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Breakfast Table: Hazy shade of winter

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

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The last days of Jim Schwartz (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: mark stopa
Date: Wed, Dec 18, 2013 at 8:25 PM
Subject: Dazed and Confused Breakfast
To: scott pianowski

Week 15 left me dazed and confused. Three days later, I'm still trying to understand it all.

The top three seeds in the AFC all lost. Flynn - cut by the Raiders and Bills, then unemployed - led a 23-point comeback on the road against Romo in a must-win game for the Pack. Clemens beat Brees and the Vikes hung 48 on Philly; now Minnesota has more points on the season than the Saints. Calvin Johnson looked like Brandon Pettigrew. Several waiver-wire quarterbacks outscored Peyton Manning in fantasy.

Ugh, fantasy. Your Cassel/Edelman/Todman crew took me down in Stopa Law Firm league. The MFL site had me as a 60 point favorite. 60! I have to tip my cap to you, though, as painful as it is. (Why are you in wintry Michigan and not sitting on a beach in the Caribbean full-time, managing the fantasy teams of millionaires for a share of the profits? If you need an agent to get started, I'm ready. Let's roll. Justin Tucker can be your first client.)

Everyone keeps telling me the best team often doesn't win. How unsatisfying. It seems as true as ever in real-life NFL, too. Is there such a thing as a favorite in today's NFL? Other than Seattle at home, is there any team you trust? Who are your top four Super Bowl contenders? Denver laid an egg at home against a bad Chargers defense - are you giving them a pass? What about the Bengals and Pats? Can you see Brady winning three straight in January with that defense and supporting cast? Does anyone want to win the NFC East? Who's coming out of the NFC North?

Jason Garrett and Jim Schwartz managed to lose games they should have won. At least we can count on that, I suppose.

Week 16 gives us headliners in Carolina, KC, and Baltimore Is there anything else you're watching this week? Help me make sense of it all.

Dazed and Confused Breakfast is served.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Dec 20, 2013 at 9:30 PM
Subject: Re: Dezed and Confused Breakfast
To: Mark Stopa

I can make sense of some of that stuff. Matt Flynn? The Cowboys defense can fix whatever ails you. It's astounding to see a unit rank last in fantasy points allowed to both quarterbacks and running backs. There are several problems in Dallas, but obviously Monte Kiffin is one of the biggest ones.

Clemens only threw 20 passes in the Rams win; it was a manage-the-game thing. That upset was born from the Rams defensive front absolutely kicking NO's tail. When you can crash the pocket without devoting a lot of resources, everything else is easy. The tricky thing - why don't the Rams play like that more often? They've had some lopsided, decisive wins - and a bunch of no-show losses.

The Stopa win was very satisfying to me, as you clearly had the better team all year. Eight of my 12 starters were zero-bid free agents; it was a scotch tape job all the way. Obviously I was very fortunate that so many of them had good matchups and took advantage. I thank you for running the league, and salute you for assembling such a juggernaut. If this were a total points league, I would have been dead a long time ago, and if we met in a series, you surely would have won. Total points, more fair, head to head, more fun. (At least my other three teams in the finals got there as a 1 or 2 seed, points-wise. Cinderella stories are nice, but when in doubt, assemble the best team you can, take your chances that way. Be a wolf. Be an overdog.)

I give Denver a pass, sure. The Chargers are dangerous, Thursday games feel a little artificial. If I were an AFC contender, I'd much rather play Indy than the Chargers. (San Diego vs. the AFC North contenders? A toss up there.) Mike McCoy knows what he's doing, especially at Mile High.

I expect Carolina to take care of business. The Saints obviously aren't the same team on the road. Carolina needs the game more and has the better defense. Does anyone trust Rob Ryan in a key spot?

The Colts and Chiefs have an interesting dance in that they might not want to show their cards. They're on a collision course for the playoffs. It's too early to think about sitting anyone (at least it is in my world), but do you hold some stuff back? I think you need to consider it. Similar theme, do the Bears or Eagles worry you for fantasy? If the wrong things happen earlier in the day, incentive is removed.

The Ravens defense has quietly retooled, but I don't trust their offense at all. Ray Rice is the little kid running in the snowsuit (man, I wish that were my line). Joe Flacco hasn't had a good year. I like Dennis Pitta, but he's not Graham or Gronkowski. The wideouts are all slotted one role higher than they should be.

Then again, what do the Patriots have on offense? I'll pick that one on the way back.

Jim Schwartz needs to go. And Jerry Jones, obviously, needs to fire himself.

Is Miami a legitimate threat? Where did we rank Ryan Tannehill again?

From: mark stopa
Date: Sat, Dec 21, 2013 at 9:46 AM
Subject: Re: Dazed and Confused Breakfast
To: scott pianowski

Sure, Miami is a contender. In the AFC, why not? Everyone after Denver (the obvious front-runner) has fleas, so anyone can emerge - much like last year, actually.

