In the first round of the Around the Dorm playoffs, the “Ref,” Kevin Black, challenges Sports Assistant Kevin Lee, Staff Writer Chris Molicki and Correspondent Johnny Sisto to answer questions about who will come out on top in the tough division races in the AFC, who will win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award and the ramifications of the recent scandal at Penn State.
1. We are past the halfway point in the NFL season, and in the AFC, three out of the four divisions have at least three teams in the hunt for the lead. Give me your AFC East, West and North winners and which two teams get the wild card berths.
KL: My teams are the New England Patriots, the San Diego Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens. I love the Patriots’ combination of experience and leadership brought by Tom Brady. I’m not really sold on Mark Sanchez’s breakout, because he’s beaten up on bad teams. The Ravens can take this division because of how talented their roster is. Defensively, they have allowed the fewest points in the AFC. Offensively, they can attack you in a multitude of ways with all of the weapons they have. The Chargers will take the West, because I don’t think the Raiders or Chiefs are any good. The Chargers have been underachieving, and I expect them to start playing better with all the talent they have. Finally, my two wild card teams are the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I’m picking these teams because not only do I think they have a ton of talent, but both teams are also full of experience.
CM: I think the Chargers will win the AFC West. They are too talented and have a 17-2 record in December and January under Norv Turner. The Raiders have an awful defense, and the Chiefs are not nearly good enough. In AFC North, expect the Ravens to finally win the division this year. The fact that they have already beaten the Steelers twice shows that they are superior to them. Pittsburgh has an aging defense and has struggled in the running game. Through week nine, the Bengals have six wins. The combined record of the teams they beat is 16-33. The AFC East is loaded with top teams, but the Jets seem to be hitting their stride, and I think they will win the division. Their defense is one of the toughest in the league, and the offense is starting to get hot. Teams are finally learning how to beat Brady, and the rest of the team isn’t good enough. Buffalo has been a nice story, but their offense has stalled at times and their defense gives up a lot of big plays. The Steelers and the Patriots should get the wild cards as they continue to be constants in the playoffs.
JS: The AFC East winner is going to be the New York Jets. I don’t think the Bills have what it takes to keep up their excellent performance throughout the season, and their performances are already beginning to diminish week after week. The Patriots’ defense is going to keep them from staying on pace with the Jets. In the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens will take first. Cincinnati will fall off in the second half of the year as their rookie QB slows down, and Pittsburgh has been too unpredictable to compete with Baltimore. For the West, the Oakland Raiders will take it all. The Chiefs are even more unpredictable than the Steelers are, and Philip Rivers has been a bust this season. For the wild card places, I’m choosing the Patriots and the Steelers. Although I didn’t have enough confidence in these teams to pick them for their divisions, they have proven in past seasons that they are always competitors.
KB: Johnny gets 3 points for pointing out that although everyone expects the Chargers to turn it up, they simply haven’t. Chris gets 2 for pointing out the Chargers’ December-January record. Kevin gets 1 because the Chargers are great on paper, but that’s been it so far.
2. The debate for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is heating up between Cam Newton and Andy Dalton. Who comes out on top at the end of the season (or who beats these two out)?
KL: I’m going to take Cam Newton. Andy Dalton has had a fantastic season and may deserve the award if he’s able to lead the Bengals to the playoffs. However, Newton has gotten so much hype as the next big thing and deservedly so. I think the voters really give a significant edge based off of marketability. These rookies are supposed to pave the way and become the face of the NFL in the future. Winning the award will only make the recipient’s name all the more notable. With that argument, who’s the more marketable athlete — Newton or Dalton? In my eyes, it has to be Newton. Newton is one of the most exciting and dynamic players in the NFL right now. With the popularity of Michael Vick (pre-dog fighting issues), Newton has been compared to Vick talent-wise. Newton can potentially fill Vick’s shoes as that rock star-like athlete.
CM: It should come as no surprise that the winner of the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award will be Cam Newton. Newton has been astounding this year, passing for 2,393 yards and 11 touchdowns. His rushing stats only add to that, as he has run for 319 yards and seven touchdowns. That is more touchdowns than the Panthers scored all last year. Newton is a once-in-a-generation quarterback that will be giving defenses headaches for years to come. Dalton has thrown for one more touchdown but significantly fewer yards and not much on the ground. While he should be a good signal caller in his career, he is not as good as Newton and probably never will be. People may argue that since Dalton has a 6-2 record, he should be chosen over Newton, but this is an offensive award, not a MVP award. Besides, I think Dalton is only the second-best rookie on his team, behind A.J. Green.
JS: Without a doubt, the rookie of the year award this season is going to go to Cam Newton. The quarterback position is arguably one of the hardest positions for a rookie to start. Newton has performed amazingly so far this season. As a rookie, Cam is the most valuable player in the Carolina Panthers franchise. He’s embraced a leadership role and has thrown for 900 more yards than Dalton so far this season. Despite his performance on the field, Cam Newton has much more media attention than Dalton does. Although some people do not like to admit this, the media’s attention to Newton will have an effect on the Rookie of the Year voting at the end of the season.
KB: Chris gets 3 for pointing out Cam’s astounding rookie numbers this season. Johnny gets 2 for mentioning the intangibles. Kevin gets 1 because this is not about marketability.
3. We all know about the gruesome details of what happened at Penn State. Given what we do know, how will the football program fair for the rest of the season and for the next few years without the iconic Joe Paterno?
KL: This season, I think the football team will really suffer. There’s been so much turmoil over the past few days that it’s hard for not only the players but also the coaches to really focus on the game of football. In addition, the new coaching staff will have a tough time transitioning the players to its particular style. For the next few years, I think the football program will definitely suffer a bit. USC has lost its prestige (and subsequently top recruits) due to the Reggie Bush scandal. I don’t think recruits will want to deal with Penn State’s negative publicity. Furthermore, the new coaching staff will probably turn some recruits away. Joe Paterno was the heart and soul of Penn State. I don’t think there was a better recruiter than Paterno, and the new coaching staff will not be able to fill his void, not initially at least.
CM: The horrendous acts that occurred at Penn State will surely trickle down and affect the program. The fact that the whole incident was covered up makes it look worse than it already was, and the proper action has been taken to fire the personnel who kept it all a secret. I think Penn State will be fine the rest of this year. They still have a good team and will certainly be playing with motivation. Don’t be surprised if they win the Big Ten title this year and get a BCS game. But for the future, the university will suffer. Penn State, once a brand-name football program, will lose so many prospective students, both athletes and non-athletes. Parents will not want to be sending their children to play for a university that let all of this happen. The success of Penn State will be no more, at least until this whole scandal blows over, which may be quite some time.
JS: The firing of head coach Joe Paterno has got to be the most distracting thing that could have possibly happened to the players on Penn State’s football team. Not only was Paterno the face of Penn State football for over 40 years, but his dismissal caused protest and even rioting by the student body at PSU. As if this wasn’t distracting enough, many of the players have told the media that they are extremely emotional about losing their head coach. There is no way that these factors won’t affect the players on the field. Expect to see some subpar performances by Penn State for the rest of the college football season.
KB: Kevin gets 3 for pointing out how the recruits will stay away. Chris gets 2 for pointing out the same, though not everyone has been fired from the coaching staff that should have been. Johnny gets 1 for not mentioning the future of the university.
Chris wins the first round of the AtD playoffs, 7 – 6 – 5.