Roto Arcade

Breakfast Table: The Class of 2012

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

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Where is Nick Foles on your keeper sheet? (USAT)

Two guys talking about football, long form. You might enjoy it. You might prefer to be mauled by polar bears. The choice is up to you.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Dec 5, 2013 at 7:23 AM
Subject: hometown bias breakfast
To: Mark Stopa

We'll use the extra time this week, afforded to us by Houston and Jacksonville meeting up Thursday night. No one sees Keenum-Henne as a showdown for the ages. At least both teams are ready to dive into a rich quarterback draft of 2014.

The sophomore quarterback class, the 2012 group, sure got interesting in a hurry. Russell Wilson seems head and shoulders above the group for now, but it's tricky to sort through everyone else. If you're starting a team from scratch, how would you rank Wilson, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Nick Foles and Ryan Tannehill? The three middle names are the biggest conundrums of the moment.

And just for fun, throw Cam Newton (2011) in that mix. He's such a difficult player to evaluate. Newton's become a trendy part of the MVP Race (well, the race to finish second to Peyton Manning, a shoo-in), but who's kidding whom? Newton ranks 18th in passing yards (normally you steer away from gross yardage stats but this makes a point), 16th in QB rating, and 18th in YPA. I know, Newton is a nifty scrambler and makes some highlight plays, sure. But Carolina, despite an elite defense, is just 14th in scoring. What's the big deal with Newton?

Carolina No. 1 gets his big chance to make a point this week, headed to whatever they're calling The Superdome these days. I initially grabbed Carolina and the spot in the Rotowire Staff Picks, but I'd probably change that if making my selections now. New Orleans is that different a team in that building, on that carpet, on both sides of the ball. And as bad as the Saints looked Monday at Seattle, that's the sort of outlier performance that's easy to throw out.

Mind you, I do buy into Seattle being just about unbeatable at home. Oddly, the two teams that came closest this year were quarterbacked by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Mike Glennon. Perhaps it speaks to how teams can play down to competition level, here and there. But Wilson has never lost a home game in his career, and there have been too many thrashings of good opponents.

Which NFC contender has the best chance to win at Seattle? I realize we have to consider potential rematches carefully - we all remember the Ravens flip-flop last year with Denver, or what the Pats and Jets did in 2009/2010 (Pats roll on National TV, Jets exact revenge in January). The Saints, Panthers and Niners all have an earlier loss to Seattle, and they'll learn something from it. And then we have the grudge match Sunday at San Francisco.

Wilson's last visit by the bay was an ugly 13-6 loss last October, but we're probably chucking that in the trash. Wilson wasn't unleashed yet, wasn't fully thrown into the offense. Alex Smith was still the Niners quarterback. Sometimes 14 months in the NFL feels like five years.

The NFC has all the action this week, as usual (Detroit at Philly is another good one). I can't even find an interesting AFC game. Let's get this party started. December is a wonderful time to be a football fan, real and fake.

From: Mark Stopa
Date: Thu, Dec 5, 2013 at 11:03 AM
Subject: Re: hometown bias breakfast
To: Scott Pianowski

I was all set to start defending Andrew Luck based on his inferior supporting cast, but aren't all of these young QBs in that same boat? Luck has nothing beyond TY Hilton and league-average Coby Fleener. Cam is using castoff Ted Ginn and an over-the-hill Steve Smith. Riley Cooper was nothing before Foles crashed the party, and alligator-arms DeSean Jackson is just a slightly better version of Hilton. Wilson's WRs are mediocre at best.

With all of the freak WRs in today's NFL (Calvin, Dez, Demaryius, AJ Green, Josh Gordon, Alshon Jeffery, Andre Johnson, perhaps a few others), isn't it odd how none of them play with any of these young QBs? Even if we expand the conversation to include tight ends, and throw Colin Kaepernick into the mix (2011 draftee, but didn't play in Year 1), we could call Vernon Davis a freak, but that's it, really. Except for a few of the running backs, is there anyone on these supporting casts who you'd point to and say "I want him"?

Lest we doubt the impact of supporting cast, look at Tom Brady's 2013 game log. It's not hard to tell when Gronk came back or, an underrated part of Brady's bounce-back, the games Shane Vereen played. Can we agree the 2011 and 2012 QBs all have roughly equal supporting casts? If so, I'll confidently put Wilson and Tannehill are in their own tiers at the top and bottom, respectively, and Cam, Foles, Luck, Kaepernick, and Griffin in the middle, in that order.

Criticize the stats if you must, but Cam is the NFL's most unstoppable force in short yardage. He's the perfect fit for a good defensive team and a coach who realizes the benefits of keeping kickers on the bench. Keep moving the chains, mix in a big play every so often, avoid dumb mistakes, and win games 24-17. 2013 Cam knows every play need not be an ESPN highlight, and Carolina is better off for it.

Will Griffin's production ever match his hype? Do you throw out his 2013 season as the "first-year post-ACL"? Washington fans sure hope so, as Griffin looks like a right-handed Michael Vick to me.

Kaepernick's value can change wildly in the next month, starting this week. Will the Niners beat Seattle away from the 12th man?

The Saints role players remind me of those on an NBA team in the playoffs. At home, they're raining threes and making hustle plays, staking the home team to a 2-0 series lead. On the road, they're bricking everything and committing silly fouls and suddenly the series is tied 2-2. What's up with Darren Sproles (78 total yards last three games)? Is he on that Steve Smith cliff?

