Breakfast Table: Is the running game an endangered species?

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: Wed, Nov 27, 2013 at 2:54 PM
Subject: turkey day breakfast
To: Mark Stopa

The Thanksgiving slate would be a lot more fun if Aaron Rodgers were ready to go for Green Bay. The Pittsburgh-Baltimore game doesn't thrill me - it never thrills me. But the rest of the week is fun.

Nick Foles, the man with the impossible numbers, gets an interesting test against Arizona's grosssly-underrated defense.

Can Adrian Peterson run for 200-plus yards against Chicago's leaky front seven? What's the over-under here?

The Chiefs are battered (on defense) and bruised (in the ego). Now they face a Denver team that somehow frittered away the New England game. Peyton's second-lowest YPA, by the way. Does KC have the personnel to challenge the Broncos on the flanks? How much will Denver be affected if Knowshon Moreno can't go?

And then there's a delicious Monday nighter for dessert, New Orleans at Seattle. It's hard to see anyone beating the Seahawks at home; then again, the suddenly-plucky Buccaneers almost did it. What are you expecting on Monday?

Put it all in one reply, amigo - microwave rules for Thanksgiving breakfast.

From: Mark Stopa
Date: Wed, Nov 27, 2013 at 4:11 PM
Subject: Re: turkey day breakfast
To: Scott Pianowski

Adrian Peterson can and will run all over the Bears - heck, I'd pencil you in for 21-95-1 against Chicago - but other than in fantasy-land, how much does it really matter? Eddie Lacy and Knowshon Moreno looked about as good as two backs can look in Week 12, yet neither led his team to victory. Instead, it was the teams who won the YPA battle who went 11-2-1 in the Week 12 games. As recently as the 1990s, if a back like Emmitt Smith had a game like Lacy or Moreno did, it just about guaranteed victory. Today's NFL has such strict rules on illegal contact, defenseless receivers, and hits on quarterbacks, rushing is nearly irrelevant. (Give it 10 years and most studio guys will catch on.)

I desperately want to put a fork in the Chiefs, but I look around the AFC and can't do it. Indy is an injury-riddled disaster, Cincy relies on Andy Dalton and its best defensive players are out for the year, and Peyton can't play in the cold. I want to say the Patriots are the new favorites, but they've had a ton of injuries, too, and Brady is barely .500 with no rings in the past decade. As we saw last year, anything can happen in the AFC.

The Chiefs Week 12 showing alarmed me not just because of the points allowed, but the inability to pressure Rivers even with the benefit of the home crowd. The injuries to both stud ends hurt, of course, but that's part of the problem. In a weird way, though, this gives Alex Smith the chance to prove everyone wrong. If the Chiefs can win this week, it won't be with defense, and the AFC is right there for the taking. I'm curious, but I'm not buying it. Broncos 34-17.

I give the Saints much more of a chance to win outright than the Chiefs, yet Vegas has the Saints getting more points. Color me surprised. We all know how pronounced the home/road splits are for both SEA and NO, but the Seahawks injuries in the secondary concern me. It's terrible timing, too, as Brees will exploit any sign of weakness there. Gun to head, I'd still pick Seattle straight up, but I'd bet the Saints with the points, now creeping up around 5 in most books. Definitely "game of the year" potential on Monday night. I can't wait.

Nobody is excited about Steelers/Ravens, yet I have little doubt we'll all be enjoying a three-point game that's only decided in the final minutes. Isn't that all we can ask for any stand-alone game? The crazy part is that the loser will be just a game back despite being 5-7. I fear Green Bay won't give us that same excitement in the early game. Miss you, Rodgers. Lions 31-20.

I'd love Philly as a dark horse Super Bowl candidate if they were in the AFC. It's a shame we can't get Eagles/Cardinals as the Sunday night game instead of Giants/Redskins, as I'd love to study Foles against a good defense. And we know the Cardinals defense is good if Carson Palmer is 7-4. If Foles can past that test, it will be past time to push some chips Philly's way.

