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Breakfast Table: Cheating Edition

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 28, 2011 at 8:02 PM
Subject: Week 4 Breakfast
To: Scott Pianowski

We've already played about 19% of the season. So it's time to take 2011 seriously. How seriously is a matter of debate.

We've had "cheating" now two weeks in a row with fake injuries and the defense playing Rich Little with the "hike" impersonations. But I prefer to call that "gamesmanship". But, yeah, I call steroids that, too.

Speaking of cheaters, the Patriots are no longer undefeated. Neither are the Jets. Do we wait to take the Bills offensive production thus far seriously or wait until they play a serious defense? Do the Bengals qualify? My numbers say, "Yes."

I think the Lions are for real until Matthew Stafford gets hurt, which will happen if they pass protect like last week. I think the Cowboys defensive line is a bad matchup for them right now.

What other games are you watching this week? The Jets have to get their act together. They are not even average right now. But they can defend the pass, and Mark Sanchez is showing signs of carrying over that playoff play into the regular season. I'll take that over September run defense every time.

Teams that I'm surprised are playing well - Oakland (best int the West so far), Buffalo, Tennessee. Teams playing poorly that I expected to be a lot better - Jets and Falcons. And I have a new Twitter account - @MichaelSalfino. My wife is making me swear off Chris Christie jokes. But let me just say that I would vote for him to be president of people who can't fasten their collars. Week 4 Breakfast is served.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Sep 30, 2011 at 11:02 AM
Subject: those that can't teach, cheat
To: Michael Salfino

We broke in your Twitter account pretty good this week, bickering back and forth about the cheating/gamesmanship stuff. I really don't enjoy talking about it. I think back to what A-Rod did in Toronto all those years ago; most of the league considered him a gigantic douche for it. The fake injury thing seems like a simple fix to me - if you have to stop the game for an injured player (not a team timeout), declare the player in question ineligible for the remainder of the series. That would come close to fixing this crap, right?

Football already has too many silly stops as it is. Consider the new touchdown routine in today's NFL: mandatory review, then extra point, then commercial, then likely touchback, then commercial. I'm a TV and internet fan all the way - you couldn't pay me enough to go to an actual game. The best seat in the house is your couch, your house, your HD-TV.

Does Belichick have to be called a cheater 459 times by you per season? I thought you were the pro-cheating guy anyway. What's worse, being the Belichick or being Fredo Mangini, the guy who turned in his former mentor? Let's discuss a better question: how come genius Belichick can't set the time on his car clock, and why is he allowing NFL Films to make that point known to the world?

If Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson don't get hurt, put the Lions in the playoffs right now. Stafford's been unreal the first three weeks - he doesn't need much of a window to beat you, and with Johnson, you don't need a window at all - just keep it in the stadium, he'll catch it. This is a very deep offense, too, it's not just Johnson. I could see them splitting with Green Bay and winning the other four in-division games.

The Patriots will rebound this week, as they almost always do following a loss. Heck, Brady rarely has two poor games in a row, period, no matter the result. I say Chad Ochocinco is cut on Oct. 18 - you want the over or under? I liked the low-risk move before the year, but he's got noting to offer. The only thing worse than an aging receiver who can't run is an aging receiver who can't run or learn the freakin' playbook. Next week is Hatfield-McCoy week, when the Patriots play the Jets.

Jets-Ravens should be one of those slobberknocker games, maybe not fun to watch but pretty damn competitive. Do your numbers consider the Ravens elite? I go back and forth on how good Joe Flacco really is. Oakland's win over New York seemed a little fluky, with the Jets holding an edge with yards and first downs, while the Raiders were 0-for-8 on third down. Everyone has the book on Jason Campbell: as my Yahoo! buddy Andy Behrens put it (and I'm paraphrasing), Campbell's favorite receiver is the teammate closest to him, even on third-and-long.

The NFC East always seems to be the most intriguing division. Are the Eagles cooked when Michael Vick invariably gets hurt again? Why is the pass defense struggling so much? Can a hurt Tony Romo make do with all those hurt (and clueless) chaps he plays with on offense? I was impressed at how Eli Manning found a way to solve Philly, but this Arizona game looks like a trap.

