Breakfast Table: Grave Dancer’s Union

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.

This is a lengthy piece and it's not specifically aimed at fantasy. It's not for everyone. If you don't enjoy long reads, you're encouraged to go elsewhere.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Tue, Oct 22, 2013 at 11:46 AM
Subject: Week 8 Breakfast
To: scott pianowski

It's funny that for all our Jets-Pats rivalry talk, Brady was 18-4 against them in the regular season before Sunday. He's now 1-1 against Geno Smith though and probably should be 0-2. But the real question now is whether he's Tom Brady anymore. How much of his performance is the lack of receivers, random badness and age-based decline. I mean, look at what Matt Ryan did with all new players that few would hardly think are any good against a decent Tampa Bay defense. But maybe Ryan is just a lot better than we think. Still, the implication then is that, at a minimum, Brady is not longer elite. He looked REALLY bad on Sunday, for sure. Why is Bill Belichick relatively unsuccessful against rookie QBs?

We get Cam Newton on Thursday. You like to beat up Cam, which is not entirely unfair, I stipulate, but I don't understand why you did it Sunday when he was in the midst of one of his best games in reality. He's another guy whose supporting cast has consistently been sub-2013 Brady, correct?

The Bucs should just give Revis back to the Jets. They are wasting their money. Again, this shows how underrated a defensive mind Rex Ryan is. Not even Revis is plug and play.

Wait, another game in London? I mean, you can ship the Jaguars to Mars for all I care. Their uniforms last week were standard or variation? Seemed different to me: like Notre Dame mated with the old Charlotte Hornets.

The Read Option made a return last week with Colin Kaepernick and RGIII. I'm going long on Griffin now. I'd love to see the Broncos lose again. The Denver defense is atrocious and they are now just plus-1.1 in net, sack-adjusted YPA (yards/pass attempt). As I noted last week, that's typically a 10 win team. If Griffin is back, the Redskins have a shot. Take the points at least. I'm fading the Broncos the rest of the season, predicting they finish 11-5. With that defense, they can lose to anyone.

We have only two games this week that feature teams with winning records: Jets at Bengals and Cowboys at Lions. So let's pick them. And the Chiefs play the Browns and are threatening my Jets' all-time team sack record, on pace for 80 and lapping the 2013 field. KC plays the Browns and Brandon Weeden, who has been sacked 21 times and hasn't played about half the year. Murder, She Wrote. Week 8 Breakfast is served.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Oct 24, 2013 at 1:33
Subject: wag the dog
To: Michael Salfino

It's been an annoying week, defending the Patriots here and there and everywhere. I feel a little like Bill Parcells; when the public praises the team, talk it down - and when everyone wants to jump ship, talk it up.

I'm thrilled the team is 5-2. Other than Tom Brady, just about every important player has gotten hurt - the stud tight end, the best wideout, arguably the best running back, the best cover corner, the best defensive lineman, a key linebacker (mind you, I do think Wilfork and Mayo are overrated, but I want them around). And this doesn't even mention the other tight end who went completely off the reservation.

Brady hasn't played well but he's had a near perfect storm of maladies around him. The schedule hasn't been easy, either - the Jets are fourth in YPA allowed (very glad to be done with them), the Bengals seventh, a few neutral matchups. Thank goodness for those out-of-conference games.

Obviously injuries happen in every city, and it's not like anyone was blindsided by the Gronkowski and Amendola stories. You knew what you were getting into. But I trust in how Bill Belichick teams tend to improve in the second half - Brady's YPA usually pushes forward, too. I know it's different this year because he's starting from the gutter, but I'll be shocked if this isn't partially repaired if not significantly fixed. Not that New England is a juggernaut, but it's still the likely division winner and a solid 10-6 or 11-5 team.

The Miami game is an excellent litmus test.

Tampa's 22nd in YPA allowed. Harry Douglas had the easiest 149 yards you can get (look at the tape again). That game told me a lot more about the Bucs than it did the Falcons.

If you're going to dog me about the Pats, I'm dogging you about Andrew Luck. He's scalped three of your boyfriends, Colin Kaepernick (well, you liked him back in early September - in football time, that's a decade ago), Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning. I know you're likely to mock Luck for the static YPA, but he's improved in every other important area. And perhaps most important, he's protecting the ball - just four turnovers after 23 last year (and he deserved more). I grant you there's a lot of luck tied to turnovers, but that doesn't mean they're 100 percent random. There's a reason Eli gives the ball away and Peyton doesn't.

Still, there's something about the Colts that leaves me cold. They'll miss Reggie Wayne, old guy and all. Trent Richardson is obviously a mess. If you had to pick an AFC champion for your house and Denver wasn't available, is Indy the play? Kansas City? Cincinnati? New England?

