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The Breakfast Table: Brass in Pocket

Michael Salfino

Michael Salfino writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Scott Pianowski

Scott Pianowski writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Tue, Jan 18, 2011 at 5:30 PM
Subject: Breakfast of Champions
To: Scott Pianowski

Sunday for Jets fans was like an all-day trip to Disneyland where they hand you a day pass and say you never have to wait on line and give you $1,000 just for fun because all the snack bars and gift shops are free.

We bickered on the RotoWire podcast last week about placing a probability on the Jets beating New England that stipulated that New England was the better team. Chris Liss later instead asked if I could agree that there was a 70 or 80% chance that the Patriots were the better team but a 20-to-30% chance that the Jets were better and that we just didn't know it yet.

That I liked. It wasn't just Jets parochialism that made your question so antithetical to me, but rather its implied certainty. Most times we think we know things, but we really only have leans. Some are 95-to-5%, very few are really 50/50 (if we're honest with ourselves) and others are more like that 75% chance I would have given that the Patriots were better than the Jets (not in any one game, but period). But when there's more data, there should be room for doubt. I need space to reassess and change my mind. And it turns out that the Jets, are the better team, I think I can now fairly say. Not because they won. A fluky, balls-bounce-funny win may not have altered those probabilities much at all. It had to be thorough -- and it was.

But there are other games to discuss and two more to predict. The Steelers survived against the Ravens. You were right about the Bears protecting significantly better, which makes Jay Cutler a real menace. Green Bay looks unbeatable the way that Aaron Rodgers is playing. But where have we heard that before? I have a funny feeling the Bears frustrate him on Sunday. Before we finish up, I want to know what Tom Brady was sniffing here. It's not really Gatorade, is it? What's the story, New England? Championship Breakfast is served.

From: Scott Pianowski
Date: Wed, Jan 19, 2011 at 11:03 PM
Subject: Re: Breakfast of Champions
To: Michael Salfino

First and foremost, congratulations to your Jets. They were the smarter team Sunday, the better team, the deserving team. They had a great plan ready for the Patriots, they executed it, and they made a definitive statement. Shaun Ellis, Santonio Holmes, Mark Sanchez, the entire secondary, so many people impressed me. It's just about impossible to make Tom Brady look like a confused rookie, but that was the picture for most of the day.

Are the Jets better than the Patriots? No way to prove that, not that I can see. Just about everything from the regular season would point New England's way. Maybe there's some signature significance to how emphatically the Jets won last week, but the Patriots looked pretty damn impressive in the 45-3 game, too.

But it really doesn't matter who's better. All that matters is that both teams qualified for a 12-game tournament, a single-elimination tournament, and the day their paths crossed, one team was decisively better. I accept the structure of the NFL playoffs, I'm fine with it. The 2000 Patriots weren't better than the 2000 Rams, but they were three points better on the day it mattered. I'm sure Giants fans probably feel the same way about Super Bowl 42. Perhaps I'll look at the Jets differently if they pile on two more victories, but if they lose badly at Pittsburgh, that will open up different arguments. I'm still not sure exactly what to do with this team, but I know they thoroughly embarrassed my soup eaters last week.

It's always more stinging for a team and fan base to lose when you're expected to win. It's the same in our roto lives; chasing is a lot more fun than defending. Memo to the young pups out there - be a scrappy underdog.

I'll let you have first crack at the fresh snow, the Sunday games. Is Championship Sunday more fun than Super Sunday? Do we worry about the Jets and Packers peaking a week too early? Aaron Rodgers pitched a perfect game in Atlanta last week.

Do the lines make sense to you? Is Chicago getting a raw deal from the non-Chicago media?

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Jan 20, 2011 at 9:12 AM
Subject: Re: Breakfast of Champions
To: Scott Pianowski

The Patriots are better against the field, but if the Jets and Patriots played on a neutral field tomorrow, I'd expect the Jets to win. The ball is in the New England's court and maybe Bill Belichick can figure out a way to play chess again. But the Jets cover guys are better than than the Patriots receivers, so it's tough. Playing chess is tough when there are no rules to stop the opponent from standing up and kicking your ass. If Brady had a bad game or if New York won on some random plays, that would be different. And the Jets weren't the smarter team at all. That's New England's way. They were the better team because they have better players up and down the roster. The Jets only need to not be the dumber team when they play the Patriots.

I do think the Patriots would have a better chance to beat the Steelers this week, even in Pittsburgh. The Steelers cannot matchup against the Patriots spread offense. The need to blitz to cover up their ordinary corners. But New England neutralizes this with quick passing. The Jets can play that way with Cotchery healthy and Keller and Smith coming back. But Mark Sanchez is not Tom Brady. Plus, Rex Ryan says he wants to turn back the clock and play smash-mouth football. This increases the likelihood of a very close game and makes Jets fans nervous. But Rex has been tricky of late in saying one thing and doing another.

I do not think the Steelers passing game will be a match for the Jets defense the way they are playing now with those cloud coverages. De-emphasizing the blitz actually was utilized the first time the last time these two teams faced. Then, Roethlisberger was blitzed "only" 26% of the time. Typically, the Jets blitz (five or more rushers) about 42%. But those 12 blitzes in 47 pass plays were one more than Rex has dialed up in 77 pass plays against Peyton Manning and Brady. Rashard Mendenhall had a big game against the Jets the last time, but where do I sign up for daring Mendenhall to beat me? The Steelers offensive line is poor and I do not think their young receivers will deal well with press coverage when they are in the slot and doubled given how the Jets will just man up on the outside. Heath Miller is Just A Guy, so his return is vastly overstated.

