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East Coast Offense: Things Change Quickly in the NFL

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Things Change Quickly in the NFL

It would have been tempting to conclude after Week 1 that the Jets and 49ers were offensive disasters. After all, Mark Sanchez completed just 10 of 21 passes against the Ravens for 74 yards (a meager 3.5 YPA) and no touchdowns. Smith was arguably worse, facing an apparently weak Seahawks defense, but managing just 5.0 YPA and two picks in a blowout loss. But in Week 2, Sanchez was 21 of 30 for 220 yards (7.3 YPA), three scores and no picks while Smith was 23 of 32 for 275 yards (8.6 YPA) and a TD. He did throw two more picks, but led the team on an impressive comeback and also showcased his foot speed, getting 28 yards on four scrambles. In short, both at least temporarily upended the notion that these teams with good running games and solid defenses would have to hide their QBs as much as practicable to make the playoffs. In fact, the Jets offense was substantially better in Week 2 precisely because the Jets turned him loose.

I talked last week about how even Chris Johnson struggled in Week 1 last year, but some players are irrevelant for substantial portions of the season before abruptly turning it around. Miles Austin had a quiet first four weeks before being the most productive wideout in the league over the final 12. But what made him such a good target for rapid improvement? For starters, he had the physical skills - 6-3, 215 and with blazing downfield speed. Second, he was playing in an offense without a reliable No. 1 receiver. Third, he had a good quarterback, capable of making throws down the field. Fourth, he was in his fourth season, i.e., he was still in a growth phase.

Who fits that description this year? Devin Thomas of the Redskins. Size (6-2, 215), speed (4.4. 40), quarterback who throws the deep back (Donovan McNabb), lack of reliable No. 1 (aging, injury prone Santana Moss is the only game in town) and growth phase (third year). Yes, Thomas is the team's 4th receiver right now, but remember, Austin had 5 catches for 81 yards through four games last year.

Other underperforming receivers to target cheaply: Michael Crabtree, Robert Meachem, Pierre Garcon, Devin Aromashodu, Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace, Lee Evans.

But it's not so much about the above list which will change on a weekly basis. It's more about remembering Alex Smith Week 1 vs. Smith Week 2. It's about accounting for the value of possibilities and realizing that past results only tell part of the story. It's about recalling the seemingly impossible things that came to pass and seeing the current landscape through that prism alongside the conventional one.

Other upside players to target who are currently, blocked, buried, dinged up or in the doghouse. Beanie Wells, Michael Bush, Brandon Jacobs, Steve Slaton, Jerome Harrison and Jamaal Charles. Things change quickly in the NFL.

Things to Take Away from Week 2

  • The Giants simply cannot run- or pass-block. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are good, but they're not that good. That lack of run blocking renders Brandon Jacobs totally useless for now because he can't make people miss and needs to gain momentum to do what he does best - punishing the defense. It compromises Ahmad Bradshaw, too, but at least he can create his own opportunities. (Of course, the line could come together at any point - hence my suggestion to pick Jacobs up on the cheap).

  • If the Giants defense and run-blocking don't improve, Eli Manning might top last year's career numbers, especially now that Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Steve Smith have another year of experience.

  • DeMaryius Thomas' big game despite missing most of training camp illustrates yet again that concern about using rookie receivers is overblown - as long as their teams are committed to getting them targets. Dez Bryant and Mike Williams (TB) should be lineup staples, and Thomas could be as well if has has another nine-target game next week.

  • Bruce Gradkowski is a decent NFL quarterback. Jason Campbell is not. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy have some value now.

  • Donovan McNabb is still a top-10 fantasy quarterback.

  • The Vikings will trade for Vincent Jackson or some other available receiver. They're pot committed after signing Brett Favre and can't take the chance that Sidney Rice won't be back, or that by the time he's able to help they're out of contention.

  • Jamaal Charles is getting screwed, but I imagine things will change once the Chiefs start losing.

  • Michael Turner and Ryan Mathews lost 2-3 TDs each Sunday, which they'll never get back. Jason Snelling would be a top-12 back should Turner suffer a serious injury.

  • The Steelers defense with Troy Polamalu is the best in the NFL, better even than the Jets'.

  • LaDainian Tomlinson looked quicker than he has in a couple seasons, and as long as he remains that way, could easily be a top-20 back running behind that line. The question is how much spring he'll have in his step after he accumulates a few games' worth of hits on his 31-year old carcass.

  • Jay Cutler played a near perfect game against the Cowboys. Those who doubted he'd function well in Mike Martz's offense have been wrong so far.

  • The Lions need to get the ball to Calvin Johnson before the last few minutes of the game.

    Things to Watch in Week 3

  • Michael Vick's first start with a healthy Kevin Kolb available in Jacksonville.

  • Cutler shooting it out with Aaron Rodgers on Monday night.

  • The Cowboys needing to win in Houston to avoid an 0-3 start.

  • The Falcons on the road in a big division game against the undefeated Saints.

