From: scott pianowski
Subject: 15 Miles High Breakfast
Date: December 14, 2011 11:28:09 AM EST
To: Michael Salfino
Our national nightmare of crummy prime-time football is almost over. We just have to get through Jacksonville-Atlanta (how did the Jags ever get three non-flexible prime timers?) and Dallas-Tampa Bay, and then it's safe to turn on your set again.
Of course the Patriots-Broncos game really should be the Sunday Nighter, but NFL politics are complicated. I'm not looking forward to watching Captain Norv for three hours Sunday. Baltimore should cruise, right, a physical team against a group of ballerinas? Is there any chance Turner can bail out his job over the last three weeks?
I'd also like a quick word about Houston. T.J. Yates doesn't look overmatched to me; at minimum, I can't imagine Matt Leinart would have been better than this. The defense seems legit. The offense should get Andre Johnson back fairly soon. Are they a legitimate AFC sleeper (I say sleeper because they're buried in the last Super Bowl odds I saw), or is this a case of a team beating up on a weak division and schedule but not really being that good? How do we handicap the AFC contenders at this point?
The Steelers play at San Francisco on Monday night, a game that should excite me more than it does. Maybe I'm a little annoyed at seeing Pittsburgh get back-to-back stand-alone games (I hate when they do that), and the David Akers kicking telethon gets a little tiring after a while. Does the Niners OL ever move anyone? Is Frank Gore hurt? Is the jig finally up with Jim Harbaugh's hide-the-quarterback game?
Go anywhere you want with the first meat-filled reply. I don't know that there's anything new to say on Tim Tebow, but we do have to talk New England and Denver from a matchup standpoint. Mark Sanchez did a nice job defending himself in Week 14, but Kansas City had something to do with that. Philly is a three-point favorite over the Jets. Does that line make sense to you?
Week 15 Breakfast (isn't that cute, so-and-so wears No. 15) is served.
From: Michael Salfino
Subject: Re: 15 Miles High Breakfast
Date: December 14, 2011 12:54:38 PM EST
To: scott pianowski
Bcc: Michael Salfino
I guess when you are 8-8 you get a certain number of games by default. It's stupid. Use Massey-Peabody to determine which teams are good irrespective of record. Or just use Vegas over/unders so at least we can understand if something breaks the wrong way with a team, as always happens. But I wouldn't want to watch the Jaguars if they were 13-0.
Speaking of which, the Packers, it turns out, are the worst 13-0 team ever. Seventh of the eight in league history in point differential. But more damning, just plus-0.33 yards per play better than the opposition, which is not only eighth among the historic 13-0 teams but eighth in the NFL THIS YEAR. I guess I'm now persona non grata in the entire midwest after Pittsburgh (The Senile Curtain) and Denver (Tebow).
A Yahoo! Tebowmaniac said I should drown in a Lake of Fire (I think the seventh sign of the apocalypse if I understand my bible correctly via this season's run of Dexter). Others on Yahoo! accuse me of whoring myself to get page views. What a joke! Don't these people know that I've written a column with you for 10 years now that's read each week by about 10 people? So now I'm Nickelback after doing a Nick Drake/Big Star thing here with you for eons? That's crazier than giving Tebow credit for these wins. I'm dug in here until I see some evidence to the contrary. But Tebow plays the same game every week and thus the arguments never change.
I'm going to steal our friend Tom Carpenter's line next week that God does play in Tebow's games because every one of his passes is a Hail Mary. Again, I don't get why you like watching Tebow so much. Even if you are enthralled by his comebacks, he's Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music for three quarters. He's Revolution No. 9. Check that, he's Happy Days goes to Hollywood Part 3 where you have to sit through about all of that crap just to see Fonzie jump the shark. I don't want to remotely imply that there is some undercurrent of greatness in Tebow or that he's "edgy" in any way. You really want me to talk matchups with Tebow? Is this what it's come to? Do I actually have to root for the Patriots this week? I refuse. Patriots 41, Broncos 10. You'll be happy this wasn't the national game.
I like the Chargers in that Ravens game, by the way. Philip Rivers in December is 22-3. This is Rivers Time.
I guess you don't want to watch the Dolphins in the postseason anymore. But I don't want to watch the Texans, either. Yates could have a chance against the Patriots, but the Steelers, Ravens or Jets will eat him alive. I understand that the Bengals are good defensively. But they got caught like many teams playing prevent defense because they thought they had the game won. I think win probability is increased with the prevent defense when you are worried about the great quarterback beating the blitz and gashing you for a big play. But I don't like playing soft against weaker throwers. And I understand that there is something counter-intuitive about that. (The Jets did it on that last drive before blitzing and having Smith just take a terrible angle on that last Denver play.)
The interesting thing about the Steelers-Niners will be if Roethlisberger doesn't play. No team is more QB-reliant in this non-Peyton Manning season than the Steelers, who utilize his unique playing style and improvisational skills as they well should. But if he goes down, their entire offense goes down with him. I know they won without him in the past, but not because of their offense.
The Eagles petrify me as a Jets fan. But the one good thing about this matchup for New York is that the Jets are not a WR-reliant team. They have the seventh lowest percentage of completions to their wideouts - 48.8 percent (all wideouts, not just starters). I like that Tomlinson is back. The Jets need a big game from Dustin Keller. I think their defense is playing very well and the loss of Leonhard actually helps them - despite some solid stat evidence to the contrary - for reasons I explain over at SNYWhyGuys.com. So I expect the defense to play very well. They're very stout of late against the run, too. But I worry of course about Vick's running since the Jets like to play man, and thus this can neutralize Revis. Fascinating game. Eagles 23, Jets 14.
