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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, Nov 2, 2011 at 2:48 PM
Subject: (Week) Nine, Nine, Nine Breakfast
To: Scott Pianowski

Can't believe no one told Herman Cain to say, "Nein, nein, nein," when confronted with sexual harassment scandal. But no, I do not want to dip more than a toe into politics. Already have been there this week with Tim Tebow in the Yahoo! Scouting Notebook. He's the third rail of football analysis. Better not say anything about him. Remember when at parties you knew you couldn't talk about religion or politics but sports were safe? Tebow brings it all together. But let's, um, abort this topic pronto.

Pats-Steelers? Wow. Never saw that coming. The Steelers famously never adjust, but they do by playing press coverage, and the Patriots lost all their timing with their passing game, I guess. Of course, the defense couldn't get off the field, either. This is Roethlisberger's best season, I think. Also I have to eat crow about the Eagles. You were right about the bye week thing, it seems. Either that, or the Eagles are just a lot better than they showed the first six weeks. But you can't trust the Cowboys ever, right.

But enough last week. We're going to be past the halfway point after this week. And we have a good slate. The Jets visit the Bills at 1 p.m. Maybe you can follow a Bucs-Saints rematch - maybe the Saints just were very overrated. Maybe the Niners at the Redskins, too, but I'm well past the point of questioning belief in San Francisco.

Then at 4 p.m. we have Tebow in the Black Hole. I can't help myself... Okay, over/under on Tebow sacks? I say 6.5. Green Bay at San Diego looks good. But the Chargers aren't really a good team, right? I like Giants at Patriots as the game of the day. I think Brady gets hammered just like in the 2008 Super Bowl. But will the Giants figure out that they are a passing team who can stop the pass (as if that's a problem), or will they keep banging their heads against the wall with their rotten running game? Then we have Baltimore at Pittsburgh. Barring someone being minus-seven in turnovers again, it will be 13-10, but who wins it?

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Nov 3, 2011 at 6:06 AM
Subject: untitled
To: Michael Salfino

It's a think piece about a mid-level quarterback struggling with his own limitations in the harsh face of stardom.

At least that's what I have written on my hand. You could apply it to Ryan Fitzpatrick or Mark Sanchez, I suppose. I'm still waiting for my key interview.

The Fitzpatrick contract extension is interesting, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. Is it a wise move to lock up a quarterback who's probably above average, or is it a mistake to get married to someone who is unlikely to reach the superstar tier? What's the ultimate upside for the Bills with Fitzpatrick? Is this sort of move going to block them from taking a chance on a higher-upside player down the road?

I hate to sound like I'm bagging on the guy, because I've fallen for the story. Fred Jackson too. Even Jackson's wife took him in the fifth round this year. Undrafted guy, worked his way up through the minor leagues. Had to watch Marshawn Lynch for a while, which reflects how clueless some of those coaches were.

And then there's Sanchez, who's buried under Rex Ryan's Ground and Pound motif in New York. That's a mistake, right? If you throw out the Sanchez stinker in Baltimore - and the Ravens defense can make anyone look bad - Sanchez has a 92.3 rating this year. After the Ravens game, Ryan took the ball out of Sanchez's hands. The Jets could have beaten the Patriots with a logical game plan - attack that horrible secondary - but instead they went with Ground and Punt and started too late.

I'll let you have first run on the intriguing Buffalo-New York game. I'm still struggling with this one, and heck, I don't even know how good these teams are. I'm also a little puzzled why two well-respected ranking outfits (Massey-Peabody, Football Outsiders) radically disagree on the Jets. M-P isn't buying in, but FO is.

You nailed the Denver situation in our midweek call: the quarterback they should be looking to groom is Brady Quinn. Maybe Quinn could be another Fitzpatrick type of story, someone who's unjustly buried after a small sample with a bad team (the scouts were trashing Fitzpatrick after watching him get most of Cincinnati's snaps in 2008). Quinn has started all of 12 games, and they came with a horrid Cleveland offense. Who's to say what he can do and what he can't?

Quinn's biggest mistake, in retrospect, was signing late in 2007. The Browns wanted to give him a chance to get the job right away, but the late signing enabled Charlie Frye to go opening day, with Derek Anderson stepping in soon after that. Anderson's monstrous Week 2 game against Cincinnati that year forced Quinn to wait longer.