New England is set up to be the two seed, and while we've all hit on its lack of offensive weaponry, look at what the defense has allowed the last four weeks. Moreno, (37-224-1) and Tate (22-102-3) had their only 100-yard games of the year, then Campbell (391-3-0) and Tannehill (312-3-0) had their best games of the season. Do you hold out any hope for this defense? Why can't Bill Belichick - aptly deemed a defensive genius (I'll forever hate him for what he did in Super Bowl XXV) - ever seem to field a good defense anymore?

I put Tannehill's stats side-by-side with Luck and Brady this week. Surprisingly, it was hard to tell them apart. Tannehill still takes too many sacks - 51 is eight more than anyone else - but how much of that is on Tannehill? It hasn't exactly been the best year for the Miami offensive line (Incognito/Martin). Can a young QB improve his pocket awareness over time? I remember quarterbacks like David Carr and JP Losman and I'm skeptical. What odds would you give Tannehill having a better career than, say, Robert Griffin III? For this week, I'm picking the Bills (leading league in sacks behind the best edge rusher nobody's heard of, Jerry Hughes) over the Fins.

I love the Chargers offense. Keenan Allen vs. Eddie Lacy is like a heavyweight boxing match for Rookie of the Year. It's a shame SD is such a sieve on defense (last in YPA, 30th in QB Rating) and that they're already a game behind Miami for the 6th seed and lose the tiebreaker. Who do you want to see in the AFC? Who are you picking? I know you like Seattle in the NFC (you took SEA, I took the field), but who's most likely to upset them? Can Arizona do it this week?

We have to play all key Bears and Eagles tomorrow, don't we? The upsets needed to make that game meaningless for the Bears aren't likely (the Giants aren't beating the Lions - Eli is barely the best quarterback in his own city), and I don't see Chip Kelly resting guys. Plus, the matchups are just too juicy. Isn't it odd, though, how the NFL set up Week 17 with divisional matchups to ensure the late-season games are meaningful, yet Week 17 now means so much that Week 16 may not matter? The more relevant Week 17 remains, the more I get on-board with fantasy titles going down to the last week.

I've been refusing to bury Green Bay, and the stars have aligned for them the past few weeks. But it sure feels like they needed Rodgers back this week, no? Steelers 24-20.

The Rams are a 9-7 team in any other division but an unlucky, last-place squad stuck in the superpower that is the NFC West. They're fortunate the Redskins are handing them the second overall pick, as a franchise QB is just what they need to compete with Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick for the next decade. Alas, it seems their front office is deluding itself into thinking Sam Bradford is the guy. Yikes. At least St. Louis fans have baseball.

The Saints home/road story has gotten old. Look, you and I don't even want to talk about them. Panthers 31-20.

If the Colts hold back this week anticipating a Wild Card rematch, how will anyone be able to tell? Chiefs 30-13.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone. Pour some eggnog in those fake football trophies.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Sun, Dec 22, 2013 at 2:09 AM
Subject: Dezed and Confused Breakfast
To: Mark Stopa

Maybe the Patriots defense is all right. You're cherry picking performances that fit the narrative. Remember, Peyton Manning absolutely sucked in the Denver-New England game - second-worst YPA of his career.

Pass defense is what matters. New England is 13th in YPA allowed and ninth in rating allowed. They're tied for ninth in sacks. I'm not trying to say this is the 1985 Bears, but the defense isn't a sieve, either. I'm more concerned about the post-Gronkowski offense.

For all the whining about Luck this year, he's quietly sixth in fantasy points at his position. This speaks to a couple of things - his sneaky running ability and the fact that he's stayed healthy all year - but I bet a lot of people would guess he ranked lower. Considering all the Indy injuries (and the Pep Effect), that's not bad.

I wish we had access to what's really going on in Miami. Someone (Philbin? Sherman?) is doing an incredible job with Tannehill and the locker room. I thought this team was toast midway through the year, with the crummy offensive line and the Incognito scandal. Miami's corners were playing awfully well until last week's misstep against the New England munchkins.

I like Eddie Lacy, but I'll be irked if Keenan Allen doesn't win Offensive ROY. A 4.1 YPC isn't that difficult to find. It's a shame the Chargers don't go out of their way to feature Allen - he has a modest 89 targets. Heck, Nate Washington, Emmanuel Sanders and Stevie Johnson have more looks.

The Pack is done. Even if they win this week, I can't see how they win at Chicago - be it with a fresh Flynn or a rusty Rodgers. And no matter how well the offense plays, what about the defense? They're 26th in YPA allowed and 25th in rating allowed, and you can't win that way in today's NFL.

Panthers roll. Pittsburgh wins on the road. Patriots surprise the Ravens, Bills surprise the Dolphins. Arsenal handles Chelsea. Niners crush Falcons, close Candlestick in style.

It's Christmas Time in Hollis, Queens.

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