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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, Nov 9, 2011 at 6:08 PM
Subject: Week 10 Breakfast
To: Scott Pianowski

So much going on this week, off really big games here in New York and heading into two more. The Giants will battle the 49ers to be the Number 2 seed in the NFC. And the Jets and Patriots will go a long way toward deciding ultimate AFC East supremacy. I will pick the games, kids. But it's more about providing what the keys to the game will be than it is predicting how those matchups will be decided and ultimately expressed on the scoreboard.

I've been Tebow-ed on Yahoo! two straight weeks. My next Yahoo! Scouting Notebook is going to be:

By Michael Salfino

And who do those snots throw in my face but you. Serious disagreement here even for mere fantasy prediction purposes. Do past points matter or is it demonstrable skill? If you have a closer on a texxam who throws 80 miles per hour, can't find the plate, but has guys hit liners right at people, do you hold him? Even not as extreme as this - the guy just doesn't pass professional muster at the fundamental thing he does. Buy or sell? Or avoid?

Massey-Peabody are really wondering why they are so off vs. Football Outsiders on the Jets and even Giants rankings. They're de-briefiing me off my predictions last week. I told them I just got lucky. But my bottom line is that if you can disrupt the passing game (the Giants can with their rush and the Jets can in a major way with their coverage/scheme) and pass (the Giants and Eli are elite here) you can beat anyone.

Again, the Giants are obsessed with stopping Frank Gore. But do you know they are 4-0 when opposing runners put 100-plus yards against them. Since 2000, teams are 399-1,183 when allowing a 100-plus yard rusher. Another BS rushing stat, right? Green Bay is 2-0 in such games. I want to know the winning percentage of the top QBs when their teams allow a 100-plus yard rusher. The Chargers-Raiders will live by the time we file. Philip Rivers is the fifth QB since 1990 to drop 18 or more spots in QB ranking when he was at least NFL top five during the previous year. Enough of my blathering, it's time for you to step to the plate. What are you eyeing with anticipation this week?

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 9:48 AM
Subject: the hint of the century
To: Michael Salfino

Any discussion on politics or religion can quickly turn into an argument, and with Tebow you're essentially dancing on both of those floors. I don't think I have anything new to say on Tebow. From a fantasy perspective, I'm just in it for the numbers - he's on a short leash, sure, but he's been good in fake football. As for the Broncos trying to win with a college offense, you'd never bet on that having any staying power, but I hope they try it anyway. It's fun to watch different packages on the field. Are the Broncos legitimately in the AFC West race or can we laugh that off? My gut says they get soundly beaten in Kansas City.

The religion of the Patriots is blind faith in Bill Belichick, and maybe that's a problem. The Patriots have been a mess at the draft, and I can't say one nice thing about this defense. Make no mistake, I still view Belichick as the best coach of his generation, the best thinker since Bill Walsh. But I don't want any one person spread as thin as Belichick currently is with this franchise. This situation can't be ignored.

The Patriots have all sorts of problems on offense, too. The pass protection hasn't been great of late, and Tom Brady's dreamy pocket awareness has hit a snag; he's been dropped 11 times in four games, which is a lot for him. The Jets got Brady four times in the last meeting, despite a modest 37 dropbacks and New England playing from ahead.

The Jets had two big problems in the loss at Foxboro: the offense was too conservative in the first half, and the rushing defense couldn't get a stop when it needed to. BenJarvus Green-Ellis looked like Earl Campbell in Week 5, mostly because the Jets were flooding the field with defensive backs. Brady was able to solve the coverage when he had time, though. I can't imagine Rex Ryan will use the same game plan; given how ordinary New England's receiving group is, he doesn't need to.

I'm trying to build a way for the Patriots to win, but right now the Jets look better (heck, right now the Jets might be the most dangerous team in the AFC). We'll see what pretzel logic I can find during the day.

Frank Gore's value is magnified in San Francisco because Jim Harbaugh has been hiding Alex Smith all season (the Niners also spend a lot of time designing their running game, which is more complex than most). I'd sell high on Gore in any fantasy league - he has a dinged ankle, and he's played one full season since turning pro in 2005. Anyone can get hurt at any time in the middle of the elegant violence, sure, but it's funny how the same McFadden/Mathews types are always limping to the sidelines. The level of injury risk is not uniform in the NFL. Can the Baltimore 2000 blueprint win for a team in 2011? What's the upside for San Francisco?

