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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, Sep 21, 2011 at 9:09 AM
Subject: Week 3 Breakfast
To: Scott Pianowski

We need to start with the passing game. Passing yards per game are up 17.4% from last year. Plus, from 2010 to the present, it's up 15.5% from 2000-2009. So, pick your sample of data. Is this going to continue, or do you think it's a fluke?

There are so many fascinating football angles. Tom Brady is on a mission again as he seems to be every year now either coming off injury or a disappointing playoff loss. The Bills-Raiders was old-school AFL - can Buffalo be for real? Are the Lions now a threat to the Packers in the NFC North? Can we already say that Cam Newton is going to be great (if he's not great already)? And what about Andy Dalton and A.J. Green being a 300-yard/100-yard rookie QB/WR combo - I've been dying to find out if that's the first time this has ever happened. Are the Chargers back to giving games away? Who is the worst team in football - Chiefs, Seahawks, Rams, Colts? Yes, I'm feeling pretty stupid about Kerry Collins. I figured Bill Polian knew something, but it was pure desperation it seems. And hats off to Tony Romo (or should I say caps off?); as someone who has had broken ribs that was amazing on Sunday in San Francisco. Finally, I'm sad to say that the Jets are a very lucky 2-0 right now (drawing Luke McCown qualifies).

Anything else on your mind? Fire away. And let me know what you are circling on your NFL calendar in Week 3.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 9:40 AM
Subject: the bally table king
To: Michael Salfino

I'm stunned by the passing production so far, and the pinball scoring (the over is 23-8-1, for what it's worth). I expected the short preseason to hurt offenses more than defenses, and that hasn't been the case at all. Mind you, all the rules in the league right now favor the passing game - pass interference has become a joke, and you can't even look menacingly at a quarterback these days without drawing a flag. But let's give some props to the offensive coordinators around the league, they've earned their money.

Cam Newton's start in particular just blows me away. I've got no investment in this at all. I considered him more athlete than quarterback coming out of college, and I thought it would take him a while to get used to playing in a pro set. He'll throw some ugly picks now and then, sure, but he's already doing so many things right, like keeping his downfield focus when a play breaks down (so many young QBs just tuck it and run at the first sign of distress). His arm strength is ridiculous. Steve Smith, another player that I completely missed on, looks five years younger.

Look at some of the teams that are giving it away in the passing game. New England was carved up by Chad Henne, and Philip Rivers drove the ball easily on the Pats. The Packers are 2-0 but little thanks to their defense. The Steelers were undressed by Joe Flacco in Week 1. Pittsburgh and Green Bay allowed the lowest QB rating in the league last year, en route to the Super Bowl. I know it's just two weeks, but what's going on here?

Philadelphia's defensive strategy is interesting. The Eagles loaded up at cornerback and they basically hand you rushing production if you want it. They don't care if you run on them. Although it's a different scheme, in general it reminds me of how the Colts played defense last decade - we'll stop you from getting chunks of yardage through the air, and we don't care if you try to dink and dunk your way down the field. Of course the Falcons found a way around this, in part because Michael Turner made some big runs and in part because the Eagles once again can't cover tight ends down the seam.

Detroit's a funny team - I love what they've done with the defense, and Matthew Stafford has grown up a lot quicker than I expected. But this isn't a deep team; the wrong injury or two might immediately take them out of playoff contention. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Green Bay's title run is that it came in a year where the Packers were riddled with major injuries. Their depth (and recent drafting success) had a gigantic role in their run to glory. I'm in on the Lions, but it's a top-heavy group.

Buffalo's offense is real, at least I want to believe that. I'm a sucker for a Harvard grad and a high Wonderlic score. I don't see how the Bills are going to stop anyone, but they'll be a very rewatchable 7-9 or 8-8 type of team (last year they were a gas for 4-12, losing three overtime games to playoff teams). It's a joke they're getting nine points at home against New England, which speaks to how public a team the Patriots are.

I'm in on A.J. Green - wow. He's the full package, so fluid, does everything well. You can already see how petrified DBs are of this guy. But I need to see a lot more from Andy Dalton.

