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Breakfast Table: Salfino and Pianowski Talk Football

Michael Salfino

Michael Salfino writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Scott Pianowski

Scott Pianowski writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Wed, Dec 29, 2010 at 9:08 AM
Subject: New Year's Breakfast
To: Scott Pianowski

Well, I hope the New Year is good because the football slate is probably the worst Week 17 ever. No playoff spots up in the AFC and really none in the NFC either if we assume that the Bears will be in preseason mode now (against the Packers, who must win) now that they've even clinched seeding. (The Eagles apparently could not resist twisting the knife the stuck into the Giants last week).

Last night, by the way, counts as a cold-weather game for Vick (barely). It was not comforting for Eagles fans looking forward to the playoffs. Still skeptical about the data given the sample sizes in most cases, but it's worth noting. Vick is now a political hot potato with Obama thanking the Eagles for giving him a second chance and Tucker Carlson (an Omega House punk no matter what your political affiliation) saying Vick should have been executed.

I guess we have to talk about the idea of the Rams or Seahawks being in the playoffs (it will be the Rams). This doesn't upset me. First of all, I see no way around not allowing a division winner to get into the playoffs. What if all the teams in a division are great one year and the winner goes 9-7 and we let a team that played a powder-puff schedule (like the 2010 Saints) get in instead? The Saints have one quality win (Steelers) plus the Falcons in Atlanta (though I think Atlanta is merely a playoff-caliber team and not a championship contender in a normal year). I'm not crying about New Orleans having to go on the road and beat a team we all agree is not good.

Finally, let's talk about Matt Cassel's year and where that fits in considering your view that Tom Brady is dragging the Patriots offensive dregs to greatness. Is Cassel great? Do you think he's even good?

New Year's Breakfast is served.

From: Scott Pianowski
Date: Wed, Dec 29, 2010 at 5:07 PM
Subject: 10,000 marbles, please
To: Michael Salfino

The day after the end of a fantasy season is bittersweet. No pickups to make. No start/sit calls to make. Journey always beats destination.

On the subject of Matt Cassel (I've enjoyed your weekly Cassel columns), you got me. You called it. I critiqued Cassel after the overtime loss in Week 9; since then Cassel has 15 touchdown passes, one pick. He's been terrific. You were early to this one, I'm so late no one is here anymore.

But I can't help but wonder who the star-maker is with the Kansas City offense. Guys like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, they'd be great anywhere. Take away major weapons from them, and they adjust. Would Cassel be the same guy if he lost Dwayne Bowe or Jamaal Charles? Is Cassel even the most valuable guy on his offense? (I know, I know, they got stomped during Brodie Croyle's start.)

If we assume the Colts and Rams make the playoffs, the tournament is teeming with pedigree quarterbacks. The likely NFC quarterbacks all went in the first round except for Drew Brees (first pick, second round). The AFC has a bunch of high picks other than Brady (Round 6) and Cassel (Round 7). You have to give the Pats credit for taking a flier on Cassel in the first place, given that he didn't even start in college.

A lot of playoff-set teams have little or nothing to play for this week. How would you approach it if you ran the Jets, or Patriots, or the Eagles? How do you balance sharpness versus health?

While the Eagles didn't want to slide out of a possible bye, the loss to Minnesota otherwise can be good for them. Their egos couldn't be grounded after the Giants game. A clear weakness of the offense has been identified. But Vick was hobbling around like Fred G. Sanford for most of that game; most mobile quarterbacks take on additional contact. If Kevin Kolb has to steer this team as an in-progress replacement, they're pretty much done.

I don't really care about the Pro Bowl rosters, but I was annoyed to see Rodgers get snubbed on the NFC side. He's as much of a slam dunk as Vick is. I also hope the NFC representative comes from one of the non-bye teams. The Saints, the Eagles, the Packers (or Giants), that's where the fun is. I don't want to see the Falcons in the Super Bowl.

I know you're sick of the Brady love-in, but the stories write themselves. Danny Woodhead wasn't good enough to make the Jets; he's a useful player in New England. Wes Welker was ordinary in Miami; he's a star in Foxboro. Deion Branch was a scrub in Seattle, but he's doing things back with the Pats. The conclusions here are obvious.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Dec 30, 2010 at 11:47 AM
Subject: Re: 10,000 marbles, please
To: Scott Pianowski

I think we disagree with Cassel again. I think he's okay, but in a great environment given his great offensive coordinator. That's why I liked him this summer. And you're throwing Jamaal Charles in there, but I'm not sure the passing game needs the great runner. Defenses put eight in the box when Thomas Jones is in the game, too, which is most of the time. Then you're left with Bowe, who I think is getting a healthy Weis bump, too.

Maybe I'm straddling clever and stupid but I do think there's a fine line in the NFL between great and much less. Maybe not bad, but at least average. If Brady gets drafted by the Lions, how many Super Bowls does he win? Does he become Jon Kitna? Did he need Belichick, or did Belichick need him? More reasonably, did they need each other to reach their individual heights? This goes back to the, "What if Al Toon was drafted by Bill Walsh and Jerry Rice by Joe Walton" debate.

