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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
Date: Wed, Oct 17, 2012 at 8:49 AM
Subject: rivalry breakfast
To: Michael Salfino

Even with six teams on holiday in Week 7, we've got a lot to chew on. The Niners-Seahawks play an important Thursday game, the Giants-Redskins meet up on Sunday, Houston-Baltimore collide for the AFC yellow jersey, and the Hatfield-McCoy feud (Pats-Jets) fires up again. We even have Salfino-Pianow squaring off in the Stopa Law Firm League (I've added New England's defense as a thematic play; I demand you start one of the Jets).

The Thursday additions are starting to annoy me. I like having an additional stand-alone game for viewing and scouting purposes, but it stinks to have teams playing it on an absurd three days of rest; every game has been sloppy, and I don't think it's a coincidence. Three days can't be enough time for teams to rest and plan for another game. When I am appointed NFL Czar, every team will get two bye weeks per season, with one of the byes earmarked to precede any Thursday match. Season goes longer, the competition is more legitimate, everyone wins.

Seattle's home/road splits are at play again, as we'd expect. Russell Wilson's QB rating, small sample and all, crashes 56 points on the road. Do the Seahawks deserve more than the usual tax for any road game? Does the short turnaround favor one team between the Niners and Seahawks? Seattle has to travel (albeit a modest trip), but the schemes of Jim Harbaurgh are blunted when there's no time to implement a game plan.

There's been some "sky is falling" talk with the Patriots, which I don't buy. Their three losses all came with flukes attached - and against teams that are collectively 13-5. New England's going to right the ship and win the division easily, right? The Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis injuries are convenient excuses to distrust the Ravens, but I disliked their defense even before last week. The Ravens and Texans will compare overrated name brands on Sunday - Baltimore's defense against Houston's offensive line (the Pro Football Focus spreadsheet tells the story there).

You get the first extended reply; work off my order or go off the menu if needed. Last week's Chargers-Broncos game might be worth a word. I'd love to hear your AFC power rankings. Have the Dodgers made a bid on Alex Rodriguez yet?

Week 7 Breakfast is served.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Wed, Oct 17, 2012 at 5:02 PM
Subject: Re: rivalry breakfast
To: scott pianowski

I think the Patriots have screwed themselves by trying to emphasize the run so much in the offseason and in the early part of 2012. Their passing game does not seem sharp, especially where it matters most - in the red zone. They've gone from fourth to 14th in red zone TD percentage. The Jets are 16th. This is killing them in losing close games.

This year, GB, Denver and NO are 1, 2 and 3. Last year, Detroit, GB and NE were in the top four. It used to be that running well was the key in the red zone. Now I think it's passing well, especially given how teams try to run it down there, by lining up with big personnel in tight formations. The Patriots lead the league in red-zone scoring attempts per game (4.8). So you figure with their rate down abut 10 percentage points, they are leaving about 3.4 points on the field. Those 3.4 points would have come in handy last week. And what's with NE kicking field goals on fourth and 1 in close? Come on, man. We know the sabermetric play is to go for it there, and so does Bill Belichick.

The one thing the Jets are doing well now is pass defense. The last three games, they have a 62.9 passer rating allowed. That's better than their 69.6 rating allowed last year. Only Chicago is better than 62.6 this year, too. And the Jets haven't done it against passing chumps - the Niners, Texans and Colts. All the games were at home though.

Now, the ultimate test if the Patriots crank it up. But will they try to run it on the Jets? Gang Green fans hope so. And I think we've settled whether Antonio Cromartie is a shutdown corner. He's been on the island the last three weeks on most snaps and he's allowed a 34.3 passer rating - and that includes a touchdown allowed to the Texans that I'm convinced in watching the game tape wasn't his responsibility. He released him to LeRon Landry, who completely bit on the play fake. That was zone, to my eye. But still, even with that, 34.3 in three games mostly covering Michael Crabtree, Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne is impressive.

