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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
Subject: Kickoff Breakfast
Date: September 2, 2012 11:57:55 PM EDT
To: Scott Pianowski

I can't recall looking forward to a NFL season as much as this one. On top of all the stuff we normally get in every great season in this greatest sport of all, we get two incredibly interesting lab experiments that may never again be repeated. They both involve Peytons. (Or should that be Paytons?)

Does the great quarterback make the skill talent, or does the skill talent play a big role in making the great quarterback? If Peyton Manning can replicate his typical Colts success in Denver, I think it will be very good evidence that it's the former and not the latter.

The second is the importance of coaching to a unit. Regardless of his official title, Sean Payton was obviously the man in charge of orchestrating the Saints offensive design. Can the team autopilot now without him (or simply have co-pilot Drew Brees take the wheel)? Or are there important adjustments that only he can make to keep the train rolling at full speed down the tracks? Without him, will Brees and company be derailed?

On top of that, we get another data point on how holdouts impact performance with Maurice Jones-Drew. We also have five rookie starting QBs - a record. And we have the first starting QB under six-feet tall since Doug Flutie in Russell Wilson in those suddenly horrific Seattle uniforms. Has it ever been more interesting than this to start a season? And don't forget a full slate of games. Where will you be focusing most intently in real time live on Sunday? 2012 Kickoff Breakfast (our 11th here together!) is served.

From: scott pianowski
Subject: eagles of death metal
Date: September 4, 2012 10:20:36 AM EDT
To: Michael Salfino

I'm more bearish on Peyton Manning than most. I'm so sick of the "he's Peyton Manning" arguments (the lowest form of journalism). Just about every star runs out of juice eventually, Willie Mays and Marshall Faulk, Steve Carlton and Randy Moss. As you succinctly put it years ago, the circus leaves town for everyone, eventually.

Manning is a continuity player, a reps player, the ultimate practice-makes-perfect guy. Sure, he's got the entire playbook in his head. I get it, he's as smart a quarterback as we've ever seen. But it's still going to take him a while to get used to a new city and scheme (even if he's basically the OC), new players, etc. And I'm not in love with Denver's skill talent, though I do have a lot of Eric Decker shares.

Manning's 2008 season might be the precedent of interest here (and I haven't heard this mentioned once). That was the year he hardly practiced in the summer, after a bunch of hush-hush surgeries. He had an 83.3 rating over the first eight games, then was a steamroller in the second half (108.3). It's going to take time. Don't expect miracles overnight. For the love of all things holy, don't take Manning in the Top 4-5 rounds of your fantasy draft. I'm calling for the Broncos to miss the playoffs, and for Manning on the whole to be a modest disappointment.

Maybe we're all guessing and flying blind on any NFL prediction, but it seems more so in New Orleans. Can Drew Brees run the offense on his own? How crafty are the men under Sean Payton? Does Darren Sproles have any chance of repeating one of the least-appreciated ridiculous seasons of 2011? I'm petrified at what Jimmy Graham might do now that he's actually learning how to play football - he only had one season at Miami. I'm slotting New Orleans as the wild card, and for the Brees giveback to be minor (mostly outlier regression). And just having Gregg Williams off the premises for good is probably a positive thing.

I'm in love with Russell Wilson, head over cleats. Okay, he's short, I get it. But he's got gigantic hands and a rocket for an arm, he's very bright (look at how quickly he adjusted to Wisconsin's offense with almost no prep time), he's very precise with his throws (that romp over Kansas City in Preseason Week 3 was a clinic in where to land the ball), and while he is dangerous as a runner, he understands that scrambling initially should come as a way to set up a pass play - you're not hitting the hyperspace button. (Wilson's QB rating last year was better than RG3's, too). Throw in a dynamite defense (perhaps the best secondary in football) and a lethal home-field edge and I have Seattle winning the NFC West.

I'll give you first run on the Jets. Can that elite defense bail out the dumpster-fire offense? It's obvious they've set up Mark Sanchez to fail, for reasons I'll never understand. How many games does Tim Tebow wind up starting? How many games do they win? Does the AFC East get a second playoff team?

I'm not dug in on any of the MJD stuff, so you'll have to carry us there. But I could see the Jags being pesky in a 6-10 or 7-9 way. Sophomore quarterbacks often improve by significant margins - I'm not talking about the instant stars like Newton and Ryan, but the "deer in the headlights" guys like Blaine Gabbert and (to a lesser extent) Christian Ponder. If Gabbert can merely be adequate, Justin Blackmon will be fantasy relevant right away.

I'm down on Dallas and San Diego. That will have to wait.

From: Michael Salfino
Subject: Re: eagles of death metal
Date: September 4, 2012 4:07:47 PM EDT
To: scott pianowski

Pretty sure I stole that circus line from Bill Parcells. My thought with Manning is that he looks healthy to me so I expect a year that will fit seamlessly on the back of his football card. That means I also think the QB makes the skill player and not vice versa (though it is vice versa with non-greats like most young quarterbacks, including Mark Sanchez).

I don't see 2008 as relevant here. Manning was hurt then. He isn't now. Practiced now, didn't then. He's had the layoff but is not going into the season cold. I do think there is risk here. Manning is no slam dunk. But my bet is Manning is Manning this year, which I guess is the flip side of that meme you hate so much, but I don't know how else to say it.