It's all sliding doors in life, and especially in the NFL. Consider the 2004 draft. Eli Manning doesn't want to play for San Diego, so he's moved to New York. Philip Rivers lands with a smitten Marty Schottenheimer, but Rivers signs very late, which forces the Chargers to keep starting the incumbent QB that they don't like... and that guy turns out to be a new star named Drew Brees. Rivers could have played as a rookie; instead, he had to sit two years because Brees was too good. If Rivers signs on time, maybe the Brees emergence never happens. Crazy, but possible.

Okay, back to the present. I loved Pittsburgh's game plan against New England, but their personnel isn't getting enough credit for the win. It's not like everyone has the right corners to press the Patriots, and it's not like everyone has the amazing receiver depth that the Steelers do. Ben Roethlisberger has also turned into a sneaky star; he was overrated in the early part of his career, but now he drives this offense. And his Godzilla act in the pocket is ridiculous.

I haven't dived into Week 9 yet but I don't want this reply to get too long - I see the play clock winding down. Why are the Giants getting nine points in New England - can't New York win this game? Does Philly speed over Chicago, or is this Lucy Van Pelt ready to pull the football away? What happens in Buffalo and Pittsburgh? Do we have to start taking the Chiefs seriously after their win over San Diego?

They're in consideration for the cover . . . but don't tell the offense.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Nov 3, 2011 at 12:13 PM
Subject: Re: untitled
To: scott pianowski

Fitzpatrick is Stillwater, for sure. Sanchez, I'm not so sure. Might be worse. Probably is better. Still could even be very good to great - he has great feet, toughness, can play up to the moment, can make all the throws through he can be erratic, too, we know.

Sanchez to me is a big play quarterback - like the old Roethlisberger - so you have to give him a lot of chances to make big plays. But I have big problems with the entire Jets offensive design.

Since Football Outsiders formula is behind the curtain, I have no idea what they do differently. Of course, I know what Massey does but am not comfortable talking about it beyond the general strokes I share in those Journal pieces. Not being coy here, but I don't really understand the hard-core statistical crunching and adjustments that they do for things like quality of opponents on a revolving and evolving scale. But the Jets to my eye line up much better with Massey Peabody's lukewarm ranking than they do with Football Outsiders. But I do not see the Bills as being as good a team as MP does. So something has got to give this week. My prediction - the Jets spank the Bills pretty easily and move into the MP top seven or eight next week.

The Bills want to beat you with short rhythm passes. The Jets are going to disrupt that with press man coverage. Kyle Wilson is very good now as I quantified for the Journal earlier this week. If the Jets blitz, they Bills can't afford to put more than four receivers into the pattern and then you have to challenge three ace coverage guys or go to your fourth best option, who can be double covered even if the Jets rush six. And if you make the Jets "pay" by hitting a seven yard catch, big deal? Maybe the Bills break tackles in the secondary. Or maybe Sanchez gives the game away with big turnovers. But my expectation is a relatively easy 24-13 Jets win. Sanchez has 14 TDs in seven games just like Fitzpatrick when you include the rushing scores. He's fumbled too much, but that's on the offensive line mostly, and the line has been fixed. Plus the Bills are 24th in sack rate.

If Rivers signs a month after the 2004 draft, maybe Brees never gets a chance to start and is viewed as a smart backup who you never really want to play for an extended period. Very, very possible. This is the unbearable lightness of being a professional athlete.

I think Roethlisberger is the MVP thus far. That team looks 8-8 at best with another QB. And their offense is entirely driven by him. I'm not even sure of their receivers other than Wallace. I think we're overrating them. Giants receivers vs. Steelers? I'll take the Giants.

But Hakeem Nicks, their best one, is probably out this week. Plus New York wants to run it, as I've noted this week on SNY Why Guys here. To sum, I don't like how the Giants plan this week reportedly is play the four corners. What's with this time of possession nonsense? Bottom line, no matter what, you need more points per possession than your opponent. Do you get there against an elite QB by running or passing? Maybe you gamble with giving them a small sample in which to miss a few times if you think your QB is badly outclassed. But Eli is as good in the key stats as Brady, as I noted in those above links - probably better. Maybe Eli was talking to Coughlin when he said in the summer that he was in the Brady class. But Eli last week said you have to run the ball, too, when questioned on this directly. So I give up.

I don't want to wuss out and merely pick the Giants to cover. Even if Nicks misses the game, the Giants have weapons. Plus their defense should really harass Brady. Look up their rankings, and you see they are good against the pass and lousy vs. the run, which is exactly how you want to be against New England. So, Giants 27, Patriots 24.

