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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: Michael Salfino
Date: Wed, Oct 12, 2011 at 11:53 AM
Subject: Week 6 Breakfast
To: Scott Pianowski

Hard to believe we have so much season in the books already. But the big story in the early going seems to be the old story of playoff teams regressing (to use a kinder word, "falling off a cliff" if you want to be mean).

The Colts are trying to Suck for Luck, it seems, and doing a damn fine job of that. Kansas City is nearly as bad. The Jets are atrocious on offense, and the defense is just okay. Seattle is garbage despite the lucky win last week where the Giants thought they heard a whistle (amateur hour). Philadelphia's Dream Season, it turns out, is directed by Rod Serling. Pittsburgh may make the playoffs, but seems in decline. The Falcons are worse than the Jets and Eagles - just bad in almost every way. And the Bears were game against the Lions, but come on - they can't block to save their lives. So the Patriots, Ravens, Saints and Packers are the teams that are likely to post two straight contending seasons. I'd say that the thing they have in common is great quarterbacks, but Joe Flacco?

Since it's a zero sum game, who is stepping into that void? The Lions I can buy. The Chargers ironically are playing much worse than last year, though the records mask that. The Bills can't stop anyone from scrimmage, and what happens if/when the turnovers dry up? Do you trust the Texans? What's going on in San Francisco? The Giants just have no down-in-down-out consistency, but they are loaded at wide receiver and on the defensive line, though I think I'd rather be loaded on the offensive line. Who else can you see emerging? Buffalo at the Giants and Dallas at New England are the games of the week. So let's talk about them. Week 6 Breakfast is served.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Oct 13, 2011 at 8:55 AM
Subject: cowboy up
To: Michael Salfino

I don't think I'm as concerned on the Jets as you are. The pass defense is still elite (opposing QBs have a rating around 67), and that's a great thing to have in today's pinball game. The offense, as you outlined a few days ago, clearly needs to get away from Brian Schottenheimer. The Monday Nighter with Miami comes at the right time - take a weak opponent behind the woodshed, then see what you can do with San Diego.

It will be interesting if the team that wins the Luck Lottery is someone who doesn't need a quarterback. Peyton Manning has several good years left; the Colts would be wasting the windfall if they selected Luck. I still think Sam Bradford will develop into a strong pro, though it's more on spec than anything. The supporting pieces Bradford has right now are as bad as any team in the league. The Chiefs or Dolphins would take Luck in a second.

The theme of this season has been "offense is easy, defense is hard," and no team sums that up like the Eagles, who handed the defensive keys to offensive line coach Juan Castillo. What a bizarre story the Eagles are. The big-name defenders can't get on the same page, the offense is a quagmire of turnovers, Michael Vick is mad at Peter King's Tweet (Kissing Suzy Kolber should referee the cage match), Andy Reid is Andy Reid. Do they have any chance to fix this and get back into the playoff mix? What are their chances at Washington?

It's very rarely a good idea to sack your head coach in the middle of a year. You have to dig up too many roots, rebuild too much infrastructure. If you're bad, you might as well wait it out and see who's out there at the end of the year. If you're good, there's no easy fix for the big chair, with the rare exception of a hot assistant who already knows the way around. I don't see any head coaches getting fired now - Miami could have considered a Tony Sparano sacking, but there's no harm in waiting - but I do think the Eagles need to fire Castillo, and New York should at least take responsibility away from Schottenheimer. You don't change generals in the middle of the grind; you reorganize the lieutenants.

Pittsburgh's win last week shows that somewhere along the line, Ben Roethlisberger morphed from overrated to underrated. He wasn't needed to do that much in the early years, and the Super Bowl 40 victory was in spite of Big Ben, not because of him (crooked zebras helped). But now they can't hurt anyone unless he plays like Superman. It's fun to watch when it's working, but I wonder how much abuse his body can take. That offensive line is held together by scotch tape and paper clips.

What do we do with the Raiders? Imagine if they'd kept Asomugha (who was always an elite player for them). The defense has problems all over the place, but I love the offensive line, I love the backs, the receivers aren't bad, and Jason Campbell is finally making good decisions in the pocket. These guys went 6-0 in the division last year, and this year they've already scalped the Texans and Jets. They really should have won in Buffalo, too. Junkyard dogs.

