From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Jan 12, 2012 at 8:47 AM
Subject: Divisional Breakfast
To: Scott Pianowski
More Tebow on the menu. Unbelievable. Credit to Tebow, who made the throws, in a record-setting passing day (only third player in league history to throw for 300-plus yards on 10 or less completions). But I hated how the Steelers sold out to the run all day and especially in overtime, trying to get a ninth man in the box when eight is more than enough (cue Willie Aames).
This week, it's New England and we should probably start there. But the first game on Saturday is New Orleans at San Francisco, which fascinates me. Drew Brees is so ridiculous that he has me questioning if Aaron Rodgers is the best QB right now after I said a couple months ago that he was the best QB ever. The Saints have the best third-down conversion rate since at least 1991. The Niners specialize in run defense. Could they get lucky even on the slower, outdoor turf?
Sunday starts with Houston at Baltimore. Joe Flacco has a 61.6 career playoff QB rating but is 4-3 and now gets his first home game, but the Texans allowed the lowest passer rating against in league - 67.9. How goes this game? Does T.J. Yates outplay him?
And then the best game of the weekend on paper, the Giants at Green Bay. I have to say that Liss's 2007 Redux Theory looks pretty good right now. But this is a big-play oriented team as I wrote earlier this week. They've had 13 of 25-plus yards in their last five games, to one for their opponents. Can they out-big-play the Packers? Will they even try? Or do they try to run it and keep Aaron Rodgers off the field (Boo!)? Divisional Breakfast is served.
From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Jan 12, 2012 at 1:43 PM
Subject: basement tapes
To: Michael Salfino
There's no denying that Tebow played very well, putting up numbers against a superb pass defense. And Tebow also made a number of professional throws; the touchdown toss to Eddie Royal (looking off the safety, then making an anticipation throw to the right corner) was his best chuck of the year. I thought the Broncos could only advance if Pittsburgh lost this game, but Denver, as it turned out, won it more than anything else.
Then again, so many things fell right for the Broncos in this upset. Everyone is hurt at this time of the year - Denver was missing three offensive starters - but the Steelers had injuries at all sorts of key spots (quarterback, center, safety). Ike Taylor, a very solid football player, gave his worst performance in a few years (to his credit, he handled it with class afterwards). Dick LeBeau was wise to single cover the questionable Denver wideouts (that's what's bothered the Broncos the most), but to do it with no safety help turned out to be suicide.
If the Broncos are going to shock the world in Foxboro, they better get it done early. New England's second-half adjustments have been perfect in most weeks; consider how Bill Belichick tweaked things against Buffalo (Week 17), Miami (Week 16) and Denver (Week 15). I've already settled on New England to win, but I'm not set on the cover yet.
I've got the Ravens cruising over the Texans. T.J. Yates has been competent, but you need to keep him in hitter's counts, keep him ahead of the down. If the Ravens get any kind of a lead in this game, it's going to get ugly. Houston probably would be the best team in the conference if Matt Schaub and Mario Williams never get hurt.
The Giants look like a nightmare matchup for the Packers, a defense with a dominant front four. If you can get to the pocket without gimmicks (and while keeping seven men in coverage), you can stop anyone. But the Packers did find a way to get 38 in the last meeting (despite a handful of Green Bay drops), and perhaps the New York pass rush is slowed somewhat by the legalized holding that prevails in the playoffs. How much does the layoff hurt the Packers offense? Is there any way to handicap that, or are we all grasping at air?
I just put in an order for new sunglasses, so my New Orleans-San Francisco analysis might suffer in the meantime. How do we split the Saints, home and away? How do we explain it? And do the Niners have any impressive scalps en route to their dominant defensive season? They were able to avoid the big three on the schedule (Pack, Saints, Pats); we really haven't seen this unit tested.
To slow down the Saints, you have to think as well as you have to execute. Jimmy Graham is a matchup nightmare, and so is Darren Sproles, and then there's the rangy and crazy Marques Colston, and why can't anyone tackle Pierre Thomas on first contact? The guards are elite, and the tackles are capable (again, helped by the unofficial playoff rules), so you better find a way to confuse Drew Brees on your way to the pocket. Unless you can find a way to convince me the Niners defense is once-a-generation great and/or give me a reason why New Orleans can't produce on the road, I'm sticking with the favored Saints.
Have a run down the fresh snow. I'll be in the food court.
