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Breakfast Table: Ghost to the Post

Scott Pianowski
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Easy Reider (USP)

On a weekly basis during the football season, old friends Michael Salfino and Scott Pianowski discuss (and argue about) football and a series of other random topics. You might enjoy the exchange. You might prefer to be mauled by polar bears. The choice is up to you.

With that impassioned sell job out of the way, we move forward.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Wed, Oct 24, 2012 at 10:35 AM
Subject: Week 8 Breakfast
To: scott pianowski

Jets-Patriots and Salfino-Pianowski in the Stopa League both went down to the wire and we both won one and lost one.

I don't know if I'm less impressed with my winning fantasy team or your winning Patriots. But someone has to win the AFC, right? The Patriots are doing really well in point differential but not so good in YPA differential. And from 2009-2011, 47 teams allowed more yards per pass attempt than they gained and you know how many had winning records? Three. All the plus-YPA teams averaged 10.1 wins. All the minus-YPA teams averaged 10.2 losses. There's one chronic outlier that we'll get into later. Heck, I'll just say it now -- the 6-0 Falcons are negative-YPA, too (but it's early).

I don't care who yells at me in the comments this week: The Ravens MAYBE are an average team. That's being kind. The Texans look the best on paper now, but I like another team to come out of the AFC. Who do you think it will be?

Man, the Bears defense looked nasty again on Monday night. Or are the Lions just terrible? There's one unbeaten team in football and I like four teams better than them right now in their own conference. And are we underrating the Saints? The defense is terrible but that offense is top shelf. I wouldn't want to play them, especially if I'm Chicago. I have it more or less confirmed that the 60/40 model in weighting offense vs. defense is pretty much spot on, according to all the data. Offense controls outcomes. The great offensive team will play closer to form than the great defensive team when the two teams meet. And vice-versa for the bad defensive team versus the bad offensive team (witness the Cardinals a couple of weeks ago against the Bills). What I'm trying to say is, Do you trust Jay Cutler or Alex Smith or do you not think it matters because these defenses are so super that they can dictate to offenses?

Week 8 Breakfast is served.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Oct 25, 2012 at 9:00 AM
Subject: panda wok
To: Michael Salfino

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Buffalo Stance (USP)

It was nice of Chris Johnson to screw me for one final time this season (with some help from The Phantom Tollbooth, Buffalo's front seven). Johnson's RB scoring rank per week: 33rd, 54th, 53rd, 10th, 69th, 15th, 1st. And obviously it could have been worse, with Jamie Harper vulturing two short touchdowns. So it goes. You outcoached me, Jersey.

(Sell high, gamers. Mario Williams isn't walking through that door again.)

The Patriots were outplayed and lucky to win - and of course the talking heads don't know how to digest it. Mike Greenberg introduced a New England segment by critiquing the offense and that's just silly. Oh, the Patriots certainly need more splash plays on offense - Brandon Lloyd has been close to a bust - but come on, man, this team still leads the league in scoring. When Tom Brady had to matriculate the ball down the field in crunch time Sunday, it wasn't a problem.

Obviously New England's secondary has been terrible and fixing that (or at least improving that) is priority one. I'll be surprised if the unit doesn't improve, for a few reasons: the Patriots have one of the youngest teams in the league, the bye week is still to come, and when you trust a coaching staff, you trust problem areas will get addressed and remedied to some extent. The Pats are still a flawed team until further notice, but you can say that about every non-Houston team in the AFC.

There's one other Belichick angle to consider: his teams routinely allow less points than the yardage stats suggest they should. This has been very consistent for a decade. Let's see where this unit is a month from now, or two months from now.

Atlanta's first loss probably comes this week, right? Andy Reid is the master of the bye week (13-0 SU, 10-3 ATS) and the Falcons are the 6-0 team no one trusts. The Eagles defense can't be any worse now that Juan Castillo is mercifully gone - heck, the team's improvement might come simply because a scapegoat has been identified and dispatched of. While the Falcons are rested, too, Matt Ryan's game has never fully translated on the road.

The Redskins-Giants game was interesting - Eli and Victor bailed out Big Blue, but the result was digested as an RG3 win. I'm stunned the Redskins are getting 4 or 5 points in Pittsburgh this week - what have the Steelers proven? I'll have that game on a dedicated set, looking forward to the weekly Godzilla bit from Ben Roethisberger (maybe the most underrated star player in the league).

New Orleans is one of those teams that can beat anyone, anywhere, on the right day, but you have no staying power when your defense is that bad. They're going to be a fun 7-9 or 8-8 team. At least Mark Ingram is finally getting phased out of the offense - the Saints offense is predictable only when Ingram is on the field.

