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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: January 12, 2011 10:33:23 AM EST
To: Michael Salfino
Subject: hatfield-mccoy breakfast

This is going to be a fun week for us, or an annoying week, or both. We're football analysts with this weekly meet up, but this time around, we're more like two guys arguing at the neighborhood bar.

We had a 45-minute phone call Tuesday that turned into an extended argument about the Patriots. I consider them a juggernaut - not a well-rounded juggernaut, maybe, but a juggernaut nonetheless - and I'm impressed with how decisively they ran the table in the second half of the year. You're not nearly as impressed. How can the Jets win this week? How likely is a New York victory? How can the Patriots keep demolishing teams and not impress you?

Blood will be shed with the Ravens and Steelers, much to the appreciation of the other two AFC teams. Are the Falcons and Packers playing the de-facto NFC Championship Game, or is that selling the Bears and Seahawks short? Anything to say about last week's losing teams before we put them in storage for the long, cold offseason?

We're running out of games. It's our last two-day card of the postseason. Let's take our tour around the four matchups, especially in the AFC where the teams loathe each other. Divisional Breakfast is served.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: January 12, 2011 3:13:46 PM EST
To: Scott Pianowski
Subject: Re: hatfield-mccoy breakfast

I said the Patriots are the best team. You want me to crown them Official NFL Regular Season champions (second time since 2007!), I will. Done.

It strikes me as odd listening to you and broader New England all week on internet radio how dismissive you all are of the Jets chances to win (and don't say you are not, as you have just christened the Patriots as "an unstoppable force"). It's an arrogance borne out of contempt for someone else's arrogance, I understand. And it all makes perfect sense. I'm sure there are some who are chastened by the famous flop to end the unbeaten season a few years ago (the last time the Patriots won a playoff game, by the way - or three Jets playoff wins ago). But mention that team, and the rationalizations come flying. That was the old, crappy Randy Moss Patriots (never minding that I was alone - I think - in the entire world in saying that Moss was done, and the Patriots were moving him for football reasons). These are the new, improved Deion Branch Patriots. I never figured that Deion Branch could be so central to a 500-point offense. First-ballot HOF'er now, I guess.

Yes, the Patriots are unstoppable. Except, maybe not at Cleveland. Or against Peyton Manning. Or against Matt Flynn. Ah, who cares about games they won anyway. And Cleveland was a million years ago, I know. The time span between that game and the Patriots trouncing of the Jets is less than the time between that Jets game and this one, but Belichick time is like dog years in all the changes they can make versus a lunkhead like Rex Ryan. So, minor details. And, yes, the 2007 Patriots were struggling near the Super Bowl loss against the Giants, so THE WRITING WAS ON THE WALL. Tell that to this guy. You know what? Let's just forget it and make him some soup. He really seems to need a scalding hot bowl of soup after seeing that link. And, no, not in his face, BT weisenheimers.

I confess to being guilty of thinking the Patriots are not unstoppable. They're good and very well coached and have a Hall of Fame QB so they are very tough to beat, but they lack speed on offense and can't defend the pass. So there is a way to defend them and scoring on them should not be too tough if you can keep the score manageable enough to keep them guessing. I'm surprised Patriots fans like you think "unstoppability" is so relevant given that you all should know as well as anyone that even the truly unstoppable teams can be stopped on any given Sunday. But on Sunday Tom Brady will be every bit as dominant as his mentor Justin Bieber is on the pop charts. Jets practices are probably under 24-hour surveillance right now thanks to Bill Belichick's fleet of predator drones. I only hope they are not armed. At least give Gang Green a chance. Forget about the Jets being 2-2 against Beiber and Belichick the last four games. They're unbeatable in Foxboro, I know - as long as that bum Randy Moss isn't there to gum up the works. I see 175 yards and three touchdowns for Danny Woodhead. Patriots 50, Jets 0 only because they call off the dogs the final 15 seconds, displaying their typical sportsmanship.

With that out of the way, we can now move on to the rest of the weekend's slate. After you....

From: Scott Pianowski
Date: January 12, 2011 6:03:12 PM EST
To: Michael Salfino
Subject: Re: hatfield-mccoy breakfast

I trust your real prediction will be in your second send. And there's no logical way for the Patriots to get to 50 points - Belichick isn't Woody Hayes, he doesn't go for two at the end of his blowouts.

This Patriots crew means so much to me because I love the story. They booted their diva receiver to the curb in early October and completely reinvented the offense, making it work with a star quarterback, an excellent offensive line, and a collection of good-not-outstanding lunchpail skill guys who fit the suit. They've won their last eight games by a collective 299-125 count, they're 6-1 against playoff teams (the loss to the Jets came all the way back in Week 2), and they've scored 31 points or more in eight straight games. Tom Brady has certainly been a little lucky with that interception streak, but a 9-to-1 ratio on TDs/picks is ridiculous. No one is unstoppable, no one is unbeatable - I've still got egg latte on my face from my New Orleans-Seattle prediction last week. But I give the Patriots a 75 percent chance to win here - if they played this game 10 times, I'd expect seven or eight New England wins.

