Backstage Pass (USP)
For the last decade or so, Michael Salfino and Scott Pianowski have been putting together an email exchange centered around (but not limited to) the NFL. You might enjoy listening to them haggle. You might prefer a swift kick into the stomach. The Table isn't for everyone; we hope some of you enjoy it.
From: Michael Salfino
Date: Tue, Dec 4, 2012 at 10:56 PM
Subject: Week 14 Breakfast
To: scott pianowski
We have a new division in the AFC, the playoff division. The Texans lead it. The Patriots, Broncos and Ravens want to win it. New England gets a crack at the leader this week.
The other divisions in the AFC are decided unless you believe the Colts are going to beat the Texans twice. I guess we can believe anything about the Colts now. How does a team with those kinds of numbers in the key categories pull off a 8-4 record to date? Andrew Luck isn't even the second best rookie quarterback, no matter what Sports Illustrated tells us with their cover stories. And Stillwater deserved the cover over Luck, by a mile. Luck isn't even Jeff Beebe to RGIII's Russell Hammond.
What is up with Giants not winning games they do not absolutely have to win? I don't think there have been many more volatile teams than Big Blue, including last year. Their highs are high and their lows so low. Monday night wasn't even really that low, though to be honest Washington should have just run them out of the building (especially when they mysteriously attempted to "establish the run").
Now, it's must wins for them. The NFC North is interesting too. And that's it. There's not even that much of a battle for seeding in the NFC, since the Falcons and 49ers seem to have the top 2 seeds wrapped up and after that, who cares (as long as you win the division).
So we have a month of dancing for positioning. And teams so often do not play with the urgency we would expect when playing for mere seeding. I think the Patriots will and the Broncos, too. Manning and Brady will get the team to understand how important this is. But the Ravens and Texans may disappoint, starting this week.
What else is on your mind this week? The Jets QB controversy? Bob Costas vs. the NRA? Jon Gruden maybe getting out of the broadcast booth, where you hate him so much? Week 14 Breakfast is served.
From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Dec 6, 2012 at 1:09 PM
To: Michael Salfino
If I ran the networks, I'd find a way to get as many Washington, Indianapolis and Seattle games on the screen as possible. The Seahawks by my count have played eight memorable and exciting games this year, and that's not counting the intentional safety game at San Francisco. Robert Griffin's snaps are the first thing I watch every Monday (this week, Tuesday), though I have no fake-football stake in him. It's amazing how much better that passing game looks now that Pierre Garcon is healthy again.
The Colts will be unmasked in the playoffs, but that doesn't make them any less fun.
I hope the Redskins beat (actually, annihilate) the Ravens. I can't deny it, Baltimore annoys me. Or maybe it's the way the Flacco apologists defend their man. You try not to take too much from any one result, but losing a home game to the Batch-led Steelers is embarrassing. You can build a case for the AFC's best team being Houston, New England or Denver, but if you try to pick Ravens propaganda, I'm tuning out. A healthy Pittsburgh looks like more of an AFC threat, for January anyway.
Lester Bangs (W. Miller)Almost Famous is timeless and rewatchable for so many reasons. The casting is impeccable. Jason Lee could not be any better. It's one of Philip Seymour Hoffman's best roles, a big statement given he's the finest actor working today. The lesser two members of the band aren't developed or important, but you can say that about a lot of bands.
Does the Texans-Patriots game mean much? New England's chances at the No. 1 seed still look remote even with a win here. Should the teams empty the playbook to win? Maybe you just do the best you can with what's in front of you and don't look ahead.
I'm not really worried about the Giants. They answered the call against Green Bay last week. Washington is just a bad matchup for almost anyone, especially on a Monday in DC. New York's going to leave a pound of flesh on the stage and wax New Orleans, burying that ghost once and forever. But I'd feel better about that prediction if I knew Hakeem Nicks were healthy.
The problem with Gruden in the booth is that he glorifies 99 percent of the players he comes across. Everyone can't be incendiary, bro. You get the idea he works on his resume during the TV timeouts. I'll be shocked if Gruden doesn't return to a sideline eventually.
Tonight's Denver-Oakland soiree might be completely unwatchable. Maybe I'll watch old 70s NFL tapes instead (was John Madden on the No More Airplanes crew in 1974?). Did you see the Earl Campbell documentary? Tremendous story, sad and scary and uplifting all at the same time, and the highlight clips are amazing. Peter King is on quaaludes when he mentions Campbell and Jerome Bettis in the same sentence. I don't think Jim Brown was lying when he said Campbell was the best running back of all time - behind Jim Brown. (Not saying I agree, I just think Brown meant it. This is going off peak, of course - Campbell's career came and went so quickly.)
Write what you want.
From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Dec 6, 2012 at 2:25 PM
Subject: Re: untitled
To: scott pianowski
Only Russell Hammond is incendiary. Well, and Greg McElroy, too -- best debut since "My Aim is True." It wasn't the quantity of the 20 passing yards, it was the quality. I can't believe that Rex is going back to Sanchez instead of riding the Brady 2.0 wave. Free McElroy!
I wonder what Peyton's record is when teams have four days to prepare for him? Checking Spreadapedia, Peyton has never lost on short rest. He lost a Thursday Kick-Off Classic but that doesn't fit the model. He also beat the Saints badly in another one that we won't count. So that's 6-0 and the only failed to cover once, in his last try for the Colts in 2010 against the Titans. He's averaged 35 points. So, yeah, I'd say that's pretty much confirmed. Of course, the Raiders are terrible anyway. But this game is going to be a complete massacre, I will almost guarantee it. Let's call it 41-10, Denver.
As for the current Colts, I'd rather have a team in the playoffs that I do not expect to be exposed. What's the fun of sitting around with nothing else to watch while witnessing the clock striking midnight for some Cinderella?
