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Breakfast Table: Edge of Seventeen

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

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Send in the clowns (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 26, 2013 at 6:06 PM
Subject: boxing breakfast
To: Mark Stopa

The presents have been wrapped, unwrapped and reboxed. Let's get back on the gridiron.

It should be a fun Week 17. Most of the good teams have something to play for. Most of my fantasy leagues are completed, which makes me a little sad. I never have a problem using Week 17. It's just another puzzle to figure out.

The Chicago/Philly beatdown from Week 16 has so many spillovers. We know not to take any outlier performance, good or bad, too seriously. Philly surely can't be *that* good. Chicago, surely, can't be that bad. So how do we address them going into must-have games?

The Eagles and Packers are both favored on the road. Are the Packers doing the right thing with Aaron Rodgers? Heck, are the Bears doing the right thing playing Jay Cutler over Faustian Pact Josh McCown? And how badly are Dallas's chances compromised with Tony Romo expected out?

Those are the main courses we have to talk about. Feel free to add any side dishes you want. Can we write off Seattle's hiccup? Is there any recalibration due the Colts or Patriots? Does it bother you Arizona might miss the playoffs?

Boxing Breakfast is served.

From: mark stopa
Date: Fri, Dec 27, 2013 at 10:18 AM
Subject: Re: boxing breakfast
To: scott pianowski

Christmas may be over, but I'm still hoping Santa will bring us the right playoff teams. Rodgers and Foles? Yes, please. Jerry's World and Jay Cutler? Bah, humbug.

Presuming the games go as Vegas thinks, the NFC playoffs will have an interesting symmetry - three defense-dominated teams (Seahawks, Panthers, 49ers) and three offense-heavy squads (Saints, Packers, Eagles). But that's the rub. Week 17 never goes quite as expected, and somebody will get upset. Who's it going to be?

No Romo and no defense means no chance for Dallas. Jerry Jones better pray for a Christmas miracle. So should NBC, which has to regret flexing PHI/DAL to prime time rather than GB/CHI. Come 10:30 EST on Sunday night, I fear we'll all be lamenting that decision.

The Packers have been teetering on the edge for 2-3 weeks now. If they were going to rush Rodgers back prematurely, they'd have done it already. I'm more worried about the Packers defense (26th in QB rating, 25th in YPA) than Rodgers being rusty, particularly against the turnstile that is the Bears front seven. Eddie Lacy (or, if he's out, James Starks) is must-start material in daily formats. (Mmmm, daily fantasy. Tasty.)

Will the Saints get back on track at home? What happened to Darren Sproles? Why can't any of the Saints young receivers look decent even with a top QB like Brees? Can the Bucs pull an upset? Staying in that division, could Carolina slip up in Atlanta? The Panthers are so similar to the Niners, Atlanta can basically pull out the same game plan as last week. I like one of the NFC South favorites to lose, but don't ask me which.

Fairness would dictate the Cardinals replace the AFC's sixth seed, but who's going to watch the playoffs and say "I wish Carson Palmer were here?" I'd love to write the AFC script to include San Diego and not Miami. Is there any Jets angle this week? We can't give Miami a pass after last week, right? Won't the Bengals put the champs (still sounds weird to say that about the Ravens) out of their misery?

Bills/Pats is going down to the final possession. Quietly, the Bills defense is 1st in sacks, 2nd in QB rating and INTs, and 6th in YPA. They've beaten the Panthers, Ravens, Dolphins twice, took Cincy to OT, and lost to the Patriots on the final play. Alas, it's Brady vs Manuel, so 23-20, Pats.

Don't let me limit you to Week 17. Do you have any after-Christmas wishes? If you were Roger Goodell, would you have any New Years resolutions for the NFL?

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Dec 27, 2013 at 3:57 PM
Subject: Re: boxing breakfast
To: Mark Stopa

I'm with you in that I root for the best teams to find the playoffs. Mind you, Arizona's probably better than Philly or Green Bay, but no one wants to see Dallas in the playoffs.

Then again, the contrarian in me would love to see Week 17 be a big old mess. I'd love to see the Chiefs, not needing the game, beating San Diego. (Steve Moyer loves this week - taking the "no incentive" team over the incentive team, knowing the motivation is baked into the line. Wise man, Steve Moyer.)