I'm over the word count, so you take first crack at the games. I'll catch you on the flip side.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 10:20 AM
Subject: Re: the bally table king
To: scott pianowski

Your subject header reminds me how criminally underrated Elton John 1970-1976 was. When you cover songs by the Who and Beatles and beat the originals badly both times, you are pretty bad ass.

It's amazing what a good QB will do for a receiver. But I think we were spoiled by Smith never really needing a good QB before. Jake Delhomme was okay, but Smith pulled him along. Remember, too, the Panthers did this right. They have high draft picks all along the offensive line. They have good skill players. Then they added the QB. Don't know if it was by design or by chance, but it's ideal either way.

I think it's 50/50 that Newton throws for 4,000 yards with 30 TDs. Factor in the running and rushing TDs, which are a lock, and you have a top five fantasy QB easy and a future top-five reality QB for sure. Michael Vick is the poor man's Newton, by the way. Vick has never thrown from the pocket anywhere near as well as Newton. They are in different categories as pocket passers. I don't know who to compare Newton to, but it ain't Vick. Maybe a super-sized Steve McNair? I see more Ben Roethlisberger with much better wheels.

One last Newton item: ESPN new's QB rating system says Newton has been terrible this year (ranked 31st!) and Aaron Rodgers has thus far been football's 18th best QB. Is this the single greatest atrocity in the history of newfangled sports statistics?

You are right about defenses. Paul Bessire of has a very interesting take on this in my Football by the Numbers piece on Yahoo! Basically, he says you can't worry about your top QBs facing elite defenses anymore because even the best one by far - the Jets - were smoked by Tony Romo. The key for fantasy anyway is picking QBs based on who you think will be playing a shootout. You're almost matching up QBs, as you wisely did this week in Friends and Family by playing Ryan Fitzpatrick.

You know how I feel about running and run defense. Nine times out of 10, it's very overrated. But the one team out of 10 that just can't stop the run is totally screwed. Teams keep the ball forever, and it just keeps getting worse as the game goes on. I think the Eagles are right at the edge of being a team that actually is crippled by poor run defense. Let's see if the Giants go 130 on them (not a big deal) or 200 (pretty much a guaranteed win for Big Blue).

The big thing of course with the Lions is Stafford making it through the season. I think that's unlikely. What happens the first time a couple of 300-pounders drive those weak shoulders into the Ford Field turf? And you know that's going to happen because it happens to all of them.

Fitzpatrick's legacy better not be making the Wonderlic score more important. He happens to have a good football and good real-life IQ. It's coincidence. The Wonderlic only measures the latter. Dan Marino famously flubbed the Wonderlic, but there was never a smarter QB when we measure that as we should by the ability to play without any hesitancy. In a way, it's the opposite of smarts because in football there really can't be any thinking after the snap. There's no time to think. You have to just play - fast and fearlessly (and you have to be almost stupid not to be afraid standing helplessly in a NFL pocket).

The check with Dalton is what would you think about him if he was the No. 1 overall pick? Probably better, right? It's human nature. But where you are drafted at this position means a lot less than any other because of that intangible quality that I'm trying to describe above. You never know about any of these guys. Anyone who drafted Cam Newton totally stepped in it. It's was pure luck. What a guy does in college means nothing - look at Vince Young. What's the measurable difference between Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers? Damn if I know now, never mind before they even suited up. I see it on the field of course. But put them in a Combine setting and tell me to find a difference and I know I will not. But at least I now that I can't. The pros, it seems, do not know what they don't know. (Okay, I'll stop channeling Donald Rumsfeld now.)

Of course, I want to see New England at Buffalo. Massey-Peabody has the game as a toss up.'s 50,000 simulation average is Pats 31, Bills 25. Bills win straight up 34% of the time. How big a deal will no Aaron Hernandez be? Probably not that much against the Bills defense, but it will hurt some.

Houston at the Saints is interesting to some, I guess. But I don't believe in the Texans. The Saints will smoke them.

