From: Michael Salfino
Date: Mon, Sep 5, 2011 at 9:43 PM
Subject: 2011 Kickoff Breakfast
To: Scott Pianowski
Hey, the carnival is back in town. The tents are being set up now, but the rides will be cranked up soon enough.
Everyone has opinions at this time of year, and the great thing is that teams and players get a chance to shove them down our throat. That in a nutshell is what makes sports great. And what I like about what we do is no pussy-footin' around. No hedge clipping around here. To me, being wrong is more fun - it's the way we get to learn stuff. Let the politicians keep arguing about what caused and ended the Great Depression and twist reality a million times until it looks like one of those spin art creations from the fair.
There's so much to do and so little space. I don't know where to begin. But we both like forecasting playoff teams and win totals. My friend Paul Bessire at PredictionMachine.com has run the season 50,000 times, and here are his averages for every team. What do you think? What are your division winners and wildcards.
We need to sprinkle in some fantasy touts/player predictions. So how about five guys we love and hate? And no Peyton Manning, bro'. Nice call, but that cat is out of the bag. I want to know what you'll be watching Week 1. What are you going to try to answer quick with our first bit of meaningful data? 2011 Kickoff Breakfast is served.
From: Scott Pianowski
Date: Thu, Sep 8, 2011 at 9:23 AM
Subject: encyclopedia brown and the case of the dead eagles
To: Michael Salfino
The first thing that struck me about the 2011 season is that the Monday Night Schedule stinks. ESPN got hosed there. Two Miami games? Two Jacksonville home games? But maybe it's better for the football fans because NBC's production is vastly superior; so fine, give them the better games. And we get two beauties to open things up, New Orleans at Green Bay and Dallas at the Jets.
The NFC East looks like the most interesting division. I'll put the Redskins down as a tomato can immediately, but the other three teams could win the division. How much does Michael Vick regress in Year 2? Teams were confusing him down the stretch in 2010. The Cowboys have plenty of offense if the key pieces stay healthy, but can they protect Tony Romo? Better yet, can they stop anyone? Does the messy Giants preseason worry you? I think Dallas is underrated right now (when's the last time anyone ever said that?), and the Eagles are overrated. I think I'm putting them both in the playoffs though.
The Packers will easily win the NFC North. It's crazy that they won the Super Bowl on a year where so many key players got hurt. A healthy Aaron Rodgers is without question the best quarterback in the league. It's scary what Jermichael Finley could add to this offense. I'm on board with Detroit in a 9-7 type of way, but Matthew Stafford has an injury history, and the division is filled with imposing pass rushers. Look for Chicago to collapse, and Mike Martz to be packing stuff up in early January. Jay Cutler is almost ready for the Johnny Rotten biopic.
I love the way New Orleans retooled its defense, but the two best wideouts (Colston, Moore) are injury concerns. And there's always the worry that Sean Payton will cute his way into a loss or two. Why did Atlanta trade all those draft choices for Julio Jones? I side with Cleveland on that one; take the volume, never let draft day hubris cloud your decisions. Still not sold on Matt Ryan as an elite quarterback. Tampa Bay's 2010 season has fluke written all over it, and Carolina will be plucky with a new coaching staff and low expectations (their O/U of 4.5 is a gift, they'll pass that easily).
The Rams should be the class of the NFC West. Josh McDaniels wasn't meant to be a head coach but he's still a terrific designer of an offense. Sam Bradford's rookie year was mildy overrated - it looked far better in the gross stats than it did in the efficiency ones - but he's the genuine article, smart, fantastic arm, tough. The offensive line was upgraded, the defense too. And there's no one else to worry about here.
I'll believe it when I see it on Kevin Kolb. He's got seven career starts. No one knows. Learning a new team, a new city and a new offense in five weeks is just about impossible. Jim Harbaugh can fix the Niners eventually, but right now he's the best quarterback in his own locker room. Say hello to six wins. Seattle will spring one or two notable surprises at Qwest - maybe the best home-field edge in the league - but the NFL mandates a road schedule, too. You're going nowhere with Tarvaris Jackson.
You start us off on the AFC and I'll mention some fantasy guys in the closer.