We are in 100% agreement with the Ravens. I don't even understand why they rub me the wrong way to the degree they do. Maybe it's because they seem to built around the type of game that dominated the 1970s -- stop the run, run the ball, deep passing. Contrast that to the Redskins with their inventive formations that maximize the unique skills of RGIII and the Ravens seem even more antediluvian. So give me the Teslas over the Ford Fairmonts, who won't even know what hit them, 30-20.
Grace under pressure (USP)I got a really good feeling about the Steelers last week with the whole team chemistry over Charlie Batch's win and his surprisingly effective performance. And that's after bashing the Steelers for not having a better option. This doesn't mean I was wrong in that but it does mean, I think, that there is some really positive intangibles working in favor of Mike Tomlin and company. Given the weekend we had last week, the sort of cinematic way that the Steelers-Ravens played out was quite welcome.
I disagree about the Texans and Patriots. A loss leaves Houston clinging to a half-game lead, with the Patriots holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Broncos travel to Baltimore in Week 15 having already lost to the Patriots and Texans. And the Ravens break all ties with Tom Brady courtesy of a September victory in Baltimore. Maybe you assume the Patriots will lose to the 49ers but I think this is a very winnable game for the Pats given that Kaepernick seems to struggle to create points when you take away the big passes. Let him run and matriculate the ball downfield.
Good point about the Giants but why didn't they make the Redskins pay for their bad pass defense, especially in the second half. Sometimes the Giants, and I know this directly from the coaches' mouths, really want to dominate the line of scrimmage and that's not their game. I'm also worried about Big Blue with David Diehl at right tackle now. The Giants average about two yards less per pass with him on the field than with Sean Locklear, out for the year with a bad knee.
The Packers game against the Saints was an anomaly because they rarely dominate at home. And Brees just tears the Giants and Coughlin apart -- 79-122-1,055-11-0 for a 122.1 rating. Of course, Rodgers ripped them apart too (sans postseason) prior to the last game and that didn't matter. But I think this is about the time of year where everyone but Giants fans give up on the team, as will happen when they get passed out of their own building on Sunday, 34-21.
Loved Campbell and I can see Brown really liking him. But I can't put him in the next-best-ever category even if we look only at peaks. The conversation begins and ends with Brown, any way you slice it. But if you're talking poetry in motion and versatility, I think you next have to go with Gale Sayers, but maybe that's because I only saw highlights. Scout his highlights even compared to Barry Sanders, I think you have to give Sayers the edge (Sanders was of little use in the passing game). And, yeah, I cry every time I see Brian's Song, still. Sales to me is really the Sandy Koufax of football. The move at 1:40 of the video against the Packers on the sideline is probably the best I have ever seen, when you factor in result and efficiency and the fact that he had the boundary to contend with.
From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Dec 6, 2012 at 5:49 PM
Subject: there is no morocco
To: Michael Salfino
Flacco isn't even good enough to make it to the cover of SI. How could you even pitch it? Okay, it's a think piece about a mid-level quarterback struggling with is own limitations in the harsh face of stardom. Seems like it's been done.
I'd see your Colts argument if they were in the NFC and keeping out a dangerous team. But the AFC only has seven teams with winning records. The NFC has been the deeper conference all year, though quietly the AFC has probably assembled a better batch of contenders. If I had to pick a blind Super Bowl winner right now based on conference, I'd take the AFC. I've seen the future and this all turns out reasonably well.
The Steelers win last week speaks to Tomlin's abilities, too. He's easily one of the best five coaches in the game today, maybe Top 3. The best pilots know when to be smart and when to be fiery. On the flip side, some coaches get the ratio messed up (looking at you, Jim Schwartz) and some coaches don't have both sides of the equation filled (Norv Turner comes to mind).
Nicks missed practice Thursday with a sore knee, so I guess he's not 100 percent after all. Early in the season it seemed like Eli could make things work with almost anyone on the flank, but that hasn't been the case for a while. This is a game where the spreadsheets have an interesting disagreement; Massey-Peabody ranks the Saints over the Giants, but Football Outsiders has Big Blue much higher. I like Tom Coughlin's track record in this type of spot; I can't invent a reason to trust Joe Vitt. When have the Saints been a team that's traveled well? Giants by 10.
It's hard for me to carry a strong opinion on anyone who played before the merger. I at least witnessed some of the 70s and had ample time to study it. That said, the case for Jim Brown atop the running back board is so obvious, it really doesn't need any discussion (I think Jerry Rice is just as much a slam dunk at wide receiver; I know you don't agree).
Mile-High Salute (SI Vault)If you only go with the post-merger crowd, I see Terrell Davis as the Koufax. He was Offensive Player of the Year twice, a league MVP once, a Super Bowl MVP, a two-time champion on an offense built around him. Davis was the lead singer then, Elway (who I worshiped) the guitarist with mystique. You can even argue that TD deserved the 1995 Rookie of the Year trophy that Curtis Martin has; the gross stats point to Martin, the efficiency ones nod to Davis. Had Davis not missed two games, he's probably the guy.
(Why is it called the Curse of 370, kids? Look at what Davis did in 1997 and 1998. Fun with arbitrary endpoints. Thanks, fact-checker.)
Davis isn't even getting to the finalist stage in the Hall of Fame anymore, so he's done. He's never getting in. But I get the idea someone like Bettis is eventually going to cruise in, someone who was never anywhere close to an MVP or OPOTY discussion. Of course Bettis had a better narrative, and a better nickname, and the longevity should count for something. He wouldn't be the worst player to make it.
But you build Hall of Fames for Nirvana, not Huey Lewis and the News. I want something that resonates.
That you can print.