The Giants are now two games clear of Dallas and three in front of Philly. Washington's year ended a while ago. But the Giants also have a schedule from hell, and a bunch of division games left. What are New York's chances at winning the division? Who is the biggest threat to them? I wish I knew how to quit Andy Reid and the Eagles.

Are you buying the Bengals? They're getting points at home against Pittsburgh. The Ravens could be heading into a trap game; it would be so like them to lose to the Seahawks after the emotional victory over the Steelers.

Has Mike Martz changed his stripes in Chicago? He's finally going out of his way to keep Jay Cutler protected, and Cutler is making things look good with smart pocket decisions. I suppose the winner of the Lions-Bears throwdown has to be taken seriously. Detroit isn't balanced on either side of the ball, but at least its resources have been dumped into throwing the ball and defending the pass. But it's hard to salt away second-half leads when you can't push people around and control the clock.

I'm out of time.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 10:45 AM
Subject: Re: the hint of the century
To: scott pianowski

I'm assuming the Chiefs will figure out a way to stop that gimmicky shotgun option. My approach is to just blast him with the defensive end no matter who has the ball every time they run it. Is that a personal foul? Those rules go out of the window with the ball faking and his running, right?

But I have to say that I am not one of these analysts who pines for the days when defenders could lead with their helmet. I don't care how unavoidable it looks. When you hit a guys with your helmet first, it should be a flag. But you can practically hear the announcers crying on the air every time this gets called. (I might be amenable to crafting a Tebow exception to this though, too.)

Am I going to have to soft-sell the Jets now? I think so. Ryan blitzed too much the last game - 14 times in those 37 dropbacks, which is 38%. They blitzed him 16% in the playoff game when they completely shut him down (regardless of the late score and thus decent stat totals). Why would this change so dramatically? Why was there a need to do that? This is what troubles me about the Jets. You have to hit Rex Ryan over the head with a baseball bat to get him to change his stripes. And the Jets had just enough success defensively in the last game to rationalize that their typical blitz rates are fine to employ again. If they do, this game will be played in the high 20s and that's not where the Jets want to be.

But I have to pick the game. If the Jets played it right, the Patriots would be so limited that they couldn't possibly get out of the teens without big help from turnovers/special teams. But the Jets are going to make it tough and count on Sanchez and his receivers, who I think are now finally up to the task. So, 27-24 Jets (instead of 27-14 as it could easily be by simply playing coverage).

The Giants are again run obsessed this week. "Stop Frank Gore." Whatever. When you have the best quarterback, who cares about stopping the run? I mean, sure, you'd like to. But now the Giants have to run the ball to keep the ball out of Frank Gore's hands? Why are they always trying to keep the ball out of someone else's hands instead of putting it into Eli's? Manning to me is now EASILY a top-five QB. But they wait and wait in games until the circumstances leave him no choice. This year, he always comes through. He'll come through again, but the Giants won't make it easy by forcing Alex Smith to pass. The Niners are 26th in converting third downs and 25th in sack rate allowed. In the end, Eli comes through again. I do really respect the Niners defense, but Nicks is back, and the Giants I think have the best trio of receivers in the NFL. So, Giants 17, Niners 13.

Massey-Peabody says Steelers by .04 points. But the Bengals rookies are probably getting better so maybe past performance understates their likelihood for success on Sunday. I'll say Bengals 20, Steelers 17. Yes, you are correct. The Ravens can lose to anyone - they are like the Jets that way. But Tarvaris Jackson? I can't see it. Ravens by a touchdown.

Do we care about Raiders-Chargers? That whole division is a joke. Again. By the way, the all-time leader in being top five in passer rating one year and having the biggest decline the next is, of course, Favre last year dropping from 2nd to 29th. But did you know that Ben Roethlisberger has had similar drops twice? Quarterbacks are not as consistent year-to-year as we like to think. Of course, there are exceptions, but I believe they are few. Rivers is not proving to be one.

Cutler is really, really good. I feel guilty for thinking that he was dogging it last year. I don't think I wrote it anywhere, but I want to publicly apologize anyway. Yes, Martz has changed his stripes. Maybe that bodes well for Rex this week. I like the Bears, but guess who is number one by a mile right now in sack-adjusted YPA allowed?

