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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, Sep 26, 2012 at 11:17 AM
Subject: Week 4 Breakfast
To: scott pianowski

The U.N. Security Council is meeting right now to work out the world's biggest problem, the Immaculate Deception call in the Seahawks-Packers game. Forget peace in the Middle East. We need to bring the NFL and the referees back together pronto or Western Civilization may collapse.

Actually, I was not surprised at all that the NFL said the call was good. I think it's like the "complete the process of the catch" rule. We know that was an interception just like we know when a guy catches the ball and when he doesn't. But the rule sort of gums up the works. How to rewrite it, I have no idea. As a Jets fan, I've lived through this craziness before here and here. I think we'd be screaming if the replacement refs made those calls or a multitude of crappy calls that the real refs made every single week.

But the idea that fans are going to boycott games or that the Packers would protest by just taking a knee for the whole game is such an overreaction. Remember, M.D. Jennings on that play did not win the battle, and Golden Tate, to his credit, put the stupid rule in play just like a defensive back does when he strips the ball from a receiver rolling on the ground after a "catch."

As for the rest of the league, how crazy is it that Brady, Brees, Peyton and Rodgers are now 3-9? Has there ever been a team you are less impressed by at 2-1 than the Eagles? Okay, maybe the Jets. How many points is Revis worth per game? What happened to the Niners? Are the Vikings better than the Lions? Are the Falcons actually underrated now by the sharps? Can anyone stop the Texans? Are the Super Bowl champions flying under the radar? Week 4 Breakfast is served.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Sep 28, 2012 at 6:15 AM
Subject: you will fall in love on flag day
To: Michael Salfino

Like the rest of the logical world, I'm relieved to have this officiating mess put to bed. I didn't enjoy talking about it or reading about it, and too many results were starting to feel artificial. Did the right team win between the Patriots and Ravens? Debatable. Did the right team win at Seattle? Obviously not. I don't accept that the officiating fiasco in some way made the NFL more fun or interesting; to me, it just felt cheap and infuriating.

The problem with an officiating lockout in the NFL is that the replacements weren't the next-best refs not in the NFL. The college refs didn't want to bail for a temporary gig in the pros. You had to settle for a hodge-podge of amateurs, and as we all saw in graphic detail, the majority of them couldn't handle the speed and the emotional challenge of the NFL. I'm so glad this story is over.

You could add Ben Roethlisberger to your quarterback collection: the Steelers are 1-2, bringing the Fab Five to a collective 4-11. They're getting the bye at the perfect moment. Timing is everything.

Are the Falcons a story about timing? You could argue they caught the Chiefs (Week 1, key players hurt), Broncos (Manning isn't locked in with his new team yet) and Chargers (Norv in September) all at the right time. But I suspect the Panthers could be lying in the weeds in Week 4. No team is as bad as its worst day, and Carolina had a week and a half to address that monstrosity against the Giants. General bounce-back theory, I expect a close game in Week 4, perhaps an upset.

I feel sorry for you and the Jets in 2012 (zero sarcasm here). The Tebow story, for starters. Revis down for the season. Did you catch all that heavy package stuff the Jets tried in Miami? The only thing worse than Shonn Greene running behind a basic line is Shonn Greene running behind a jumbo package. It's not really about power, it's about spacing. I expect the Niners to kick the tar out of them this week.

Minnesota looks legit to me, in a frisky 8-8 or 9-7 sort of way. The defensive front seven is terrific. Percy Harvin is a Top 5 receiver when healthy. Christian Ponder is one of those confused rookie QBs who improves by leaps and bounds in Year 2. I still don't trust the Vikings secondary, but I guess you can't have everything. They have a decent chance at beating the Lions, who have been unbalanced (and overrated) for a year and change now.

The NFC West turned into a funky division, where every team is significantly better on defense than offense. Another data point of why preseason strength of schedule is beyond silly. Did the Cardinals deprogram Kevin Kolb, and can Arizona threaten for the playoffs despite the worst blocking in the league? How long can the Seahawks keep winning with the "hide the quarertback" game? Is Alex Smith just a "hitter's count" quarterback, or will he finally start showing something when he's needed to drive the offense?

I'll let you have first run on the slate. Giants-Eagles are always interesting. Packers-Saints is a required check-in. The Cowboys and Bears seem to have a lot in common. I can't see New England struggling in Buffalo, but maybe you can talk me out of that.

