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Breakfast Table: Pianowski and Salfino Talk Football

Michael Salfino

Michael Salfino writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Scott Pianowski

Scott Pianowski writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

From: Scott Pianowski
Date: October 13, 2010 10:06:01 PM EDT
To: Michael Salfino
Subject: strange brew breakfast

We're into the middle of October, which means it's Mad Lib time with the "this is the strangest season" articles. In the reshuffling NFL *every year* is weird. The strangest possible NFL season, to paraphrase our buddy Steve Moyer, would be a year with no surprises.

That said, underdogs are clicking at a 60 percent clip through five weeks, which supports the weird-season crowd. Let's go through some of the movers and shakers and try to figure fact from hype, new story from same old song and dance.

The Cowboys lose in a bombastic way? Hiya, Wade Phillips. The Chargers start off 2-3? It's the fourth time in a row for Uncle Norv. Are these guys going to be coaching in January, or for that matter, next September?

The Saints can't get out of second gear, so let's go to the lab. Are the receivers not getting separation deep? How much is this tied to the loss of Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush? Does Drew Brees seem any different to you? Does New Orleans have any long-term upside?

Kansas City looked frisky in August, Tampa Bay didn't. Does either fast start excite you? I see Mike Williams run over the middle and I think of Keyshawn Johnson with a touch more speed. I love the Chiefs on the field, but I'm not a fan of the men on the sidelines.

Will a barrage of injuries ruin Green Bay's season? Is Dallas at Minnesota an elimination game? Is this the year the Colts don't get 12 wins mailed to them in December? Pour a glass of seasonal, add any side dishes you like, and let's figure out this strange brew of a season.

Week 6's Liquid Breakfast is served.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: October 13, 2010 10:35:02 PM EDT
To: Scott Pianowski
Subject: Re: strange brew breakfast

I'd say things are pretty predictable. Jets, Ravens and Steelers rule the AFC with the Patriots lurking. Brett Favre regressing in a big way was very predictable when he lost Sidney Rice, who made a lot of bad throws good ones last year. The Cowboys and Chargers, as you say, always underachieve given they are coached by Mr. Magoo and Don Knotts, respectively. A Super Bowl champion is hungover - that's the age-old story. The rest of the NFC seems volatile but in a weak conference, screwy things can happen. All in all, I'd give this year a 4 on the 1-to-10 NFL surprise scale (with 5 being average).

You forget the Packers on your list of underachievers. They always get a pass. I'm arguing with my new Yale buddy Cade Massey that his Power Rankings are a way to isolate bad coaching. He says that underachieving can be due to random factors, like a last-second field goal hitting the upright. But we both had the Packers as No. 1 in our various Power Rankings systems last year and look what happened - 11 wins (they should have won 13 or 14 judging by their foundational performance) and a first-round playoff exit.

Now the Packers have a built-in excuse, losing Jermichael Finley, their most important player after Aaron Rodgers, for the year. I liked what I saw out of Andrew Quarless, who really looked like Dustin Keller Jr. to me after he stepped in. But Quarless is just 21 and very raw with character red flags. Donald Lee isn't going to cut it. None of the other Packers wideouts are matchup problems. Then you have their running game to worry about. Brandon Jackson did finally look like I thought he would in Washington. And Aaron Rodgers can carry you a little bit, but he folds in the big moments. Let's be honest.

The Cowboys have no leadership at coach or QB. Tony Romo is Mr. Sensitive. He's all introspective with his Beat poet Newsboy cap. He needs to yell at people, especially his fat linemen when he's getting sacked six times. And Phillips is just a joke, the absolute antithesis of everything you need in a football coach, i.e., a general. Lead by inspiration or motivation or fear. But lead.

The Chargers are closer, but Philip Rivers is such an ass that you know his teammates hate him. He's a real SOB though so they probably fear his wrath, not the worst thing. But they ultimately are a poorly coached finesse team, and that's the recipe for being capable of being upset by anyone.

The myth of Reggie Bush keeps growing. It's just magnified now, nevermind that when he's been out before (a lot), the Saints averaged 33 points. They've scored about 100 points less this year than at the same point last year. Teams have adjusted. There's no elite talent anywhere at the skill positions. Name me one Saint other than Brees you'd die to have? They're 2003 Patriots now, but without the defense.

I like the Chiefs a lot more than the Bucs, who should get killed by New Orleans this week if the Saints have an ounce of champion left in them. I do like Thomas, though. Your Keyshawn comparison is spot on. And to think I preferred Legadu Naanee to him in August.

Here are the five teams from which I will guarantee we have the next Super Bowl champion. The Jets, Ravens and Steelers in the AFC and the Giants and Falcons in the NFC. The controversial thing is leaving the Colts off. But Indy doesn't look likely to get two home games, and they can't really win on the road in the playoffs because Manning can't make all his line calls in the loud, hostile environment. Homefield is critical to Indy.

From: Scott Pianowski
Date: October 14, 2010 7:08:58 PM EDT
To: Michael Salfino
Subject: harvest moon

Let's pitch a few more semi-rhetorical questions:

Are you a bad coach because you mismanage the clock?

Are you a bad coach because your team takes a lot of penalties?

Are teams with high turnover differentials more likely to be skilled, or lucky?

I'm not sure how I feel about any of these, to be clear. The endgame strategy virus is so prevalent around the league, you almost want to kiss the feet of the coaches who actually play things properly. The game of Chinese Checkers between Brad Childress and Rex Ryan last week didn't even stand out; we see messes like that every week.

