In this week’s Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Peter Fiorilla, asks our panel of experts three questions: what impact will the DeSean Jackson saga have on the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins, should the San Antonio Spurs be considered championship favorites, and what should U.S. soccer fans worry about heading into the World Cup this summer?
1) With the addition of DeSean Jackson, the Washington Redskins have one of the scariest offenses in the NFC — on paper, at least. What are your expectations for Washington next year, and will the Eagles regret cutting Jackson?
Chris: We should temper our expectations on Jackson. Sure, he’s a great deep threat and RGIII can throw the deep ball, but keep in mind how this team was last season. Even with a workhorse running back in Alfred Morris, RG3 and the offense had plenty of struggles. This has a lot to do with Griffin simply not living up to the hype. I understand that Jackson paired with Pierre Garcon will help him, but it all depends on the development and health of the quarterback. As for the Eagles, while I’m not sure I agree with the way they ostracized Jackson, I don’t think they’ll have a tough time replacing him. Chip Kelly’s offense could be described as plug-and-play — that is, there are plenty of unique pieces that cause matchup problems in his fast-paced offense, so they might be able to get Jackson’s production elsewhere. Tight end Zach Ertz was more involved near the end of the season, and he’ll continue that growth next year. Plus, Philly gets the return of Jeremy Maclin and Darren Sproles. Before we go worrying about the Redskins in the NFC, let’s remember that they aren’t the best in the NFC East.
Mike: Yes, the Eagles will regret cutting Jackson. He’s a super-talented player in the middle of his prime, and a whole mess of teams would have traded for him, so at the very least the team lost out on his trade value. As for my expectations for Washington, that’s trickier, mostly since we’ve seen one good year and one bad year from RGIII, so it’s tough to tell what that team is going to get from their QB. I’d say that with a weaker NFC East — the Cowboys and Giants aren’t really scaring anyone right now, and Philly is another question mark after the team’s tumultuous 2013 campaign — Washington might just come away with the division win, but I don’t see them being anything close to a juggernaut. Either way, I don’t see more than one team making the playoffs from this division -— there’s too much talent elsewhere.
Amy: I’d say the Redskins have a pretty exciting season to look forward to. They made the biggest move of the off-season by signing Jackson. Coming off of a 3-13 season, they desperately needed to add some spice to their offense, and Jackson certainly has the spark they need. Last year, he set career-highs with 82 catches and 1,332 yards for the the Eagles, so I definitely think the Eagles will regret letting him go. Jackson is also pretty excited about the switch to Washington, as he tweeted, “ITS GOIN DOWN !! BURGUNDY & GOLD.”
Chris wins for highlighting Washington’s struggles last year, Mike gets 2 points for pointing out how weak the NFC East is, and Amy gets 1 point for mentioning Jackson’s career year.
2) The Spurs have been tearing apart the NBA recently, a trend punctuated by their 26-point win over Indiana. Is San Antonio the clear favorite to win it all this year, and if not, then who is?
Chris: The Spurs have been incredible (this is nothing new), and they’re obviously a big-time contender, but I’m skeptical to consider them the favorite, and here’s why: the NBA playoffs are completely different from the regular season. San Antonio’s offense is based on picture-perfect screens, cuts and fundamentals — things that every player on the roster understands and things that succeed on a nightly basis. However, in the playoffs, starpower adds a new element, which is why I’d say the Spurs are no better than the third-favorite. I understand they were so close to a title last year that they could sniff it, but keep in mind they still lost to Miami and they didn’t even have to play OKC. I also worry if Manu Ginobili will continue to decline in the postseason, along with Danny Green’s ability to once again don that Superman cape. With the level that Kevin Durant is playing at and the hungriness of LeBron James to win a third straight title and make his decision of where to be next season easier, I don’t feel comfortable picking the Spurs.
Mike: I’ll say this up front: I love the Spurs. They are without a doubt my favorite team to watch. But they aren’t the favorite this season. That honor belongs to one of the four younger, superstar-led teams — the Thunder, Heat, Pacers and Clippers. They have the right combination of superstar talent and depth to take home the title, and you cannot underestimate the power of the superstar in the NBA playoffs. The Spurs simply don’t have anyone at that level right now, even though they might have the best team from top to bottom. I could still legitimately see the Spurs winning it all come June, if they can get past or avoid OKC, who’s beaten them every game this year, but to call them favorites with those other teams in the mix is just something I can’t do. If I had to pick one team as my favorite, it has to go to the two-time defending champs. Until someone beats the Heat, they have to be considered the favorites.
Amy: Yes, the Spurs had a 19-game win streak earlier in the season and have overall been dominant, but I don’t necessarily think they have what it takes to go all the way. The Spurs will have a difficult time going against skilled teams in the Western conference, which is why I think Miami has a better chance at taking it all the way. If the Spurs and Miami both make it to the finals, however, I think the Spurs will take the crown.
Mike wins for bringing up the Clippers as a dark horse, Chris gets 2 points for highlighting how old the Spurs are, and Amy gets 1 point for pointing out how stacked the West is.
3. The U.S. men’s national team had a Jekyll and Hyde performance against Mexico last week, building up and then choking away a 2-0 lead. What should U.S. fans worry about heading into the Group of Death in Brazil?
Chris: Being in the Group of Death is a start. The United States has to deal with Germany (a team some are considering the favorites), Portugal (yeah, they have Cristiano Ronaldo) and Ghana (a solid team who knocked them out of last year’s World Cup). I would say that the U.S. fans should worry most about things breaking their way. In 2010, a freak goal against England and a miracle against Algeria got the Americans to the group stages. This year, they’ll need to make some of the their own luck. The Ghana game is pretty much a must-win, but hopefully the team has revenge on their minds. Portugal isn’t unbeatable, but at least a tie is crucial. The one thing that the U.S. has going for them is they get Germany in the last game, so maybe the Germans won’t be too worried with America if they’ve already won the group by then. It’s going to take a lot of luck and even better play if the U.S. wants to even advance to the group stages. Here’s hoping they do.
Mike: Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Those are the teams the U.S. will be facing in the World Cup, and the second-ranked Germans, Christiano Ronaldo-led Portuguese and the team that took out the U.S. in the last World Cup (Ghana) are not looking fun to play against. A skeptic will tell you the U.S. doesn’t stand a chance, while a realist will probably nod along sadly and the optimist will be quietly crying in the corner. Things don’t look good, but the Mexico game wasn’t exactly a symbol of bad play to come. First of all, the U.S. had a goal taken away by a questionable/flat-out-wrong offsides call, which means the offense is working pretty well with kind-of three goals scored. When you also consider that the U.S. was missing some of the team’s best defenders for the game, it gets a little less bleak. Even without Geoff Cameron or Fabian Johnson, the defense wasn’t terrible, and Matt Besler looked like a great defensive player. The World Cup doesn’t look fun for the Americans, but it also isn’t all bad.
Amy: Setting the draw against Mexico aside, the U.S. should be worried about heading into Brazil. As you may know, Brazilian goalie Bruno Fernandes de Souza was sentenced to 22 years in prison for ordering the kidnapping and murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend (and then feeding her to a dog) because he didn’t want to pay child support. Recently, however, he was released from prison on a day basis to train and play with his team. Brazil takes soccer more seriously than keeping murderers in jail. So, yes, the U.S. should be worried.
Chris gets 3 points for his analysis of the Americans’ schedule, Mike gets 2 points for saying the U.S. has a chance, and Amy gets 1 point for pointing out how dangerous Brazil is.
Chris wins Around the Dorm, 8-7-3