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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: wild card breakfast
Date: January 4, 2012 1:01:11 PM EST
To: Michael Salfino

I've been through the 12 playoff teams, and I've eliminated all of them. There will be no Super Bowl champion this year.

The Packers don't have enough defense. The Saints aren't the same team on the road, and they might go on the road for good after this week. The Niners kick too many field goals and clearly don't trust Alex Smith. The Giants can't run the ball or cover downfield, and they're too inconsistent. The Falcons specialize in beating bad teams, but don't beat enough good teams. The Lions just made Matt Flynn look like Joe Montana.

Pittsburgh's beaten up (especially at quarterback) and has to do it on the road. The Bengals are too young, and they were 0-7 against playoff teams. The Texans lost their two most indispensable players, and no one knows if Andre Johnson is healthy. The Patriots have a leaky defense and no victories over winning opponents.

The Broncos, I don't even want to go there. Everyone on the Internet thinks they lost 49-3 last week.

Every case against the Ravens starts with Joe Flacco. Actually, I think Baltimore might be underrated. But that's going against the theme - if you spend enough time on the web, you'll convince yourself no one can win. You'll also convince yourself you have 17 uncurable diseases.

Everyone has obvious fleas this year, but so what? Maybe that makes it more fun. Take first crack at the four wild-card games. I don't see a buzzy matchup here - I can't get too excited about Detroit at New Orleans given that I think the Saints win easily - but I'll watch all of them anyway. See any upsets? Is there a clear favorite in either conference?

Wild Card breakfast is served.

From: Michael Salfino
Subject: Re: wild card breakfast
Date: January 4, 2012 3:26:44 PM EST
To: scott pianowski

I don't understand how there are no great teams (I agree) but also little chance of upsets. If I could see them, I'd be betting them. But I'm not going to be surprised if any team other than the Steelers lose this week. Tebowwww!

We're talking backstage where Steve Moyer is doing his best to turn me into the rapacious and uncompromising BrundleMike, but I think his point bears repeating here:

All these fantasy experts are SO convinced the Saints are going to the Super Bowl, it is utterly ridiculous. I'm thinking, "If you're so sure the Saints are going to the Super Bowl that you're taking Darren Sproles in the first five picks, then, for God's sake, please quit wasting your time with fantasy and make bets." Honestly, from what I've heard, the teams may as well not even play the games - it's over already. Doesn't anyone realize, THE NFL DOES NOT WORK THIS WAY! Huge "surprises" are the norm, not the exception.I will therefore now personally guarantee the Saints don't get to the Super Bowl. As a matter of fact, I won't be one bit surprised if they get "shocked" by the Lions this week. Why is everyone so convinced annually that what's drawn up on paper for the NFL playoffs will happen when it never does?

I agree. The Saints lost to the putrid Rams for cryin' out loud. And the Bucs. So they can't lose at home to the Lions just because they play so well at home? The Rams loss came in a dome. New Orleans needs cheering that badly? I think the Lions are dangerous. They can score 30 on anyone, and that makes you able to beat anyone. I know the defense was terrible last week, but so was the Packers defense, and maybe Matt Flynn is good, or maybe the Packers system is a lot more conducive to QB productivity than people like me who said the Aaron Rodgers is the best QB ever previously considered.

So here's my case for upsets this week. The Saints can't find anyone to cover Calvin Johnson and when they load up on him, Stafford picks them apart with his secondary options. Meanwhile, the Lions defensive line gets constant pressure and makes it tough for Brees to step up in the pocket, leading to a subpar game and thus making it impossible for the Saints to get even into the high 20s.

The Falcons are an upset if they beat the Giants? Massey-Peabody says Falcons should be favored by one in MetLife Stadium. Here's the playoff dossier I helped put together but where the star is each team's game-by-game performance as depicted in the charts. Can Matt Ryan play better than Rex Grossman did (and he was mediocre) three weeks ago when the Redskins waxed Big Blue? I think so. Ryan is due for a good playoff game. Are we to believe that the Giants are nothing like the team they were in Week 15? It is convenient to think that this is 2007 all over again. Probably too convenient.

The Bengals are an upset over the Texans? Houston has graded out as league average post-Matt Schaub being out for the year. The Bengals are average at best, too. But when average beats average even at home are we supposed to be shocked? Plus the Bengals are pretty stout against the run and overall defensively.

Broncos over the Steelers? Okay, I have my limits. The Broncos couldn't beat anyone right now the way Tim Tebow is playing, not without some return TDs at least. And in defense of the internet, people are making like it was 49-3 because 7-3 when Tebow is at QB feels that way. I said the Read Option had six weeks tops, and that ended three weeks ago, so Pittsburgh kills them unless Roethlisberger gets hurt or is immobilized with his ankle woes. Then, the game is a closer to a toss up, though I can't see the Broncos scoring a TD against the Steelers now that the Tebow gimmick has been effectively countered.

From: scott pianowski
Subject: the sidewinder sleeps tonight
Date: January 5, 2012 12:58:05 PM EST
To: Michael Salfino

Eventually this comes down to the difference between what is possible and what is probable. The NFL built itself on the Any Given Sunday theme - anything is possible - but there are good reasons why the Saints and Steelers are heavily favored this week.

New Orleans had a plus-23 differential for home games, which is the highest we've seen in a while. Maybe it's the best mark ever - I checked data back to 2003, no one was close, and then I got bored. There's been a lot of writing in recent years that suggests that home field advantage is more "you get the calls" than anything else; it's not your own cooking and bed, it's not your zealous fans. But those theories are speaking in the aggregate; isn't it possible that in some instances a team can fit its home environment? Can we agree that some fans do make a difference? Surely it's harder to win at Seattle than Jacksonville, right? And doesn't the home turf favor a speed-and-timing team like New Orleans?