Make sure you enjoy this month, folks. The NFL in December is like parents say about kids growing up - the time goes by too fast.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Dec 6, 2013 at 1:44 PM
Subject: Re: hometown bias breakfast
To: Mark Stopa

One of the most frustrating parts of football debate is the assignment of credit and blame. Obviously it's a team-dependent game and it's very difficult to separate how much context matters to anyone. Contrast this to an individual sport like baseball; if the shortstop can't hit, it's not the right-fielder's fault.

I like to think Jerry Rice is the most valuable wideout ever and no one's especially close (I'm not putting Megatron there yet), but some will point to Walsh or Montana or Young or the other good players in San Francisco, take Rice down a notch. That's fine. There's no winning these things, more often than not.

How much of Wilson's success is the brilliant play calling of Darrell Bevell? Don't get me wrong - I'd like Wilson anywhere, with anyone. But when Bevell figured out how to work the yo-yo in the middle of 2012, this offense took off. The first weapon any quarterback needs is the right coach (San Diego fans nod in approval).

How many coaches could pull off the Marc Trestman/Josh McCown miracle? I'm not a fan of some recent Trestman in-game decisions - you never settle for a 47-yard game-winning kick, even indoors - but I still see him as a home run for Chicago. I expect them to dispatch Dallas on Monday, by the way.

So, the 2012 redraft with Cam mixed in . . . put me down for Wilson, Luck, Newton, Foles, Kaepernick, Griffin, Tannehill. Like you, I'm dug in on the first and last guy. The rest of it is a mess; ask me this question every couple of weeks and I'm sure I'll have fluctuations. I still think Luck is a special talent getting creamed by a no-help surroundings. Foles is the trickiest call, as he's hardly played - teams will have different stuff for him next year. And as crazy as it seems, I don't think Chip Kelly's maiden voyage is getting enough credit.

On the field, I'm picking San Francisco to beat Seattle - this week, anyway. The Niners are more desperate for a win, and it's a grudge match of sorts after the two recent beat-downs. Crabtree might not be 100 percent yet, but he's so much better than the support wideouts who were trashing this offense. Vernon Davis is a matchup problem for everyone. The Niners get an extra day of preparation, too. And it's hard to expect Seattle to be fully engaged for this one after Monday's emotional high.

New Orleans is a very difficult place for any opponent, especially in a prime time setup. Brees enjoys a rating jump of 34 points at home this year (to 122.7); he also has a 9.0 YPA and a 19/3 split on the bayou. No one has a good way to cover Jimmy Graham, and the Saints also throw the ball horizontally as well as anyone (Thomas never gets enough credit, though I agree Sproles is a step slower). Saints by seven.

I guess the AFC offers us Colts-Bengals, but I'm convinced Indy is going nowhere come January. Maybe the Bengals can be last year's Ravens - a quarterback no one likes, sparked by a team that is air-tight in most other areas. It's a sound defense and a very good tackling unit. No one likes Marvin Lewis in a tough spot, but we'll worry about that down the road. Cincinnati's winning here.

Detroit's physical style of play should travel well, and while I like Foles, he can't stay spotless forever. Any interception rate that low (or nonexistent) has fortune riding shotgun. Take the Lions. And speaking of upsets, I give the Rams and Giants a decent chance to win this week.

Take us home, Stopes.

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A couple of 2004 grads (USAT)

From: Mark Stopa
Date: Fri, Dec 6, 2013 at 9:17 PM
Subject: Re: hometown bias breakfast
To: Scott Pianowski

I've enjoyed your debates with Mike Salfino about how Belichick would be viewed if he didn't have Brady all these years. Part of what makes those debates fun yet maddening at the same time is there's no way to know, so nobody can be right or wrong. Would Troy Aikman have been a Hall of Famer on a different team? What if Moss or Owens had the quarterbacks Rice did his whole career?

I fear the arguments about the 2012 draft class won't get easier over time. With Eli and Rivers squaring off in San Diego this week, let's look at that '04 class (Eli, Rivers, and Ben). Who's been the best quarterback up to this point? Who would you want from this point forward? Is it possible to answer either of those questions "Rivers, Ben, Eli" when Eli has two Super Bowl MVPs?

You're backing Jim Schwartz in a close matchup? And calling Foles lucky? I'll go to the mat with you here.

The Lions are the ones upon whom fortune has been smiling. If not for Aaron Rodgers' fluke injury, would we even be talking about Detroit in Week 14? They're going to win the NFC North purely by default. Imagine we were heading into the Wild Card round this weekend and the Lions were facing the Eagles. (We might see this matchup again, actually.) Other than Calvin, is there anything you'd trust about Detroit?

Foles has been fortunate to have zero picks, certainly. But even if his TD:INT ratio was 19:4 instead of 19:0, he'd still be a guy stretching defenses - a 9.1 YPA is absurd with this sample size, perhaps even moreso than the 19:0 ratio - avoiding sacks, and winning games. Sacks themselves are overrated, but when studying QB play, they tell us who has pocket awareness and who shares genetic material with Brandon Weeden. (Tannehill, for instance, has taken 45 sacks, six more than anyone else - a big reason we both put him firmly in last). Anyway, Philly wins this week and Chip Kelly enters Coach of the Year discussions.

I'm with you in fading the Colts, both this week and the playoffs. If this were really the Bengals year, though, would Geno Atkins and Leon Hall have suffered season-ending injuries? I suppose I can see the comparison to the 2012 Ravens, but at least they had some history of success in the playoffs in years prior. For me, the AFC looks scripted for Brady vs. Manning in the AFC title game. Maybe this is the year where one finally separates himself from the other.

Quick-hitters: Bengals over Indy by 20. Niners by double-digits as Seahawks exhale. Panthers pull out a close one in the Big Easy; panic begins for the Saints. Cowboys over Bears. Packers win, stay alive, Rodgers comes back next week. That's me - ever the optimist about such things.

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