I think the Eagles are full of themselves and the Bears find a way - probably wishful thinking because Philly rubs me the wrong way. Last time, the Steelers were minus-7 in turnovers. That doesn't happen this time - 17-10 Pittsburgh over Baltimore, or more precisely Roethlisberger over Flacco. I don't take the Chiefs seriously because the Chargers are experts at giving away games.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Nov 3, 2011 at 11:38 PM
Subject: no more airplanes tour
To: Michael Salfino

Just for fun, let's throw in another stat voice in the wilderness. Brian Burke, the man behind Advanced NFL Stats, puts out winning percentages on every matchup, based on his formula work. Here are some of the calls for Week 9:

- Jets (32 percent) at Bills (68 percent).

- Giants (37 percent) at Patriots (63 percent)

- Bears (28 percent) at Eagles (72 percent)

- Packers (52 percent) at Chargers (48 percent)

- Ravens (34 percent) at Steelers (66 percent)

I'm not really sure what to make of the Jets defense. I know the pass defense stats are fantastic, and I know they've gotten better at covering receivers out of the backfield. But let's look at the results. The Jets shut down Jacksonville and Miami, but they've allowed 143 points in their other five games. Now that's a very simplistic way to look at it, and all those games were against good teams, and mistakes from the New York offense set up a lot of those points (or directly gave them away). Still, I think Buffalo will find a way to move the ball and score.

Someone is doing a miraculous job with this Buffalo offense. The line was supposed to be the worst in the league (or pretty darn close top it) and it's now one of the best. Fred Jackson went from being a good player to a star. Fitzpatrick helps with all of the quick decisions of course, but it goes deeper than that. Gailey (or someone) is putting a lot of people in good places to succeed. I'd like to think Gailey is smart enough to realize that you have to try some deep passes agains the Jets, no matter if they work or not.

The fuzzy part of this game is figuring out the Jets offense. I still view every Shonn Greene carry as a gift to the opponent, though he's looked better in recent weeks. And if you can't call most of New York's plays before the snap, you're not paying attention. I'd fear them a lot more if they made this Sanchez's team and offense, but they're limiting potential upside by trying to manage (if not hide) Sanchez. That's the wrong way to play.

I'm picking Buffalo, and I can't give you a super reason why. Maybe it's the home field, one of the last legitimate cities that offers a notable push. Maybe it's belief in Jackson or Gailey. Maybe I'm just rooting for the story. But I do hope they're smart enough to keep the ball away from Darrelle Revis; he's going to win almost every snap, and on the rare occasions that he bumps a receiver, the officials look the other way. Don't get me wrong, he's the best at what he does and by a considerable margin. But everyone interferes some of the time.

Aaron Rodgers is the best offensive player in the league by 100 miles. Maybe he's the Offensive Player of the Year, and Roethlisbeger is the MVP; that conceptual argument isn't really interesting to me. The way I view it, the best player on the field is your MVP and that's Rodgers. But none of that diminishes what Big Ben is doing. Get on my back for a piggy back ride.

I love the Giants with the nine points, but you have to worry about the injuries to Hakeem Nicks and Ahmad Bradshaw. I know the ground game isn't going anywhere, but I still want Bradshaw on the field. And with all due respect to Mario Manningham, Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard - all of whom I like - the offense isn't the same without Nicks, the true No. 1, out there.

The Steelers used corners on Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez last week (and Hernandez was invisible for just about the entire game). Everyone gushes over the scheme, but I'm blown away by the depth here. Do the Giants have enough good corners to match up with everyone? I also have to expect Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to be far more prepared for the Pittsburgh blueprint than they were last week. And you also want to run the ball frequently if the Giants are playing nickel and dime most of the day. I'd never pick the Pats to cover this giant spread, but without New York's best offensive personnel, New England wins by one score.

Anyone who can get to 20 points will win in the Sunday night game. Baltimore did rattle Ben's cage in the last meeting. If I'm the Ravens, I hide Flacco from the opening snap (it's crazy how many throws he missed last week against Arizona, and his pocket awareness is a mess). Baltimore might be more desperate, and that's what's fueling my upset pick. Ravens 19, Steelers 17.

You love Philly when they're hungry, you doubt them when they're a little satiated. A public beatdown of Dallas is going to test their focus. Look for a close game that either team can win; I'll give it to the Eagles, but just by a field goal. I wish I had more faith in Mike Martz's game plan.

And no, San Diego isn't beating Green Bay. I'm starting to think no one really has a chance until January. Have we ever seen a passing game so beautiful?

Time for a sound check. Catch up at Swingo's Celebrity Inn.