ATD: Jason Collins, NFL surprise and Broncos vs. Saints

In this week’s Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Chris Molicki, asks our panel three questions: if Jason Collins being without a contract in the NBA is because of his sexuality, which NFL team has been the most surprising six games into the season, and who would win in a Super Bowl between the undefeated Denver Broncos and 5-1 New Orleans Saints.

(AP Photo)

1. Jason Collin, the first actively gay athlete in major U.S. sports, has had trouble finding work in the NBA after coming out. Why?

Chrissy: For as big a deal as the media made about Jason Collins last April when he publicly announced that he was gay, it seems surprising that he has had such a hard time being picked up by a team this season. I definitely do not believe that his sexual orientation is the reason for this, however. Many movie stars and artists have come out recently (or have been out) and people accept this. It seems hard to believe that a team would turn him down based on this fact alone. It is probably more because of his age and his play on the court. Any 34-year-old free agent is going to have some trouble finding a spot on a team just because of his age. Collins is past his prime years. He averages 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game for his career and there are other players with much more impressive statistics.

Mike: The media circus. Look, Collins is a decent NBA backup center — he’s going to give you 10-12 minutes of tough defense, rebounding and fouling whoever needs to be fouled. He hasn’t averaged more than two points a game in five years and is 34 years old, which would be the standard argument against signing him (for the veterans’ minimum, which is just over $1.3 million this season). And while Collins would bring a steady veteran presence to any locker room, which would offset the price tag and lacking offensive stats, he would also bring many more cameras than the dozen or so other players who fit his mold. Any team that signs Collins would get kudos at first, followed by dozens of angry questions about why he isn’t playing more often or getting the ball on offense much. The teams who typically want the media swarm and could answer those questions well are either struggling right now (Mavericks, Lakers) or already have an abundance of older big men (Knicks, possibly Nets). So Collins hasn’t been signed yet not because he’s openly gay, but because of how the coverage of his team might turn out. I think he signs for the minimum for a decent team halfway through the season when there will be more news to cover it up a bit.

Peter: Apart from Collins’s status as a replaceable role player, I believe his potentially distracting sexual orientation is keeping him out of contract, which — if true — is unfortunate but hardly surprising. The sports world has never been particularly fond of political pioneers, and for recent evidence, look no further than (former?) NFL safety Kerry Rhodes. Rhodes had a pretty good eight-year career with the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals from 2005-2013, but he was photographed with his arms over another man in the offseason, popularizing the idea he is gay. Rhodes is now without a contract at just 31, which is pretty astonishing for a player who has proven himself in the NFL for so long — I’d think without the gay rumors, at least one of the NFL’s 32 teams would have been willing to give him a chance to make a 53-man roster. Unfortunately, nonessential players like Collins and Rhodes have significantly reduced chances at getting pro contracts again, if not because of continued homophobia then because there is a certain level of pragmatism in avoiding players whose sexuality would (inadvertently) create distractions for the team.

Chrissy wins for saying Collins’s stats are less than desirable, Peter gets 2 points for giving the example of Kerry Rhodes, and Mike gets 1 point for mentioning the short-lived media circus.

(AP Photo)

2. Which NFL team has surprised you the most this far into the season?

Chrissy: While there are a lot of teams that have impressed me this season, I have to say the Dallas Cowboys have actually far exceeded my expectations (my loyalty biases aside). Going into this season, I thought the NL East would end up with the Giants in first and the Eagles in second. However, the Cowboys are currently tied for first with the Eagles while the Giants remain winless at the bottom. Tony Romo just had the game of his life two weeks ago against Denver. Dez Bryant has been killing it with touchdowns and looks to be one of our best assets this year. Even though they lost against the Broncos, their offense was up to par with that of Denver. Even though its defense needs work, this team will be a playoff contender.

Mike: I have two — one good, one bad. I’m surprised most by the Colts, since I was one of many people who thought that Andrew Luck might have a sophomore slump and drag his team down with him a bit. But he’s been surging, Indianapolis has been playing great, and the team is looking even better than they did last season. On the negative side, I’m surprised that the Pittsburgh Steelers are so awful. It was pretty easy to predict that they wouldn’t be great this year, but this bad? An 0-4 start against two decent and two lousy teams, giving up 27.5 points a game with their once-great defense and being outscored by 41 so far? That’s quite a bit worse than I thought they’d be. So I’d say the Colts have been the biggest surprise, but the Steelers are a close second.

