Breakfast Table: Broadway Mike Salfino

On a weekly basis during the football season, former 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.

This is routinely a long feature and it's especially long this week. You've been warned.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Tue, Oct 15, 2013 at 10:21 AM
Subject: rivalry breakfast
To: Michael Salfino

For the most part I consider myself an impartial observer of the NFL, not a fan. Oh, I want the Patriots to be good, but I'm not living and dying by their every snap and result. I've been satiated over the years.

But the rules are different when New York is involved. I don't think I could ever love the Patriots with the intensity I hate the (expletive) Jets.

And make no mistake, that's a good thing. It's wonderful to have passion kick in. Hating an opponent is welcome. It's fantastic to have a game circled on your calendar. And when the Jets and Patriots meet, it's our rivalry now - your childhood team against mine, with Turncoat Belichick at the center of it. (And speaking of your team, is Joe Namath the most overrated quarterback of all time? The spreadsheet sure says so. And when I discussed this theme with Twitter on Monday, you were the only person who disagreed with me. State your case, Broadway Mike. If you're going to bash the Brady sweater, I'm going to flag the Namath pantyhose.)

Does Bill Belichick rate an edge in a rematch game, especially when the Jets are on the menu? Sign me up for that. The Jets won the first meeting in 2009 and 2010; New England won convincingly in the rematches (including a 45-3 beatdown). The Patriots won all meetings in 2011 and 2012, but the second win in each instance was lopsided. (This would be a perfect trend if not for the matter of New York's playoff ambush in the 2010 playoffs; I know that can't be discarded). Anyway, you know how I feel about Belichick in this sort of spot. The Jets had a chance back in Week 2 - I don't expect a close game now. The more the teams know about each other, the more I like Belichick's side.

The other juicy game on the Week 7 card is Denver heading to Indianapolis - Peyton Manning's return to Naptown. We've disagreed on Andrew Luck most of the year, so I guess we can pick up with that, too. Luck didn't do my side any favors - he was underwhelming in Monday's loss at San Diego, up against a defense that hadn't stopped anyone. Granted, the Indy receivers treated the football like it was dipped in radioactive waste.

Those two games should be enough, but if you have a side item for the menu, let it rip. I'm still shocked at Sean Payton's endgame in Foxboro, a classic case of playing for the Friendliest Loss. Tom Brady's final drive was transcendent, but you're fortunate to get three cracks at the hero script. Shouldn't the Saints have given Drew Brees a chance to salt the game away?

Shake it like a salt shaker, Jersey. Rivalry Breakfast is served.

From: Michael Selfino
Date: Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 1:19 AM
Subject: Re: rivalry breakfast
To: scott pianowski

Seriously, the Jets and Patriots aren't a real rivalry now. The Jets are not a bad team, I don't think, but they're not playoff caliber at this point and will not be in 2013 barring some unforeseen consistency from rookie QB Geno Smith. And I mean good consistency, not consistent suckitude.

I believe we've been through this before on Namath. But, again, it's tragic that he never was able to flash the ability that caused college opponents to say catching him was "like catching the wind" and that inspired Paul Brown say he was the best athlete he ever coached. But life sucks like that a lot and Namath of course did all right anyway. The game is bigger now but the stars were bigger then. Brady has zero cultural or social significance. He's barely a celebrity. Brady could walk down main street in about 75 percent of U.S. cities and not even be recognized. Namath may as well have been a Beatle. The game now and then is not the same, either. Today's average passer rating would have led the AFL many years Namath played so stat comparisons are meaningless. The game is rating-oriented then and for good reason. But the AFL then and Namath especially was about something more than winning. They were trying to launch a league. You weren't going to do that with a bunch of Len Dawsons "matriculating" the football. You're the kind of guy who probably looks at Elvis Presley and figures out reasons why Michael Stipe or Thom Yorke (snore) is better. I think that's absurd given that there would be no Stipe, for example, without Elvis. Just like there would not be a Brady without Namath, not in New England anyway and definitely on the Patriots, who would be a mere trivia question like the St. Louis Spirits. And Brady and every other No. 12 wears his number for only one reason and we all know what, or should I say "who" it is. Of course, as you well know, everyone from Vince Lombardi to John Madden attests to Namath's greatness, all the more amazing given that he played in constant pain on one leg (in his best years).

