Breakfast Table: Cameron Outdoor Stadium

For the last decade or so, Michael Salfino and Scott Pianowski have been putting together an email exchange centered around (but not limited to) the NFL. You might enjoy listening to them haggle. You might prefer a swift kick into the stomach. The Table isn't for everyone; we hope some of you enjoy it.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Wed, Dec 12, 2012 at 12:16 PM
Subject: Week 15 Breakfast
To: scott pianowski

So do you still think the Texans are going to be the No. 1 seed? If so, in name only, I guess. Houston is the third best team in the AFC they proved on Monday night. The game I want to see is New England-Denver. I know we already saw it, but Peyton Manning is rolling a lot better now than then.

So was this Bounty Gate ruling all BS, costing the Saints their season? Roger Goodell has lost all credibility and that has got to be a factor in the suspensions of the Seahawks cornerbacks. I bet Brandon Browner now wishes he didn't take his and kept appealing like Richard Sherman.

How does the NFL not change that stupid rule about losing the review if you challenge a play that's automatically challenged? I admit though that I'm rooting for a coach to be dumb enough to throw it and for it to blow up a playoff game, hopefully the Super Bowl. Remember when we just had to live with bad calls, which happen now anyway, because that was just part of the game? We all lived.

More illustration of Colts lowercase luck is that they are minus 18 and change in net QB rating (for minus against). Hat tip to our Rotowire colleague Mark Stopa for that. I crunched the numbers and net QB rating correlates to winning amazingly well. The only team worse than the Colts is the Chiefs and Indy is tied with Tennessee. The Vikings are another outlier, but that makes sense due to the incredible Adrian Peterson.

Do we take the Bears seriously against the Packers this week? Do the Ravens have a chance at home against Peyton with the new OC after Joe Flacco got the old one fired? Is Robert Griffin III just not built for contact as well as Cam Newton? Are the Cowboys better than the Steelers now? Why do the Patriots get all their really tough games at home? They should wax the Niners, we'll agree. Week 15 Breakfast is served.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 6:50 AM
Subject: mr. brown
To: Michael Salfino

I'm excited for Week 15. It's probably the best slate of games this year, and we get a manageable split on Sunday (eight early, five late). There's even fantasy intrigue at play - you're taking on Chris Liss in the Yahoo! Friends and Family Semifinals, while I've drawn Jeff Erickson in the Stopa 5K Semis. I'm not going to bore the readers with those details, but we'll have fun with it.

Houston's injuries have drastically taken the defense down a couple of pegs. It's one thing to get undressed by Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady; it's another thing when Chad Henne and the Jaguars have a field day on you. I do think the Texans will get their groove back this week against the fraudulent Colts (every logical stat points away from this team), but Houston better hope it doesn't have to beat both Denver and New England in the playoffs because I don't see that happening.

There's some talk about the Patriots peaking too early, but that's not really something a team has any control over. It's nice to be sitting on Rob Gronkowski's return at some point, hopefully. It's a typical Bill Belichick defense, a lot of bend-don't-break stuff, good with takeaways. I won't be surprised if the Niners beat them Sunday night, however - San Francisco is a very difficult matchup on both sides of the ball, especially on a short week, and the Niners might be the most physical team in the league. I also suspect this is one of those teams that often plays to the level of competition. Jim Harbaugh will have them ready.

New England's had some breaks with the schedule (the Europe trip was a road game) but I don't think it's been egregious. No one wants to go to Seattle, bro. Baltimore is a tough trip. If you judge strength of schedule by the collective record of all your opponents (and I know that's flawed to some degree), the Patriots have played the hardest slate in the league. And that's in spite of going 10-3 against those teams; that is, dealing most of them a loss.

I'm not sure what the Ravens will do in a critical spot this week. No impartial observer seems to respect Jim Caldwell, but he can't be as antiquated as Cam Cameron was. I'm actually in favor of the coordinator change, albeit it would be nice to have something different in the bullpen. There's not a lot teams can do at this juncture of the season. There's no minor leaguer to call up and you can't swing a trade. John Harbaugh isn't the problem, and firing the head coach is a stupid discussion for in-season anyway. This is one of the few cards an organization can play.

I fully expect Pittsburgh to beat Dallas. Mike Tomlin's record in bounce-back games is very good and Ben Roethlisberger has a return game under his belt now. Dallas has zero home field advantage and you never can trust them on a good wave. Dez Bryant (who's finally growing into a star) will be significantly compromised. The Bradshaws are taking the Staubachs down. (Isn't it funny how the personalities of both organizations never seems to change?)