I hate punting on a projection but I'm in wait and see mode on the Saints. Maybe coaching in football is overrated; but look at the easily quantifiable impact coaches seem to have had. Plus the other wild card is whether and to what extent Payton is still involved. He's still the coach and presumably allowed to talk to people, right? So instinctively, based on no data, I agree with you that the Saints offense will proceed almost imperceptibly. But I have much less confidence in that prediction than even the Peyton one.

It's incredible that only eight guys under 6-feet, including Sean Payton in 1987 replacement relief action, have thrown a NFL pass since the 1970 merger. So the Wilson thing is fascinating beyond him being the fifth rookie QB to start and the lowest draft pick of the five rookie starters. I have a hard time believing that an inch or two for Brees relative to Wilson is important. If it's not, the rest of Wilson's skill set seems elite, and his track record in college confirms that even though, as I've said here before, NFL QB is sui generis. Nothing can possibly prepare you for the job. It's like the presidency. But then I see nine scoring drives out of his first 12 in August (including a missed chip-shot field goal) and I believe as much as I can for a preseason rookie. I think Wilson, if I had to wager, will be the second highest scoring fantasy QB. He'll beat one of Luck/RGIII (and I like them both, too). The over/under for Wilson starts, by the way, is 10.5. I'll take the over, as the Seahawks, reportedly, had him third overall on their draft board.

I also think the Seahawks have a Niners-like vibe this year. They are a very big, physical team. I can definitely see them making the playoffs. The typical churn is that six teams are out from last year. Who will they be? I do like San Francisco to repeat at least as a wildcard. But the Lions and Falcons I'll say are out, even though I really like Mike Smith. Just don't like the Falcons' talent much. The Lions have no defense - the secondary looks like it again will be a joke. In the AFC, everyone will fade the Bengals, but I'll go with the Steelers and Ravens. I would like to fade them all, but someone has to win the division, and it won't be the Browns. If not the Broncos in the West, who? Maybe the Chargers? The Chiefs and Raiders don't impress me. But you are down on the Chargers. So who do you have winning the AFC West?

I think Jones-Drew will not be impacted by the holdout. But there are many other things he could be impacted by that, if he is, will be ascribed to the holdout. I think a lot of this holdout analysis is a failure to recognize simple regression to the mean, like the Madden cover jinx and Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

I am feeling very bearish about the Jets offense. The Tebow trade was the cruelest joke that the universe could play on me. It almost feels personal. But the underreported story of the summer is that the Jets defense is nasty. Maybe epically nasty. They have three defensive lineman now that are very difficult to block one-on-one, and it's tough to double Jets D-linemen because you never know if and from where the blitz is coming. Now you add the two shutdown corners (Antonio Cromartie had a lower passer rating allowed than Revis - ever so slightly - and they were just the seventh pair since 1990 to have a sub-50 passer rating allowed on 70-plus targets. The new safeties are physical specimens, at the very least, but we all know LeRon Landry can't stay on the field. I think the Jets will be the one guaranteed matchup nightmare in fantasy football for every team except maybe the Patriots, who have the double-tight-end Kryptonite.

My other fantasy thoughts are neatly summarized here. And they are familiar to twitter followers. It's a small group. A mom-and-pop following compared to your well-deserved army. We can deal with them in the comments, if you prefer to pass in your reply. This is getting long. Kickoff is approaching. Take us home while I pick up this check.

From: scott pianowski
Subject: mile high club
Date: September 5, 2012 10:42:11 AM EDT
To: Michael Salfino

But he's Joe Montana.

Here's what "but he's Peyton Manning" means to me - we have every reason to suspect that Manning will do every conceivable thing to get back to greatness. If it doesn't work out at some point, it won't be because he was soft during rehab, didn't run 1000 reps with Decker and Thomas, or didn't do the film work. He'll take every step to prepare for greatness. I just wonder what's realistic to expect at his age, with his physical history, off a lost year, and with new playmates.

But he's Michael Jordan.

I also think the Colts skill players were grossly underrated. Yes, the quarterback is the lead singer *and* the lead guitarist, he steers the ship. But almost every key Indy skill guy during the Manning era arrived in a first-round package. Edgerrin James (people forget how awesome the Sweet Baby James was), Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne (one of the most underrated receivers of the 2000s), Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai - all first round picks. Even busts or pseudo-busts like Donald Brown (yes, I'm intrigued for 2012) and Anthony Gonzalez went in the first round.

But he's Larry Bird.

I know the counter to this - Manning also made the lesser-known guys effective, the Stokleys and Tammes (fade him this year, amigos), the Garcons and Collies. That's the stamp of reatness, sure. But it's not like the Colts didn't go out of their way to constantly fill the pantry, stock the refrigerator. If only Mark Sanchez could be so lucky.

But he's Wayne Gretzky.

I'm on a plane and with limited time, so let's nuke some predictions: Pats (creampuff schedule), Steelers, Texans (but in a 9-7 or 10-6 way) and Chiefs, by default (I hate every team in that division, eight or nine wins takes it). Bills and Ravens (though they're overrated) grab the Wild Cards. Pats back to Super Bowl.

Tebow starts seven games, and the Jets win seven games. You can pick out which ones they are. You're probably right on the defense, but it will need to be Ravens 2000 good to bail out that offense.

Giants, Packers, Falcons, Seahawks (I'm all-in). Bears and Eagles get in on the Wild Card. Lions crash. Dallas is another 7-9 or 8-8 fraud. Niners are still a tough out, but don't get the turnover fairy this year.

Jags and Vikings are better than people think. Browns too.

Pats 31, Falcons 27. That I'm sure on. I've seen the future, and this all works out reasonably well.

Here's to football.