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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: scott pianowski
Subject: smell the glove breakfast
Date: November 15, 2011 11:11:53 AM EST
To: Michael Salfino

I think I finally have the AFC East figured out. The Jets are rock (ground and pound), the Patriots are paper (Professor Belichick) and the Bills are scissors (death by 1,000 short passes). And the matchups have fallen in line - the Jets mauled the Bills but lost to the Pats, and Buffalo sliced up New England. Easy, peasy.

Rock should make a comeback this week, in the Thursday nighter against Denver. What would the Broncos be in this game? Smoke? How long can they keep winning playing hide the quarterback? Did the Jets get hosed by the schedule, which made them play Sunday night and then on Thursday night? Why do the prime-time games tend to double-up like this?

Poor Mike Smith and the Falcons - the fourth-and-one gambit didn't work, so now it's Old School 2, New School 0 (Belichick is shaking his head, too). Although I probably would have punted, I at least see the case for Smith going for it there, and I love the theory behind playing aggressively. When you see a chance, take it. Be proactive and modern; forget about delaying the loss, do what gives you the most logical path for a win. I wouldn't have called a boring up-the-middle run in a tight formation - too much congestion, too easy for the play to blow up - but I love that Smith isn't afraid to think differently. Unfortunately, the result will probably discourage most coaches from following suit. What's did you make of the Gamble on Peachtree Street? There's a fine line between clever and stupid, I know.

The Week 11 slate is basically an appetizer for a fun Week 12, Thanksgiving Week. Three good teams are off in Week 11 (Pittsburgh, Houston, New Orleans), and the Colts will also bunker down and recommit themselves to losing. How frisky are the Texans now that Matt Schaub is done for the year? Maybe Matt Leinart has learned a few things about offense while soaking in the hot tub (Kenny Stabler would approve).

Take us to Denver, and give us your take on the Giants and Eagles. Last call came and went for Philly, right? I'll also let you go first on the Bengals and Ravens, two teams I'm tired of watching. Is there a notable upset on this card? Is there a doctor in the house? Have you ever been to Stonehenge?

At what point do we start thinking about the Packers and 16-0? What excites me is the other contenders in the NFC; I see plenty of challenging matchups (and potential matchups) ahead for Green Bay. Who's the biggest threat?

Nigel Tufnel, this note's for you. Week 11 Breakfast is Served.

From: Michael Salfino
Subject: Re: smell the glove breakfast
Date: November 15, 2011 5:59:59 PM EST
To: scott pianowski

Last weak was Nigel Tufnel week - 11-11-11. But nice save with Week 11, I admit. Sunday night and Thursday night is no different than Sunday afternoon and Thursday afternoon, which happens all the time. What I was most interested in was how do teams who suffer a bad loss on Sunday (used a home loss, which are all bad) fare on Thursday after when they play on the road.

The results - 19-27. But then we have to ask, "Maybe those teams stunk anyway." So their overall record - 338-372. Not real good evidence here of a hangover effect, generally. I discount all of these emotional reactions after a thrilling win or a tough loss because there's never any good evidence of it in large samples of data. Of course, we selectively remember examples that fit that narrative because we reasonably believe that this is the way it should be. The difference though is that these guys are pros, and pros move on pretty quickly.

I know the probabilities say that going for it there was marginally the best way to maximize win probability. But Smith knew something we did not - that he was going to hand the ball off. I don't care if you need an inch or a yard, a hand-off there can easily go for negative yardage. A QB sneak is far less likely to (almost impossible actually). He could have gone five wide and empty backfield and gotten the sneak, too, without all that scrum action going on over center. What was your feel there in that game, aside from the win probability/historical averages? The Saints were last in rushing yards per play allowed. Atlanta's middle of the pack in average rushing gain. The Falcons have averaged 4.3 yards in that game. So far, so good. But then there's the play call. Smith knew it. It wasn't an abstraction. For whatever reason, the sneak was out. Therefore, the best move would have been to punt. Maybe it was the best move regardless. Do you trade a few points of win probability for not risking certain death? It's more rational to do that than the numbers guys think.