But fine, I'll bite on the stats. It's a good illustration of what's changed and what has not in the NFL. And it shows that the things I value the most now fit right in with Namath not merely as a legend but as a great player.

From 1965-1972, the period where Namath was reasonably healthy and the reason he's in the Hall of Fame, Namath averaged 7.71 yards per attempt, which would rank 15th in NFL history, presently. It's better than Brady's career mark (7.5). Namath also averaged 15.4 yards per completion versus Brady's career mark of 11.8 yards per completion. Why are you an Andrew Luck 2012 apologist and not a Namath career apologist when it comes to rating? Of course, unlike Luck to date, Namath doesn't need any apologies for his YPA in the period.

The other criticisms are that he didn't win, except that pesky Super Bowl. (Namath also made the Super Bowl an event, creating an easy sellout when the first two games had ticket giveaways and were not near full capacity.) But Namath in that period was 13 games over .500 with a Super Bowl ring. You also seek to discredit his Super Bowl MVP, which I just don't understand. You know that he called all the plays in that game at the line of scrimmage. So all the Matt Snell running is to his credit, clearly. They were all "check with me" calls. And of course he not only performed flawlessly in the game and called all the plays but did it against a defense that most observers of the time regarded as the greatest through that date in NFL history.

Fast forward to 2013. So Belichick does great in rematches with Ryan but not in the third game the teams play? I'm confused. Of course Belichick wins most of the time. He has Brady! Give Rex Ryan Brady and Belichick Mark Sanchez and Smith and then tell me what the head-to-head records would be. I think what Belichick has done with New England's defense this year is most impressive, by the way. It's much better (though still not good).

"Don't expect a close game"? How are the Patriots going to score? They beat the Saints by taking the run on Sunday. That's not happening on Sunday, as everyone knows. No chance. But of course Geno could just hand the Patriots points.

Everyone is wrong in the Saints analysis. The problem wasn't that Payton ran the clock instead of attacking to move the chains, it's that he tried to do both. Why throw the pass with 2:33 left, such a low percentage one, and let NE avoid burning their last timeout? If he runs there, NE gets the ball ultimately with no timeouts and 32 seconds left needing to score a TD. Payton handed Brady another plausible possession.

You can't give teams today three reasonable tries in the two-minute offense to score. Anyone is going to go 1-for-3, with any receivers/skill players against any defense. The entire game is set up to move the ball in hurry-up situations through the air. Geno Smith can do it, for cryin' out loud. Batting .333 like Brady did on Sunday is nothing to brag about. He created his own drama, Tebow-like, by miserably failing in his first two attempts.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Oct 17, 2013 at 12:45 AM
Subject: karma police
To: Michael Salfino

I knew from the jump this was an impossible task. If there are two men in sports you can't be rational about, it's Joe Namath and Bill Belichick (with Tom Brady a proxy). The first guy is your childhood hero - you're wearing his jersey on Twitter, for crying out loud - and the second guy is the man who jilted your Jets at the altar back in 1999. You're never forgiving him for that.

There are so many easy ways to discredit Namath (especially on the stat page), I don't know where to start. He had a career losing record. He didn't see a playoff game after Age 26, and his final playoff win was Super Bowl III (the Jets haven't been to the Super Bowl since, by the way - Patriots, seven trips and three titles). His best seasons were before the merger, and even if Super Bowl III legitimized the AFL, it's ridiculous to suggest the talent level was the same. This is Julius Erving cutting up the ABA (another good, but not fully legitimate, league) - and that comp really clicks when you consider both players lost their knees at an early age.