Are you believing the Denver passing game? It's amazing that the Broncos keep making hay with their play-action passes because their rushing game is in the toilet. Force them to beat you with 1,000 cuts. If Brandon Lloyd had this in him all along, how come his previous 47 employers couldn't coax it out?

If Ben Roethlisberger gets back into the flow quickly, Pittsburgh looks like the overwhelming favorite to me. These guys can beat you 30-27 or 13-10, they've probably got the best defense in the league, and Heinz Field is one of the few legitimate home-field advantages left. Their offensive line has been a patchwork group for years, but Big Ben's mobility will mask some of that. Baltimore was lucky to draw Pittsburgh in the opening quarter of the year.

What is it with you and pretty quarterbacks? You mock Romo's cap, you diss Brady's hair. Not everyone can look like Neil O'Donnell. I like the Cowboys to win at Minnesota for three reasons: I like how the Pokes tend to play when backed into a corner; I like this offense a lot more with Felix Jones getting most of the snaps at tailback; and I no longer fear the Minnesota pass rush, which has been MIA all season.

Rivers reminds me a lot of Dan Marino, who spent many an afternoon barking at his screwing-up teammates. I'm ready to put Rivers in the first class of quarterbacks, too. As great as Antonio Gates is, the overall San Diego receiving corps is merely a good group, not an outstanding one. Look for San Diego to start their second-quarter rally by pummeling the Rams.

My gut agrees with you on Bush, but I've heard Greg Cosell say on a few occasions that defenses still react to Bush like he's a significant threat (I'm paraphrasing Greg - I don't have an exact quote - but it's in that neighborhood). I wish we had our own access to 11-on-11 film to make up our own minds. Maybe the Saints don't trust their OL enough to try more deep passes. Perhaps there's more concern over Brees's knee than the team is letting on.

What do we do with the 4-1 Bears? I don't see how they can protect their quarterback, or beat anyone decent without him.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: October 14, 2010 11:54:27 PM EDT
To: Scott Pianowski
Subject: Re: harvest moon

Mismanaging the clock is a strike against a coach but marginal as much as it bugs us. Penalties do not correlate to losing. In fact there have been multi-year stretches where the 10 most penalized teams averaged winning records. Winning teams play on the edges of the rule book so when you don't get caught, you have a big advantage. Most of the times, the refs don't throw the flag.

Limiting turnovers on offense is more sustainable than getting a lot on defense. Offense is more responsible for turnovers. But there's a lot of noise in all turnover data.

Ryan and the Jets are generally very good with the clock. Sanchez snapped the ball too quick but throwing there was the right call, you just had to get the play into the two minute warning. Everyone has hiccup now and then.

The Broncos passing game is for real, but you can't win the way they're playing. What do you do when you have the lead in the second half? Keep throwing. That's where it all falls apart for the pass-only team. Play action works irrespective of the way the teams are running depending on how the fake is sold. The players are reacting. Plus if you are stuffing the run, you want to keep doing it so you're going to go for fakes. Lloyd is definitely for real. For 95% of receivers, maybe more, environment is everything.

Pittsburgh an overwhelming favorite? I don't believe in their running game or their receivers. And Roethlisberger is a chaos player, a dangerous way to play. I like him, but he's a unique player in that he can be terrible certain days. Heck, he's been terrible in a Super Bowl. As for their defense, what top offense have they stopped so far? Cleveland isn't going to cut it, either. Pittsburgh's whole schedule is a cakewalk offensively. The Jets and Patriots will test them, but those two games are in Heinz Field. The Dolphins are at least average, but not far above. What other team on their slate is above average offensively for certain? Not Baltimore. Atlanta? Pretty one-dimensional passing game. But I'll give it to you as a barely above average offense in the Miami class. I can see the case for the Steelers being the best team. But overwhelming? I'll give you the Steelers and you give me the field in the AFC for whatever you want to bet.

Brady's hair is a joke. What football player should worry so much about his hair? Man up. Getting married even to a super model is absolutely the worst thing any professional athlete can do. I bet if you tracked the careers of every elite athlete before and after marriage, you'd see huge splits in favor of "single." The Chargers may rally, check that: they will, but they're going nowhere. Why should anyone care what Greg Cosell says? If having Bush was so important, why did the Saints average more points without him than with him prior to this year? And if the Saints were good offensively this year before he got hurt, I'd buy it a little. But they weren't. So no evidence for any of Cosell theory. And it's not the gut that agrees with what I'm saying. It's reality.

That Giants game was a one-off for the Bears, plus the Giants are the best team in the NFC. Things fell apart, but it's not a structural problem. It was bad blocking and bad quarterbacking where Cutler just wasn't planting and hitting his hot read - who was open a lot. It's one game, and we shouldn't overreact to it. If they struggle like that again, I'll change my mind.

From: Scott Pianowski
Date: October 15, 2010 12:05:21 AM EDT
To: Michael Salfino
Subject: Re: harvest moon

The Bears also beat Carolina despite a four-interception nightmare, and they were crazy-lucky to beat Green Bay in the funky Monday game. I'd fade them making the playoffs at even money.

Pittsburgh's opponents are a collective 14-5 this year, bro. I know you were focusing on the offensive strength of the opponents, but in a league of parity, there aren't too many signature wins to be had. But you did frame the Roethlisberger dilemma very well. (I'll take the Steelers and give you the next two AFC picks. That's how much I believe in them. But I'm not going 1-on-15 with anyone.)

The problem with the penalties is that we can't go back and break them all down. They're not created equal. Some gaffes are excusable or even preferred to the alternative, while some flags in some situations are unforgivable. You're very right with the case of playing on the edge of the law, but the idea is to drive around 75-80, not 120.