  • The Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger vs. the Bucs with an improbable 3-0 start at stake.

    Beating the Book

    We won with the 49ers at home last week to run our season record to 2-0.

    Jets +1.5 at Dolphins

    The Jets stock went back up after a convincing win over the Patriots, but New York always seems to have trouble with the Dolphins, and now they're barely getting points on the road. Moreover, with Braylon Edwards (likely limited) and Darrelle Revis likely missing the game, New York is partly short a key big-play threat on offense and its best player on defense. Back the Dolphins.

    Dolphins 24 - 19

    We're 2-0 in this forum and 18-11-3 on the season. We were 10-7 in this forum last season, 131-122 overall. We were 12-5 in this forum in 2008. From 1999-2009 we've gone 1439-1262 (53.3%, not including ties).

    The full article comes out on Thursday morning.

    Surviving Week 3

    After the Week 1 near disaster with the Bears, actual disaster struck in Week 2 with the Cowboys. I think first and foremost, it's important to acknowledge that I made a poor choice. This wasn't a game where the Bears simply got all the bounces - it was a close game where the Bears made the keys plays down the stretch and Dallas didn't, i.e., a well-deserved win for Chicago. Moreover, even though I acknowledged Dallas had a 77.5 percent chance to win per Vegas (or a 22.5 percent chance to lose), I don't think it's seemly to argue that it was bad luck and that the 22.5 percent possibility simply came to pass. No one watching that game would conclude that if the teams played five times, Dallas would win four. While I expected the Cowboys to play their "A" game at home coming off a tough loss in Washington, lest they drop to 0-2, I should have accounted more for the Wade Phillips factor, i.e., a coach whose recent teams have been long on talent and short on heart. So that's where I went wrong. I think one of the commenters (smvalkyries) in the Survivor article had it right when he gave Dallas a 65-70 percent to win, rather than 77.5 (or eventually the 80 I bumped them up to).

    All that said, I stand by the methodology/process completely. In order to maximize your chances of winning your survivor pool, you must take into account two factors: (1) likelihood of the team winning and (2) the percentage of your pool that picks each team. I posted the following extreme example in the comments, but it bears repeating: If you were in a 1,000-person pool, knew that 999 took the Packers, and your only choices were the Packers or Bills, which team would you take? If you took the Packers, you would be in the same boat as everyone else with a 1 in 1000 chance to win your pool, i.e., one tenth of one percent. If you took the Bills, you'd have at least a five percent chance to win (and in the NFL there's never a 20:1 dog, so it's really more like 10-15 percent, but let's be conservative and say five). So which would you rather have: (1) a 100 percent chance to be alive in Week 3, and a one in a thousand chance to win; (2) a 5 percent chance to be alive in Week 3, but also an immediate win of your pool then and there? If you're serious about winning the pool (and not simply getting your money's worth in terms of entertainment), (2) is unambiguously the correct answer by a factor of 50! That's the difference between picking the Saints to win the Super Bowl 1 in 8 and the Bills, 1 in 401, but with the same payout!

    And to address some of the poker analogies in the comments, sometimes you fold A-A, when the board is 10-9-8 of the same suit, and someone goes all in. Sometimes you play a gut-shot straight draw when the price to call is cheap and the pot is large. It's not just the hand you have, but the pot odds relative to the cost of the call. In survivor, you're all in every week, so it's even simpler than poker - it's simply what kind of payout does each choice provide relative to its certainty of winning? Last week, the Packers provided a small payout, while the other choices offered a large one should the Packers go down. If you do the math, the Packers might still have come out on top, but you'd have to have had Dallas and San Diego much lower than Vegas did, and/or the Packers much higher. Maybe Vegas had it wrong, in which case the numbers would have told you to take the Packers even with the low relative payout. That's certainly possible, but either way, if you're serious about getting the best odds to win your pool, you must take these factors into account.

    The analogy that's most persuasive to me is Bill Belichick going for it on 4th and 1 against the Colts last year. Joe Posnanski broke it down as well as anyone, but the bottom line is sometimes your best chance to win involves taking a short-term risk that can cost you the game right away. Sometimes, the safer short-term play reduces your overall chances of winning. It would be different if you were in a pool that had a prize for making it to Week 6, and then a bigger one for getting to Week 10. But in most, what week you go down makes no difference.

    So despite the poor result, I'm going to pick the team that provides the best bang for your risk, the former calculated based on the percent of Yahoo! Survival Football players picking it and the latter based on my assessment of the odds each team has of winning.

    For this week, that means I'll pass on the Pats who 53 percent of Yahoo! users picked, and leaves me with either Baltimore at home against Cleveland (82 percent chance of winning, 20.5 percent of users picking them) or Minnesota hosting Detroit (74 percent chance of winning, 7.5 percent of Yahoo! users). For now my pick is Baltimore who I trust more than Minnesota and who faces a more toothless opponent than Detroit. I'll provide the precise math (and my final choice) in the full column Thursday night.