I know we can't compare stats from different eras, it's apples and lawnmowers. The rules were different, the baselines were different. And we have to take a different view of interceptions from the 60s and early 70s; it was like smoking back then. No one realized how lethal they were. But Pro Football Reference is our godsend with indexed stats, using 100 as league average and comparing players within their era. Let's see how Namath fares:

-- YPA-plus: 109 (excellent, and would have been a lot higher if not for later, Old Man Kensey seasons)
-- Completion percentage-plus: 101 (basically league average)
-- TD percentage-plus: 100 (average)
-- Interception percentage-plus: 97 (below average; Namath led league in picks four times, twice in his salad days)
-- Sack percentage-plus: 117 (very good, Namath's unheralded skill - getting rid of the ball)
-- QB rating-plus: 101 (eyelash over average, feeling gravity's pull)

To put that 109-101-100-97-117-101 line in some perspective, here's Manning and Brady (again, this is all adjusted for era):

-- Manning: 115-120-119-107-123-120
-- Brady: 110-112-117-115-110-108

Namath's first three player comps on PFR are Joe Theismann, Steve Grogan and Jim Everett. Spin away, spinner.

The Namath comp I like is Ken Stabler, John Madden's Oakland QB. Another Alabama product (wearing 12, a homage - as you've pointed out - to Namath) and another QB who was terrific before his knees went and his skills deteriorated. Mind you, Stabler had a seven-year peak. It's a joke he's not in the Hall of Fame. I suspect some older writers blackballed Stabler for off-the-field stuff.

Broadway Joe's shining moment is Super Bowl III, and that needs to be reevaluated, too. Namath didn't throw a fourth-quarter pass in that game. The Jets scored all of *16* points. This is why we glorify a man? I know, line calls and check-with-mes, that's wonderful. Most quarterbacks called the plays back in that era. Find me any other quarterback who's been praised for handing the ball off. Matt Snell, you were robbed. That's your MVP. (Justin Tuck nods in acknowledgement.)

I won't disagree with any of the Namath cultural icon stuff (even the Suzy Kolber thing has its crystalized moment in history), but I don't see why you're slamming Brady. If there's one QB in today's game who qualifies as a celebrity and cultural icon, it's Brady. He passes the Supermarket Checkout Test - Brady could be on any magazine cover and it would make sense. Sports Illustrated. Forbes. Rolling Stone. People. GQ. Heck, the National Enquirer. You know his wife is famous too, right? Brady is the type of guy men want to be and the women want to be with (if you polled the latter, only Tony Romo would come close - and no self-respecting chick would ever pick either of the dorky Mannings. Do Cincinnati women throw their underwear at Andy Dalton? I bet every woman in Houston wants to beat Matt Schaub up.)

At the end of the day, Namath is the true definition of a legend, someone held up by storytelling and the "had to be there" vibe. Most of the numbers don't back him up. Heck, you're as stat-driven as anyone I know and look at how you defend Namath - it turns into a bunch of anecdotes, a fireside chat. I don't deny his importance (and you can't have a HOF without him), but the closer you get to Namath, the less impressive he looks.

You're not giving Brady enough credit for the miracle against New Orleans. Look at the win expectancy grid, dude. This wasn't some piddly field-goal drive, either. The pick on New England's penultimate possession was bad, fair enough. But every Brady throw on the other two sandwich drives was excellent. He had two (maybe three) drops on the fourth-down series before the warning, and go look at that final drive again. Laser show. And for the love of all things holy, consider who he's throwing to: Edelman, Collie (on the team for 15 seconds), Dobson, Thompkins. Brady is the MacGyver of the NFL.

Maybe Belichick is MacGyver, too. The Patriots have far and away the most IR-sunk money in the league and somehow they're 5-1. And every week Belichick finds a way to eliminate an opponent's best weapon. C.J. Spiller (with some help from Doug Marrone, the Dean Smith of the league). Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson. Julio Jones had one long catch, that was it. A.J. Green did nothing. Unstoppable Jimmy Graham posted a freaking bagel, for crying out loud. How can this not impress you?

I wonder who the target is this week. Do the Jets even have an offensive target? Can Rob Gronkowski replicate Jeff Cumberland? Anyway, when division rivals meet in a regular-season rematch, send it in on the smart kids. Patriots by 17.