Is it possible Josh McCown could be better than Jay Cutler, at least in this moment? I know that sounds ludicrous and there's nothing in McCown's history that inspires confidence, but maybe the Marc Trestman system and a decade of experience turns him into a guy you can win with. Maybe McCown knows not to try the risky throws that Cutler always will. (I grant you, McCown's career stat page lights this theory on fire.)

I'm picking the Eagles to win a close game (let's not forget they lost to Minnesota in Week 15), and I guess the shiny image of Rodgers forces me to Green Bay. That offense is delicious when all the skill guys are healthy. Seattle's loss in Week 16 might be a good thing, a recenter and refocus thing. St. Louis is a junkyard dog, but I like the Seahawks to take care of business. (A shame Seattle doesn't have Percy Harvin, the one obvious thing that offense needs.)

I know some sharp minds don't put stock in bounce-back efforts (I'm pretty sure Rufus Peabody is in that camp), but I'm buying into the history with Drew Brees. He routinely has outstanding performances after an off week, and we know what the Saints are capable of doing at home. I'll be flabbergasted if they don't get 30-plus. Any takers on that one, peeps?

I'm not bothered by the facts of life with conference alignment. You don't like it, play better. No one cried for the 11-5 Patriots missing the playoffs in 2008 (and they were destroying teams down the stretch). Don't cry for me, Arizona.

Give me all the Falcons in 2014 (just forget we had this discussion). The Patriots will struggle with the Buffalo defense, but with no quarterback, I can't see a Bills upset. (I know, they came close in Week 1, but Belichick teams routinely improve as the season goes along).

Roger Goodell should keep working on a mandatory waiver that will run the NFL in the near future. Sometime in our lifetime, an NFL contract will include signing your life and body away. I can't see how they really can make the game much safer. Athletes keep getting bigger, faster and stronger. When trains collide, bad things happen.

From: mark stopa
Date: Fri, Dec 27, 2013 at 8:57 PM
Subject: Re: boxing breakfast
To: scott pianowski

NFL executives didn't care about player safety until the lawsuits (from former players with head injuries) started pouring in. This is more proof that lawyers rule the world.

Seriously, what drives me nuts about the way flags on QBs and "defenseless receivers" are called nowadays is there's zero consistency. These are huge calls, too - any 15-yard flag with an automatic first-down is potentially a game-changer. Can you imagine a playoff game - or, gasp, the Super Bowl - being decided on such a call. Think about Donte Whitner's hit on Monday night, for instance. That didn't deserve a flag, but it looked bad, so it got called. I'm not sure I even blame the refs. The speed of the game is so fast, and these calls too significant, to not be able to review them.

Speaking of reviews, why is it so hard nowadays to distinguish a catch from an incompletion/fumble, even after replay? What is a "football move," anyway? I've watched the NFL my whole life and feel like my knowledge of this rule has decreased over time. What's the fix here?

Cutler might be mismatched with the Bears weapons. Marshall and Jeffery are so good, maybe you don't need a strong-armed risk-taker at quarterback. Play conservatively, get the ball where it needs to be, and allow the natural talent of these playmakers to take over. I'm not ready to say McCown should start, but Cutler could certainly learn a few things with how McCown played.

I wanted you to predict some upsets, so I'll choose a few. Falcons over Panthers, as Carolina's lack of offensive weaponry finally bites them. Jaguars over Colts, as Indy has little to play for and isn't very good to begin with. Rams 23, Seahawks 20, Niners become the NFC favorite. (This paragraph might sound nuts, but come Sunday, at least 2-3 things will happen that none of us saw coming. That's today's NFL, and it's a big reason why we can't ever get enough.)

It's crazy this season is over already. Like raising kids, it goes too fast.

Happy New Year, everyone.

From: scott pianowski
Subject: Re: boxing breakfast
To: Mark Stopa

You force me to pick an upset? Fine, the Cowboys. I'm not forgetting the Philly defense is a thing (a thing shredded by Matt Cassel). DeMarco Murray is a handful. I just wish I knew the Pokes would take their full swing, play like an underdog should. We both know that's not Jason Garrett's thing.
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