The Broncos score 68 points in two weeks and suddenly there's a "book" on them. It's nice that Indy pressed the flank and pressured the pocket without heavy personnel devoted to the task - that's a good strategy against anyone if you have the right players. It's like telling your golfer to ram home those 45-foot putts. My first rule against any finesse offense is to try to beat them physically, even if you take penalties in the process. This obviously works a lot better at home, where you're likely to get borderline calls in your favor.

My Cam bashing is mostly fantasy related, though I'd like to see him win some close games, too. His red zone numbers aren't good. His volume is also going down in 2013, a big reason for fake footballers to bail. But every time I say anything about Newton, I get tons of Twitter pushback.

Geno Smith's been on the road three times - he was sharp in Atlanta (26th in YPA allowed) and terrible in the other two games. The Bengals are a bad matchup for him. That said, New York can play hide-the-QB if it wants, rely on defense, try to win 16-13. The Bengals will probably allow that, too. Marvin Lewis isn't a risk taker. But Smith needs to show me a clean game on the road against a good defense.

It's fun to see Robert Griffin doing his thing again. It's the wrong time to play Washington. Love them with the points, albeit they can't stop anyone. Did Manning look hurt to you last week?

You go first on the Lions and Cowboys, I'll catch up. And I like your ding of Belichick against rookie QBs - it's a sly "they win with players, lose with tactics" play. Belichick could save your daughter from drowning and you'd still spit on his shoes. Jaded until the end.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Oct 24, 2013 at 11:53 AM
Subject: Re: wag the dog
To: scott pianowski

I agree the Patriots will win the division. They'll likely be 11-5 at least and I can't see the Jets being better than 10-6 and even that will be impossible without an upset on Sunday. But I think Brady is no longer elite and that destroys any chance to work some postseason magic, hardly a strength of Brady for a while now even when he was playing at a Hall of Fame level. Brady was very bad against the Jets, irrespective of their defense. There have been so many excuses for him but we've played seven games and in one he's had a YPA over 6.3 and in two a passer rating over 77. This is not just some slump or due to bad chemistry. You know I've always maintained that elite wide receivers are unnecessary for a great QB because they make them.

This Belichick team is not going to improve in the second half, either. At least not when measured by record. Look, the Patriots' success has been QB-reliant. He's had an inner-circle Hall of Famer at the position for 14 years. That seems to be gone now, forever. This doesn't mean Brady is some scrub or even that he's average. I will stipulate he can play better even now. But he's not Brady anymore. The Dolphins though are average to worse in most of the key offensive and defensive stats and are upside down in net, sack-adjusted YPA, meaning they should lose against a league-average team on a neutral field. More broadly, Massey-Peabody has them below average, too (but higher than the Jets -- the Jets are a huge variance team because you have no idea what Geno you're going to get but it's probably not going to be the "average" one). Patriots 23, Dolphins 17.

Fair point about the Bucs and Ryan. Schiano will be gone by the weekend and that's a good thing because he's a real jerk. Schiano seems like every jackass gym teacher you ever had rolled into one -- a strutter without a single real accomplishment. Panthers 38. Bucs 10.

I never cared what Luck did, I just said that elite fantasy performance typically requires and elite YPA (by typically, I mean over 90% of the time), and that Luck was a bad bet to have one. Right now, he's 22nd in YPA. I don't know why I have to apologize. His rating is 13th, which is not very impressive considering his low/lucky interception rate (he's had 27 passes defensed and typically that correlates to picks, consider that Geno Smith has had 26 passes defensed; the theory is, if the defender can get a hand on it, you are playing with fire). I'll take under on Luck's rest of season rating being 90, too.

If you mean to say that Luck is better than Wilson, we have a big disagreement. I do not think it's close. Wilson's TD pass to Rice last Thursday is a play no other quarterback in the league can make. Seahawks 31, Rams 0.

I don't like Harbaugh at all as an offensive coordinator. Why take the read option away from Kaepernick all those weeks. Is it back now? It looked that way on Sunday. 49ers 27, Jaguars 13.

Offense is not going to be the Broncos' problem, clearly. But it's not going to be as easy as it's been. Teams will force the Broncos receivers to beat press coverage with safeties in the middle of the field, which typically means you have one-on-one on the outside. This spells trouble for Knowshon Moreno, too, who will have to find yards between the tackles. Can Peyton make those deep, sideline throws consistently? I'm not sure. It clearly is not his comfort zone and he was alarmingly bad throwing the ball deep most of the game on Sunday, too. Even the completions were ugly. And I'm not blaming injury because he threw a couple of crisp deep balls late in the game. The real problem for Denver is that its defense turns every QB they face into an approximation of Manning. I think the Redskins are a fundamentally different team now with RGIII back in 2012 form. Shanahan will pull out all the stops and I'll pick the upset: Redskins 34, Broncos 31.