I think Wilson is too inexperienced to look at home/road splits. He can learn very quickly at this point. It's possible last week was a breakthrough game for him. But this isn't really the week to be looking at home/road anyway because the Niners are tough everywhere. As for Harbaugh's scheming, he better figure out a way to get his best player, Vernon Davis, the ball when they are behind and need to score. You can't just keep lining him up with his hand on the ground and force him to fight through the scrimmage scrum. I'm more worried if I'm a Niners fan about Alex Smith against the Seahawks defense after last week's disaster than I am about Russell Wilson against the Niners. But maybe I'm overreacting to one terrible, 10th-percentile game.

Houston is much better than the Ravens, and the Houston offensive line much better than Baltimore's front seven, too. But Houston has got to get the passing game and Andre Johnson going. They are not much of a threat to come back if you get up on them like the Packers did last week.

The Broncos are good because Peyton Manning is still great. He's on pace for 600 attempts and about 4,900 yards with 37 TDs and just 11 picks. So the Broncos clearly knew what they were doing, medically, as did Peyton in deciding not to retire. This is no farewell tour. He's at the top of his game.

There is no favorite right now in the AFC. That's pretty much the point of the first six weeks. One of the two teams with a winning record (the Ravens) isn't even good.

This is a fine day to be a Mets fan, with the Yankees facing elimination and having the $100 million A-Rod problem to deal with either this offseason or for the next five years. This is a now team, and now ain't happening this year.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Oct 18, 2012 at 10:09 AM
Subject: A.J. Sparano
To: Michael Salfino

I'm not worried about the Patriots at all. They're the second-best team in the AFC, after Houston (peeps who disagree, we can discuss backstage). New England dominated the important stats in the Arizona loss, and the Pats left so many points on the field last week, the city of Seattle issued a littering citation. Look at the win expectancy chart from last week. Fluke losses can't be taken that seriously. (I refuse to discuss the zebra game in Baltimore).

The matchup against the Jets comes at a perfect time. The Jets have the personnel to stop a team with 1-2 decent receiving options, a Houston or an Indianapolis (who cares about the Niners game, a 34-0 loss). The Patriots have four problem guys: Gronkowski, Welker, Hernandez and Lloyd. Cromartie can't cover everyone. Someone's getting a juicy matchup. And this Patriots team can also run the ball down your throat if you load up on defensive backs - consider the trampling of the Bills.

New England's biggest weakness is the secondary, specifically on the deep ball. This is one area where the Jets simply don't have the players to hurt the Patriots. Maybe Mark Sanchez could thrive in this situation a few years ago, but he's in an offense largely devoid of playmakers, and the team has done all it can to strip him of confidence. You can't have some players looking over their shoulder in sports: the goalie, the quarterback, the point guard. You need to empower those guys, build them up. Sanchez is the only quarterback in the league who has to look to the sidelines after every play.

I'll say this for Rex Ryan: he seems to understand underdog game theory. His theoretical decisions in the Houston game were wise: fake punt here, surprise onside kick there. That's what you do when the other guys have the talent edge. Don't try to soft shoe through the game; instead, take a swing at the bully. The Jets will do the same thing this week but too many matchups favor the Pats, and Brady/Belichick have insane numbers in the bounce-back spot. New England by 17.

Shutting down Andre Johnson, by the way, isn't a big deal anymore. He had 16 broken or missed tackles in 2008-2009, per Pro Football Focus. From 2010 to today, he has a whopping two. I'm not saying he's a stiff or someone the Texans should kick to the curb, but he's no longer even remotely close to the "best receiver in football" discussion. There's a new dominant A.J. in the world - A.J. Green. (Who I might take over Calvin Johnson right now, given the option.)

How do we explain Peyton Manning's splits, first half and second half? His rating jumps from 85.2 to 124.0 in the second half. His YPA spikes by half a yard. The TD/pick ratio is 3/4 before intermission, 11/0 afterwards. Do some quarterbacks start games too conservatively, then play better when they take the training wheels off? I feel that way about Matthew Stafford sometimes - he needs a hypnotist to convince him that it's always the fourth quarter and the Lions are down two scores.

Heck, some writers can't do their best work until the deadline waves a (theoretical) gun in their face.

This feels like a week where the Giants let everyone down: big upset win on the road, then come home and lay an egg. The six points look like a gift for the Redskins; I think they have a legitimate chance to win outright. And keep in mind Mike Shanahan somehow swept this matchup last year, despite his quarterback problem.