I know why you're taking a shot at R.E.M. and Radiohead - the two bookend bands of my life. I guess it's payback for the late hit on Namath. R.E.M. was my favorite group all through college and into early adulthood, and it's been Radiohead for almost two decades now. You don't have to like them. Hell, I don't care if anyone else likes them. Fables of the Reconstruction will always feel like an old friend to me. Lifes Rich Pageant, too. The Bends will always stand out as the best 1990s record to me.

This stuff is all subjective, anyway. There are millions of people out there who don't realize Coldplay pretty much sucks. A lot of people I greatly respect (Chris Chase, Steve Gleason, Jonas Sorbi) worship Bob Dylan. To me, he's a brilliant writer with a crummy voice. Is U2 a transcendent band or a media-driven myth with a couple of pretentious twits at the front? When half your band isn't using its real name, it makes you wonder.

This is what you'll get when you mess with us.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Oct 17, 2013 at 11:18 AM
Subject: Re: karma police
To: scott pianowski

Ugh. Dylan has a "crummy voice." That's worse even than "Namath wasn't MVP of Super Bowl III." Dylan's only the most innovative singer in rock history. Dylan's voice is truth. If you want vocal aesthetics why even listen to rock? Listen to opera or Sinatra or Aretha Franklin (nothing wrong with any of that).

I've worn that Namath jersey only for that picture, taken for our old, defunct football cards, and on Halloween. I'm being totally rational about Namath. The only stat I ever care about is YPA and Namath was elite at it. That's called intellectual honesty. And stop counting the post-1972 seasons. Namath should have retired after he tore both hamstrings completely in 1973 and went from half cripple to full cripple. But he still was bigger than the game. Prior to that injury, he was 47-34-4. A winner. But enough of this. I'll let football immortals make the case for Namath in rapid succession at 1:35 of this video.

Brady on the cover of every magazine? Maybe Goofy Sweaters Illustrated. Namath passed the mother/sister test that about one or two athletes a generation pass. Mantle, Ali, Namath, Jordan, Beckham, Woods. I don't even know if LeBron and Kobe pass it. Probably. They're borderline. Maybe Jeter (I'd say no to him, but it could be my Yankees hate bubbling over). Brady? No way. When he was in the Super Bowl every year, yes. But that was a long time ago. Namath didn't need to win to be an icon, either. Oh, Peyton passes it, too, because he's on so many commercials. That's sort of a cheat but I have to give it to him.

You are nuts with Brady on the first drive. The first down pass was terrible and terribly conservative. The pass to Bolden was a fastball to a wide open back he could have handed the ball to -- no touch whatsoever. And the pass to Dobson was another stupid play because it was fourth and six and I don't know if he gets the first down if he catches it. You'd be counting on the spot at best. Yes, Brady made good throws on the winning drive and got really lucky. Austin Collie looks like their best receiver getting in and out of breaks easily and with lots of separation on that winning drive -- he was the key player.

Oh, and MacGuyver Brady has a 81 YPA+.

I actually like REM, even though Stipe is unintelligible for good reason -- he (mostly) has nothing to say. It does FEEL like Stipe's saying something, I grant you. There is something great about that. Radiohead has a couple of decent songs. I like Fake Plastic Trees even though it's cloying. But they generally are boring and tuneless, to me anyway. I like a lot of U2 and Pink Floyd but if you took all the things I hate about both bands and put them together, you'd get Radiohead. I understand that I'm in the minority and I'm not one of those people who thinks that everyone who disagrees with me is wrong (well, actually, I AM one of those people but I know that it's completely insane to actually believe it -- so I fight the urge constantly).

As for the Jets targets, I do like Cumberland and you know I'm a big fan of Stephen HIll, who is catching the ball much better and showing toughness but not really clicking yet for reasons that are not his fault. The problem for Smith (and can we just call him Geno? It's weird to give a guy who's done nothing the first-name-only treatment but it works) isn't skill players or environment or playcalling. There are big plays on the field every week with Hill and Cumberland is big and fast and Bilal Powell serviceable behind a line that, especially the left guard position, has gotten much better. It's just we don't know yet if Geno is any good or, if he is, whether he can express that goodness consistently. So, bad Geno and Patriots 16, Jets 10.