There's a case to be made that Manning is one of the most delicate players ever. He needs things just right or his game falls apart. Perfect Peyton, we know. I doubt he handles a mid-season shuffle involving his putative No. 1 receiver as well as Brady because Manning really runs that offense more than Brady does, more than anyone does. So he has no coach/system to fall back on. He and his system are one and the same. But while this can cripple Manning's performance at times, I think it makes him less environment dependent. Perhaps he needed Tom Moore for the first few years. But by 2002 or so, Manning really became his own offensive coordinator.

How about:

System dependent Hall of Fame-caliber QBs (post-merger):

--Joe Montana
--Troy Aikman (so much like Manning where everything had to be perfect -- didn't even like a wet football, except he didn't run his own offense like Manning)
--Terry Bradshaw (environment more than system, given his best-ever supporting cast)
--Dan Fouts (no special gifts but had one of the great offenses and probably the greatest offensive coordinator ever)
--Kurt Warner
--Warren Moon (just okay sans Run and Shoot)
--Steve Young (really want to put him in non-system, but his non-Walsh numbers speak volumes if we stipulate as we should that it was Walsh's offense in SF even after the man left)
--John Elway (the non-Shanahan career is pretty ho-hum)
--Donovan McNabb
--Tom Brady

System independent Hall of Fame QBs:

--Ken Stabler (would have been Joe Montana if he had Bill Walsh but instead played in a downfield system and still had a HOF career)
--Fran Tarkenton (very Favre like but without the arm, if you can imagine it, youngins)
--Roger Staubach (just a feeling that he didn't need Landry and that Landry's offense sometimes constrained him)
--Dan Marino (could have drawn plays in the dirt and often did)
--Peyton Manning
--Brett Favre (he changed his systems more than his systems changed him)

To be honest, the only QBs I am 100 percent sure were system independent are Favre and Marino.

So that's why I pay lots of attention to coaching and coordinator changes every offseason. And I know that Brady has had a lot of offensive coordinators but Bill Belichick's coaching genius is that he took over the offense, too, after being the defensive mastermind. Can you imagine Rex Ryan doing something like that? Please.

Not sure there's much relevance to where you get drafted and how you play QB. The higher picks get a chance to fail. When you're Colt McCoy and you outplay Sam Bradford all year and have a hiccup game, everyone is looking for a reason why you should be replaced. If Tyler Thigpen was a No. 1 pick, he'd have a career off his 2008 instead of incredibly not getting a real chance since.

I rest injured players in the game that doesn't matter, anyone who normally would be questionable or worse and real questionable, not Belichick questionable. Everyone else goes. I don't even like the off week for the top seeds. I like not having to win a game to advance to the next round. But if you were to tell me that I was going to win anyway, I'd rather play. You can't control injuries anyway. Guys break legs and tear ligaments and pop hamstrings in practice.

Enough from me. Wrap it up before the ball drops. Happy New Year, everyone.

From: Scott Pianowski
Date: Thu, Dec 30, 2010 at 10:11 PM
Subject: whereabouts unknown
To: Michael Salfino

We're actually agreeing on Cassel, finally. He's certainly a system guy to me. Another lesson from the Chiefs: the best coordinators to hire are failed head coaches.

The Lions are getting close, Jersey. I wish Brady had the skill players the Lions currently do; you can always find Welker and Woodhead types, but Calvin Johnsons are rare. Brandon Pettigrew is going to be a star really soon too, albeit the Pats hit on both of their rookie tight ends.

I'm pretty sure I said this a week ago, but I'll duck it in again - I don't want to do away with the divisional format, I just want to see the conferences re-seed the six playoff teams regardless of division. The Rams and Seahawks still get their play-in game, but it's for the right to go on the road. It would assure us of one thing, more games that matter in Week 17 - and we'd get that without any kind of a gimmick. Isn't that what everyone wants?

The only chaps doing that Toon/Rice debate are long-suffering Jets fans. Bill Walsh's dynasty was going to happen no matter what because he was better at identifying talent that everyone else. He drafted Joe Montana in the third round. He scooped up Rice after 15 teams passed on him. Roger Craig was a second-round pick. Walsh traded a hefty amount (a second and fourth-round pick) for Steve Young, several years before the Niners even needed another quarterback.

Elway went to three Super Bowls without Shanahan, and those supporting casts (especially the skill players on offense) were flimsy. No rings, of course, but Elway would have been fantastic anywhere. The Shanahan era made him the best he could be of course, and it's a shame Terrell Davis apparently won't be getting into the Super Bowl (he's a Koufax case), but Elway's legend was pretty damn secure before the second half of his career started.

Moon never won a Divisional Playoff game, which I've never heard held against him anywhere. If you lose a bunch of Super Bowls, you get labeled a loser, a chump. If you never get anywhere close to a Super Bowl but you put up pretty stats in the regular season, you're everybody's pal, Warren Moon.

It's a chicken-egg thing with pedigree quarterbacks getting a long leash. Remember a lot of these kids were good right out of the box: Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford. Peyton Manning was capable in Year 1, a star in Year 2. Josh Freeman came a long way in his second season. (Any mishandling the Browns do with McCoy can easily be blamed on Eric "we're just 97 yards from an overtime miracle" Mangini.)

Don't drink too much punch, Nigel. Catch you in '11.