Cam Newton will be a key to our fantasy matchup (where you are the heavy favorite, per the stat projections). Where are you on Newton these days? I watched all of his snaps from the Seattle game and saw someone confused and inaccurate, and there are so many things I don't like about that Panthers offense. Steve Smith certainly isn't done, but you'd like your best receiver to be younger than 33. Brandon LaFell deserves more looks, but they ignore him for extended stretches.

The Panthers have all that talent in the backfield and no idea what to do with it. I also don't like too much read option; sometimes it results in late pitches the backs aren't used to or prepared for (this led to the DeAngelo Williams fumble in Week 5). Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil is done for the year.

Newton's 23rd in quarterback rating, which underscores how he's struggling this year. And yet, he's first in YPA. Talk about a crazy split. Dallas-Carolina feels like an elimination game; I picked the Panthers in the Staff Picks, but only because the number (Dallas favored on the road?) pushed me there.

Niners by six. Panthers by three. Redskins upset the Giants. Texans get past the Ravens. Salfino edges Pianow.

And A-Rod's in the National league next year, maybe the Marlins or the Dodgers. I can't see how the Yankees bring him back now.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Oct 18, 2012 at 11:06 AM
Subject: Re: A.J. Sparano
To: scott pianowski

The Patriots defense is not good again so they can be beaten if they are not sharp with their offense, as they haven't been in key moments in their losses, mainly by failing to execute in the red zone.

What's so scary about Gronkowski and Lloyd? The former is 8.3 yards per target, and the latter is 7.0. That's 40th and 63rd among receivers. Andre Johnson, who you may be right about, is 35th (8.5). And I do think Jeremy Kerley is a downfield threat (10.9 per target), plus Stephen Hill is healthy and has the physical skills to overmatch most corners if he can catch the ball. Welker is dangerous still, and I do agree with Hernandez, if he's 100 percent. But the Jets will put Cro on Hernandez and hope Kyle Wilson, who has performed well this year, can somehow contain Welker. I think the game will be contested. Call it 30-21 Patriots.

It seems odd to judge wide receivers by broken tackles. If they're working outside the numbers, they're going to go out of bounds on a lot of catches. Maybe there's something to it, but even the 16 missed tackles those two years you cite don't seem that impressive.

The passer rating with Manning in the first half is gummed up by those three early picks in Atlanta. I'm not a fan of breaking down bigger numbers into smaller ones, ever. To me, that's just looking to find what you want to find. But a little bit of a problem in Denver is that they don't want to throw early in games, running about 64 percent of the time on 1st-and-10 in the first quarters. I think they should be about 60 percent pass early, get on top of teams, and then reverse those splits in the fourth quarter. If John Fox made such a point about what his record would be if he got those 26.1 points per game Manning averaged in Indy, then you have to let Manning get those points the way he gotten them - by attacking early and often via the passing game.

Stafford's problem is that he's just an average quarterback. It's a joke to be 24th in YPA when you have Calvin Johnson on your team. Speaking of which, I think we can end the "who is the best rookie QB?" debate. Luck's YPA of 6.7 is 26th. Griffin's 8.3 is second. Only first-year starters in league history to beat that YPA in the 160-plus attempts that RGIII already has: Otto Graham, Greg Cook, Bob Waterfield, Ben Roethlisberger, Y.A. Tittle and Marc Bulger. But only Roethlisberger and Tittle were 22 that rookie year, like Griffin. The others were 1-3 years older.

There are off-field issues with Newton, who appears to need a really good sports psychologist. But his 8.5 YPA does lead the NFL as you say, so it's hard to find too much fault with his overall performance. I'll take YPA over passer rating when judging a QB because rating is heavily influenced by TD and INT rates, which are so volatile. He's averaging 14.4 yards per completion, which is a very big number though nowhere near the mid-17s by Cook and later Namath (1972). But for this era, it's pretty incredible. Dallas's secondary can be very tough though. But Newton is difficult to project because you do not know how his running ability is going to impact coverages, so I don't think Dallas's general stoutness versus the pass matters as much here.

I like the Seahawks outright, the numbers support the Redskins pick, I want to pick the Cowboys, but they make it so hard given the creative ways they consistently find to lose.