In this week’s Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Andrew Grossman, asks our panel three questions: What are the NBA’s biggest surprises a dozen games into the season, who are the Super Bowl favorites at this point in the NFL, and what will the impact be of the 35-year-old Ed Reed signing with the New York Jets?
1) What are the biggest surprises in the NBA season so far?
Brandon: If the season ended today, the Philadelphia 76ers would be the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Just let that sink in for a second. This is a team that was given an over-under of 16.5 wins by Vegas — the lowest mark in the league — and one that some expected to challenge the 1973 Sixers (9-73) for the worst record in league history. The thought process after the franchise shipped its best player, Jrue Holiday, to New Orleans for a rookie center who likely won’t play a game this season was that Philly had its sights set on the 2014 draft for Andrew Wiggins. Yet here we are, albeit 11 games in, and the Sixers are relevant, having earned victories over Miami, Chicago and Houston. Evan Turner is averaging almost two points more than Stephen Curry. Rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams has been a pleasant surprise, putting up 17.4 points a game as well as 7.6 assists — just a shade better than what Holiday has done with the Pelicans. Heck, even center Spencer Hawes has been useful, pulling down 10.1 rebounds — 10th in the league — while also adding 15.6 points. I’m not saying it means much, and I’m not saying it lasts, but you have to admit that at this point, they don’t look like a team that is “Riggin’ for Wiggins” and that’s surprising.
Greg: With teams playing eight to 11 games this NBA season, there have been plenty of surprises in terms of entire teams and individuals. In terms of teams, it is surprising to see the young 76ers, Suns and Magic playing well. Even though their records aren’t superb, each team has shown they can hang in there against quality opponents, which was not to be expected on day one of the regular season. I do not feel that any of these teams will make the playoffs, but their success shows that the NBA is much more balanced than expected. Individually, there are several players putting up fantastic numbers, including CP3, Kevin Love and Durant, who are currently one through three on the MVP ladder. But Anthony Davis has taken the league by storm this season. Averaging nearly 21 points, 11 boards, 3.6 blocks, two steals and shooting 85 percent from the line, Davis has shown why he was the No. 1 overall pick last year. He has exceeded everyone’s expectations for a young guy and will be a key contributor, along with Jrue Holiday, for a Pelicans playoff push.
Gabe: The Pacers are as likely as anyone to win it all. After elevating his performance in the playoffs last season, Lance Stephenson has been brilliant in the early going, Paul George has entered the early MVP discussion, and Roy Hibbert has become a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate. But there have been surprises across the board this year: The Knicks and Nets are at the bottom of the Atlantic Division behind supposed tank-mode teams in Philadelphia and Boston, and may be for a while given some injuries to key players. Portland and Minnesota are off to fantastic starts in the West. Kevin Love is putting up remarkable numbers and making his teammates better, especially Kevin Martin, who is scoring 24 ppg so far and playing his best ball in years. Anthony Davis is stuffing stat sheets and is in all likelihood on his way to his first All-Star game. First-year coaches Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix), Brett Brown (Philadelphia) and Brad Stevens (Boston) have enjoyed some early season success despite being projected to be league cellar-dwellers by just about everyone. And Aaron Afflalo is playing out of his mind right now for Orlando.
and looks much improved. He’s averaging almost 22 ppg and shooting 50% from three.
Brandon gets 3 points for mentioning 76ers success, Gabe gets 2 points for saying Nets and Knicks are struggling, and Greg gets 1 point for using statistics.
2) After 10 games in, who are your Super Bowl favorites from each conference?
Brandon: The NFL season is 10 games in, and while we don’t know where any of the 32 teams will end up, there’s enough evidence to develop a half-decent hypothesis. In the NFC, the favorite pick right now would have to be the Seattle Seahawks (9-1), who — along with the New Orleans Saints — have one of the best home-field advantages in the league. Although Seattle has limped its way to a few wins against lesser opponents, the Seahawks have taken on some of the conference’s better teams — Carolina, San Francisco — and come out on top. If they end up as the NFC’s top seed, I’m not sure there’s a team that can knock them off at home, especially with Percy Harvin back in the mix. On the other side of the league, it will be hard to bet against the Denver Broncos. They have one of the best offenses ever and show no signs of slowing down as long as Peyton Manning stays on the field. There are playmakers at every position on this team, and the defense will only improve with the return of Von Miller. Remember, this is a team that would have beaten the eventual Super Bowl champions last year if not for the Mile High Miracle, and the scary part is that team wasn’t anywhere near as talented as this year’s squad.