Anyone looking to make Thanksgiving a little more fun, get a one-day fantasy game going. Grab a friend and do a two-man draft for a lineup like this ... you each start 2 QBs, 3 RBs, 3 WRs, 2 TE, 2 flex (QB/RB/WR/TE), 3 K, 3 D/ST. One week only, the universe of players is only those players on the Lions, Packers, Ravens, Steelers, Cowboys and Raiders (h/t Derek Van Riper). Or grab two friends and each team starts fewer players.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. You, too, Pianow. Enjoy that pasta.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Nov 28, 2013 at 4:15 AM
Subject: Re: turkey day breakfast
To: Mark Stopa

Everyone knows it's a passing league and my "quarterbacks must win MVP" rant is bookcased by now, but I'm not willing to say the running game is completely irrelevant. For one thing, a lot of teams mangle their YPAs as they're losing, while the leading team has the benefit of hitter's counts. It's nice to throw when you want to, not because you have to. And I still say there's something to be said for being diversified on offense and not getting your quarterback pummeled for four quarters - though the legislation of NFL hits (defenders have no margin for error) brings that latter point into question. (That said, look at all the QBs who have gotten hurt this year. Try telling the Packers and the Bears about quarterbacks not being at risk.)

I have the Broncos winning a close game. Arrowhead Stadium still means something and I like how KC is more aggressive on offense of late (Dwayne Bowe isn't dominating, but he's off the milk carton). Denver reminds me a little of the 2007 Pats - you couldn't make the line high enough for half the year, but eventually the wave broke and the bubble burst. This isn't to say the Broncos aren't an elite offense, but they no longer claim 40 points just by showing up.

Here are the recent margins in the Pittsburgh-Baltimore series: 3, 3, 3, 3, 28, 7, 3, 3, 3, 3. And here is the winning-team score in those games: 19, 23, 13, 23, 35, 31, 13, 17, 23, 20. Talk about a rerun. Feels like Pittsburgh plus three is the forced play. The Steelers mildly bother me at times; I still hate the Ravens. Maybe I'm not seeing this logically, but give me Pittsburgh, 20-17. I want Big Ben over Flacco. Antonio Brown makes a big play every week.

The Seahawks are going to throw personnel and physicality at Jimmy Graham on just about every snap. As the saying goes, dare the officials to call pass interference on almost every play - knowing they won't do it. If Seattle can at least keep Graham from dominating, who else scares you downfield? Kenny Stills is a speciality guy. Lance Moore isn't vertical, Marques Colston isn't healthy. The tricky element to this game - I don't know what to make of the Saints defense. But I'm not trusting it in this hornet's nest. Seahawks 27, Saints 23.

I'm with you, I wish we could flex Philly-Arizona to the Sunday night (or Thursday night) slot. I have no interest in watching Robert Griffin III play through his injury, or enduring Eli Manning's draw plays on third and forever.

Nick Foles can't be this good - no one is - but he's legit. Chip Kelly is legit, too. The Eagles have a handful of skill guys who scare you. And then there's Arizona's defense, which has difference makers on all three levels. Give Philly the nod; Carson Palmer can't be trusted in these spots, on the road. (I say it with some trepidation, because the Cardinals have a slew of dangerous skill guys, too. Michael Floyd is terrific. Andre Ellington holds your attention. Larry Fitzgerald is still here.)

Yes, pasta, glorious pasta. Gotta get some sleep, want to be rested for the next Jim Schwartz meltdown. Complete hunch: Packers 27, Lions 24.

Peterson? Give me the over on two bills. Maybe it's the whiskey talking. The fake-football peeps will take it.

(Editor's Note: After a decade, Mike Salfino has excused himself from The Table. It was his concept of a column back in the early 2000s. We thank Mike for his ideas, his passion, and his fine work. There's always a seat for him. - pianow)

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