From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Jan 12, 2012 at 3:17 PM
Subject: Re: basement tapes
To: scott pianowski
The Patriots win the Broncos-Steelers game because Denver is a bad team (Massey-Peabody 25th ranked) and has no business playing in this game. But the Steelers, especially given how vintage Roethlisberger looked at the end of that game, would have been very dangerous.
Hey, with the new rules, and especially the new kickoff rules, do you want the ball to start overtime? I think there's a strong case to be made that kicking off gives you the best win probability, despite the events in the Mile High City. We agree that New England wins the game and wins it convincingly. Since big plays do not have predictive value, I will say the Broncos have trouble scoring and call it 42-7 New England.
We disagree on Houston-Baltimore. Where is Baltimore better? Quarterback? With Joe Flacco at 61.6 in playoff passer rating in seven games and the Texans No. 1 in passer rating allowed? Houston has the better defense, running game, offensive line and best offensive player. So Flacco is going to have to be damn good. I don't see it at all. I'll call it, Houston 24-13.
You're going out of order, but whatever. I have to follow the lead like in dancing school. The Giants-Packers is interesting. Who knows how the tragedy with their offensive coordinator is going to impact this game. How big a role did he have in the offense? Considering McCarthy said that Philbin's role was going to be broken up and shared by numerous coaches (if he doesn't coach, which seems likely), I'll wager that it's a lot. That's a big, big X-factor in this game, unfortunately. Of course, we all like the Giants pass rush now, and you finally have Justin Tuck playing well, so you can make a case that there's a solid non-random reason for it. But the thing that makes me question the Giants is whether they can sustain offense if you take away the big play, which perhaps is easier said than done. All the evidence says they are random events, but they have become really the foundation of the Giants offense these last three weeks. Can it continue? What bodes well is that the Packers have allowed 37 big-play passes, 10 more than the Giants in one less game. I know the Giants are trendy. But I'm going conventional and agreeing that the big plays will dry up somewhat and thus the Giants will have trouble playing in the 30s, which I think will be necessary. So, Packers 31, Giants 21.
We agree on the Saints-Niners. Alex Smith is going to have to make plays in this game, and I don't see it. That's not how the Niners are built. They are a defense/field goal team. And they are very turnover reliant, and is Brees going to make mistakes? Don't see that either. So I do see a Saints blowout, 34-20 sounds about right.
From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Jan 12, 2012 at 5:13 PM
Subject: Re: basement tapes
To: Michael Salfino
Unless there's a hurricane (or a Morninweg) in the stadium, anyone who wins a playoff coin flip in overtime needs to take the ball. You can immediately end the game with that first touchdown, and you're always getting the "first possession" after both teams go a round without scoring. That's too big of an advantage to pass up.
If you kick off, you do get the potential of a stop and a short field, and you'll know what you need to win (you're the first side that can win on a field-goal alone). But that doesn't offset what you gain in the first chair. With kicking accuracy through the roof and rules designed to help offenses, I would take the ball in just about any situation.
Although I picked the Pats to win (and I can't see Denver having more than a 10-15 percent chance at an upset), I felt I had to take the Broncos and the points. That 13.5 number is gigantic for a playoff game. And if the Patriots allow the Broncos to run all they like, at least it shortens the game. Patriots 35, Broncos 24.
Everything on the Texans spreadsheet has to be divided into two columns: with Schaub, without Schaub. The offense is obviously completely different without him in there, and the defense becomes different as well because the game situations are different. I'm no Flacco fanatic - his accuracy comes and goes - but I fear for what T.J. Yates will do if he's forced to steer the offense at any point in this game. The Ravens would like to play from a lead; the Texans have to. Baltimore 27, Houston 13.
I hear you on the big plays, they are tricky and random to a large extent. But you need home-run hitters for the occasional home run; you can't wait for a team of banjo hitters to turn into the 1982 Brewers. We're all guessing on the Green Bay sharpness, and the Joe Philbin angle (my heart bleeds for that poor family). Will the Packers become a focused and galvanized group, shifting into hyper focus in honor of their grief-stricken coach? Or will the tragedy have an affect on game prep? I don't know the answer, and I really don't want to speculate on it. I'm picking Green Bay by six.
I could see the Niners delaying the Saints offense, rerouting it, mucking it up - to an extent. But Sean Payton will figure you out over the course of three hours. I'm still giving New Orleans an easy path to 24-30 points, and I want to see what Alex Smith can do when he's let out of game manager mode. He's topped 200 yards passing in seven crummy games this year. Can't hide him forever. Saints 27, Niners 23.
Time to put our mouthguards in and hammer it out in the comments. Anonymous comments are prohibited, even if they're about the New York Jets.