That brings us to schedule. I go back and forth on this. Don't you think that you practice better and play better when you are really afraid of getting beat? If you're playing this year's Colts, though, don't you sort of go through the motions at least to some degree? It's human nature. So the idea that we can take how a team performed against a bad team and plug that into how they would perform against a league average team or a good team as if nothing about that performance would change is at least somewhat illusory, I believe. Now this is the foundation of what Massey-Peabody and Football Outsiders do, and I want them to keep doing it. I have no science behind my claims, other than Yerkes-Dodson. And we're not even getting into matchups/schemes which can dramatically swing things - I believe - from team to team. In other words, if Ryan Fitzpatrick could run a little bit even the Jets wouldn't have been able to play all that man last week. Long way of saying that the the Giants will win the NFC East easily. They have the best quarterback and best pass rush. You don't need much else unless someone in your division is really good and no one in the East is that.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Nov 11, 2011 at 6:53 AM
Subject: country feedback
To: Michael Salfino

Maybe I'm pining for something that's not realistic, but I wonder if they'll ever design a helmet that's more protective and at the same time less of a weapon. I suppose they've been working on it all along.

The Jets want a straight-up sort of game, clean weather, nothing fluky. They're better, I think we can all see that. New England needs some splashy plays to get a win: takeaways, maybe some sort of gimmick play (Oakland had success with this against the Jets). You used to be able to take advantage of the Jets linebackers in pass coverage, but that hasn't been a problem in 2011.

Brady over Sanchez is still a major advantage, and I like Belichick in an underdog role because he won't be afraid to be aggressive. I don't fear 20 Shonn Greene carries. Is Plaxico healthy? Is Holmes happy? Can Keller block anyone? Without anything strong to back it, give me Patriots 20, Jets 17.

I guess I have to put Eli Manning No. 5 on my quarterback power ranks - today value, that is. No one is close to Rodgers, and then it's (in some order) Brees, Brady and Roethlisberger. The 2011 version of Philip Rivers doesn't rate. I can't talk myself into Tony Romo, and Matthew Stafford hasn't done enough yet.

Then again, the Giants have built that 6-2 record on a cream-puff schedule, the easiest in the league. Last week's win was a strong statement, but now they have to do it on the road against what's probably the best defense in the game. The Niners still haven't allowed a rushing touchdown (that's insane), and they've got 10 picks against 11 TD passes allowed. Navorro Bowman is a terrific running mate for Patrick Willis inside. The pass rush is credible, the secondary has come along nicely. I'm not sure Nicks is healthy yet, and we know Ahmad Bradshaw won't go; that's the difference. Niners 23, Giants 20.

Maybe all Cutler needed to fix his confidence is learn that his offensive coordinator wasn't going to get him killed. Cutler was impressive in the loss to Detroit - a game where he wasn't protected - and Martz came on board with new protection principles the following game. His pocket awareness has never been better, and you're not seeing a lot of those loose throws lately. Getting Earl Bennett back is also a big plus; he's Cutler's security blanket, a pair of pajamas with built-in socks. Bears 24, Lions 17.

I'm surprised the Matt Forte contract story is getting so much traction. Sure, he's a wonderful player, and I suppose you'd like to keep him. But long-term deals at this position are a gigantic error. Learn from the Chris Johnson and DeAngelo Williams mistakes. Chicago can tag Forte after the year and play it that way. You have to be unemotional about your personnel, especially when it's a non-critical position like running back.

I agree that some competitors (teams and singular units) play to the level of their competition. You see it in tennis all the time, in chess, in other pursuits. Sometimes you need the ideal challenge or rival to push you. Bill Walsh believed in this theory within a locker room - he wanted heavy levels of competition at all positions, feeling it led to player improvement. When you're acquiring a stumbling Steve Young to push lord of the league Joe Montana, you're three steps ahead of everyone else.

I still think Pittsburgh is better than Baltimore, and I need to see it again from Joe Flacco. Does Cincinnati have any statement victories yet? Is the Bengals secondary deep enough to handle the challenges Pittsburgh will throw at it? I want to see it first. Steelers by three, and Seahawks by three.

No one wins the AFC West. I'm projecting a four-way tie for last. But if Tebow pulls another road victory off, maybe we all convert on Monday.

Enjoy the games, Jersey.