From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Sep 8, 2011 at 12:28 PM
Subject: Re: encyclopedia brown and the case of the dead eagles
To: Scott Pianowski
I think gambling and fantasy football tends to mute the importance of matchup games, especially on Monday. But I always want the good game when I basically have to watch it.
We seem to be in general agreement about the NFC East. But I have no concerns about the Giants offense. They will score lots of points. Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks might be the most talented and productive pair of receivers in the NFL. In fact, I predict they will be - 2,200 yards and 20 TDs. The Cowboys can't block anyone so I do not like their offense. I think this is a poorly constructed team. They've built backwards there and are paying for it. Who cares about skill players until you have your line and QB (Cowboys have the latter for sure, but he's going to be beaten up). They view their line as a sort of afterthought it seems to me. Plus, they can't cover. Dallas will maybe be .500 if Romo lasts the year, which is doubtful. And big, big step back this year for Vick. He had a Cinderella run last year, but the clock struck midnight on about December 1 and no one noticed.
Packers in a walk. The Bears can't block either, not remotely. The Vikings seem prototypically 8-8. If Stafford stays healthy, 9-7 is possible. But he's missed so many games he's almost like a rookie still. I'm not sure if he's good, though I lean that way. Those shoulder woes seem chronic and how can you avoid being slammed on it especially when your best defensive player is cheap-shotting the opposing QB? So give me under nine wins on Detroit.
Who cares about the Saints receivers? Fantasy players, yes. But whoever is out there will be good because of Drew Brees. Atlanta is one of the league's smartest teams, say the sharps - doing things like going for it on many fourth and shorts. So if they are sabermetrically inclined, perhaps they understand that you really should throw 65% of the time and not 35%. Throwing 42 passes with Ryan in the first half of a preseason game makes me believe it's very likely something is up there. Jones is situated to be a very good rookie wide receiver, productivity wise. Ryan is definitely good enough, though I'm not sure what you mean by "elite." He's not top five in the NFL, for sure. But he's probably top 10.
Don't like the Rams in the West. Don't like second-year quarterbacks having to learn a new system. The Cardinals are my pick there. I don't know about Kolb, of course, but he's almost definitely average and possibly good-to-very good. In that division, that should be good for nine wins or so. Even eight will win it. Hate, hate, hate the Niners and Alex Smith - fantasy poison (and reality, too). Have no opinion yet on Seattle beyond last year's poor one.
In the AFC, the Jets are not a great regular-season team because they do not blow bad teams out. They are in every game, but that's a January recipe for success, not so good against Jacksonville in Week 2. But the Patriots seem to be reeling to me. The offseason moves haven't worked out. They've drafted terribly by their own admission in cutting all those high picks. They can't seem to settle on defensive personnel or even a system. Brady doesn't seem to like his receivers at all. Deion Branch is looking like a stiff again. You're not beating a defense like the Jets in a big spot with tight ends. Wes Welker is not remotely a game-breaker. But Brady is inner-circle Hall of Fame, so I wouldn't go under 10 wins. Wouldn't go over, either. The Dolphins have become an embarrassment off the field. Honoring the Florida Gators in Miami? Publicly seeking a new head coach and quarterback only to be forced to keep the old ones? Amateur hour. I do like Reggie Bush in fantasy leagues as a third back though.
The Steelers and Ravens in the North. Pittsburgh newspapers called for James Harrison to beat me up after I wrote in the Journal how the Steelers were so old they are the "Senile Curtain." (That was actually the editor, but the topic was all mine.) I think the Browns will be solid, with a good chance to win eight games. That's why I really like Peyton Hillis. McCoy also impresses me, as much as Bradford actually.
Who knows about Peyton Manning. But Kerry Collins is underrated. Look at his numbers last year. There is no throw that Peyton Manning can make that Collins cannot and there are some that Collins can make that Manning can't. It's more than that, obviously. But he's seen it all. The Colts system is pretty simple; why do you think all those rookie/inexperienced wideouts have been so good? You call two passes and a run on every play and then pick one at the line. Collins can do that. I see a 10-to-20% stat reduction in the Colts skill players while Manning is out, and the discount has been much greater. The Texans are the new Chargers. I bet they lose this week. The Titans and Jaguars are awful with Jacksonville being the worst team in football by a margin.