What happens when Washington goes to St. Louis? How long will it take for Josh McDaniels and Sam Bradford to make beautiful music together? Perhaps the Rams are finally going to figure out that it's pointless to have a potential-franchise QB in Bradford if you're not going to give him a toy or two to play with. Imagine Sidney Rice on this offense.

I had a very difficult time handicapping this slate, so I hope your Commodore 64 can lead the way. In my utopian world, Elton John would be betting on the Jets.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Fri, Sep 30, 2011 at 11:41 AM
Subject: Re: those that can't teach, cheat
To: scott pianowski

Well, the league will probably look for any pretext to hate A-Rod. Who wouldn't hate him? He's so freakin' talented (well, once was). If Jeter did it, they'd be throwing flowers at him.

The no-huddle is Mickey Mouse, so why not have players fake injuries? I have no problem with this. If I'm a coach and can't get the right personnel on the field, and it's likely to cost me a touchdown, someone better go down. I don't care if I have to issue tasers to the defensive captain. Your choice, boys.

The TD replay rule is very annoying, I agree. We're breaking them down like the Zapruder film. I am not outraged by occasional bad calls. What drives me crazy is that the league reviews these very low leverage plays (who cares if he's down a that one-foot line) and ignores "judgment" calls like pass interference and even roughing the passer (the Jason Campbell roughing last week was a joke - my wife bumps into me in the kitchen harder than that).

Belichick has a genius for cheating. He steals cues in film from dopey offensive lineman regarding whether a play is a run or pass. He steals signals. So the video surveillance (proven) and bugging of locker rooms (suspected) is a very small step from there. I have no problem with it. The steroid guys are cheaters, and I have no problem with steroids. Cheating is a loaded word for you, not for me. To me it means, "I care." Snorting coke off strippers backsides like those guys did in the '70s - that's the moral outrage in sports for me.

Yes, about the Lions. But Stafford and Johnson always get hurt. If the Lions keep getting into third and long with that putrid running game, Stafford is going to keep taking beatings. The Cowboys will really get after him this week, I predict. Back Dallas. (Channeling Liss, who says he's even money to beat Peyton Manning in a footrace, BTW.)

Belichick is off his game for not cutting Ochocinco and Haynesworth already. The Patriots defense is a total joke right now. I can't back them confidently against anyone. Oakland is big and fast. Maybe New England can stop the run, we don't know because their pass defense is so bad that few bother trying much, but I doubt it. The Patriots lose another high-scoring game, I will wager. Campbell is not remotely a bad player. He's average, and that's good enough, I think, against New England, who turned Chad Henne into Dan Marino, let's not forget.

Massey-Peabody has the Ravens ranked third. The Jets have been sub-mediocre, I agree. But Sanchez is playing like the playoff Sanchez. The Ravens do not have good team speed, and that's what really hurt the Jets versus the Raiders, really on two plays. Cromartie can't get flagged like last week - he leads the Jets in penalties by a mile since 2010, and that's the whole team I'm counting. That freak Darrelle Revis has one penalty since 2010 (a hold that was declined) and hasn't been called for pass interference since, wait for it, 2007. I think the Jets win, and I did pick Oakland last week, so this is more anti-Ravens.

I don't know who's the chicken and who's the egg, but the tight ends are at the heart of the passing explosion. Consider:

2000: 17,077 receiving yards by tight ends or 551 per team (31 teams)
2010: 24,537 receiving yards by tight ends or 767 per team
2011: 27,909 (pace) receiving yards by tight ends or 872 per team

The Cowboys aren't clueless. The Redskins were cheating by mimicking his "hikes." (Good for them) The NFL opened themselves up for that by moving the refs way back behind the QB where they can't tell who is doing what. Romo is going to go from under to overrated very quickly. He's damn good. I don't care about playing hurt because we do not know how hurt he is. In the NFL, if you are not injured (can't play), you are very likely to be hurt. Vick? We all saw this coming. Well, many of us, anyway. Not the Eagles, obviously.

