RotoWire Partners

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
Date: Wed, Dec 7, 2011 at 5:49 PM
Subject: quarterback breakfast
To: Michael Salfino

The big theme of the week is the Giants and Cowboys, so let's start there. If the Pokes hold serve, they just about salt away the division. If the Giants win, it's going to be fun the rest of the month. I'm glad NBC gets this one in Prime Time, because we're being robbed next week given that the Pats and Broncos aren't getting flexed. I've seen enough of Norv Turner and his hangdog face.

I know the New York-Dallas game isn't all about the quarterbacks, but I'd like some Eli Manning vs. Tony Romo insight from you. This is basically the poor man's Manning-Brady. Who would you put higher on an MVP ballot this year? Who would you rather have in charge of your 2012 team? What stats or observations drive these sorts of arguments? And do you agree with me that both men are being held back by their coaching staffs and coordinators?

Chicago is probably in the tank now that Matt Forte is hurt. Caleb Hanie's pocket awareness must be lost in the holiday mail somewhere. Denver should roll over these guys, right? I don't understand why there's so much Tim Tebow angst out there - forget digging in on a side or throwing flags on the guy, let's just enjoy the madness and the novelty of the story. Six out of the seven Tebow games have turned into mad excitement, and that's all we can ask for. (The football gods did not appreciate Detroit's blowout over the Tebows; look at the Motor City Breakdown that's ensued.)

It's a shame the NFL can't adopt college basketball rules and let a committee pick one playoff team per conference. Where does Miami slot in the AFC right now in true strength? Fourth? Fifth? Sixth? Hats off to Tony Sprarano and company for keeping this team afloat. Reggie Bush's comeback is an underreported story, and Matt Moore might push his way into the Pro Bowl argument. After Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, who's the next Pro Bowl pick from the AFC?

Lots of questions. We look to you, Jersey, for some answers. Week 14 Breakfast is served.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Dec 8, 2011 at 9:39 AM
Subject: Re: quarterback breakfast
To: scott pianowski

I like Romo and Eli. They're very close. If I had to choose one, I'd probably pick Eli because he's better in the pocket, and I will always pick the better passer in the pocket as that's where games are won. The Giants are so bad defensively - 31st now in my mostly fantasy but still relevant overall Yahoo! rankings - that it's likely Romo will outplay Manning this week. But in a completely neutral environment, give me Manning, who I trust more. I do like the Cowboys just because the Giants coverage is so very bad right now, but it's going to be a lot of fun - Cowboys 35, Giants 31.

Mad excitement in the Broncos games, really? Tebow is unwatchable for 80% of his games, to be kind. He's pulling games out of the fire (or out of someplace else, actually). And I must insist on a moratorium for all reasonable people like yourself to use the words God and Tebow in the same sentence unless it's done intentionally for humorous effect. I gave Tebow credit in my Scouting Notebook. I could have mentioned that the Vikings were taking defensive backs out of the stands for that game, but I did not. He did make the throws in the second half in a way that took advantage of the blown coverages. But the bigger story for me out of that game is that the Read Option is about to go the way of the Wildcat. So now Tebow is going to have to make plays from behind center, and I think it's still quite unlikely that he does.

The point I've been making with him from the beginning is that his ability to make plays in high leverage situations is random. We buy it because we want to believe that there are patterns to things and we like stories, so Tebow being "clutch" fits with these biases. Here's a good piece that makes the point I've been making more scientifically:

Essentially, while Tebow and the rest of the Broncos have not been producing better numbers, they’ve been producing their best numbers at the right times. This can be seen in the difference between Expected Points Added and Win Probability Added (WPA) for Orton and Tebow... The vast majority of players who started their careers with similar characteristics (a relatively high WPA given their EPA) eventually regressed towards the mean and saw their numbers come in line with expectations. A very clear relationship can be seen between a player’s WPA and EPA... Without fail, these quarterbacks saw their play converge towards the expected value over the long term. .... Regardless of the media representation, the likelihood of Tim Tebow sustaining his current winning percentage looks rather dire... These numbers only argue that Tebow’s wins are more likely to become more in line with his play – if his play improves he’s likely to keep winning at a good rate.

So when we evaluate Tebow, we have to evaluate how he performs on all plays. And he was better in that regard last week - he played well for a half. But in the other half, he was about as bad and the Broncos offense about as ineffective as can be.