I want to love the Bills, but I don't see how they get past 9-7. Ryan Fitzpatrick's theoretical upside is Tier 2 quarterback, they need a second receiver, and obviously the defense can't stop anyone. Detroit is legit but I'd rest Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford in any blowout game. I thought the Niners were more luck than legit through four weeks - a solid team, not a great one - but doesn't a 48-3 win have to hold some signature significance? The Bucs have problems, but they're not the worst team in the league either.

Dallas is a nightmare matchup for the Patriots - New England can't cover anyone, and the Pokes have vertical threats all over the place. The Cowboys got the bye week at the right time, too. Go trade for Tony Romo and friends in your fake football league: the next five weeks bring the Pats, Rams, Eagles, Seahawks and Bills into play. On paper, Dallas still strikes me as the best team in the NFC East. They have a strong chance to win this week.

Predictions on Take 2. Your witness.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Oct 13, 2011 at 12:10 PM
Subject: Re: cowboy up
To: scott pianowski

I'm not as impressed with that QB rating against as I normally would be. Maybe we should put them in the ESPN QB rating system, the one that said that Tim Tebow was better than Aaron Rodgers last week. Here's my SNYWhyGuys piece about Schottenheimer.

My problem with the Jets defense last week was that they have the means to take away the Patriots best weapon - man coverage on him with Revis - and they chose to do other things very often. I understand that not everyone on their defense is suited to man defense. But I'll take my chances taking Welker out and playing man under with zone on top. And I do not care if the Patriots run for 175 yards, until the fourth quarter when you need to stop them. Then, you have to gamble with linebackers in coverage. Anyway, that battle is lost.

What if Luck isn't good? That happens with No. 1 picks, though we tell ourselves after the fact that it was obvious due to some clear flaw that we'll never overlook again. Rinse. Repeat. I have no insight into whether Luck won't be great. But I refuse to assume it as that flies in the face of draft history.

Castillo was hired because the Eagles decided their defense before they hired a coordinator so all the better candidates - meaning the ones who, ya know, actually coach defense - said, "Go screw." Reid liked this "Wide 9" (not named for the size of the running lanes it creates, apparently) because it gave Michael Vick trouble. Of course, there's only one Vick so why play that against the other 31 teams? Firing him won't do much good though; I think the Wide 9 man, defensive line coach Jim Washburn, is sort of in charge. Hey, remember when Vick figured out last year finally how not to throw picks? Random, random, random.

The Steelers I might be too down on. They probably belong in the championship mix, though they match up terribly against the Patriots - all teams do except the Jets, I stubbornly persist unless they stubbornly persist in not playing consistently to their matchup strengths.

I like the Raiders, but they will have their hands full this week. Too much energy on Al Davis will tire them out. And their defense is really god awful as they just can't stop the pass and even are just mediocre against the run. I think Colt McCoy and Peyton Hillis have big days. The Raiders, you'll note, are the worst team at preventing fantasy points, at least in ways that I think are reasonably predictive. Bottom line: the Raiders fail to reach the playoffs again.

In the key stats, the Niners actually have been better than the Lions, adjusting for quality of opponents, too. So that game should be a pick 'em affair. I'll take the Niners and the points (and I can't believe I'm saying that). The Niners are pretty stout defensively without having a big reputation. They give up a lot of passing yards, but not a lot of passing TDs. I'll pick them outright - Niners 23, Lions 20. Hey, has any team ever been more than a three-point underdog the game after beating someone by 40-plus points?

The Bills are living off turnovers - plus-11. The Giants of course get killed by turnovers often. So on paper this seems like a tough matchup for New York even in the Meadowlands. Last week, Big Blue was so horrendous that you really have to go back to square one in evaluating them. But the Bills can't generate a pass rush, so I think Eli Manning really tears 'em apart with his outstanding receivers. I am not confident in the Giants defense after they were gutted by the Seahawks of all teams, but they'll be desperate. On the assumption that the Bills won't be plus-4 and instead maybe plus-1. Giants 31, Bills 28.