The Giants at the Eagles, of course. Highly educated headline writers are praying that Kafka is in for the Eagles. But Vick probably goes. If he gets pounded like he did the last time these two teams played, he won't be in for long though. I like the Giants here, outright.

And the Jets-Raiders is going to be a fun game. The Jets have travelled to Oakland eight times since 1999, not including the playoffs. I think they are in trouble here. New right tackle Wayne Hunter is about to get Mark Sanchez killed. Shonn Greene looks like a big stiff. Their defense is great, but their one weakness is covering running backs so Darren McFadden is a big worry. I actually think the Raiders should be favored based on how the teams have played thus far (Massey-Peabody agrees). So I think Oakland wins this game outright.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 6:40 PM
Subject: madman across the water
To: Michael Salfino

I agree that Elton John's peak years were underrated, though that makes Bernie Taupin criminally underrated. Taupin wrote most of the lyrics to the EJ songs and the average music fan has no idea who he is.

Did the Panthers really do it right, or did they luck into something with Newton? Devoting all that cap space to a couple of running backs seems silly in today's game. There's no significant second outside threat after Smith. I did like adding Greg Olsen (bad move, Chicago) and Jeremy Shockey on the cheap, and again, I credit the coaching staff for grooming Newton so quickly. But sometimes you luck into something. (The classic example, and it's apples to oranges, is the Patriots taking Brady with pick 199. But they also deserve credit for developing him; there is no guarantee Brady has anywhere near the same career in a different organization).

How should fantasy players handle the facts of life with today's passing game? Maybe it's coincidence, and we're just two games in, but in the fantasy leagues where I took passing elements early, I'm doing well. The leagues where I took runners early, I'm trudging through the mud. If the star, do-everything back is a dying species, does that mean we have to try to find one at all costs, or should we just throw runners in the garbage and focus on the big-stat retail first? Doesn't it seem like star fantasy receivers hold their value better than early-round running backs? I wonder when NFL teams will wise up and realize it's almost always a mistake to draft a running back in the first round of the real draft; fungible, fungible, fungible.

Here's what concerns me about any fantasy QB in 2011 - when a hapless opponent comes calling, a team that can't keep up for 60 minutes. I dialed up Fitzpatrick in F&F because of the risk Big Ben faces at Indy (handoff, handoff, handoff, sitdown). It won't play out that way all the time, of course, but you need your quarterback chucking it for four periods whenever possible; you need to keep up with the pack. A player like Fitzpatrick or Kevin Kolb is helped by his messy defense (Newton too), while someone like Brady gets a float from a so-so defense and an aggressive head coach (Bill Belichick will throw with any lead, and he makes no apologies).

I still like the Wonderlic for thinking positions. I know, quarterback play in the moment isn't about thinking, it's about reacting, but the extensive and complicated work you do in practice and in the film room funnels directly into your ability to handle the pocket. I bet anything Marino would have scored a lot higher on a re-take (do the Kaplan folks offer Wonderic prep?), and if two quarterbacks are even, give me the smart guy every time. That said, being as sharp as Alex Smith doesn't help you one iota if you can't play. Nobody thinks their way to the Pro Bowl.

You talk of injury risk, and that ties into another early 2011 theme - there are hurt guys all over the map. Lockout-related, or a coincidence? I get a little annoyed when some folks try to blanket the entire NFL with one standard injury-risk disclaimer; in truth, while everyone is at risk of one hard hit or unlucky break, the degree of injury risk is certainly not standard. Some players have better instincts when it comes to avoiding kill shots; some players make smarter decisions in the midst of the elegant violence. That all said, sometimes you lose the lottery and no amount of prep time or Football IQ is going to save you. Shirley Jackson would have been a terrific NFL beat writer.

I like the NFC East dogs with the points. Agree on Jets-Raiders, that has upset written all over it. Patriots get the replay, out-pinball Buffalo by seven or less. New Orleans gets the final score on Houston.

Looks like the Tumbleweed Connection went awry for Jerome Simpson. The Curse of 420 strikes again.