Quickly through the other games.... Bears at Redskins I think is last call for Mike Shanahan. RGIII showed signs he is feeling better and the defense was actually okay. The Bears are not a good defensive team. Washington will run the ball very well, too, with the borderline-great Alfred Morris. Redskins 31, Bears 28.

The Eagles seem so much better off with Nick Foles, who provides less playmaking ability but more consistency. Plus you can't rely on Vick at this stage since he's too old to physically withstand doing what he does best -- run. This should be a firecracker of a game, but I thought Redskins-Cowboys would be, too. Dez Bryant vs. DeSean Jackson should be fun. I own both in a home, distance-scoring league. I expect pinball numbers. But the Eagles are actually a better road team since 2004, if you can believe that. Cowboys 35, Eagles 31.

I end with Peyton vs. Luck. Very weird week with Irsay's stupid comments. Just shut up! Now Polian has gotten into the mix but I think he's not actually slamming Irsay here or even countering Irsay but throwing Belichick and the Patriots under the bus as cheats that robbed him of the multiple Super Bowls he feels he and Peyton earned. Check out this quote: "Polian paused before adding, 'And here's the most important thing of all — and it goes unfortunately unspoken because of the focus on the Super Bowl and the failure to win more than one Super Bowl: We did it — and Peyton did it — the right way, honestly, fairly and squarely.'" What else can he be talking about?

As for the game, this seems like no contest. Luck isn't ready to be on the stage with Peyton, not yet. Last week against the Chargers was pathetic even with the drops. And I think the Heyward-Bey "drop" was 40% percent HB for not diving and 60% bad overthrow. The bottom line right now with Luck is that his YPA is 7.2, essentially league average. You can't be league average and come close to beating Peyton. I covered the defensive numbers in Splitsville when it comes to matching up your fantasy football players. The Broncos have been an easy mark with 24.9 points allowed per game to QBs (adding up all the stats and dividing by number of games rather than actual points per game). But how much of this is due to having such big leads? Let's turn to YPA since we know that YPA actually is hurt in garbage time (because prevent defenses generally work). Denver is 31st in sack-adjusted YPA allowed. And they are only plus 1.1 yard in net YPA (gained minus allowed). That's typically a 10-win team, not a powerhouse. Man, I really want to pick the upset now and shock the world. The Broncos have to lose sometime because no team with defense this bad can go 16-0. But Luck can't get any distance in YPA; Indy is only plus-0.3, which is maybe a nine-win team if you're lucky. Broncos 34, Colts 20.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Oct 17, 2013 at 11:51 AM
Subject: fifth quarter
To: Michael Salfino

You basically ignored Belichick and went low-cal on Namath here. Interesting. Of course I gave you a softball sidebar with Dylan.

Ah yes, the Rolling Stone list thing. Every time they do a rank of the Best Albums of All Time, Sgt. Pepper comes out first. You know, the Beatles record for people who really don't like The Beatles. It's a collection opinion, to go with your opinion and my opinion. There's no reason to treat it as authoritative.

Glad to see we both have the Pats winning and covering. Head to the windows, Ace Rothstein. I'm not surprised you threw cold water on Brady's brilliant comeback - let's get an out-of-context Salfino observation (back when we were discussing Field of Dreams) from our mutual friend, Jonah Keri.

Well said, my friend. Well played.

I said Luck would show efficiency improvement in his sophomore year, perhaps a big spike. You scoffed. PFR, talk to me.

-- Luck indexes for 2012: 97-79-94-99-102-90

-- Luck indexes for 2013: 102-102-95-112-99-104

So that's improvement in five of six categories, and the sack dip is tiny. Luck 1, Salfino 0.

And you have to see the forest for the trees on this YPA thing. Sure, it's important, but it's not the only important thing. That's why your Namath analysis falls flat - you use one stat as the Holy Grail and ignore all the numbers that don't suit your argument. (And you glorify him for running out the clock with a multiple-score lead in the fourth quarter - gee, how come no one else does that? Oh yeah, everyone does that.)

Time to ship. A lot of disagreement this week, which really is what this column should be about.

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