The Texans are finished now. You can play around your QB for a while but not against great teams in January unless you have a top-shelf defense. Maybe the Texans have that, but I doubt it. Not without Mario Williams playing at top form (and he won't be playing at all). I'm assuming that Leinart is still a disaster, but maybe he can manage an offense that really has a lot to offer and doesn't require that much from its QB. But remember, as you alluded to, Leinart has never really prepared like a pro, and that's foundational in the NFL.

Of course, I think the Broncos and Tebow are a joke. How many times can I say it? Now watch the Jets get run over by the Intangible Train. Predictions will follow in my reply. As for the Jets, the defense was ripped up by the Patriots no-huddle. This hasn't been a problem for them before. Offensively, Brian Schottenheimer's approach was a head scratcher again. The Jets didn't take advantage of the Patriots undermanned secondary because they could not pass block. They need to take a Mulligan on having Matthew Mulligan on their roster and broom him because he can't catch or block, and that's no way to go through life as a tight end. Many times, the Jets failed pass protection 101, which is mystifying when you factor in how anemic the Patriots pass rush has been for years. Against a weak secondary, you should be able to make due with less receivers and then work from there. No matter who you face, you have to keep adding blockers until your QB has a clean pocket. This is Midget League coaching principles.

Is it me or is talk of 16-0 boring after the 2007 Patriots? Who cares? They're the best team now by far, which is what interests me. Whether they end up 14-2 or 16-0 is not really a big deal.

From: scott pianowski
Subject: (again with the) flower people
Date: November 16, 2011 6:58:35 PM EST
To: Michael Salfino

Apparently there have been four teams that have played on Sunday night and then Thursday night, consecutively, over the years. Those teams are 1-3. Nothing to be gleaned from that small a sample.

The Broncos have to like the small turnaround, though, because they're the knuckleballer here. No matter what anyone makes of the Denver offense (and hell, John Fox almost seems to be mocking it), it is a radically different assignment then what you normally face. It requires some different hoop jumping.

If the Jets are aggressive on offense and execute reasonably well, they should win easily, no matter what the Denver offense does. The Broncos have no depth in the secondary. But do the Jets have enough targets to exploit that weakness? Why can't they design more big shots to Santonio Holmes? He should have abused the New England corners last week. I still get the idea Rex Ryan and company are holding the Baltimore game against Mark Sanchez. No, Sanchez didn't play well last week, but that was mostly because the Patriots rush had a field day against the vulnerable side of the New York offensive line.

At the end of the day, talent and a desperate team earn the check mark. Jets 24, Broncos 20. But it will not be easy.

I've had some fun with Leinart, but to me he's still a gigantic unknown. The Arizona flop is so long ago, it's almost irrelevant to the discussion; throw all that ancient data in the garbage. Maybe he's grown up since then. Maybe he's attacked the playbook and the film room. Maybe he's gotten stronger, something he desperately needed to do. And let's not forget the Houston setup is ideal - dominant running game, maybe the best blocking in the league, a superstar wideout on the mend, and plenty of reasonable secondary options who can catch it (Daniels, Foster, etc). Leinart doesn't have to be great for Houston to be dangerous. I put this challenge on Gary Kubiak almost as much as I put it on Leinart.

I know what you're saying about the Packers. To be clear, all I really care about with them is the yellow jersey, the fact that they're far and away the favorites. The undefeated stuff doesn't really matter to me.

They are a strange 9-0, though. The defense hasn't played that well, and the offense is tilted like a broken pool table. Rodgers is having the best passing season I've ever seen, a big statement given the golden age of quarterbacks we've lived through. What can't he do? He's smart, he's got a strong arm, his accuracy is ridiculous, he can run, and he can make plays on the move. It might be a moot point to try to out-think him or out-execute him; if I'm an NFC rival, I'm thinking one thing and one thing only - how can we get physical with this guy? How can we get him to the turf? How will he respond if we physically intimidate him early?