The Rams officially stink - worst team in football easily right now. Bradford really hasn't done anything yet. So we all probably got carried away with him. Imagine if Bradford did what Cam Newton has done.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Sep 30, 2011 at 12:46 PM
Subject: cheat, cheat if you can't win
To: Michael Salfino

In the comments, explain why the no huddle is bogus to you, but the fake injury stopper is a Salfino-approved gambit. I'd like to know the distinction.

Observing a tell in normal film review is certainly not cheating, it's doing your homework. The locker-room bugging thing is all innuendo. If you belief half of what the Irsays say during the first orbit around the table, you're the sucker.

I care about cheating because I want the games we follow and care about to have integrity. Do you want everyone in the majors to scuff the ball or throw a spitter, everyone in the league to pretend the inside pitch hit them (okay, that's gamesmanship), everyone in the league try to invent an enhanced bat that somehow can't be detected? Are you down with pro wrestling?

"Always hurt" is another tricky little thing. This week I tried to present Ryan Mathews and Darren McFadden as injury risks, pointing to multiple years of banged-up history, but I ran into some resistance (much of it from doting Mathews and McFadden owners). Are two injuries, in the case of Stafford, enough to flag him? Maybe it is, I don't know. One thing I don't accept is the idea that everyone in the NFL has the same risk merely simply because everyone is at risk. That makes no sense. There is certainly a variance at play, even if it's difficult (or in some instances, impossible) to measure.

Who can you back confidently in 2011? The Packers struggled with the Panthers, and their pass defense numbers are lousy. The Ravens soiled the bed at Tennessee. The Jets were crazy-lucky to beat Dallas, and allowing 34 points at Oakland isn't a shining moment. Detroit hasn't played a good team yet, Buffalo can't stop anyone. The entire NFC West looks weak (though I do like most of San Francisco's defense), the Steelers have a terrible line and an aging defense, the Chargers drive a hybrid and still get 13 miles to the gallon, the Texans beat two still-winless patsies and then allowed 40 in New Orleans. You can flag anyone, tax anyone, shoot holes in anyone.

If Playoff Sanchez is something authentic that we can take seriously, why doesn't he play that well all the time? Can they hypnotize him into thinking that this Sunday's game is actually an AFC divisional playoff game? I can't say AFC Title Game, Vinny Chase hasn't won that game yet. (But if Doug Ellin were the screenwriter, Sanchez would have three rings, and Johnny Drama would get a tryout with the Raiders.)

The tight end revolution has been going on for a while. The Cover 2 movement pushed an incentive to offenses - find a way to attack the seam. And now you have all these gigantic specimens coming into the league, big and powerful men who can really run. I don't think the common fan (not you, obviously) understands just how physically-imposing an NFL gladiator is. If you ran into Jermichael Finley on the street, you'd try to run away before he noticed you.

When I called the Cowboys clueless, I was thinking about Kevin Ogletree running incorrect routes and lining up on the wrong side of the field against Washington. Even Romo was visibly perturbed by this; it has to be frustrating to be prepared on game day and yet have to deal with teammates who aren't. I can't tell from your comments if you like or dislike Romo, but that's okay, because I seem to change my opinion on him weekly. I'm afraid he's always going to have a chip in his head that goes haywire 10-15 percent of the time, that urge to try a little too hard to make impossible plays that will get him in trouble. I suppose that's the dilemma of an ad-lib artist.

I'm still in on Bradford, but I don't know how any quarterback could look good with those targets. What QBs have done the most with the least amount of help through the years? John Elway comes to mind, though his early years don't look pretty in the stats. This is another chicken-egg thing - maybe star QBs are seldom tied to bad receiving groups because the star QB makes his targets better. Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski wouldn't be stars in Miami, would they? In the case of Welker, we already know the answer.

New England big. Jets upset Ravens. Philly is life-or-death to beat San Francisco. Lions trip up Dallas. Buffalo falls in Cincinnati.

I got all that from my Magic 8-Ball. Technically, cheating.