I do respect the Jets plenty, between the lines. I predicted they'd win at Pittsburgh and at Indy - I mention that to illustrate I have respect for the team, not to showcase a winning call (I get my share wrong, too). The stuff the Jets bring to the podium, the sound bytes and the trash talk, I'm not going to get into that. There are low blows to make at the Jets, but I'm not going to make them. I love how the Belichick Pats generally take the high road, and I'm trying to, also.

I don't know why all the 2007 talk creeps in here. The thing that bothers me about the Giants-Patriots Super Bowl is that too many observers misidentify that result as a fluke upset when it really was a perception upset. The Patriots offense came down a level or two in the second half of the year, and everyone forgets that Brady had three picks in the AFC Championship Game. The Giants almost beat New England in Week 17 (a three-point loss), then went on the road and defeated Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay in succession. I didn't pick the Giants to win Super Bowl 42 but I definitely thought they had a fair chance, and I know I said, here and other places, that the line for that game (-12.5) was an utter joke. That's not revisionist history, those are discussions we had before the game was played.

Back to this Sunday, I'm calling it Patriots 31, Jets 17. I'm not sure Mark Sanchez is healthy, and I'm certainly expecting him to make more mistakes than Brady does. The Patriots are such a tough offense to contend with with because of the number of options they present to you. I don't care who Darrelle Revis locks up, it doesn't matter. The athletic tight ends are matchup monsters, Brady is outstanding with his pre-snap recognition and pocket awareness, and the New England running game is underrated. Throw in home field, extra rest time and extra prep time, and I feel confident the Patriots will get their points.

New York's path to win includes shortening the game (take advantage of your OL, and your two quality backs), being physical with Brady (get him to the turf, even if it costs a flag or two) and not getting behind by more than a touchdown early. Keep hope alive. The first quarter is always critical for the underdog, especially on the road. I also think the Jets are going to need to be aggressive with in-game strategy, something Rex Ryan probably understands. I'm expecting a competitive game, with things getting lopsided in the fourth quarter when Sanchez begins to press.

I feel bad slighting the other games, but that's how it goes sometimes. Steelers over Ravens, because I simply don't trust Joe Flacco. I see the Packers as the best team in the NFC but Atlanta's at home and Mike Smith is an edge over Mike McCarthy. Falcons in a close one. Seattle's a great story but even in its win over New Orleans, the defense has a slew of holes. Chicago wins by 10.

I'll be active in the comments. You grab the check.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: January 12, 2011 8:07:50 PM EST
To: Scott Pianowski
Subject: Re: hatfield-mccoy breakfast

I will carry the water with the other games.

But first, I will predict only a cover against the now somewhere between stoppable/beatable and the opposite (but closer to the opposite) Patriots. It's conditional - only if the Jets don't blitz. Maybe not just two like vs. the Colts. But no more than five and no rushes with more than five men. All you need to know about this is here.

When the Jets did not blitz even in that last disaster, Brady's YPA was 6.7 (18 attempts, adjusting for the one non-blitz sack). The big personnel change is that Eric Smith can play linebacker (and provide good coverage), as against the Colts. The Patriots should respond by running, which is a win for the Jets. Also, direct Deion Branch, who does not like contact, to the inside and then pound him on every short slant. Bracket one tight end and put Cromartie on the other.

Pittsburgh and Baltimore should be a very tight game. The Ravens are very hard nosed. Either team can win it. I really like Mike Wallace's ability to hit home runs. Ray Rice can do that, too, but has done nothing against the Steelers in two games - and was most alarmingly absent as a receiving threat. Joe Flacco will thus have to move the chains consistently, aided by a running game that's been mostly miss all year. I hate the Steelers running game, and you can double Wallace pretty fearlessly. I think the Steelers find a way, but a Ravens win would not surprise me in the least. Ray Lewis playing at this level at his age is one of the most incredible NFL stories ever. Let's call it Steelers 16, Ravens 13.

The Falcons are lucky and smart. Mike Smith is the most underrated head coach in the league, probably, at least as far as game management goes. He knows when to go for it on fourth down and that will play a big factor, I predict. Mike McCarthy is no match for him. However, the Packers are much better. If Aaron Rodgers doesn't fumble on the goal line in their regular-season matchup, Green Bay wins. The Falcons won five games where they scored worse than their opponent according to Massey-Peabody game scores. There were 42 games where that happened (16% of games). The Falcons five wins like this led the league. Some of it is Smith, but most of it is luck, and I have to believe it will run out against a better team. Packers 31, Falcons 28.

The Bears still haven't figured out their pass protection. The second half, Cutler is sacked on 9.3% of attempts, which would still be 31st (full season). Seattle dumped him six times in winning at Chicago earlier in the season. These are the two worst teams left by far and the Bears aren't THAT much better than Seattle. But Seattle is well below average and thus I must expect they'll play close to that form. There's no momentum in sports. What happened last week, last month, last whenever doesn't really matter. We learn this a million times over but still stubbornly cling to the opposite notion because we like stories. Bears 20, Seahawks 10.