Does Cleveland have a shot to upset Washington? Actually the game's a pick-em, so maybe I need a different verb. The Browns are 5-3 in their last eight games and they should have beaten Dallas. Both of their Baltimore losses were competitive. How healthy is Griffin? Can we trust this Redskins defense? (Two leftovers: Baltimore at Washington might have been the Game of the Year, and if there's any sort of assistant coach award, give it to Kyle Shanahan right now.)

I'm curious for your take on the Giants and Falcons. Atlanta's so overrated it actually might be underrated now. If the Falcons were 8-4, they'd just be another team that people had some level of respect for. I think they're being disrespected into this game and will protect its turf admirably. The Giants remind me a little bit of the Packers, a team that does a lot well but a lack of balance is going to be a problem.

Too many games to talk about. I need some Packers-Bears slant from you, too. But feel free to skip the Thursday and Monday games, they're not worth our time. Too much on Sunday's menu.

Apparently Mark Sanchez was at the Tarantino NYC Premier on Tuesday. I guess No. 6 watches more film than we thought.

Reservoir Dogs recently turned 20. That's a film I wanted to love - I didn't see it until after Pulp Fiction - but I couldn't get over the hump. Maybe it's unfair that I watched the pair out of sequence, but QT has been playing with chronological order his entire career, it's about time someone turned the tables on him. The fairest way to view anything is with little information and no real expectations.

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Sounds like the 2012 Jets to me. Excuse me, the playoff contending Jets. Maybe you can sell me on the Monday nighter after all. Make it all better, Braylon.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 11:03 AM
Subject: Re: mr. brown
To: scott pianowski

Well the Yahoo! prediction system has me losing by about 20 points to Liss but it has Cam Newton scoring about 20, half as many as he's been getting of late. There's the hope for me. Also, RGIII picked a good time for me to get hurt. But to be honest, I'd rather lose and see him play.

I'm going to give Houston a break on the Henne game because it's hard to be ready for the backup when the starter gets injured. Of course, they were inexcusably shredded that game. And they have had injuries. But I think they dominate the Colts in Houston against the mistake-prone Luck (18 picks, five lost fumbles). Let's call it 31-13 Houston, who still gets homefield advantage throughout the postseason (Vikings at home between the two Colts games).

I just don't think the Niners have enough playmakers to score in the high 20s or early 30s as I can almost guarantee the Patriots will on Sunday. And right, Seattle and Baltimore are two tough, out-of-division road games but they lost both of them, too. But I also have to say that current strength of schedule by adding up current records of opponents is a pretty good barometer. Maybe you're saying it's flawed because teams change dramatically over the course of the season? If that's what you're thinking, I disagree. Teams, generally, do not change very much at all. The results may change but usually because those teams were really outplaying their opponents in the important/win-predictive stats even while losing. New England does get a break in playing a team like the Colts, who are more like a 4-9 team than a 9-4 team, as their passer rating differential confirms. And it's funny with passer rating that, for supposedly being such a terrible way to measure quarterbacks, it always correlates to winning and losing so well when you look at, say, win percentage over or under ratings of 100 or even 90 and under 70 or 60. And in the case of differential, it's wild that all 13 teams right now in plus territory at all (higher rating than they've allowed) have winning records. (The Packers are No. 1 at plus-27.5; the Patriots 6th at plus-13.4.)

I think swapping out a coordinator at this point of the season is pretty pointless. The system is in place and so are the different plays. You can change the play caller, but is that like shuffling the lineup in baseball? No matter what play you call, you have to execute. Flacco just hasn't developed to the point where he's someone who is consistently dangerous when the Ravens need to make something happen. Who fears Flacco in a big spot? Can you imagine any team going for a fourth down to keep the ball out of his hands? I can't. And if you can't by now, you never will. So Flacco is the problem in Baltimore. Denver 30, Baltimore 20.

I disagree with you on the Cowboys and Steelers. I like Dallas. Roethlisberger looked really bad last week until the game got so far out of hand that it didn't matter. I still worry about the Steelers pass protection and Rob Ryan's defense can get after you. Romo has been mostly pretty good of late (not including last week, where he was average at best). I was shocked by how successful the Chargers offense was in Pittsburgh. I'll call it 20-17, Cowboys.

Kirk Cousins has looked good enough in spot duty this year. It's different, though, when you have to start the game and prepare all week as the starter. You can suffer from overload and freeze up. When the starter gets hurt, the teams keep the playcalling really simple for the backup that hasn't practiced and that can be a good thing. So I do think the Browns will give the Redskins all they can handle. Does Washington lose all the pistol plays with Cousins? Probably. That's a big part of their offense. But the Browns aren't good. Believing in Shanahan to find a way, 17-16 Washington.