I think Tebow can lose to anyone given his very poor play success rate. Thus, I give the Bears even with their injuries a good chance to win, especially because they generally handle running quarterbacks well due to all those zone looks where everyone is always facing the quarterback. Expecting "clutch" regression, Bears 13, Broncos 10.

I can't imagine any team being afraid of the Dolphins. You can put them on my schedule every week. Why do you want to tinker with the playoff rules? To get the 4-8 Dolphins in (yes, they are 4-3 their last seven, strike up the band)? What's your dream postseason matchup, Miami at Denver? We'll pass you the popcorn and me the barf bag. The Bills have hit the skids harder than anyone I remember. The Raiders are so volatile, but I'll give them that game as a really good win. So they are one for 12 in that regard. They have some good losses, I guess. But Dallas can't put anyone away. I've always thought that Matt Moore deserved a chance, but Pro Bowl? What are you smoking this week? Moore in the Pro Bowl and Tebow as Sportsman of the Year? Might as well put Nickelback in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while we're at it. But really, who cares about the Pro Bowl? Plus the season is not over - not close to over.

I don't believe in clutch, and I don't believe in hot teams, either. Who cares how you played last week? The idea that teams change significantly in the course of a single season is always overstated. It happens, of course, but far, far less than we think. I mean, we see it all the time animals in the clouds. I understand that recent play is of some relevance, but when studied over long periods of time in hindsight, it's proven to be of marginal predictive utility. So unless there are key injuries involved, I still look at full season stats to best gauge true strength. Look at the Dolphins right now: are they hot? They're 4-3 the last seven games. So if they play well going forward, we'll say that of course they were. But if they do not, we'll say, "Well, 4-3 big deal and who did they beat, so this does not disconfirm my hot-team theory."

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Dec 8, 2011 at 10:21 AM
Subject: Re: quarterback breakfast
To: Michael Salfino

I don't see a clear winner in the Manning-Romo thing, let me start with that. But if forced to make a pick, I'd take Romo for a few reasons. He's carrying a lower career interception rate and considerably less fumbles, big things for me. Romo's career YPA is also a full yard higher, but that's partially skewed by the fact that Manning emerged midway through his rookie year while Romo sat around and learned for a few seasons. Romo's also more accurate and will complete a higher percentage of passes than Manning, even if we cut out the learning-curve Manning years and just examine recent seasons. Manning might be more durable, though - he hasn't missed a game in his career while Romo has hit some speed bumps (not a lot, but a few). Manning also seems to have slightly thicker skin - if you can handle the unwinnable battle of the New York press, you can survive anywhere.

The Week 14 narrative could play out in any direction. I could see either QB playing out of his mind and carrying his team to victory, and yet I can also imagine one of them at the podium, disconsolate, trying to explain the two fourth-quarter pick sixes that got away. The Cowboys are getting my check mark because I think they have a deeper and more dangerous roster, but I'm not backing the Cowboys with any passionate conviction.

And then there's the Jason Garrett problem. The loss to Detroit in Week 4 messed up the entire season, the week the Cowboys blew a 20-point lead. Dallas returned to action in Week 6 with Romo in a straitjacket, the staff determined to make sure Romo didn't blow the game at New England. Milquetoast game plan, frustrating loss. Two weeks later it was the debacle in Philly, where Romo wouldn't thrown downfield (or wasn't allowed to) against the threat of the big-name Philly corners. And everyone saw the end-game blunder in Arizona, with Garrett petrified to risk a potentially-negative play from the Arizona 31-yard line. If you're going to flush your talent and your resources out the window like this, you're never going to play up to your potential.

I think you're missing the point of Tebow, or at least the path to enjoying Tebowism. It's *all* a joke, Mike. It's all tongue in cheek. I wish Mitch Hedberg were around to see this. It's a bunch of screaming zealots against a bunch of screaming haters every week. Yes, I do enjoy the play on the field, because this team is finding a way to complete exciting comebacks on a weekly basis despite an unconventional offense and a key player who people really can't get a handle on. Is Tebow lucky? Does he inspire his teammates? Will this all come crashing down in 15 seconds? Will John Elway stop saying all those curious Tebow comments in public? I think it's all fun, for some reason. And I think it's a shame we won't see the Patriots and Broncos play on Sunday night next week (I guess the Norv Turner death watch will be televised after all. Make it stop, please.)

