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Breakfast Table: Pianowski and Stopa Talk Football

Scott Pianowski

Scott Pianowski writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa has been sharing his fantasy insights for Rotowire since 2007. Mark is the 2010 and 2012 Staff Picks champion (eat your heart out, Chris Liss) and won Rotowire's 14-team Staff League II in consecutive seasons. He roots for the Bills and has season tickets on the second row, press level to the Rays.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Wed, Nov 13, 2013 at 1:55 PM
Subject: week 11 breakfast
To: Mark Stopa

Week 10 felt like a speed bump in the season. There wasn't a great game on the slate, and though a few interesting things happened on the field (as always), I don't see much we'll care about in a month or two. Okay, the Marinelli Lions can finally pop the cork. I suppose that's something.

The only potential playoff preview was Carolina's slobberknocker victory at San Francisco, a game that was difficult to watch. I felt like Vernon Davis at the end of that one, dazed and confused. No one doubts the ferocity of Carolina's defense, but why can't Cam Newton play well, for once, in one of these critical games?

Week 11 brings the noise. New England at Carolina is fascinating, a payback for all the lousy Monday games we've slogged through. Can San Francisco get off the mat and win at New Orleans, where the Saints once again look unbeatable? And then there's Denver finally giving Kansas City a test. Don't laugh, but it's pretty much a must-win for the Broncos; lose, and they're staring a No. 5 seed squarely in the face. Does the Chiefs pass rush have a chance to get to Peyton Manning?

The undercard isn't bad, either. Can backup quarterbacks keep things afloat for Chicago and Green Bay? Is there any logical explanation to Indianapolis' mess last week? Will Philadelphia ever win another home game? Where are you on this Nick Foles story? And please, tell me we won't have to watch the Jets in the AFC playoffs. Please find a way to eliminate them (a Buffalo victory would be a tidy start).

You take the first run, I'll catch up. Week 11 breakfast is served.

From: mark stopa
Date: Wed, Nov 13, 2013 at 6:30 PM
Subject: Re: week 11 breakfast
To: scott pianowski

The winning quarterbacks in Week 10 included Kellen Clemens, Christian Ponder, Chad Henne, Nick Foles, Mike Glennon and Carson Palmer. Combine that with Mark Ingram looking like a legitimate NFL running back, and my instinct is to take Week 10 and burn it. An NFL season is so short, though, we're forced to constantly re-assess. Did Ingram's performance change your view of him? What about Marques Colston and Tavon Austin - will they be higher on your next Shuffle Up? If these were simply one-week outliers, then why can't Trent Richardson ever have an outlier?

Any time a good team like the Colts gets embarrassed, I remember how Steve Young's 49ers lost 40-8 to the Eagles in 1994, yet went on to win the Super Bowl. Could Week 10 have been that game for the 2013 Colts? Robert Mathis has 13.5 of Indy's 24 sacks. Isn't that a problem? Do you like anyone on the Colts besides Luck, Hilton and Mathis? Does star-power matter?

Cam was more Clark Kent than Superman in Week 10, but with Steve Smith falling off a cliff, how many NFL teams would trade their RBs, WRs and TEs for Carolina's? Two? Three? You've made this argument to back Tom Brady, but there's no way New England would make this trade.

I'm behind Nick Foles, if only because I loathe Jason Garrett and Jerry's World. The Saints were happy to let Dallas run - they weren't going to beat Drew Brees in New Orleans that way. Have you noticed how the Saints and Chiefs - two of the NFL's best defenses - are the only two teams allowing over 5.0 YPC? In today's pass-happy NFL, that's the way to play defense - ignore the run, protect your back end.

Of course the Chiefs can get to Peyton. They lead the NFL in sacks, and everybody's making Peyton fumble this year (five lost already). Do you disagree? I think I saw you selling the Chiefs D/ST in fantasy. Unless your league is heavy on points against, isn't KC as likely to get sacks and force turnovers as anyone? Do you give the Chiefs a chance to win this week? Are you worried Jamaal Charles isn't making big plays?

I'll channel my inner Salfino and support the Jets. That defense is every bit as good as Carolina's (albeit more reckless with the blitz, exposing it to being beaten over the top - totally unnecessarily, too, with their talent in the front seven). Geno Smith can't win three or four in a row in the playoffs, but for one game, that team can beat anyone. Who would you rather see as the AFC's sixth seed? The Titans? Chargers? Browns?

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Nov 14, 2013 at 2:51 PM
Subject: Re: week 11 breakfast
To: Mark Stopa

I'm not putting much stock in the Mark Ingram performance (though I did add him, sadly, in a few deeper leagues). Dallas gives up 4.9 YPC and its two best players on the front seven are hurt. The Cowboys couldn't get on the bus fast enough Sunday night.

You're so right about rushing defense in the NFL - who really cares? I mean if you can stop everything, fine. But your first priority should always be pass defense (and making the opposing quarterback uncomfortable). Dare them to beat you with 1,000 cuts. (Maybe in 10 or 15 years, all the "run the ball, stop the run" drones will be out of the announcing booths. Let go of the Csonka Dolphins, everyone.)

