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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
Date: Wed, Sep 18, 2013 at 12:02 PM
Subject: Week 3 Breakfast
To: scott pianowski

Jets-Patriots went down exactly like we both expected. Maybe we should agree more often. Brady is a Hall of Famer, but this is a test for what he can generate with sub-par receivers like Peyton Manning had to deal with for all of 2010.

The running games are stuck in neutral this year, but why does anyone care? When teams average under 3.5 yards per carry since 2012, they have a .501 winning percentage. When they average over 4.5, they have a .508 winning percentage. It's such a passing league.

Stats, LLC researched a Take A Number I wrote for the Journal on Eli Manning, where we were looking at his QB rating the last 12 games. While that may be an arbitrary starting point (but it is a pretty big sample), the key takeaway from me is that when a QB has an 80 passer rating or less, teams are 89-197. When the rating is 90 or more, it's 203-88. What's broken about passer rating, by the way? Not sure why ESPN trying (in vain) to replace it with a metric that focuses on "clutch." Does anyone have any evidence in any sport that clutch beyond the base rate actually exists?

I've persuaded Pro-Football-Reference to include net yards per pass attempt in their team game finder. Now, we can see what team's record above and below YPA thresholds like we can with yards per rush. Teams are 12-7 this year when they average 7.0-plus per attempt (subtracting sack yards and, yeah, I wish I simply had differential). In 2012, 7.0-plus net-YPA teams were 110-39. At 6.0 and under (average this year is 6.46), teams are 15-18 this year and were 96-181 in 2012. But again, we need simply to know whether you out-passed your opponent. I've put in the request for net-YPA margin.

As for the games, do the Eagles need to slow it down for their defense given the Chargers had the ball for 40 minutes last week? (If the defense is so bad anyway, why not play two separate units to keep both fresh at least?) We have the rare 20-point underdog and the earliest one ever, too, in the Jaguars (since 1978, according to Spreadapedia). But the games stink this week, right? Or is it me? You're not surprised I can't get excited about Colts-Niners. By Sunday Night, Luck's passer rating will be about where it was last year. To be clear, I'm not saying Luck is a bust. I just am not going all in on a breakout, mainly because he didn't get better last year. I noticed in that Eli data that his rating the last 10 weeks of 2012 and first two of this year is still below average (81). Isn't that about what it was his first six games of 2012? If he's going to get better, why isn't he? By the way, Philip Rivers his last 12 games: 23 TDs, 7 INTS.

Fantasy wise, my Yahoo! Splitsville column for this week focuses on who to flex. For most of us, it should not be running backs but rather receivers. When you get back to me, it hopefully will be posted and I'll shoot you a link.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Sep 19, 2013 at 3:05 PM
Subject: thursday i don't care about you
To: Michael Salfino

The problem with clutch in most pockets - it's incorrectly defined. Clutch isn't surpassing your level of production in the big moments, it's maintaining excellence in those spots. And I'll argue until the cows come home if we accept choking as a real thing, we have to accept clutch as a real thing, too. (And choking is definitely a real thing. Don't make me sick Johnny Miller on you.)

I used to defend running the ball somewhat five or ten years ago, under the idea that you wanted balance in your offense. You want to be more difficult to defend, but mostly you don't want to get your quarterback killed. Maybe it doesn't matter so much anymore because pocket crashing is just about illegal now. You look at the quarterback with ill intent, you're penalized 15 yards and fined. Most pocket-centered QBs can be expected to last the full season.

I'm fascinated by the Chargers and Rivers, in part because I'm fascinated by Mike McCoy. Some really fun coaching changes this year - McCoy, Trestman, Reid, Kelly of course. McCoy is the guy who turned Brandon Lloyd into a Pro Bowler, the guy who got the best out of Kyle Orton, the guy who somehow made a Tim Tebow offense workable (and he pulled off that miracle in the middle of a season, which is damn near impossible). Why can't Eddie Royal be a poor man's Wes Welker? Why can't Rivers be a Top-10 quarterback again? I'm not saying it's a sure thing to happen, but it's plausible. They really should have beaten Houston, too.

In a sense I've buried the lede because the last day has been all about the Trent Richardson deal. He's a fascinating guy to analyze because opinions are polarizing. Is he a future star locked into the wrong system? Why is the YPC so low? Would you want Mike Lombardi running your favorite NFL team? Heck, would you want Norv Turner running your 2013 offense? (I know, I was a pseudo-apologist for Turner not long ago. I regret that now. I thought he would fit nicely back in the coordinator role, but now I think he's simply outdated.)

Why are in-season deals so rare in the NFL? Are schemes really that hard to pick up in the middle of things? Are teams just spineless to take a chance? I've seen a lot of Cleveland weeping from the Richardson deal, but isn't it possible they know more than anyone that he's not that good? Or are the Colts going to unwrap some potential that Cleveland couldn't?

The Steelers and Bears are interesting on Sunday night, I guess (though I hate it when teams get consecutive stand-alone games). The Chiefs and Eagles pique my interest, but the Thursday stench is in the air. Can we say with any confidence Thursday football is a bad idea? Why can't the league fix the schedule so that most teams only see a Thursday game after their bye week? With injuries and game plans, it seems ridiculous to ask teams to play on this short a turnaround.

Then again, I've never heard one complaint about Thanksgiving football - the presence of it and the quality of it. So maybe my concerns are misguided.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Sep 19, 2013 at 5:08 PM
Subject: Re: thursday i don't care about you
To: scott pianowski

Miss the Cure and miss the '80s even more. Well said regarding clutch. You can't exceed your base rate when a clutch performer and have it somehow become more meaningful than your base rate. I call this the Jack Morris Rule. Or maybe for football it's the Tim Tebow Rule. (May soon be the Andrew Luck rule.)