Maybe you should just watch the second half of Tebow games, when he's posted a 100.5 rating, eight touchdown passes, one pick, and a tasty 8.2 YPA. Oh, I know, it doesn't count because of this, this, that, that, and this and that. I don't care if it makes sense. I don't care if it spits in the eye of intelligent scouting. Crazy sports stories can be fun, you know? Every Alcoa Fantastic Finish is fun, isn't it?

One last thing with the Tebowism: it's easy for me to enjoy because I have no real stake in the outcome, no investment. I don't own the Broncos, I don't live in Denver. I don't root for or against the team, in theory. I'll enjoy the craziness while it lasts, and if it's all exposed tomorrow, so it goes. I had fun with Steve Beuerlein in 1999 and Derek Anderson in 2007, too. And who knows, maybe Tebow is the once-a-generation knuckleballer who can find a way to prove conventional scouting wrong.

I can understand why you might be a little testy this week. You probably watched last week's New York-Washington game and said "Good lord, Mark Sanchez is going to be Rex Grossman when he grows up." Consider some of the similarities: same weight, similar height (Sanchez is 6-2, Grossman 6-1; both undersized for pro QBs), both were controversial first-round picks from collegiate powerhouses, both guys had some NFL playoff success that was mostly driven by the supporting cast (especially a loaded defense). Career stats to this point match up similarly: Sanchez has a 73.6 rating, 55.1 percent completions, 6.6 YPA, 48 TDs, 44 picks. Grossman: 70.7 rating, 55.0 completions, 6.5 YPA, 50 TDs, 55 picks. I know twins when I see them. We'll see if Sanchez shows notable improvement in his second 700 passes; I haven't noticed much improvement (if any improvement) in Year 3.

I realize Moore in the Pro Bowl sounds silly, but you have to pick *someone.* You can't mock the pick unless you suggest an alternative. Joe Flacco? Andy Dalton? Matt Schaub doesn't count, he's hurt. Matt Hasselbeck? Ryan Fitzpatrick? Is there enough time for Dan Orlovsky to make a run? Should Sanchez be skippering the AFC ship? Blaine Gabbert: hair of a winner, footwork of a loser.

I've always argued that the presence of choking suggests the presence of clutch. When I was a newspaper man, I knew clutch editors and also guys who were terrific on a leisurely midday shift, but couldn't handle the pressure of the slot if breaking news threw a wrench into the mix. We've had this discussion before, right? Heart rates differ greatly in stressful situations. So many quarterbacks are stars in college while no one hits them, then they don't know what to do in the NFL when every other pocket is muddied (Matt Leinart comes to mind). Clutch isn't necessarily elevating your game in crunch time, it's the idea that you don't throw up all over yourself when the heat comes down.

Motivation is not a standard thing in competitive environments. Level of focus varies. Some superior competitors handle stress better than others. I refuse to accept that every pro athlete (or world-class competitor in any discipline) gets handed a standard set of intangibles and internal makeup as he steps into his league.

Part of the problem with your Miami breakdown is you're looking at their improved stretch merely as a "4-3 run." The real point is to examine how well they've played during those seven games and ignore the win/loss record; examine the parts, not the sum. Heck, if wins and losses were all that mattered, Tebow is Johnny Unitas. If you looked at the Dolphins since their bye with the same magnifying glass that you're giving Denver, you'd probably come away impressed. (And yes, I give them partial credit for all three of their losses. The Giants and Cowboys both eked by Miami, despite being at home, and the first Tebow comeback was the flukiest of them all.)

Predictions: Denver by at least seven, because Hanie has no idea what he's doing or seeing (11 sacks and six turnovers in two weeks, that's horrendous) and Mike Martz isn't a quick-fix coordinator. Von Miller should be back and that's bad news, Chicago. I actually picked Philly to beat Miami this week, for some reason. Michael Vick says he's going to start sliding at the end of runs, but that's a thinking man talking on a Wednesday - we'll see what the in-game reactions say. Houston wins at Cincinnati - the Texans have a portable style that can win anywhere, and T.J. Yates didn't look overmatched in his debut (against a quality opponent).

I've got some things to say about the Patriots and prevent defenses, but that can wait until next week. Brady will score early and Grossman's inevitable rally won't be enough. Pats by 4.

Onto the comments.