I want to see Dez Bryant make it through a quarter without me looking like I would after running a mini-marathon. And I'm not sure how healthy Miles Austin is. I do like the Dallas pass rush in this game, though their coverage stinks. Romo will make a big mistake late, and Brady will not, so: Patriots 38, Cowboys 34.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 12:16 AM
Subject: thank your lucky stars
To: Michael Salfino

At the end of the day, the Jets are going to have a good defense. They need to figure out their offense. For a while last week I wondered if "Ground and Pound" was a Rex Ryan rope-a-dope, just a smokescreen to throw the Pats off the scent. It's astonishing to me that Ryan or Schottenheimer couldn't or wouldn't accept what everyone else seems to know already - New England's secondary is there for the taking.

Are they telling us they don't trust Mark Sanchez? I think mostly it was probably an overreaction to the Ravens game. Baltimore can harass you, New England can't. One of the reasons I trust Belchick so much is that you know he'll tailor every game plan to be opponent-specific. Flexibility goes a long way.

Sticking with flexibility for a second, I actually felt sorry for Jay Cutler on Monday night. The Bears offensive line couldn't run a clean snap or pass block, forcing Cutler to dance for his life. And then there's Mike Martz refusing to give audible privileges to Cutler. This isn't Pop Warner football, Mike. When you deny your quarterback the ability to pick up information pre-snap and make adjustments, you're throwing away an advantage any team should have through a veteran quarterback. I'd hate to be a quarterback tied to that straitjacket.

Quarterbacks taken at No. 1 overall have a pretty good track record. Let's examine the last three decades, players listed in no particular order within subgroups:

- Big Hits: John Elway, Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning.

- Respectable careers: Drew Bledsoe, Vinny Testaverde, Jeff George, Michael Vick, Carson Palmer (was on a star path before injury), Eli Manning.

- Too early to say: Matt Stafford, Sam Bradford (I'd bet on both).

- Fazed Cookies: David Carr, Alex Smith (unless Jim Harbaugh is a miracle worker), JaMarcus Russell (come on, Raider picks shouldn't count), Tim Couch (Donovan McNabb went 2). And maybe I'm using selective memory here, but I recall a ton of critics being against the Couch, Russell and Smith picks.

I'd like to know who the Texans should have taken instead of Carr - the 2002 draft was a mess all over the place. I guess Julius Peppers, not that he was a gigantic hit. Dwight Freeney (No. 11) would never go No. 1 at his size. The home-run pick in that first round was Ed Reed at No. 24.

I have to take it mostly on faith with Luck. I haven't seen him play very much. But this looks like a perfect storm, Peyton Manning 2.0. He's the son of a former NFL QB (Oliver Luck, an '80s Oiler). He was the valedictorian of his high school class. He's 6-4, 235, strong as an ox. The sources I trust say he has excellent footwork, decent mobility, and he keeps his downfield focus even when he's moving. Maybe he's Aaron Rodgers 2.0, then. And I like that he's playing in a pro-style offense.

Carr, remember, came into the pros with that ugly three-quarter release point. Couch played in a gimmicky offense: too many short throws, didn't get a chance to develop.

Okay, back to today. I'm curious to see what Rob Ryan can cook up for the Patriots - Dallas has a legitimate pass rush, and remember it was Ryan's Browns who last held the Pats under 30 in the regular season. You don't have to stop Brady all day, just a few times. I give Dallas about a 40 percent chance at winning this game, but it's really difficult to pick Romo over Brady when push comes to shove. So I'll piggy back your call, New England wins, something like 34-30.

I don't know who the Giants are. Some weeks their pass rush petrifies me, some weeks I think too many guys are hurt, and there are exploitable secondary holes (hey Aaron Ross). Eli makes a few loose throws every Sunday. The Bills should try some no-huddle, which worked for Seattle last week. Maybe I'm rooting for the story, but call it Harvard 31, Ole Miss 27.

Lions win an ugly, low-scoring one over the Niners. Baltimore holds off Houston. Jets get two Sanchez TD passes and a defensive score to put away Miami. I'll be the sucker who calls for Philly to beat Washington.

It's an 8 Mile game for the Eagles - if something's going to happen, it's gotta happen now. Philly's off next week, and someone's getting fired if they're 1-5. For the sake of all of us, let's hope it's not Andy Reid.

Enjoy the games, Jersey.