The Ravens don't have another National TV audience until the middle of December. Amen to that. I only watched half of Thursday's game, my own silent protest. Are Thursday games sloppy as a rule? Sure seems that way to me.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Fri, Sep 28, 2012 at 11:10 AM
Subject: Re: you will fall in love on flag day
To: scott pianowski

The rule is stupid in the NFL that over the upright is good. The ball should have to go between the uprights. The uprights aren't like the foul pole in baseball. The far greater mass of the upright will cause the kick to be no-good than good. And is it good by rule if any part of the ball goes over the upright? That's extra dumb if so.

Remember, the real refs suck, too. And I have issues with numerous rules beyond the dopey dual possession. Completing the process of a catch is dumb. It's stupid that you are not down when you are laying on a person on the ground. The fact that "judgment" calls like pass interference can't be reviewed - I find that infuriating. Why does a team need to burn a timeout in the final two minutes when there's an injury but the clock is stopped (due to an incompletion, for example)? Why do you lose a challenge when you are correct UNLESS you are right a second time, too, and then only get one more challenge? So many other calls are seemingly arbitrary. The refereeing is a random factor in most games and will continue to be so with the union guys. But this is still the greatest game there is.

Yes, Roethlisberger, too, struggling for wins. That's a good one. I have no idea how the Steelers lost that game in Oakland. You called it though, so hat tip.

I think you're being too clever with the Falcons - Norv in September? If we assume it's true, it's really, really hard to come up with some plausible reason why it's true. The Chiefs are terrible though, I agree. And I will agree that the Broncos and Chargers are average-ish. So you can make the case that the Falcons lack an impressive win. But trouncing an average team on the road like the Falcons did last week is impressive, isn't it?

I try to check myself with the Jets against Massey-Peabody. I felt like you did after watching them last week. But their numbers are holding up - currently seventh in their power rankings. M-P expects the game on Sunday to be a toss-up. They do not factor in injuries but rather seek to adjust rankings quickly for quarterback injuries at least. I don't think they do this for players at other positions, who are not as valuable as we expect Revis is. But the quarterbacks typically move the lines rather marginally, maybe a point or two. Hardly ever three. So I'll be surprised if the Jets are trounced by the Niners at the Meadowlands. Sanchez is having a very weird season with the 50.4% completions but with a YPA over 7.0. And he's leading the NFL in air yards on completions, too - up over three yards from last year's average (also the greatest differential; Aaron Rodgers is the negative trailer here and is averaging about half as many air yards per completion as Sanchez). I looked at the coaches tape of the game and again, he finds the open guy and generally throws good passes when they are open. They are just not open enough. Bilal Powell looks good to me, but anyone looks good compared to Greene.

We've debated this extensively via Twitter. But I do think Antonio Cromartie is much better than you do and that the Jets will keep him man-to-man as he's been and just have a safety over the top on Wilson's side. Rex Ryan can coach defense, too, so I'd be very surprised if the roof falls in. Vernon Davis terrifies me in this game, but the Niners forget about him for long stretches for reasons that remain a mystery to me.

I like the Vikings, too, taking the points. Against the spread, also really like Houston, San Diego, the Jets, Miami, Jacksonville and New Orleans. Pretty much all the games that Massey-Peabody likes. I'm at the point now where I pick the games their way before I even get their picks because I'm sort of dialed in on what stats have the most predictive value.

I like the Bills on paper but expect Brady to have a four-TD game pretty soon, and why not now? The Eagles are not a good team. Vick is like "Tommy" in the pocket. How he didn't feel pressure at all on that blitz at the end of the first half is a total mystery to me. It wasn't even his blindside. But Vick tees himself up for defenders like that all the time which is why he'll get hurt again. He must be very popular because otherwise he would have been taken out in the prison yards in about five seconds. Walter White would not have had to come up with an intricate plan for Vick. Just roll a tank over him while he's playing horseshoes or something. He'd have no clue.

Getting pushback in our Morris vs. Ridley debate not for Ridley but for the aside that I put Marshawn Lynch in the same tier as Morris and actually prefer Morris. The Seattle offense looks high school-ish to me. They seem very willing to go three-and-out. And while Lynch is better than Shonn Greene, no doubt, he similarly runs straight into contact. Despite his reputation for being a tough runner, the numbers do not support it. He's average at best in yards after contact per rush. (Last year he was tied for 32nd, this year he's good, seventh, but the sample is small so I'm weighting 2011 much more, obviously). What do you think about Lynch? He doesn't catch passes either, as you know.

I don't know which team I like to challenge the Niners - Seattle or Arizona. One of them definitely will. Whichever one finds a serviceable offense. But the Cardinals at least have one playmaker. I thought the QB was going to be the Seahawks playmaker and now, like you, I have my doubts.

