From: Michael Salfino
Date: Wed, Jan 5, 2011 at 12:33 AM
Subject: Wild Card Breakfast
To: Scott Pianowski
This typically is my favorite week of the season, even with that three-dimensional playoff fantasy that we play and that makes my head hurt.
We have to forecast all the games and touch on the major story lines. I'll get us started with some notes from the mountain of data I've been given for these games.
New Orleans at Seattle: Chris Liss said the Seahawks are 150-to-1 to win the Super Bowl and should be 1,500-to-1 with some of his gambler math, or maybe it was 15,000-to-1. This has to be the most unanticipated playoff game ever, which means something screwy will happen, and it will come down to the wire. Or do the Seahawks simply stink like the discarded chum at the Fulton Fish Market?
Jets at Indianapolis: The Jets are going to blitz. That's very bad news based on how the Jets blitzed this year and how Manning tore them apart when they blitzed in last year's AFC Championship game. What would you do to defend Manning?
Ravens at Chiefs: My Massey-Peabody guys have the Chiefs as the most volatile team in the NFL. The last eight weeks, they've played the worst three times and near the best twice. But Joe Flacco arguably has been the worst playoff QB ever. The Ravens are pretty good though, arguably the second-best team in football.
Packers at Eagles: I like so much about the Packers, but they typically do not win close games. So how can they overcome this to win three straight on the road, like the numbers suggest is quite possible though not probable? Was Michael Vick's weaknesses (reading the blitz) exposed in Week 16, or was that a fluke?
Wildcard Breakfast is served.
From: Scott Pianowski
Date: Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 14:28 AM
Subject: duwag wild
To: Michael Salfino
I don't give the Seahawks a chance, either. They played smartly last week against the Rams; they got a lead then played hide-the-quarterback. Of course it helped that the Rams played as tentatively as possible, refusing to attack downfield against a Seattle secondary that was there for the taking. Sean Payton won't be so kind. And the Seahawks won't have an answer for the Saints blitz packages; Matt Hasselbeck can make the reads but not the throws, and Charlie Whitehurst is too inexperienced to be trusted in this spot. Qwest Field is an advantage against most teams, but it shouldn't rattle Drew Brees.
I might give the Jets more of a shot than you do. Reggie Wayne is coming off the worst YPC of his career, and Darrelle Revis, nicked up or not, can check him effectively. Peyton Manning just posted the second-worst YPA of his career. I don't trust Pierre Garcon as far as I can throw him, and the guy who would really hurt New York - Dallas Clark - won't be on the field. If I'm the Jets, I get physical with Manning, even if it takes a flag or two. No one likes being hit, of course, and I think it affects Manning more than most elite quarterbacks.
I want to pick against the Ravens, still not sure if I will. Maybe it's because I'm afraid they'll go to Foxboro next week, where they loom as New England's least-preferred matchup. I struggle with Joe Flacco; like the size and arm strength, but he looks confused out there at times - it's Year 3, too late for that. They haven't figured out how to use Anquan Boldin effectively. The defense, while still physical and filled with attitude, has been living off reputation for several years (though Ed Reed still amazes me).
What do we make of Kansas City's no-show against Oakland? Is Matt Cassel a little uneasy after the appendix removal? Two mediocre games in his last three. The Todd Haley-Charlie Weis marriage probably couldn't last; two alpha dogs can't share an offense. Does it affect this game?
The Packers are certainly going to follow Minnesota's blueprint; make Vick beat you as a decision-maker, make him beat you with hot reads and seam throws. But Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg should have something cooked up here; they've essentially had two weeks to prepare for this game. We all hate Andy Reid in the fourth quarter, but he's still a dynamite coach six days of the week. I don't see an obvious weakness with the Packers other than their running game, so why were they life and death merely to make the playoffs in the first place?
Still ruminating over predictions, in part because I've had a nasty bug the last two days (Mike Shanahan wants to call me questionable for the weekend, but I'm sure to go). It's fun to have such a deep pool of teams in the playoffs; Seattle is the only team that doesn't have a logical case for multiple games.
From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 8:56 AM
Subject: Re: duwag wild
To: Scott Pianowski
I wonder how much noise the Seahawks fans will make? Didn't most of them vote in a poll that the Seahawks shouldn't even make the playoffs? That sort of dampens the enthusiasm. If you do not think you have a legitimate chance to win the game, never mind the entire tournament, how loud will you be? The same situation exists for Chiefs fans. They are fading terribly. I doubt their fans even half believe after getting massacred by the Raiders last week. That quiets the decibels, I'll wager.
I wonder what the Saints game plan will be with Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory now both on I-R. The Thomas situation caught me flatfooted, I admit. In our fantasy playoff draft the night before, he went late second round. But Sean Payton will just plug in Julius Jones and DeShawn Wynn, I bet. And they'll probably run well enough. Plus Jones has some extra motivation given that Pete Carroll gave him the boot. Brees carries the day. Saints 27, Seahawks 16.