Newton has a significantly better YPA than Luck and a better rating, too. This is the kind of bias I've railed against with Luck. The glass is always half full with him when it comes to every quantitative measure. With Newton, not just with you but with most, it's always half empty. Luck gets excuses last year for his supporting cast and coordinator compared to what Newton is dealing with? Are you kidding me?!? If one Luck guy made a similar excuse for Newton, I'd fall off my chair.

Geno Smith is not being hidden by the Jets by a long shot. He's third in average pass length (air yards from scrimmage) and second in average pass length on completions. That's why, like with Luck last year, we've heard so much about how you have to give Geno a break with rating and interceptions because he's forced to make all these deep throws. Oh, wait, we haven't heard a single person on the planet say that one time. So never mind. Until I see Smith put two clean games in a row together, I will assume he can't, yet. Bengals 20, Jets 10.

I think Matthew Stafford is just terrible. Give me Romo over Stafford 100 times out of 100. I can't believe the stupid throws that Stafford gets away with because of Megatron. He has four picks throwing into triple coverage a few times every week. Joke. But in fairness, Stafford's fared better without him this year than I would have expected. I like Dallas here. Dez Bryant vs. Calvin Johnson should be fun and I hope it's as good as Johnson vs. Green was last week. The Lions are 25th in YPA allowed and upside down in the category. Cowboys 30, Lions 27.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Oct 25, 2013 at 2:27 PM
Subject: newton minnow
To: Michael Salfino

We're in the endless loop again with the Patriots blame thing. How much of it is Brady (who I admit isn't playing well)? How much of it is the crummy receivers? The Pats are second in the league in drops. How much of it is on Josh McDaniels? It's the flip side of the Niners mad lib, Walsh and Montana (and Young) and Rice. Everyone deserves some blame (or credit), and it's impossible to say how much.

(And if the QB makes the offense, explain Steve Young absolutely sucking on the Buccaneers. I know, I've used that before.)

Some would say this is what makes football debates (arguments) great. I think it's what makes them annoying, too.

Here's my question for anyone who wants to answer: how many NFL clubs would trade all of their wideouts for all of New England's wideouts, ignoring contracts? Also, what's a good over/under for Brady's YPA the rest of the year? I hope we get some participation here.

Kenbrell Thompkins is an undrafted rookie, kids. Anyone making a feel-good story from a rookie street kid this year? The way Thompkins runs routes, you'd swear Pascual Perez coached him in high school.

The Patriots might not improve by record in the second half (the schedule is harder), but I'll be shocked if Brady doesn't play a lot better. And maybe they're not that bad right now, speaking broadly. Massey-Peabody actually ranks New England above Indianapolis.

Another big win for the Panthers (nice job by you, just about nailing the final score). Man, they love to beat up on the crummy teams - Tampa, St. Louis, Minnesota and the Giants. Those teams are 4-22 collectively. According to Football Outsiders, Carolina has played the fourth-easiest schedule in the league (and that's into Week 8; Tampa will push it down). It's the ninth-hardest to close. Show us you can beat good teams, Scam Newton.

(Massive disagreement between FO and M-P with Kansas City - the Chiefs are fourth on FO, 20th in M-P. I certainly don't see ten teams better than the Chiefs, let alone 19. Arizona above KC? Carson Palmer will crush your soul.)

Nice to see you coming around on Wilson this year - now all five dentists recommend Trident. I touted Wilson tirelessly in the summer of 2012 and was mocked for taking preseason seriously (I think you were in on the laugh, but I don't remember for sure). I went on Sirius/XM and asked to talk about Wilson (the only time I've made a pre-show request for any topic). My Stopa 5K team was named after Wilson. I'm already seated on the bandwagon, Jersey.

Stafford gets away with a lot because of Johnson; he throws from different platforms all the time. Trent Green was dinging Cam Newton for that the other day, too. Sometimes it's easy to cut corners if you're physically gifted. I agree with you, I'd take Romo over Stafford every day of the week, and I also feel better about the Cowboys defense. Dallas by three.

Denver has to outscore everyone and the NFL is in trouble now that Robert Griffin feels good again. How high would you take RG3 in a redraft right now? Top 5 at QB? Higher. First team to 40 wins; I hope it's Washington. I'm doing an Ernie laugh every time Roy Helu scores. Broncos 41, Redskins 38.

I didn't say Geno is being hidden, I presented it as a legitimate way to play this week. Marty Morhinweg probably won't see it that way. Short term, it's not for the best, but if development is your primary aim - and it should be with a rebuilding team - toss the kid in the water, see if he can swim, let him grow through trial and error. It's the right move. Bengals slip by.

Gather up your jackets, move it to the exits. The balcony is closed.

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