Is Troy Polamalu healthy enough to have an impact? I don't think so based on what I saw last week. But even with him compromised, you have to give the Steelers the edge against the Jets offense given the setting and Sanchez's overall skill level now. (I can't really buy this playoff transformation, though I cannot discount it, either -- I'm an atheist about it. I think he's an ascending player with a lot of talent who has a boatload of big-game experience who is almost impossible to peg week-to-week.) Sanchez is the x-factor here, for sure. I'd love to pick the Jets, but all these tough road games are going to catch up to them. The lesson will be to get home field next season. Steelers 17, Jets 16. But if the Steelers play like they did against the Ravens, they will lose by double digits.

The NFC game is interesting in that no one is giving the Bears a chance. But look at Aaron Rodgers's career stats against Chicago -- 133-194 for 1,396 and seven TDs with four picks in six games. He has one rushing TD, too. If Rodgers accounts for two touchdowns on Sunday, he'll beat his Bears average. And that may not be enough if Jay Cutler plays with composure because Cutler's ability is more eye-popping than even Rodgers's.

I'm not buying the Packers running game. Chicago will stuff James Starks or whoever gets carries. Julius Peppers will need to collapse the pocket better than he has all year (eight sacks). He must close the deal. I understand that the Bears haven't proved anything in beating the Seahawks. But they held the Packers without a point for most of the game a few weeks ago when the Packers were playing for their lives in Green Bay. So I think this line anticipated a lot of dumb Packers/bandwagon money. You do not know which Cutler you're going to get. Last week, I was carping about how the stats showed that the Bears pass protection was still bad, but it looked transformed against the Seahawks (16th in sack rate vs. 5th for the Packers). Take some sacks, Jay. It's not the end of the world. I'll expect the good Cutler and this pick gives a nod to the fact that the Packers figure out ways to lose a lot more games than they should. Perhaps this team-wide inconsistency/underachievement neutralizes the advantage Rodgers has here over Cutler. I'm also assuming no Mad Hatter running back option passes. Mike Martz needs to dial things down and stay solid, too. The Packers will have trouble scoring. Bears 21, Packers 20.

From: Scott Pianowski
Date: Thu, Jan 20, 2011 at 6:13 PM
Subject: brass in pocket
To: Michael Salfino

You can have Cutler every day of the week and all day Sunday - Aaron Rodgers is better. They're not even in the same discussion. Cutler's arm is probably stronger, I'll give you that. Accuracy, it's Rodgers. Decision-making, Rodgers. Pocket awareness, Rodgers. (Cutler does get points for guts, I suppose - he'll hold the ball and take your best shots all day. Brass in Pocket was written with him in mind.)

How far should we really go back with the Green Bay-Chicago history? Personnel changes so quickly. The Packers have three wins in the last four meetings, and the loss earlier this year was powered by 18 Green Bay penalties and one Devin Hester return touchdown. Even with those two factors, the Bears won by all of three points.

Chicago should snuff out Green Bay's rushing attack. The Bears will try to force the Pack to string together 10, 12, 15-play drives, allow short passes, tackle, try to win third down, try to limit them to mostly field goals. It's a shame Jermichael Finley is long gone because he's the perfect type of guy to burn this defense down the seam.

The Bears have a legitimate home-field edge and I bet they can force Green Bay into some drive-and-stall possessions. But to win this game, Cutler probably has to play a clean game, if not outplay Rodgers completely. You never say never - Sanchez outplayed Brady last week, right? But I'm expecting Cutler to make the big mistake sooner or later (if Mike Martz doesn't beat him to it; this is a man who goes to the halfback option pass to preserve a fourth-period lead). Packers 20, Bears 17.

Sanchez is no fun to project either. He's had seven games this year with a QB rating of under 65, and the Jets scored 87 points in those seven games. He's had his share of sharp games too, of course. How do we explain the December meltdown against Miami (six sacks, four fumbles)? How can he look so messy at Indy and so sharp at Foxboro in back-to-back weeks?

Brady's pocket awareness, normally sublime, was a horror show last week. The Jets got under his feet and into his head. Roethlisberger presents a different challenge because he can beat successful pressure with his physical gifts - sometimes your rushers get home but can't finish the deal because Big Ben is Godzilla back there. The secondary needs to be disciplined in these instances; Roethlisberger's very dangerous when a passing play breaks down and it turns into a backyard free-lance play.

We all know Pittsburgh's offensive line can't be trusted. The Steelers still need 15-20 Mendenhall carries just to keep the offense on schedule, in balance. I think I like Heath Miller and Emmanuel Sanders a little more than you do. It will be interesting to see if the Jets choose to go 1-on-1 with Mike Wallace (dedicated Revis), or let Antonio Cromartie run with him and shade some safety help. As much as I love Wallace, he's still someone who runs past you, he's not a technical receiver yet.

If I knew Polamalu were healthy, the Steelers would be an easy pick. He's obviously not close to 100 percent. Does Sanchez have another clean game in him? I guess I'm going to dare him to make me look bad two weeks in a row, not that he can't do it. Steelers 24, Jets 20.