In this week’s Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Matthew Bowker, asks our expert panel three questions: who are the biggest winners and losers in NFL free agency so far, which two teams from the NHL’s Metropolitan division will squeeze into the postseason and what team should be favored to win it all in March Madness this year?
1. NFL free agency is underway, and a lot of big names have already been signed. So far, who is the biggest winner and the biggest loser of free agency?
Chris: It’s the obvious answer, but it’s the right answer: the Denver Broncos. Denver has been very active in bolstering their defense, and they’ve made the most big moves. First, they got DeMarcus Ware, a premier pass rusher in this league, to plug into their already fearsome front seven. Then, they grabbed Aqib Talib, one of the best corners in the NFL, and a better one than Denver has. Finally, they shored up the secondary with a solid safety in T.J. Ward. Let’s not forget, the Broncos were one game from the Super Bowl last year, and the Seahawks showed them that a good defense can go a long way. Last time I checked, the Broncos’ problem wasn’t offense, and even if they lost Eric Decker and may lose Knowshon Moreno, Peyton Manning and his crew will likely roll. Kudos to them for being aggressive.
Gabe: There have been some teams that have made solid moves already this NFL offseason. In my opinion, the most notable are the Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles. While the Colts added Hakeem Nicks to their WR core to join T.Y. Hilton and a hopefully healthy Reggie Wayne, and the Ravens added Steve Smith to pair with Torrey Smith, the Eagles have had the best offseason thus far in my opinion. Trading a fifth-round pick for RB Darren Sproles has to have Chip Kelly psyched for the new season, as Sproles is sure to continue his excellent production in Kelly’s high-octane offense and provide valuable support and relief for star RB LeSean McCoy. The Eagles also signed Jeremy Maclin to a one-year deal, and while Maclin is coming off of a torn right ACL, he has been a big contributor in recent years for the Eagles, and it was feared that someone else would swoop in and sign him away from Philly. If things keep going at this rate, Kelly is going to have a lot of new toys to play with in the upcoming season.
Courtney: There is no such thing as a free lunch, but there is free agency. I’d say we are looking at our biggest winner being Tampa Bay with their new acquisition of Josh McCown. The biggest loser is Chris Molicki, who’s been on a strict turkey sandwich diet.
Chris wins for pointing out Denver’s focus on defense, Gabe gets 2 points for remembering Maclin can still be productive, and Courtney gets 1 point for highlighting McCown.
2. The NHL is coming into the homestretch of the season, with teams having just under 20 games remaining to be played. In the tightest race in the league, the Metropolitan Division has five teams, separated by just four points, fighting for two playoff positions. Which two teams from the Metropolitan can squeeze their way into the playoffs and why?
Chris: Although it pains me to say this as a Devils fan, I have to go with the Rangers and Capitals. The Rangers are the leaders in this race, and made a huge acquisition in trading for Martin St. Louis. They also have the best goalie of these teams, which is a huge factor. As for Washington, they’ve got the second best power play in the league. If any team is going to take an advantage of an opportunity, whether it be a power play or a playoff spot, they’re the most likely to. And, oh yeah, they have Alex Ovechkin. With talents like Ovechkin and Henrik Lundqvist, I expect the cream to rise to the top.
Gabe: The Penguins can lose every game from here on out and still win division, while the Rangers, Flyers and Blue Jackets are all right about even. The Rangers are going to make the playoffs, led by Henrik Lundqvist, one of the top goalies in the NHL, as well as veterans Brad Richards, Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis. The Flyers have the second-most third period goals in the NHL, meaning they’re fighters. They simply aren’t going to give up and that’s why I think they’re going to make the playoffs. They also upgraded their defense having acquired Andrew MacDonald from the New York Islanders. The Jackets will fall behind the Flyers and Rangers because Sergei Bobrovsky has been struggling, and he had a very lackluster Olympic performance. Further, the team lacks the defensive depth to help lift the team out of their slump. Still, injuries to key teams in the division should slow them down enough to allow the Jackets to slip into the playoffs. The Washington Capitals also suffered a seismic blow to their playoff chances, as wing Dan Cleary has no timetable for return. These teams have been inconsistent all year, and losing key players is never a good thing.
Courtney: Picking two teams from the Metropolitan Division is always tough. I think we will likely see the Penguins and the Capitals in the playoffs. Both teams bring a key player — the Penguins with Sidney Crosby and the Capitals with Alex Ovechkin.
Gabe wins for highlighting each team’s strengths, Chris gets 2 points for including the importance of goaltending, and Courtney gets 1 point for mentioning the top stars.
3. March Madness begins this week. Which team do you think has what it takes to win the National Championship?
Chris: It might sound a little crazy, but maybe the team that hasn’t lost yet? Wichita State has been on a tear this season, and it’s not a fluke. Sure, their schedule was easy, but keep in mind, they did beat Saint Louis on the road — along with everyone else. Cleanthony Early is the best player. He can score from anywhere on the floor and provides a huge matchup problem. Ron Baker has gone from just a sharpshooter to an excellent ballhandler and calming presence. Fed VanVleet, who broke out during last year’s Final Four run, has emerged into one of the best point guards of the country. And Tekele Cotton gives the Shockers a very solid fourth option. The biggest thing to remember is that this team has been there before — they made it to the Final Four last year, so they know what it takes. After not losing much from the previous season, I truly believe that Gregg Marshall and his squad could make it all the way.
Gabe: This year’s March Madness looks like it may be the most wide-open in tournament history. There are so many teams with great upside and ability, and yet the majority of teams have been inconsistent enough that picking a true favorite isn’t so easy, but if I had to pick one team as the favorite, I’d take Florida. Earlier in the season, if you’d asked me this question I’d have told you Kansas is the unquestionable favorite, but with Joel Embiid dealing with a back issue that will keep him out through the first two rounds at least, the Jayhawks are no longer my favorites. With head coach Billy Donovan at the helm and a very balanced attack, the Gators haven’t lost since Dec. 2, and while fellow No. 1 seed Wichita St. hasn’t lost all season, they’ve faced considerably lesser opponents. Wichita St. did make it to the Final Four last season, and are considerably better this year, so I think they have a real shot at winning it all this year, but if I have to pick a favorite, Florida’s size up front and depth is too hard to pass up on.
Courtney: Who has what it takes to go all the way? Tough question. There is a lot that could happen in the coming weeks. I’d say Duke has what it takes. They are backed by a lot of school spirit. Though I’d love to see the CONJ come out of nowhere and steal the spotlight.
Chris wins for highlighting the mismatches that Wichita poses, Courtney gets 2 points for her school spirit, and Gabe gets 1 point for questioning Embiid’s health.
Chris wins Around the Dorm, 8-6-4
“It’s good to be back.” —Chris