The West is the Chargers to lose, which they probably will. I think the Raiders will surprise. The Chiefs win eight games if they are lucky, but I'll call it six. The Broncos stink. I do not trust Brandon Lloyd this year after he was so good to me in '10. Sorry. Mike Tolbert over Ryan Mathews, I think we agree. Mathews is the new Moss for Chris Liss.
Alright, AFC now from you while I pay the check and get ready for kickoff.
From: Scott Pianowski
Date: Thu, Sep 8, 2011 at 1:57 PM
Subject: Kerry Collins almost looks like a manning
To: Michael Salfino
I'm not going to make this about the Patriots and Jets. Both teams are headed for the playoffs on my blueprint. But when you say "You're not beating a defense like the Jets in a big spot with tight ends," I gotta throw the challenge flag. The Patriots beat the Jets 45-3 in Week 13 last year, a game that certainly mattered to both clubs.
Sure, the Jets won the other two meetings, including the playoff game (and the 27-20 final in January was deceiving, New York dominated). Hey, your team is very good. But this isn't the 1976 Steelers defense, either.
I just wish the Pats were getting the Ochocinco of 3-4 years ago. I don't expect much there. But give Tom Brady quantity over quality, and he'll find a way to make it work; he'll locate the weakness in coverage and exploit it.
What do we make of the Jets not blowing bad teams out in the regular season? Does point differential mean nothing to you? Do good teams secure a lead or extend a lead? Remember all that junk about Aaron Rodgers not winning close games? On several occasions last year he'd ruin the narrative by extending a seven-point lead into a 28-point blowout in the second half. How is that a bad thing?
Maybe here's the point: a defensive-oriented club looks to secure a lead on that side of the ball, while an offensive-oriented club can best control the game by keeping the pedal to the metal. There's nothing wrong with asking your offense to outrun/outscore the opponent if the offense is your signature unit. And there's nothing wrong with playing conservative ball on offense if you see your defense as the lockdown group. The ideal path to victory is not a universal thing.
I agree that Kerry Collins has generally been underrated for most of his career, but the drop-down from Manning to Collins is gigantic. Manning isn't just the quarterback for Indy, he's the offensive coordinator and associate head coach. He's played a decade with Reggie Wayne, eight years with Dallas Clark. The Colts never had a great offensive line all the while; Manning made it look considerably better than it really was because of his pre-snap recognition and his instincts (and quick release) in the pocket. (For the best example of a QB making the line look good, compare the 2007 Patriots with Brady - no sacks - to the 2008 Patriots with Matt Cassel - sack exchange).
The Colts won't be even remotely close to the division title. This will be like Duke Basketball in 1994-95, the season Coach K had to leave the team, and it all collapsed under Pete Gaudet. If Houston can't win under this sweet set-up, Gary Kubiak deserves to be fired immediately after the season. But I could also see Tennessee sneaking into the race, too. Forget the Jaguars; Jack Del Rio doesn't understand that you can't switch your jockey as the horses are being steered into the starting gate. Jacksonville won't even have a team by the end of the decade; this has LA written all over it.
The Bears can't block, and yet they play for an OC who loves medium and deep routes. Square pegs, round holes. And Martz is flat-out crazy if he thinks Roy Williams can still play. Chicago is headed for a losing record.
Tell me how Kevin Kolb's challenge is easier than Sam Bradford's. Kolb has Larry Fitzgerald going for him, sure, but everything he's being taught is brand new, and he's got seven friggin' career starts. Bradford played all of last season and knows most of his personnel. He'll be less confused on opening day than Kolb will. Bradford also showed greatness in college; he gets the pedigree check mark.
The Chargers will win the West by multiple games, Jersey, even with Uncle Norv in tow. No one has that much bad luck on special teams two years in a row. The offense has zero holes, and Rivers is just an eyelash behind Rodgers. Sooner or later a roster this good unleashes 12-4 fury on the league, and there's no one to challenge them in the division.
San Diego 31, Green Bay 27. Lots of unresolved threads to resolve in the comments. Let's get this party started.