The Colts were dead last in YPC allowed during their Super Bowl season, in part because Bob Sanders was hurt most of the year. He made a go of it in the playoffs (and to be fair, the rushing defense turned it around). It's odd the 2006 Colts were Peyton Manning's one championship team; it certainly wasn't the best of the Indy clubs. But you know how the NFL playoffs are these days; just get in the dance, hope for a few breaks once you're there. Eli's two titles, Joe Flacco's run, blah blah blah.

Austin's breakout game matters to me; to score three times in the manner he did brings signature significance to the equation. But then you look at Clemens and Schottenheimer, and you start talking yourself out of it. I do like Austin as a deep-league flex guy going forward if I find myself as an underdog; a hail-mary, home-run sort of play. You'd like to think he's established a target baseline for the final third of the year.

It's frustrating to watch the Colts misjudge their own talent. T.Y. Hilton was buried for a solid month or so, utterly ridiculous. I know Richardson and Donald Brown are used in different packages, but there's no tangible proof of Richardson being the better player right now. Richardson is the ghost of the NFL, the legend, the player who must be defended in anecdotes and generic plaudits because you have nothing concrete to back you up. All that said, we should acknowledge all the Indy skill players lost to injury - Bradshaw, Ballard, Wayne, Allen. That's a lot to come back from.

There's no way I go near the Chiefs defense this week for fantasy, especially in Yahoo where points allowed matter. I dropped them in a few leagues during the bye week - with absolutely no regrets. Denver has allowed the fewest defensive fantasy points against, and it's no big secret why. The Broncos score a bunch, sure, but it's also tied to Manning rarely taking sacks (13) and rarely throwing picks (six).

When I handicap fantasy defenses, I want a team likely to be playing from a lead. I want the fourth-quarter garbage game to be in my favor - an opponent that's forced to pass; sack specialists who can tee off on the pocket; cornerbacks who can jump an out route if they feel frisky. It's not a perfect angle of course (the Titans and Colts made a mess of things last week), but that's fine. Anything is possible in the NFL, but let's not confuse "possible" with "probable." Make good decisions, hope for the best.

I'll be surprised if the Patriots beat the Panthers; if it does happen, it's because Bill Belichick (especially dangerous with extra prep time) found a way to mess with Cam Newton. The Panthers have the best defense in the league by far, and this is the most important home game Carolina has seen in a while. Brady's track record against plus defenses hasn't been sharp (two stinkers against the Jets, and the mess in the Cincinnati rain). The big numbers against Pittsburgh told us more about the Steelers than the Patriots. Carolina 24, New England 16.

Quick picks: Indy gets its groove back, takes care of business Thursday night... Broncos hang 30-plus on Chiefs, roll semi-comfortably... Philly disappoints its home crowd again... Three Geno Smith turnovers sink the Jets... No one beats the Saints at home. Who are you really, Colin Kaepernick?... Giants aren't dead yet, dispatch of the replacement Packers.

Close it for us, closer.

From: mark stopa
Date: Thu, Nov 14, 2013 at 4:20 PM
Subject: Re: week 11 breakfast
To: scott pianowski

The Colts are hardly the first team to misjudge their talent. Everyone lauded the Browns for stealing a first-rounder for Trent Richardson, but what they've done in the backfield since is confounding. Why did they keep running Willis McGahee at 2.6 YPC - still are, actually - and not give Dennis Johnson (was on Browns practice squad, now a fantasy-relevant backup to Ben Tate in Houston) or Bobby Rainey (third-string in Cleveland before being cut, now a sparkplug for Tampa) a chance? It's pretty bad when the running backs you're playing are doing nothing yet two of your castoffs look useful elsewhere. Or how about the Rams, who went through 57 different backs before Zac Stacy got a chance to start? I'm mad at myself for passing on Stacy in fantasy when he was a free agent in every league. I fell into that same old trap, presuming Stacy wouldn't be good because the guys before him weren't. The coaches must know what they're doing, right? If Stacy is behind guys who stink then Stacy must stink too, right? Lesson learned.

Ingram could be useful in Week 15 against STL (anyone lined up for a Week 14 bye in fantasy needs to be looking ahead that far), but if you're in line for a bye, you likely have better options already rostered. Austin, for me, remains useless. Unless you're starting another best-ball league soon, he's not getting enough touches to rely on, and there's no way to know when he'll break one.

Colin Kaepernick has to be one of the biggest disappointments in 2013, real life and fantasy. Where are the splash plays? The jaw-dropping runs we saw in last year's playoffs? Maybe Michael Crabtree coming back will help, (not this week, though), but it's hard to be bullish there coming off such a serious injury - particularly since Crabtree's athleticism was barely adequate before the injury.

I'm much more excited for Week 11 than I was at this time last week. Give me Tolzien over Eli (what's wrong with Eli, anyway?) and a futures bet on the Packers to win it all at 40:1. Panic starts in Indy as Titans win 23-17. One team under the radar is the Cardinals, who pull even with SF at 6-4 when the Niners fall, predictably, in the Big Easy. (Why's that line only three? Aren't the Saints notably better than SF, particularly with their home field? Who has the better home field, Saints or Seahawks?) I like how the Patriots match up with Carolina more than you do, but the Panthers have much more at stake and are at home. Cam 27, Brady 23. It feels like the Chiefs are the team getting all the luck/bounces this year, and that's scary to pick against, but I have to think Peyton wins this one at home. Broncos 31-27.

Catch you in the comments, amigo.