I don't remember you defending the running game much, ever, quite frankly. Just a little pushback at me when I go overboard, which is known to happen. And that 10 years ago would have been here, with me, right? But I guess that brings us back to Richardson. It was kismet that I spent so much of the opener demeaning the running game. The Browns clearly agree running backs are really only important in fantasy. Or maybe the kismet was last week here and on Sunday in the Scouting Notebook when I demeaned Richardson. I think Lombardi did follow me once on Twitter. Hmm...

Pretty cool how the Browns and Vikings are playing each other Sunday. One team built around the great running back and another looking at that future as a best-case scenario and thinking, "No thank you." Not that Richardson can remotely ever be AP. I took him apart on Twitter last week and this week with the help of the coaches film. I see an a runner with poor vision and an unwillingness to hit the line of scrimmage. I like moves in space after you break through the line, not before.

I also love how people are poo-pooing the trade for the Browns by saying the pick is going to be in the 20s like the Colts are guaranteed to make the playoffs. Didn't they barely beat the Raiders and just lose to the Dolphins at home? Now, they're guaranteed to lose this week in SF. That's 1-2. Then I give them near certain losses at home against the Seahawks and Broncos and at the Texans and at the Bengals. That's six losses. At Chargers, at Titans, at Cardinals and at Chiefs are toss-ups. Let's give them 2-2 there. Now we're 8-8 with a swing game at home against the Texans. So 7-9 for Indy is far from a stretch. Massey-Peabody this week has them ranked 25th. Today. Behind Arizona.

Regarding Norv, yeah, the Peter Principle coordinator is supposed to be good at coaching that side of the ball as head coach. Norv last year wasn't good with the Chargers' offense by any measure. So that worried me. I'm with you on McCoy. And why not with Royal? That's the question you have to be asking yourself when one of these guys pops. What's the difference, skill wise, between the good receiver and the average one? Way less than we think. These are "how many angels can dance on a head of a pin" questions. Almost impossible to quantify and certainly not too much for coaching and environment to overcome.

So agree with you on the back-to-back national television teams. This is such a simple fix. Stop doing this, NFL! But the Steelers-Bears being interesting? Why? To see if the Steelers can go 0-3? I respect Tomlin, but this brings us full circle back to the running game. The Steelers had the perfect passing game coordinator in Bruce Arians and got rid of him for Todd Haley. That's insane. Can you imagine a team stripping Peyton of his coordinator? Roethlisberger doesn't get enough respect as a player. He didn't like that move away from Arians then, and I bet he hates it now. The entire passing game for the Steelers seems like an afterthought. Where are the impact receivers? They have a bunch of slot guys on that team now and no serious perimeter weapon, no hybrid tight-end, not a single matchup headache for a defense. It's a joke.

I guess everyone is fading the Thursday games even in fantasy because they've been low-scoring. But the average score is over 44 on Thursday since 2010, says Spreadapedia. Maybe it was that Thursday night game last year when the Falcons and Saints shorted the O/U by about 22 points. I don't think the Eagles will be slowed down and, in fact, I think the short week rewards the team that is more unique in their scheme, as the Eagles clearly are. But we'll know soon enough.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Sep 19, 2013 at 5:30 PM
Subject: Re: thursday i don't care about you
To: Michael Salfino

I ran a Spreadapedia search last year that showed an under trend for Thursday games off short rest, dating back to 1978 (when the database opens). It wasn't monumental, but it was enough for me to buy in. I still buy in. But I don't necessarily care if a game is low-scoring, I just want quality football. The Thursday games too often have been just about unwatchable, and I don't think it's a coincidence.

Mind you, I wouldn't consider any of this strongly for a fantasy decision - it's a possible tie-breaker, but that's about it.

Maybe teams are starting to accept the fungible nature of running backs. No backs were taken in the first round of 2013's draft, the first time that's happened in the modern era. The hit rate was mediocre all through the 2000s - for every Adrian Peterson, there are a ton of William Greens and Donald Browns and Beanie Wellses. Granted, I might be framing it the wrong way. It's difficult to hit on any position. The Ryan Leafs and Tony Mandariches happen, too.

I love trading for someone else's first round pick if you see downside with the club. There's a certain vanity when teams trade away a first-rounder, the idea that it probably won't be an early pick because we're going places, baby. That trims down the cost. The Colts have enough ego to assume a playoff appearance, but they're 2-3 bad things away from 6-10, like most teams are. And with the new rookie contract structure, picking early is more advantageous than it used to be.

I hate to oversimplify it, but Roethlisberger and Tomlin make the Steelers watchable to me, no matter the rest of the roster. Big Ben was overrated when he first came in (they didn't ask him to carry the offense right away), and he might be underrated now. The Godzilla act is a little ridiculous. There's no one quite like him, and that's a big statement in the NFL. Heath Miller isn't Kellen Winslow 1980, but his return will help. And I like to see how a desperate team responds when backed into a corner (you too, Giants).

I wish the Jags had Tebow, just for the circus of it. He can't be any worse than Blaine Gabbert.

Predictions. Steelers cobble together a win. Patriots blow out Tampa Bay (love Brady in rebound games, and with extra rest/prep time), Schiano offers to fight everyone in section 215. Eli finally plays a clean game, Giants finally win. Houston runs out of luck, falls to Baltimore.

Minnesota defense scores against Cleveland. Good luck to you, Brian Hoyer.