You make a good point about the Thursday games. They put too much pressure on teams and should be abandoned. But teams can't play another night because Friday night is the high school football night the league doesn't want to step on and they have formally agreed forever not to go head-to-head on Saturday against the colleges. Plus I bowl on Thursdays, dude, and it's a bit of a pain for me to have to catch up afterwards on the DVR. First-world problems.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Sep 28, 2012 at 3:23 PM
Subject: yellow submarine
To: Michael Salfino

The real officials are not perfect, but they are light years ahead of these guys. The scab refs weren't Triple-A ballplayers replacing the major-leaguers, they were beer league journeyman asked to do the job. The difference was significant.

Maybe the Turner/September stuff means nothing, I don't know. Let's look at some numbers for Turner since he moved to San Diego.

-- September: 10-10 straight up, 7-12-1 against the spread
-- October: 9-10, 9-10
-- November: 11-9, 10-10
-- December: 18-3, 15-6
-- January: 6-3, 6-2-1

I include the ATS performance to get a sense of how his teams have performed relative to expectations. Obviously the ATS measure is not perfect - the spread is not necessarily a reflection of team strength. Nonetheless, it's interesting to see how the disparity plays out.

I discussed this off the cuff with Yahoo! colleague Doug Farrar a few weeks ago, in a radio spot. I asked Doug about this cold, but he had an interesting theory (which I'm paraphrasing here): perhaps because Turner's offenses are so consistent and basic in scheme, they're easy to prepare for in the early part of the season (in contrast to a team that's multiple and dynamic in its design).

Why do Turner's teams do so well late? Is he slow to tweak his roster, but a genius when things come around? Heck, these samples are so small, maybe it's nothing, I don't know. I still feel Turner is a dynamite coordinator and not ideally suited to be a head coach, but I'm saying that 2,300 miles away from his locker room (that's driving mileage, not as the Cromartie flies).

You and I briefly discussed Sanchez on Twitter this week, touching on the worth of completion percentage. I'll float another idea I have no backup on: it seems logical to me that if you measured two players with like YPAs but far different completion percentages, the accurate QB would be more consistent and more likely to sustain offense. It's like comparing the consistent Emmitt Smith with the boom-or-bust Barry Sanders. But I'm not going to come down too hard on Sanchez; as we've discussed many times in this space, his organization has set him up to fail in 100 different ways.

The Fitzpatrick-era Bills have struggled against New England. Buffalo managed a split last year (34-31 win, 49-21 loss), and the other three games were losses (34-3, 38-30, 17-10). Fitzpatrick has seven touchdown passes during the run, 12 picks. Brady threw four picks (and four TD passes) in the loss at Buffalo last year (one a silly tipped pass that went back for six); in the five cumulative games, he's at 14 TDs, six interceptions. The only time I consider player-team history is inside a division (and only if there's continuity, especially on offense).

The key to Buffalo's offense is quick throws and space running from the spread (New England catches a big break with Spiller and Jackson both being less than 100 percent). The Jets are a horrendous matchup for Buffalo because New York can press the receivers and mess up the timing of the short passing game; Fitzpatrick can't make them pay by taking the top off the defense. New England's corners can't really be trusted right now, but I believe in Brady and Belichick in this type of spot (yeah, I said that last week, but weren't they the better team in Baltimore?). Patriots by at least 10.

Cromartie says he's the best cover guy in the NFL, which is all I need. Did I mention I'm the King of Siam?

For all the talk of Sean Payton's absence being validated (and I know I've said some words there), the biggest New Orleans problem is defense (players and scheme). You can give me 10 Sean Paytons, I don't know how they fix that. The offense hasn't been sharp, but these guys can still put up 27-30 against almost anyone. It won't matter when the Pack goes for 35 plus, which it will on Sunday. (Perhaps stubbornly, I'm not bailing on Jordy Nelson yet.)

The invaluable Spreadapedia resource shows Thursday games finishing under the total at a 174-142-8 clip, dating back to 1978. All four this year have gone under. Sounds like something to me. Prep time, rest time, it has to makes some sort of difference.

This should be the Broncos get-back week. Oakland has all those secondary injuries - even Brian Hartline exploited them. Denver can at least point to quality losses by opponent - Atlanta and Houston. The Raiders quirked their way to a surprising comeback last week, but this is still one of the 2-3 worst teams in the league. I hate picking all this chalk, but I'll be shocked if the Broncos don't romp.

A bunch of loose ends to tie up, but that's what the comments are for. September absolutely flew by.