Speaking of predictable, how about that Greg Schiano garbage at the goal line last week? Keep coaching like it's 1972, captain. Keep loading up the point of attack, keep eliminating rushing lanes, keep talking yourself into LeGarrette Blount, power back. Why can't coaches see that goal-line success is all about quickness and spacing? Why don't some teams want to force the defense to defend the entire field?

I'm with you on every lukewarm Baltimore thought, but I'll give the Ravens the week off, given the bye. We can look into The Cask of Amontillado next week.

The Niners ruled the defensive world last year, this year it's the Bears. Nice story, nasty story. But when you're building your juggernaut, kids, get offensive pieces. One of the NFL's hidden secrets is that offensive carries more year-to-year continuity; defense brings far more variance to the equation.

I better ship this before the Panda homers again.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Oct 25, 2012 at 11:59 AM
Subject: Re: panda wok
To: scott pianowski

What's wrong with 10th, 15th and 1st for Johnson three of the last four weeks? We know he's boom or bust. But the boom is that he wins a game singlehandedly for you. I would not be selling now, not with the Colts up on Sunday. But if you own Johnson, you have to just accept that he's going to have terrible games when he randomly gets stuffed a lot early, because he is not likely to get the volume he probably needs to make up for that given the Titans struggles. Talking about him like he's a stiff is unfair. He's at 4.5 per carry now, 4.7 for his career and has never been below 4.0 in a season. I know you can say this year that's all the Buffalo game but that's also just where the really big run happened to come. And he got some chunk runs against the Texans, too -- and they are not slouches.

I'm shocked that you think the Patriots are going to figure out how to play pass defense when they haven't done that in what seems to be forever. I guess hope springs eternal. You've hit rock bottom when you're eviscerated by Mark Sanchez and the Jets wide receivers. And I do criticize the Patriots offense. They've moved away from the pass and thus don't pass that well anymore. The Jets did them a favor by just sitting back in zone when Brady can't beat you deep anyway. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez both look gimpy to me. I agree with you about Lloyd. Wes Welker isn't going to ever blow up your defense. Where is the danger here? Brady's 7.4 yards per attempt is his lowest since 2006. This is not good.

The offense has been a reason for the Patriots defensive efficiency, for sure. If you are up 20 points in the fourth quarter, the opposing offense leaves a lot of easy points on the field because it can't kick field goals or even run its normal offense. And don't say that this is why their YPA allowed is so bad because the YPAs of teams in garbage time were less then than overall (last time I checked this hard-to-get data, which was back in 2006).

The Eagles defense isn't the problem. They are 11th in yards allowed per play (the Patriots are 24th), 8th in YPA allowed, 3rd best in third-down percentage allowed. And they're 11th in points allowed per game even with Michael Vick turning the ball over like crazy. The offense is the problem in Philly and Vick is at the heart of that, as is Andy Reid. Ryan by the way has a 107.1 road passer rating this year with eight TDs in three games, 8.04 yards per attempt. His career road rating is significantly worse, you're right -- but that's the way it is with most players. The line switches 2-3 points for the home team for a reason.

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Perfect Tens (USP)

I agree that the Steelers are in big trouble this week. They are 19th in yards allowed per rush and 31st (!) in third down percentage allowed. The Redskins running game with Griffin's explosiveness and the punishing, slashing-style of Alfred Morris is almost impossible to contain -- 5.43 yards per rush, second only to the Niners. But thanks to Griffin's superior passing skills and surprising efficiency, it's the Redskins who lead the NFL with 6.42 yards per play. That would be 10th best in the NFL since the merger (the 2000 Rams averaged an all-time best 6.98). The nine teams above them won an average of 12.2 games and only one, the 8-8 Vikings in 2004, failed to have a winning record. So watch out for the Redskins, who have lost some tough games.

I think you're right about the Saints. They're a team we'll be begging to see in January and will not get the chance. I do not think they will beat the Broncos this week in a battle of underachievers. If I had to pick a sleeper AFC Super Bowl team right now, it would be the Broncos. I want to say the Denver defense has been bad, but its troubles are mostly red-zone related and that seems fluky to me. I don't think they're a great unit by any means, but they are far closer to the Texans than the Patriots. And of course, Peyton is Peyton -- on pace to have the second best passer rating of his storied career and averaging 7.96 yards per attempt (eerily exactly the same as Eli with almost the exact same number of attempts, as our colleague Mark Stopa pointed out this week).