I'm not saying that will work - Rodgers owns the blitz (and is superb at picking up pre-blitz indicators) and again, his pocket movement is dreamy. But you've got to take a swing at the champ, you have to go for a knockout. Doing a soft shoe around the favorite is a suicide pill - it delays but ultimately insures your death.

Two Week 11 upset possibilities: Minnesota over Oakland (if that even counts, given the relatively-even spread) and Washington over Dallas. The Redskins defense isn't bad. Dallas is the type of team that loses its focus as soon as a few things go right. The first meeting was competitive; the Cowboys snuck it out because of Dan Bailey's quality footwear.

Why are the Giants such a small favorite over the Eagles? It's hilarious how Philly has this great cover corner in Asomugha, and they're asking him to do things he's neither comfortable nor happy doing. Put your players in a position to succeed, dammit. I still believe in Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg, in theory, but they can't teach Vince Young the double bass in one week. New York wins by 10 or more.

From: Michael Salfino
Subject: Re: (again with the) flower people
Date: November 17, 2011 10:27:54 AM EST
To: scott pianowski

Fox was funny with Tebow. He knows what a joke this is. It's embarrassing, really.

The Jets couldn't throw deep because the Patriots were swarming Sanchez immediately with four and sometimes three rushers. But I agree - if you don't take three or four shots way downfield with today's rules you are cheating your football team. The pass interference is as likely as the catch. Nothing bad is going to happen. But passes 30 or more air yards downfield this season for the Jets - four! That's 1.3 percent of attempts. The average when I did this comprehensively over a few seasons years ago was about 3.6 percent. Tebow has 10 in 105 attempts (9.5%, 1st). Ryan Fitzpatrick also has four in 291 attempts (1.4%). I'd do the whole league but it's depressing - guaranteed the Jets are last.

I can't take the Broncos seriously. It better be easy. Jets 24, Broncos 10.

How is Arizona irrelevant for Leinart? He was terrible, despite repeated opportunities. It's 10 times more relevant than anything he did in college, which is just about meaningless in the NFL. I think we must assume he stinks until he proves otherwise. I concede that's possible, but I view it as very unlikely - maybe 20% that he can be even average. I think there's a far greater likelihood he doesn't last the year as Texans starter (and I have no idea what their next move at the position would be). Remember, the Cardinals had a good setup, too. Ask Kurt Warner.

You mean with Rodgers you want someone to pull an Ike Lassiter and just punch him in the face at the bottom on the pile until his jaw breaks (after a Ben Davidson wannabee lifts his facemask to give his teammate a clean shot)? That didn't work on Namath, by the way. He didn't miss a play and threw for 370 yards and three TDs that day (though the Raiders did win).

I don't know what to make of the present-day Raiders. But I like Carson Palmer in that offense. They are very big up front plus Ponder is struggling now as many young QBs do. I think you play on instinct, and then you start to figure out stuff enough where you start to think and that kills you because you know it better but not enough to have that true mastery where it's rote. So I'd be surprised if the Vikings won, but the Raiders are capable of anything good or bad, I guess.

I think Dallas kills the Redskins. Rex Grossman. Need I say more?

Massey-Peabody has the Eagles as eighth overall and the Giants at 16th. I don't know why they rank the Giants so low relative to their record. But I can understand that the Eagles have lost some games randomly and actually gotten the better of teams on most plays - just not the biggest plays. And they've had turnover problems. I have to say that I like the Giants much more than MP. But I hate how they don't throw it enough. That second down run last week at the end of the Niners game was brutal. And I can't stand running out of the shotgun there - those plays never work. Just line up behind center if you really want to have a chance at running the ball. The tell on those plays is how close the back is to the QB. If we know, so does the defense. If the Giants played at the start of the game like they played at the end, they would have won by two touchdowns. I think the Giants get upset this week even if Vick doesn't play because they are bound to lose a game they should win by screwing around with their putrid running game - the second worst in team history (since the merger) measured by yards per rush and yards per game.