Greg: In my opinion, there are two teams from each conference who may be the representatives of their respective conference in the Super Bowl, because all four teams are spectacular at home. In the AFC, it comes between the Broncos and Chiefs. Both teams have proved that they are legitimate contenders and home field will be decided during the two matchups between the teams. Whichever team comes up on top during these two meetings will get the No. 1 seed in the conference and subsequently make the Super Bowl. In the NFC, either Seattle or New Orleans will be in the Super Bowl, as they have combined for a 9-0 home record. Like my two AFC picks, the Seahawks play New Orleans in NOLA week 12. Do not be surprised if the winner of this game wins the No. 1 seed in the NFC and home field throughout the playoffs.
Gabe: Ten games into the season I will pick the New Orleans Saints to beat the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. With Sean Payton back on the sidelines, the Saints offense, led by QB Drew Brees, is arguably the most dynamic in the league. And they have one of the better defenses in the league. You could definitely make the case that the Broncos actually have the best offense in the league. But despite the fact that Peyton Manning, 37, is having a great season, he is older than Brees, more susceptible to injury and has a history struggling in cold weather. Manning and Brees both have one Super Bowl ring, but Manning has a more storied history of performing poorly in big games. Plus, Manning started out the season on fire, but Brees has continued to improve and is in my opinion equally as deserving of winning MVP. I have to pick the Saints to come out on top.
Greg gets 3 points for mentioning home-field advantage, Brandon gets 2 points for bring up Percy Harvin’s return, and Gabe gets 1 point for pointing out Manning’s playoff struggles.
3. How will the Ed Reed signing affect a New York Jets defense with a lot of holes?
Brandon: I first have to say that I disagree that the Jets’ defense has “a lot of holes.” They’re ranked as one of the league’s best run defenses, and they have a front seven that has produced 28 sacks, tied for 12th in the league. It’s a top-10 defense, if not great because the Jets have not been able to defend the pass well. It’s a unit that is tied for 27th in terms of interceptions and dead last when it comes to passes defended. Part of the problem is that Gang Green has to rely on Antonio Cromartie as its No. 1 corner and give meaningful snaps to struggling rookie Dee Miliner — a piece they acquired in the draft after electing not to ride out Revis Island for one more year, an egregious error unless the Alabama product becomes a shutdown corner. And while the interior of the secondary hasn’t been awful, Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen have two of the Jets’ five picks in 2013, and they haven’t been superb. This is why Ed Reed comes into town as a valuable commodity for the Jets. He may not be the same player who struck fear into the league’s signal-callers a few years ago, but if the 35-year-old can produce leadership and even a couple of picks, his addition will be well worth it.
Greg: There is no doubt that the Ed Reed signing will improve the Jets both on the field and off. First, Ed Reed has played under Rex Ryan and with Jets starting safety Dawan Landry. Therefore, there is a very short learning curve for Reed as he acclimates to a new team. Next, the Jets plan to use Reed in passing situations, so he will not be subject to the wear and tear that a safety is put through during running situations. This will keep Reed fresh and allow him to do what he does best: make a big influence during passing situations. This will make the Jets better on the field due to his presence during passing situations, which has been one of the major weaknesses of the team as a whole. Off the field, his experience will help the team while preparation and his leadership abilities will improve the morale of the team during down times. For example, in the loss to the Bills this weekend, Reed was seen talking to Geno Smith after one of his several turnovers on the day, keeping his head up in arguably his worst game of the season. These small things can pay great dividends and may help the Jets sneak into the playoffs.
Gabe: Ed Reed, 35, is getting old and has certainly lost a step, but the future first ballot Hall of Famer will bring leadership and toughness to a New York Jets team that already has a great defensive coach in Rex Ryan (whom Reed already played for in Baltimore). There’s a reason Tom Brady reportedly courted Reed in hopes that he would join his New England Patriots. That said, the Jets are at best a fringe playoff team, and adding Reed isn’t going to change that.
Brandon gets 3 points for using defensive statistics, Greg gets 2 points for saying Reed played under Rex Ryan, and Gabe gets 1 point for mentioning Jets-Patriots rivalry.
Brandon wins Around the Dorm, 8-6-4