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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, Dec 28, 2011 at 6:17 PM
Subject: New Year's Breakfast
To: Scott Pianowski

This is a pretty uneventful Week 17, it seems. The Bengals - whom even the people in Cincinnati do not want to see, need to win, and they do play the Ravens, who want to avoid going to Pittsburgh again, never mind the wild card, which doesn't seem to be a real impediment to getting to the Super Bowl, at least in recent years

And the NFC East will be decided in the Meadowlands. The Cowboys seem much better on paper but always seem to finds a way to lose games like this, or is that a misperception?

Big Blue of course slew my Jets last week, though Gang Green has some small chance to qualify. It would be funny if the Jets got in, and the Giants did not. Well, not funny if you're Tom Coughlin. It also would be poetic if the Jets had everything break right for them but lost to the Dolphins, in shades of 1993 in Houston when Buddy Ryan and Kevin Gilbride had a fistfight on the Oilers' sideline. We've had a lot of anti-Mark Sanchez talk locally, though I wish there were more anti-Brian Schottenheimer talk.

Who's the best team right now? I say the Saints. The AFC's best? That's tricky. I don't think any team is really strong, though the Patriots of course are most dangerous because of their quarterback, who overcame a very poor performance last week against the Dolphins. But that's what great QBs do. New Year's Breakfast is served.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Dec 29, 2011 at 10:04 AM
Subject: silent alarm
To: Michael Salfino

I'm going to feel cheated if we don't get a New Orleans-Green Bay rematch in the NFC Championship Game. Obviously Aaron Rodgers earned the MVP a long time ago, but Drew Brees has been just as good over the second half.

The last seven games for Rodgers: 115.0 rating, 8.5 YPA, 21 TDs, 3 INTs. And Brees is right there with him: 118.0 rating, 8.4 YPA, 22 TDs, 3 INTs. I know we live in a world where all the rules are funneled to make passing easier, but it's not supposed to be this easy.

The chess pieces in New Orleans are absurd. Darren Sproles might be the most electric skill player in the league on a pound-for-pound basis; if you're rooting against the Saints, this guy petrifies you. There's no good way to cover Jimmy Graham; imagine how good he might be once he really gets this football thing down. Marques Colston is a matchup problem, rangy with good hands. Lance Moore is a dynamite No. 3 receiver, and he's on a mind meld with Brees. When Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram are your forgotten offensive pieces, you've got an embarrassment of riches (Thomas might be the most underrated back in the league). Heck, Robert Meachem would be a primary player on most teams. And obviously Sean Payton knows what he's doing, a superb mix of smarts and aggression.

The league gets two breaks with the Saints. First and foremost, they'll have to beat some teams on the road, off the fast track. And for whatever reason the defense isn't generating turnovers this year - New Orleans has the fewest takeaways in football.

The Patriots and Packers seem to play the same type of ball - they throw to get ahead of you, and hope to turn you over as you're trying to keep up. Herb Ilk joked that it looks like the Packers are in a prevent defense for the entire game. The Patriots are much the same way, though their scoring defense is surprisingly acceptable. I'm still trying to figure that one out.

In the rest of the world, where pinball isn't the order of the day, I can't get over how scared coaching has torpedoed three good teams, the Falcons, Cowboys and Jets.

Mike Smith was a hero of mine when he made that rogue fourth-down call against the Saints in Week 10. It wasn't that I necessarily agreed with the call, but I loved the idea of it - the concept that a coach would stay aggressive in a controversial situation if he felt it was to his advantage. But we know how the story unfolded: the play (and it was a terrible play call, a boring inside run) blew up, the Saints took their easy win a few snaps later, and now Smith is coaching with a black cloud following him. He was so ultra-conservative at New Orleans last week, I wanted to chuck things at the TV. I thought he could handle swimming against the current in an outcome-biased world, but I guess I was wrong. I know this - you don't beat the Saints, in New Orleans of all places, by kicking a bunch of field goals and playing things close to the vest. That's like setting up the Monopoly board and targeting the Utilities.