From: scott pianowski
Subject: planet plaxico
Date: December 15, 2011 10:54:18 AM EST
To: Michael Salfino
Understand I'm not second guessing on the Jags, it was a first guess all the way. Jacksonville's over-under (I love your idea on that) was 6.5 before the season, and everyone I discussed it with agreed they were a stone-under. And when a team can never capture the interest and imagination of its own city, for crying out loud, why should the rest of the nation care? We should have been spared this one.
So the Packers are ordinary geniuses. That doesn't mean much to me. They're the best team we have, flawed as they might be. Really, what are the Packers good at? This might be the best passing team we've ever seen (it will be interesting to see if they miss Greg Jennings at all), and the defense gets a fair amount of takeaways. That's it. Running game, not great. Defense allows production every week. The yards per play stats might lie in the case of the Pack, though, because Green Bay has faced the second most pass attempts in the league. Passing plays have more potential gain than rushing plays, obviously, though they also bring risk into the equation. If the Packers weren't racing out to so many first-half leads, their stat profile would have a different slant to it.
I wanted the Patriots-Broncos as the stand-alone game because I wanted to observe it with no other games going on, snap-by-snap, replays, the best NFL broadcasting partner by far, etc. I won't feel any differently if the game turns into a New England runaway. I'll want to take note in how the Patriots attacked Denver on both sides of the ball. (I can't see the New England defense holding the Broncos to 10 points, by the way. If the Pats score early and often, it will probably push the Broncos into the offense they should be running all the time. The Denver coaches are so afraid of letting Tebow lose the game in the first three quarters, they're putting him behind the eight ball every week.)
Why is Phillip Rivers better in December? Does he play better when there's no margin for error? Does it take a while for the new offensive pieces to jell?
The Dolphins have a positive score differential, which is hard to do when you're only 4-9. I stand behind my comment from last week: this is not a bad football team. Do not assume the Jets will get an easy win when they go to Miami. The defense has been solid for two months now, and they finally figured out how to use Reggie Bush.
The Steelers won't be interesting if Charlie Batch plays - they'll be overmatched. San Francisco's defense would eat Batch's lunch. But Roethlisberger's pain tolerance is insane, so I fully expect him to go.
Are the Bengals good on defense? I don't like them nearly as much with Leon Hall out, and they've also missed Carlos Dunlap on the defensive line. They've had three shots at Pittsburgh and Baltimore and for the most part they've been pushed around like the little brother they are. These guys are still a year away, at least.
The catch rates of Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress demand a follow-up question: who's fault is it? I don't mean that to sound binary - obviously it's a number of things. But how can we break it up, divvy up the blame? Maybe I'm back in chicken-egg territory, talking about something that's impossible to decisively prove. Jerry Rice gets held against Joe Montana and Steve Young, and Young and Montana get held against Rice. Wait, they all played for Bill Walsh, maybe he's the genius.
I still think Holmes is a decent player, maybe not a true No. 1 but on the seam between a 1 and a 2. Burress is in his own world until you dangle a touchdown in front of him - then his eyes get big. Recall the Manny Ramirez solution so many years ago, the idea that the Red Sox should tell him daily "Manny, you were just traded to Boston." Maybe with the Jets, they should say to Plax every snap "okay, buddy, first and goal from the ten."
I consider the Steelers to be the AFC favorite because they have depth in the passing game and, quietly, a very sound pass defense. They also have a home-field advantage, one of the few teams that can say that today. But the difference between Pittsburgh and the other primary contenders isn't very great, and it's possible they won't win the division anyway. Baltimore has a better defense but less passing options.
I'll offer game predictions in the comments.
From: Michael Salfino
Subject: Re: planet plaxico
Date: December 15, 2011 11:56:59 AM EST
To: scott pianowski
Are we really through the looking glass where even reasonable people wonder how Tebow is going to be stopped? Tebow IS being stopped. Points per drive with Tebow: 1.39. Without him, 1.55 (that's for Denver). Not including anything screwy. More here. Tebow's rank for a full year would be 27th or worse than Tarvaris Jackson. Reality has an anti-Tebow bias, I know. So we'll be able to invent some reasons for our faith, I'm sure. Tebow is like religion after all.
I have no idea why Philip Rivers is so good in December. But is he really that good? His QB rating by month: 90.2, 99.7, 90.9, 102.0. So, yeah, he's better. But barely better than in October when he's 12-13. Wins are a team stat. Rivers's record in December is a fluke just like Tebow's record since he's been a starter is a fluke. Trent Dilfer was 7-1 his Super Bowl year. Didn't Kyle Orton start his Denver career at 6-0 with miracle wins?
The Jets, who are coming around and up to eighth now in Massey-Peabody, will destroy the Dolphins in the finale. Players pack it in for interim coaches, especially in the last game. But why are we even talking about this game? You don't need to feature wide receivers to have a great passing game. Here are the lowest rates of WR utilization (percentage of completions to all WRs): Ravens 37.9%, Chargers 38.7%, Saints 42.2%, Texans 42.3%, Cowboys 48.7%, Browns 48.7%, Jets 48.8%. The Patriots are 50.9%. (10th worst). So it can work fine if you have good receiving options at tight end and running back. But Dustin Keller is just a guy out there, I'm sad to say. It's time for the Jets to move on from him. And as you say, Holmes and Burress are not good enough. Sanchez doesn't have a target who can be relied on to win one-on-one matchups or to even create mismatches (though Burress can do it on the goal line, which is a totally different game).
Who cares about the Steelers' home-field advantage if they are a wildcard team? They are right now and will be for sure if they lose this week.