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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, Dec 11, 2013 at 8:02 PM
Subject: underdog breakfast
To: Mark Stopa

Today's story is going to be about underdogs. I know all about them.

In your Stopa 8k League, I'm a monumental underdog.

I don't lack for confidence in this fantasy racket, but I can't see how I'm going to get past your juggernaut. You start off with Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, I quietly counter with Eli Manning and Matt Ryan. And it gets worse from there.

Hey, you've assembled a juggernaut of a team, I credit you. I relish the challenge of trying to find a way to compete. I'm having trouble locating a workable scenario, but maybe something is out there. Is Victor Cruz back in the country yet?

Let's play underdog architect for the NFL. Right now, Denver and Seattle are overwhelming favorites to win their respective conferences. The Pats just lost Rob Gronkowski. New Orleans is a different team on the road. The Colts have 99 problems but quarterback ain't one. Carolina wasn't ready for its close up last week.

Who's the sleeping giant here? Are you still willing to throw a Hail Mary for the Packers? Does Philadelphia do anything for you? Cincinnati? Detroit?

Could you see Carolina winning at Seattle down the road? What about San Francisco?

Maybe we can go one week at a time and find some upsets this week. How can San Diego hang with Denver? If Matt Flynn has to start at Dallas, do the Packers have a chance? Baltimore's a nifty home team, but how can they win at Detroit?

The overdogs are getting enough attention. Let's find someone scrappy. Week 15 Breakfast is served.

From: Mark Stopa
Date: Wed, Dec 11, 2013 at 11:01 PM
Subject: Re: underdog breakfast
To: Scott Pianowski

With what we've seen in recent years, would any playoff outcome shock us? Flacco in 2012. Eli twice. Green Bay as a sixth seed. Wild card teams becoming Super Bowl winners seems like the norm, not the exception. What's your take here? Why can't the top seeds ever win it all? Would you take Denver or the field in the AFC? Seattle or the field in the NFC?

I thought the 2012 Ravens were a fluke/fraud, but I'm starting to see the sleeper potential in this year's version. Flacco has proven he can turn it on in the playoffs, Dennis Pitta's ability to move the chains is a great compliment to Baltimore's downfield options, and the defense has good players on all three levels with two good edge rushers.

I'd bet on Green Bay as a longshot. 50:1 looks good to me. What underdogs are you buying? Do you make futures bets? How good would the return have to be?

Sample size is part of the NFL underdog's allure. "One and done" always favors the dog. (Try comparing the opening weekend of the NCAA tourney to the first round of the NBA playoffs - no comparison.) Sample size is part of what I like about the Stopa8k format, too. We go deep - 2-QB, 2-RB, 3-WR, Flex, 2-TE in a 12-team league - which tends to reduce variance and reward better teams. What good does it do to be stacked if you start 1-QB, 2-RB, 2-WR, 1-TE and have to bench Keenan Allen? I cringe when I see "start/sit" questions of Allen vs. Jordy at this time of year.

Peyton/Brees is great, but having Peyton, Moreno and Prater is my favorite three-player combo ever. Every Broncos game is fantasy on crack. Owning the QB and RB on a great offense raises my floor, too - an underrated aspect of fantasy. (I see many owners try to start a QB and one of his WRs, but this actually lowers your floor - a fine move for a dog but the wrong move for a favorite). That said, I can't ever feel comfortable playing you. If Dalton Del Don is the best I know at drafting, you're the best at managing teams. That's why I just used my FAAB to block you from Da'Rick Rogers, Daniel Thomas and Jacob Tamme. Sorry, amigo, I'm making you dig deeper on the wire this week. Who else are you targeting? What do you do if you're a big underdog on paper in the fantasy playoffs?

The Week 15 slate is a bit of a letdown after a record-setting Week 14. Any thoughts on Kirk Cousins? What else are you watching? Give me some predictions; I'll catch you on the way back.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Sat, Dec 14, 2013 at 3:01 PM
Subject: Re: underdog breakfast
To: Mark Stopa

I'm definitely down for Seattle versus the field in the NFC. The home field is too much of a weapon. Seattle doesn't have any weaknesses, either, now that the offensive line is healing up.