I've done too much bitching about Garrett, who overreacted to the Tony Romo meltdown in Week 4. It's all in the past Tables. We've all seen the games Dallas has pissed away; if there's a coach obsessed with the Friendliest Loss, it's Garrett. I'd love to see what the Cowboys could become with a Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher or Brian Billick type running the show. And then there's the Jerry Jones problem, but I don't know how you kick him and his pocketbook (not to mention his ego) out of the way.

The tipping point for the Jets offense might have been the ugly Week 4 beatdown at Baltimore, where the Ravens abused the New York offensive line and scored three defensive touchdowns. It was hardly Sanchez's fault - he had zero help on that night - but Rex Ryan digested the game incorrectly, surmising that "Ground and Pound" would restore the Jets back to prominence. The Jets have gone 6-4 since the Baltimore loss, mostly because of a weak schedule, but they failed to challenge the Patriots in either meeting because they wouldn't throw the ball down the field. It's been a tread-water season for Sanchez (though his red-zone play has been excellent), and that really hurts considering it's his third year in the league.

Sanchez has struggled with pocket decisions when the first read isn't open; he's not playing with a lot of confidence right now. That speaks to the shortcomings of Brian Schottenheimer, sure, but Sanchez also looks like a quarterback who's afraid to hold the ball too long or make a mistake. If the primary target doesn't come open right away, the unsure and skittish player takes over. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but they need to get a new director of offense in town as soon as the season ends. Maybe Sanchez's development will resume next year, and maybe it won't, but he's not going to get any better on Schottenheimer's watch.

I suppose we have to pick the Giants and Cowboys game - I've gone back and forth on that all week. If you see anything interesting with the AFC shuffle, have at it. Who's the biggest conference threat in the AFC North, the Ravens or the Steelers? Will the Bengals ever beat a good team? It hasn't happened yet. Does it even matter who wins the AFC West?

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Fri, Dec 30, 2011 at 11:09 AM
Subject: Re: silent alarm
To: scott pianowski

The Saints being the No. 3 seed is a joke. But since there's no way they lose in the wildcard round at home, I'm pretty confident that the Saints-Packers will be the NFC Championship Game. And New Orleans will beat the Niners, too, because they neutralize San Francisco's "stoutness," which all the old-timey fans love. New Orleans is a very fast team, and you've been seeing that more on offense than on defense of late. So they really stand out in this regard. Of course, they can all play football, too. It's not like they are a bunch of track and field stars (cue Belle and Sebastian).

And when the league gets breaks, that means we get screwed. You want the best teams to play for the prize.

We've been over the Patriots thing a bunch of times, haven't we? They have a good points-per-yard ratio but that's random. Someone has to have it, and this year it's the Patriots. Plus a lot of times because they are so far ahead that teams can't kick field goals and thus might go four downs and out trying to get the touchdown. Either way, this is not worth considering for predictive purposes, in my opinion. Massey-Peabody disagree with me, by the way. My view is that you want to gain yards and prevent yards - those are skill-based and thus things that you can more readily bet on.

Smith was trying to get those games down to two-possession games (15 points) so that was the win-probability thing to do in those instances, too. And they were both fourth and three calls with the second being so far out that converting even wouldn't have raised your odds of getting more than thee points very much at all. So I have no problem with what Smith did in that game, irrespective of the fact that none of this mattered at all given the game was such a blowout.

I don't know why we point at Jason Garrett or Tony Romo for these games the Cowboys have blown. Their defense has been awful, and they've had a big problem with pass defense throughout the Romo era. Rob Ryan has got to be the most overrated defensive coach of all time. When has he ever directed a unit that was even better than league average? And why do we see him on the sideline so much - there's no coordinator ever that's gotten more camera time that Rob Ryan. This Giants-Cowboys game is going to be a shootout again. The weather is going to be good, that was the only thing that could slow teams down. I did a breakdown in the Journal on play-type rankings that shows just how up against it the Giants defense is, especially. Eli Manning and the Giants offense better have about 450 yards in them, at least. Unless Romo is hurt more than Dallas is letting on. The accompanying chart there screams "Cowboys" so I will listen and call it 31-28, Dallas.