Peter: It’s been a pretty unbelievable start for the division-contending Cleveland Browns, who have not been in first place after five games since 1995 and have almost stumbled into respectability despite trading away Trent Richardson. Everything about the Browns’ 3-3 start has defied conventional wisdom’s prerequisites to winning in the NFL: that you need a dependable run game (Cleveland is averaging just 79 yards on the ground), a quarterback not named Brian Hoyer (or Brandon Weeden) and more than a couple of viable targets for the quarterback who can raise the team’s passing completion rate above 53 percent. To sum it up, the offense is a talentless mess that should not have any expectations of winning games in the NFL. And the usual reason a mediocre team racks up a few early-season wins in the NFL, an easy last-place schedule, is not why the Browns are 3-3 — wins in Minessotta and against Cincinatti are pretty impressive. Given that it looked like Cleveland might not win three games all year after their 0-2 start, I have no hesitation in making the Browns my surprise team of the season so far.

Peter wins since no one saw Cleveland’s 3-0 streak, Mike gets 2 points for saying the Colts have avoided a letdown, and Chrissy gets 1 point because Dallas’s inconsistency is unsurprising.

(AP Photo)3. Hypothetical situation: The Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints play each other on a neutral field in the Super Bowl. Who wins and why?

Chrissy: If the Super Bowl came down to the Saints and the Broncos, I would definitely have to pick the Broncos, because Peyton Manning is unstoppable this season and the team has some of the best stats in the league. When it comes to overall points scored, the Broncos are solidly at the top with 46 points averaged per game. No other team comes close. They are also leading in total offensive yards per game with 489 and it’s hard to argue with numbers. The Saints are putting up extremely good numbers as well, but definitely not as good as the Broncos’. As long as Manning is able to stay healthy, I believe these are the guys to beat if it came to them against the Saints in the Super Bowl.

Mike: Denver. Not really because they are the better team (although I do think they are marginally better), but because of the “neutral field” part of the question. If we assume neutral field conditions, like MetLife stadium in New Jersey where the Super Bowl is actually scheduled this season, then Peyton Manning and the Broncos have a distinct advantage: They aren’t playing in a dome. Brees is an effective quarterback no matter where he plays, but this season his outdoor numbers in two games (92.1 QBR, 3 TDs, 2 Int) pale in comparison to his indoor numbers in 3 games (117.8 QBR, 9 TDs, 2 Int). By comparison, Manning has only played in one game indoors so far this season, and it was arguably his worst game (129.6 QBR, 4 TDs, 1 Int), especially when compared to his dominance outdoors (four games, 138 QBR, 16 TDs, 0 Int). Add in the cold weather in Jersey in February, and it only adds to the increased difficulty for Brees and the Saints. I think the game is a shootout, but the weather and slightly better overall team favor the Broncos.

Peter: In what would be a pretty epic matchup, I think New Orleans would come out on top in a neutral venue thanks to the Saints’ suddenly scary defense. Neither the Broncos nor Saints have significant flaws, and with Peyton Manning and Drew Brees quarterbacking the teams, there would be a lot of indefensible scoring going on. But the Broncos have not shown they can win games in anything but a shootout so far, having given up at least 20 points in all of their games (whereas the Saints have yet to concede 20 points in a game). Denver’s defense has had opportunities against bad teams but has yet to shut down anyone, from Eli Manning’s winless Giants (23 points) to a a pretty-good-but-not-great Cowboys offense (48 points against Denver, 26 points against first four teams). On the other hand, the Saints have been a much more well-rounded team thus far. Thanks to Rob Ryan, they have not had to rely on Brees and co. for their 5-0 start, and with the fourth-best defense in the NFL, I think they will be able to stop Manning a few times in a Saints victory.

Mike wins for highlighting Manning’s dome advantage, Peter gets 2 points for pointing out Ryan’s exotic blitzing D, and Chrissy gets 1 point for talking about Denver’s offense.