It's a shame we can't ship some of the NFC contenders to the AFC, where they could rattle Denver's cage. I'd give Arizona a chance in Denver. We know Dallas almost beat them, and I think this version of Philadelphia could, too. New Orleans and Carolina have a puncher's chance against anyone.

I don't know about the Ravens. Their offensive line is a joke. Pitta's a good player but this isn't Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski. As wonderful as Flacco's run was, it required a huge error on a Hail Mary to force overtime in the first place.

Green Bay's done, and they're losing this week. No Rodgers, no shot. Even with Rodgers, I don't like their chances to win three road games.

Denver's loss to San Diego - really, it was a gutterball - opens up the AFC and fantasy semifinal matches everywhere. You didn't put up a horrible #stopa8k score Thursday (Allen spiked twice, Peyton came in only 20 percent under projection) but it was certainly the type of break I needed. You still might be the favorite, but I've got a chance. (I still think the Pats have at least one more loss in them, but I'd love to be wrong.)

As it sits, I might be starting eight non-drafted players in the match. That tells you a lot about the genesis of my team. Heck, give me your two cents. Victor Cruz or Harry Douglas? Eli Manning or Matt Cassel? (It's a two-QB league, kids). Jordan Todman over Ray Rice? (I was lucky three different owners blocked me from Tamme this week. I wanted in.) I love this sort of team generally, but in the playoffs, give me the overdog, I'll take my chances with that.

I know I have the better name (my Japanese Ice against your Got Standing? - come on, Mark). That should be worth 20 points right there. This stuff matters.

New England ekes past Miami. Dallas crushes Green Bay. Atlanta scores 30-plus against Washington. Philly struggles with Minnesota. The Seahawks pummel the Giants. Pittsburgh finds a way against Cincinnati (I still can't trust that team.)

I'd love to see Detroit lose - I love it when Jim Schwartz is mad - but Baltimore isn't the same team on the road, and Calvin Johnson is going to embarrass those silly cornerbacks.

Why are the Bears forcing Jay Cutler back into the mix? Josh McCown was in a groove and you're down a work day this week. Cleveland is no gimme. I'm stunned so many fantasy pundits call Cutler a must-play this week - I'd steer away from him unless backed into a corner. Cleveland has a good shot to win outright.

From: mark stopa
Date: Sat, Dec 14, 2013 at 4:48 PM
Subject: Re: underdog breakfast
To: scott pianowski

I faded the Ravens all of 2012 based partly on that logic (luck, fortunate to beat Denver). But we cant write it off that easily. Tyus Edney went coast-to-coast at the buzzer in the second round one year when UCLA won the title. Sometimes, that's just part of the script. Sometimes, it's just that team's year. The longer I cover sports, the more I think that's part of the job - not just identifying the best team, but figuring out whose year it is.

That's part of why I'm worried about our matchup. This was supposed to be my year, the year everything fell right. Heck, I basically lapped the league in points. But Denver fell flat, and now you're angling to beat me with Cassel, Todman and Douglas? (Those would be my choices; all have plus matchups and the season stats for Eli, Cruz and Rice don't lie). You realize a loss this week will scar me, right? That's the cold reality of "one and done," I suppose, both in fantasy and reality. The best team doesn't always win. See 1990 Bills.

You're right about the NFC's superiority. That's part of the reason Peyton chose an AFC team when he went to Denver. It's also why I'd still pick Denver over Seattle as the biggest favorite. It's a harder path coming out of the NFC - all of the good defenses are in that conference. I love Russell Wilson though. Fun stat: Wilson is completing 56 percent of his passes on throws of 20-plus yards (despite a mediocre receiving crew); nobody else is above 49 percent

I'd bet on Green Bay before Arizona. I love the Cardinals defense and some of the skill players, but you're not going to the promised land with Carson Palmer. At least Green Bay has a plausible script (Jason Garrett flubs one this week, Rodgers returns next week, the anemic Bears defense and Jim Schwartz both lose a game).

Predictions: I like several upsets this week. Ravens upset Lions due to +2 turnovers. Cutler plays well but Browns win. Steelers, too. But Stopa over Pianow. Thank you, Panthers D. Or, I should say, thank you, Geno on the road.