I don't see your ground and pound theory with the Jets. They dropped back 67 times against the Giants! The Jets best long-term interests will be served by losing to the Dolphins. Schottenheimer has to go, and you have to get another coordinator to get the most out of Sanchez by creating some easier reads and open receivers (I'll take me some Norv Turner, please). Sanchez doesn't miss open guys because there are not any on the vast majority of plays. And I'm not talking wide open, just NFL open. My view of the Jets skill players and offense in general is here at SNYWhyGuys. I'm going to call this one 20-14, Dolphins.

And before you throw Sanchez under the bus, consider this:

Schottenheimer QB passer rating with Schottenheimer/year after Schottenheimer:

-- Chad Pennington: 83.8 rating with Schottenheimer/97.4 rating year after

-- Brett Favre: 81/107.2

-- Mark Sanchez: 79 (this year only)/?

I also think this will be like 1993 where everything will break right for the Jets except the Jets winning. The Bengals are definitely losing to the Ravens (who only lose to crappy teams). The Texans are going to have to play hard, and the Titans stink, so goodbye Tennessee. And I think the Broncos and Raiders are both going to lose (only one needs to in order to unlock the Jets controlling their own fate).

That's it for me in 2011. Happy New Year. See you in 2012.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Dec 30, 2011 at 2:12 PM
Subject: ryan's hope
To: Michael Salfino

While I agree that Rob Ryan is part of the problem in Dallas (those Ryans mess up everything), there's no way Garrett gets a pass for his terrible year of decision making. I know this isn't fully lost on you - you threw Garrett under the bus after he botched the Week 6 endgame in New England (it was in your Scouting Notebook before it turned into the Weekly Tebow Fireside Chat)".

Your conclusion that day was perfect: "The champion's advantage is having opponents too afraid of failure to even attempt to lay it on you." Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes. Jeopardy! just had an annoying nine-time champion who kept winning in part because his opponents were petrified to challenge him. On several instances I saw losing players make conservative bets on a Double Jeopardy Daily Double when the right move was to push all in and try to get back in the game. It's a world obsessed with Friendliest Loss, it's a world where most people want to delay the bad news as long as they can. They should teach Game Theory in college, maybe make it a second-level logic course (everyone should have to take Logic, as well).

The game got away from the Jets last week, and they threw all day, fine. That's not my point with Ground and Pound. Go watch the Patriots-Jets tape from Week 5, the game after the Ravens disaster. New England came into that game with a secondary screaming to be punished, and the Jets threw 26 measly passes (10 in the first half). The "don't lose the game, whatever you do" game plan started off three-and-out for the first four possessions, Ground and Punt. Rex Ryan was so afraid of the Patriots knocking him out, he ordered his team never to throw a punch (until it was too late). I'd like to sign Ryan to a 20-year contract extension.

Shonn Greene is part of the problem, too. This isn't Earl Campbell 1979 here. Heck, he's not even Michael Turner 2009. Greene is a back who needs good (if not perfect) blocking to get his yards; he seldom makes unblocked defenders miss (or fail). You can't make him the foundation of your offense. Most of Greene's touches are a gift to the other guys.

I'm agreeing with you on Schottenheimer, but Sanchez can't get a complete pass. His accuracy comes and goes, and he has trouble hitting receivers in stride; that's why you don't see a lot of YAC here (it's not a big deal in the red zone, where just making the catch is good enough). You can partially blame the low YPA on the scheme if you want, but a completion percentage of 56.2 percent is a joke coming from a three-year starter that you took with the fifth overall pick. And where's the avoidance of negative plays? Twenty-three turnovers, 37 sacks - at least some of those are Sanchez's fault. There's been no growth this season.

The Jets are probably going to lose, but it's in part because Miami is good. This has been a good team for three months, it's not a new thing. Other predictions: Cincinnati loses to Baltimore but backs into the playoffs anyway. Texans run over the Titans. Broncos eke it out over the Chiefs. Chargers give Norv Turner a farewell party, spanking Oakland. The big favorites in the NFC win, so New Orleans sticks as the No. 3 seed.

Next week we get to discuss the fun games. Happy New Year, everyone.