Schiano's a clown. He really lost the game when he had his team pull the Harry High School crap of barking out fake signals on a field goal to get the Saints to move. The Bucs rightfully were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and that 15-yard penalty set up a Saints TD that proved decisive. Between that and diving at guys during the kneel downs, when will Schiano realize this is the league where they play for pay and not the Saturday game against the University of Connecticut?

I traded a boatload of prospects for Panda this summer in the 20-team dynasty league I'm in. First overall pick Carlos Correa, fifth pick Kevin Gausman plus Travis Snider and later 2012 first-round Richie Schaffer were shipped (I also got Clayton Richard back). I'm still torn on Panda. He's just too fat, I think. But the guy can hit, no doubt. I can't see him ever losing the weight though, so I think he'll be mostly a tease instead of the great hitter he's capable of being. (Dynasty is the only way to go in fantasy baseball because it gives you the offseason that -- like in real baseball -- is what's most fun to dissect.)

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Oct 26, 2012 at 12:52 PM
Subject: ghost to the post
To: Michael Salfino

Okay, CJ401K has crushed once, been solid twice, and sucked four times. That's not good enough for me, not where I ranked him. You want consistent players over boom-or-bust players every time.

But maybe the average fantasy owner can't sell high on Johnson in most leagues. Maybe that's a mirage. I saw a Twitter thread where someone's "buy low on Adrian Peterson" call from earlier in the month was being celebrated. People can really buy low on Adrian Peterson? What's needed for that? Payola? Hypnotism? Future considerations?

Every room is different, I guess. I try to offer comments and advice that are realistic, but all it takes is one crazy guy in your pool and you're home free in your bailout deal.

I'm expecting the Patriots to improve in pass defense, that's it. Maybe they upgrade from "abysmal" to "mediocre." Young players have a chance to improve, and Belichick's track record certainly means something. But the offensive nitpicking seems absurd to me. They rank first in points and it's with no help from the defense. Yes, they need to hit on some shot plays. Yes, Brandon Lloyd drives me crazy. It's frustrating that the drives need to take so many plays. I grant you, Tom Brady is just a very good quarterback right now, not the first or second-best guy in the league. If they meet a team with two really good press corners, they could struggle (mind you, they moved the ball in Seattle pretty well). But these all go down as #firstworldproblems.

Ryan's road resume this year was built in Kansas City, San Diego and Washington. Good work if you can get it. He gave away 18 rating points on the road last year, 16 the previous year, 21 in 2009 and eight in 2008. I'll trust the bank of data. The 2012 offense is a little different, but not radically so.

What do you make of Andy Reid being 13-0 after bye weeks? We've had this discussion, right? Reid seems like one of those coaches who is terrific Monday to Saturday and then spotty in some situations on game day. But when you're successful for a decade and a half in a reshuffle league like the NFL, I have to give you the benefit of the doubt. Eagles by 10. (I freaking hate the Eagles, man. But it's not my cab.)

I'm shocked Griffin is getting it done downfield despite Washington's crummy receivers. Fred Davis didn't do much before he got hurt. Pierre Garcon had one big quarter and he's been hurt ever since. Imagine if the Redskins landed Josh Gordon, like Griffin was calling for. Take a bow, Shanahans. You've been handed an elite talent, sure, but you clearly know what to do with it. Washington wins outright at Pittsburgh; in the meantime, take the generous spot.

The Broncos tricky schedule has held them back a bit, too. Now they play a slate designed by John Thompson. I think St. Leo comes in for a Thanksgiving game. I'll be shocked if Peyton Manning can't turn this into a playoff game, maybe a deep playoff run. But if they meet the Texans again, they're getting crushed.

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Dynasty pick

I don't really enjoy Dynasty Leagues in any sport because the guy who wins the league usually is the guy who trades into it. Heck, in my hometown baseball league - which is merely a keeper league - I partnered up with the estimable Herb Gleason because he's a trading ace and I'm not. I don't want to haggle for 27 emails; I'm more of a scouting and strategy guy. I don't want to spend a week trying to convince someone Josh Beckett isn't good anymore or Omar Infante isn't an All-Star second baseman.

I tried to make a series of Fantasy Football deals this week. I put 8-10 offers out on the street and I considered every one of them fair for both sides and logical for both sides. The only yes I got came on my riskiest one - my Brady, his Luck. Every other deal was negged or pocket-vetoed (there's a private place in hell for people who don't freaking reply to fantasy trade offers). Yeah, I really hate trading.

Happy Halloween, everybody. I'm a clean-shaven right hander, so maybe I can't pull off the Snake Stabler look. Ghost to the Post.

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