I wrote about the Jets problem this week. Funny story - this was set to go on Tuesday. We were about 30 minutes out from deadline and going through a final redeback, and the editor sends me an email asking me how long it would take me to write an entirely different Jets piece. The problem was that there was a feature right above my piece where Rex Ryan was quoted as saying the only way to beat Peyton Manning was to pressure/blitz him, and my piece had a bunch of data that said if the Jets blitz Manning, they are fools. So that had to wait a day. Here it is. The Jets allow an 85 QB rating when blitzing and a 71 when they do not. They blitzed Manning (five or six-plus rushers) 64% of the time in last year's AFC Championship Game, and he tore them apart. And last year, their blitz was actually good. Rex Ryan is going to push that button because that's all he knows how to do and then when it doesn't work, he'll press it harder. Colts 30, Jets 20.
Boldin has been okay this year. The passing game generally has been in mothballs the past few weeks, so his production has also been down. I think the Ravens are going to run wild against the Chiefs with that tackle over game (two on one side of the line) and even with three tackles on the field. The Chiefs were demolished by the Raiders last week with those looks, and that's really the hallmark of the Ravens running game. So I see about a 150 rushing yards for Ray Rice - maybe closer to 200. If KC overreacts and overloads, Anquan Boldin will have a field day. I also do not think that Charlie Weis is involved in the offense anymore. Who leaves the NFL to go be an offensive coordinator in college? Todd Haley proved he's a terrible head coach/playcaller last year. So the Ravens defense should dominate. I think Baltimore wins easy - easier than the Saints. Ravens 27, Chiefs 13.
The problem with Vick is that he's not a student of the game, and teams are forcing him now to make the line calls that he must make given that the Eagles do not audible and do not have hot reads to combat the blitz. Why they do not, I do not know. But that's a fact. I do not think that Andy Reid was bluffing when he said he'll bench Vick if Vick looks as amateurish in making necessary adjustments as he did against the Vikings. But he might not have to because, if that happens again, Vick will be carried off the field. I think the Packers are the best complete team in the NFC, and I do not think it's close. I worry about Aaron Rodgers being 9-15 in games decided by seven points are less. We can isolate games and say it's not his fault, but that's a pretty big sample and not the profile you expect from an elite QB. This will be the game of the weekend. The Eagles will explode three or four times. If the Eagles do not put Asante Samuel on Greg Jennings every play, they are mad. They won't, as they consistently refuse to flop corners. Packers 28, Eagles 23.
From: Scott Pianowski
Date: Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 4:20 PM
Subject: soup spoon
To: Michael Salfino
The Seahawks decided on Matt Hasselbeck today, not that it matters. He's at the point in his career where he knows all the angles but the body can't do what the mind wants. This game will not be competitive in the second half. Saints by double digits.
New Orleans and New England present interesting challenges for the fantasy crowd. Say you knew the Saints were going to the Super Bowl - which backs and receivers do you grab? Marques Colston is two weeks removed from knee surgery, Lance Moore is an ordinary slot guy, Devery Henderson a one-trick pony, Robert Meachem inconsistent. We all love Jimmy Graham but he's still learning the game. The Patriots passing game is all about spreading it out, of course, and there wasn't even a receiver over 850 yards there. Mmmm, this is great soup.
I'm dying for the Jets to beat the Colts so New England can smack New York around again. Love Rex Ryan taking petty little shots at Tom Brady this week. These guys solved your defense on National TV, mack, to the tune of 45-3. Why don't you worry about Peyton Manning first?
I do think the Jets can win this week, though. Be patient on defense, make Manning beat you with 15-play drives. Not that Manning can't do it, but blitzing him is a gift. I know the Colts defense is improved with its run stopping, but the Jets still have an edge there, so long as Shonn Greene is getting at least as much work as LaDainian Tomlinson. Put Mark Sanchez in hitter's counts, then unleash the best receiving group in the AFC. It's possible, at least to talk yourself into it. Believing is art. Gang Green, 24-20.
We'll know in the opening 5-10 minutes if the Chiefs have a shot. I could see any range of outcomes there - an upset, a close loss, or a total unraveling. Maybe Todd Haley should defer if they win the toss. If Jamaal Charles doesn't get the majority of carries, Kansas City fans should take hostages. I have no conviction with this pick, but call it 20-17, Ravens.
Boldin, for what it's worth, had 24 catches for 291 yards over the last eight games. I blame the other chaps more than him, but something's wrong here.
I'm a little surprised the Green Bay-Philly match didn't land on Saturday night - it's the featured bout. It will be interesting to see just how much the Packers decide to blitz, and how risky they are with those packages. When you call the wrong blitz at the wrong time, especially against a team with Philly's skill talent, you're handing away gigantic plays for the offense. But it's awfully hard to pick against a Packers team that looks sound in so many areas. Yes, the running game stinks. Yes, McCarthy's in-game strategy is spotty, but that's a wash in a game against Reid. I'd take Rodgers over Vick every day of the week, and Green Bay's defense might be better on all three levels. At the end of the day who do you like - the efficient offense or the big-play guys? Here, I'll go with the high-octane group. Pack 27, Eagles 23.