I said exactly that "so overrated they're underrated" thing about the Falcons here a few weeks ago. They are underrated by the sharps, I think. They are fifth in the passer-rating differential stat, FWIW. The Giants make a lot of mistakes and force a lot, too. They lead the league in average starting position on drives by a wide margin. The kickoff returns of David Wilson have helped a bunch but it's mostly those 34 turnovers they've forced. Again, I'm an offensive guy so I think the offense is mostly to blame for turnovers. I'll give the defense some credit, of course, but a rate like that seems wildly random to me -- playing a bunch of quarterbacks on bad days, plus ball carriers with butter fingers. Can the Giants win without turnovers (they've been outgained from scrimmage, never a good sign)? Neither team charts well in Massey-Peabody. The Giants also are very vulnerable to the deep pass, something Atlanta does pretty well. I'll call it 24-23 Falcons.

The Packers will demolish the Bears, who may not even make the playoffs. Green Bay 24, Chicago 13.

M-P says the Jets have about a 7% chance to make the playoffs. I do think they'll win out (MP says 8-8, rounding). Monday night is about as easy a game as a team like the Jets can have. It would be a sin if they made it though. They need Cincy to break the division tie with the Steelers and then the Jets hold the tiebreakers over the Bengals. The Jets also hold the tiebreaker over the Colts via head-to-head and, yes, Indy could lose all three, even the game to the Chiefs. I feel about them like I felt about the Broncos last year.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Dec 14, 2012 at 8:59 AM
Subject: ghost of benny agbayani
To: Michael Salfino

I've been buried in outfield profiles all night, so I can't guarantee my reply will make sense or be coherent. It's the curse of Kirk Nieuwenhuis. (If I were a Mets fan, I'd root for 162 rainouts in 2013. It is not pretty.)

I wonder if anyone's done a study on backup quarterbacks entering games in midstream, where the advantage lies, what happens the next week. I always felt the backup was better off in the first start with the full practice reps, but maybe there's something to be said for coming into a deficit, no pressure, just letting it rip. I'm not sure research would give us any pattern, to be honest. The universe doesn't have to give us static rules for all situations. Some guys go off in a contract year, some guys don't. I bet batting order protection does matter in some pockets, but it's not prevalent enough to be a catch-all.

Yeah, I'm a little punchy.

I still sense there's some Patriots nitpicking going on, here and there. It reminds me of the early scouting reports on Wayne Gretzky, where some would say he couldn't skate that well and some would say he wasn't strong enough or good enough defensively. And then one scout threw up his hands and said "you're right, all he can do is score goals." I think I remember it working out for him.

We're deep into the dance and a plus-198 point differential is a statement. Remember all that "sky is falling" crap when New England was 3-3? They're 7-0 since, outscoring the opponents by 147 points. A couple of lucky wins, sure, but you can point to fluky things in all three of their losses, too. Those things come close to evening out. They're clearly the best team in football and I see no rational argument against it.

Of course modern sports aren't set up to identify the best team. It doesn't really matter. The goal is to win the end-of-season tournament. The Giants weren't the best team last year, the Kings weren't hockey's best team, the MLB Giants weren't baseball's best team, etc. This is all ground we've been over. The goal is to get to the tournament and then play well once you're there. How you actually time it, set it up for that, I don't know what there's a great answer on that theme.

I definitely don't see a coordinator change as pointless now. If you think something is broken, why not fix it? Maybe the offensive players hated Cameron. Maybe just the idea of an identified scapegoat is good for the team. The play-calling responsibilities shift all the time with football teams, that's not a new thing. Sometimes it works. Sometimes a pitcher needs to call his own pitches, sometimes the catches calls them, sometimes the bench calls them. Obviously football has a lot more moving parts and calculus to it, but if the Ravens felt Cameron was in their way, I don't see what's wrong with popping the hood open right now and trying something.

Mind you, they're still going to have their hands full with Denver. The Broncos are definitely better. But Baltimore is at home (which matters to them) and more desperate. Ravens by three.

You can have the Cowboys. I've seen those guys lay too many eggs. Jay Ratliff is out, the run-stopping linebackers are out. Jason Garrett is a horrendous endgame tactician in any close game (I know they won one last week). It sounds like Dez Bryant is going to play but I'm not sure how well he can catch with that injury. The Cowboys OL has been weak since center Phil Costa got hurt. Pittsburgh wins by 10.

The Bears have a beat-up defense and a huge deficit at quarterback. Green Bay, unbalanced and all, finds a way to win that game. Atlanta takes care of business at home. I have a funny feeling the Browns win ugly over Washington, as much as I hate to say that. I don't have a single stake in the Redskins, but I'm as enamored with RG3 as everyone else is.

What to Read Next