I know the Rams loss makes no sense, but every team has an outlier game or two that makes no sense. And it was long enough ago that we can toss it out, on my clipboard anyway. The most recent two months mean more than whatever happened in September and October. The respected power-rank guys (M/P, FO) seem to agree on this.

Detroit has a chance to win because its offense can post a big number, and the defense, while a mess, will at least punch you in the mouth. Heck, one of these weeks, Jim Schwartz is going to punch someone. I also think the Saints are really going to miss Lance Moore, assuming he doesn't have a late-week recovery; he's one of those impossible-to-cover whippets who break your heart on 3rd-and-7. But it's an embarrassment of riches here, with all the other toys Brees is playing with. Nate Burleson would be a special teamer on the Saints. New Orleans 38, Detroit 31.

The Giants played the hardest schedule of any playoff team, for whatever that's worth. Atlanta doesn't have a lot of road success, though there was a victory (indoors) at Detroit. The Falcons would be wise to punt Michael Turner at the end of the year; you always want to be a season early on guys like that, power backs don't age well. I ultimately side with the Giants because the pass rush can offset the secondary problems. Giants 24, Falcons 20.

I give Denver a chance, anyway. What's so special about the Steelers right now? Weren't they life and death to beat the scrubby Browns last week? How healthy is Roethlisberger? And playing in the thin air is never an easy thing.

Tebow's getting too much blame for the KC loss; his receivers couldn't gain separation all day and the Chiefs defense is no joke (ask Aaron Rodgers or Philip Rivers about that). Then again, Tebow has no idea how to throw receivers open, and at some point you have to learn how to make timing and anticipation throws in this game. This is where they really miss Brandon Lloyd, because there isn't a good receiver on this roster, anywhere (including the tight ends and running backs). Denver's defense and running game will keep it close, but the Steelers will prevail if they don't hand the ball away multiple times. Pittsburgh 20, Broncos 13.

The Texans should dispatch the Bengals easily. Cincinnati's a young team that needs to grow into the role of being a serious contender; this year, just making the playoffs is enough. Andy Dalton avoided mistakes over the last five weeks but there was nothing downfield (5.8 YPA). Cedric Benson doesn't have any explosion left in his legs. Too many key Bengal defenders are hurt. I still trust the Texans running game and defense, and if Andre Johnson can make 1-2 plays, this becomes a runaway. Texans 27, Bengals 13.

From: Michael Salfino
Subject: Re: the sidewinder sleeps tonight
Date: January 5, 2012 4:52:37 PM EST
To: scott pianowski

I agree with you on environment. But the Saints loss to St. Louis was in that same environment (just not in NO). So that's a range of performance that they are clearly capable of delivering, too. And if they were playing in Detroit, they'd be in the same environment and I will wager that Detroit is built for the fast, indoor track, too. And at 38-31, you are giving Detroit a much better than 16% win probability. (It's 5-1 betting them, right?) More like 30%. So we're in agreement there, I think. Also, Detroit is a dirty team. Who is the Saints backup QB? Do you think it's beyond them to try to rip off Brees's head after a whistle? Bite his ear off? Who the heck knows. It is a little intimidating though, but that doesn't make it right, of course. I like your score.

Massey-Peabody adjusts for quality of opponent. So that doesn't explain the Giants 18th overall ranking. And their last two wins, they were big-play reliant (as opposed to play-success rate). All the data says the latter is better for predictive purposes than the former. Are they going to get a 99- or 75-yard play this week plus other biggies? I don't know. If not for that play in the Jets game, Eli and the Giants might not have scored a TD. Manning was 9-27 throwing. The Redskins did not allow any homers and look what happened. By the way, here's everything you'd ever want to know about Victor Cruz. If the sportswriting dries up, I'm going to compile data like this for agents. Cruz should just put this on the table and demand to be paid at least like a top 20 WR. (Click the graph to enlarge when you get to the link.)

I'm going to agree with you on the Giants, but guess how many TD passes Eli has thrown in two home playoff games? Guess how many TDs the Giants offense has scored? You see goose eggs, right? And there have been five picks. Can playing at home make you more tight? I'm very concerned if I'm a Giants fan if things break against Eli early because this putrid Meadowlands playoff history can't be lost on him, and it can be a negative feedback loop. Getting booed is a real bummer. Can't you hear a cascade if they leave the field at halftime down 10-0?

Of course you'll give Denver a chance. Are you still sitting back and chilling all happy in just living the Tebow experience? Or do you now see it as it mostly was and now forever will be - a black mark on the entire evolution of the sport? About five really crazy things are going to have to happen for the Broncos to win that game (which is what needed to happen for them to win all their games). Detroit doesn't need any miracles. The Broncos needed a miracle last week against a team that scored seven points and that isn't nearly as good as even a banged-up Pittsburgh (Rashard Mendenhall is no loss - 15th of 17 backs with at least 400 carries in YPR since 2010). Pittsburgh 20, Broncos 0.

I don't know about the Texans and Bengals. I like Dalton. Yates is pretty bad. Who knows if Johnson is healthy. Green, is and Green is almost as good as Johnson when both are healthy. I see this as a FG game. So does Massey-Peabody. But I'll be fully contrarian and say Bengals 17, Texans 16. Both teams are league average right now.