 rebounds per game translates to one rebound per every 4.9 minutes, which is about twice as many as expected from a small forward.

Andrew: Although Paul George is an exceptional player, he did not deserve the max contract extension. The reason why George had such a dominating postseason was because he had to step up in the absence of Danny Granger, who was out with a knee injury. The Pacers are one of the few successful teams in the NBA who doesn’t rely on one key player. The combination of Roy Hibbert, George Hill and David West in addition to Granger and George makes the Pacers such a balanced team with no obvious weaknesses. By giving George the extension, Indiana is straying away from having a cohesive team that has the potential of changing the team’s overall mindset. The Pacers have been this way for some time now, so why change a winning strategy?

Gabe: Paul George absolutely deserved the max contract extension. He grew two inches after being drafted, but the growth in his game is what has been truly remarkable. In his first season, George played only 21 minutes per game and his numbers don’t scream future star by any stretch of the imagination, but his improvement as the season went on led to his selection to the 2011 NBA All-Rookie 2nd team. In his sophomore season he started all 66 games and posted averages of 12.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting 44 percent from the field, 39 percent from downtown and 80 percent free throws while helping the Pacers take a 2-1 game lead against the eventual champion Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs. In George’s third and most recent season, Danny Granger, who was the star of the team in George’s rookie season, appeared in only five games due to injury. Given more responsibility, George flourished, posting averages of 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.8 steals in 38 minutes a game. George was selected to the All-NBA 3rd team and won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. At 6’8” and with his elite athletic ability and sweet stroke, George is fit to play the two or three. His versatility and growth into an All-Star on both ends of the floor and his ability to elevate his game in the playoffs were some of the main reasons the Pacers reached a do-or-die game with the defending champion Miami Heat for a chance to compete in the NBA finals. At 23, there’s no reason to believe George has reached his ceiling as a player, especially given how much he has improved his game every year he’s been in the league thus far. Locking him up makes the Pacers one of the most stable and competitive franchises in the Eastern Conference for the foreseeable future.

Gabe wins for an in-depth answer, Andrew gets 2 points for saying Indiana is team-oriented, and Amy gets 1 point because other big free agents would like to play for Larry Legend.

3. Hockey’s back! Give me your Stanley Cup teams as the season begins.

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Amy: Teams rarely repeat, so I don’t think Chicago will win the Stanley Cup. My prediction is that the St. Louis Blues will win the final, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. St. Louis ultimately finished second in the Central Division and third overall in the Western Conference, making them serious contenders. As for the East, one of these years Pittsburgh has to have a playoff run, so I think they’ll make it to the final but will ultimately fall to the Blues.

Andrew: The Bruins are definitely my pick to win the Eastern Conference. Goalie Tuukka Rask really came into form during last year’s playoff run, so this season should be no different. After being third-best in the NHL in goals allowed a season ago, the team of Rask and big-man Zdeno Chara will be difficult to score against, and let’s face it: Defense wins championships. In the Western Conference, it is hard not to choose the defending champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. Yes, I know it is a recap of last year’s Stanley Cup final, but both teams have looked solid in the preseason so far. As for the Blackhawks, Carl Crawford was second in the league last year with an average of 1.94 goals allowed against him per game. On the offensive side, expect last season’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner Patrick Kane to also be dominant as he was fifth in the NHL last year with 23 goals.

Gabe: The L.A. Kings and the Philadelphia Flyers will face off in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals. Both are young teams that will have the energy to push through in the playoffs after the long and grueling regular season. Both of their offensive cores are excellent and have been together for several years now. The Kings’ Jonathan Quick is the best goaltender in the world. Injuries were a large reason they fell short last year against the Chicago Blackhawks, and they won the Stanley Cup two years ago in 2012. They enter the season as the favorites to win Lord Stanley’s Cup. Last year the Flyers dealt with key injuries to their defense, which was a big reason their season was a disappointing one. This year they will begin the season at full strength. Their biggest question will be goaltending.

Andrew wins for saying defense wins championships, Amy gets 2 points for picking the relatively unknown Blues, and Gabe gets 1 point for picking the goaltending-lacking Flyers.

Andrew wins Around the Dorm, 7-6-5

“It’s not easy being the best.”

—Andrew Grossman