Breakfast Table: Henne Given Sunday

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: scott pianowski
Date: Tue, Nov 20, 2012 at 3:35 PM
Subject: cranberry breakfast
To: Michael Salfino

The goal for any NFL scribe is not to get too jazzed over an isolated result, but there was plenty of overreaction fodder from Week 11. The Texans, Falcons and Cowboys all tried to hand away games, but the Jaguars, Cardinals and Browns handed them back. Robert Griffin and Colin Kaepernick played just about perfectly. The Niners have to go with Kaepernick forward, right? if they don't, Vernon Davis is going to start taking hostages.

There's an intriguing six-pack of games for Thanksgiving week. Even with our usual Nuked Table in this slot, let's try to get to all six.

There's probably a juicy upset waiting on Thursday but I can't decide on it yet. Houston's mess last week goes right in the fluke file, right? Henne Given Sunday. Any reason to worry about them at Detroit, on a short week?

I'm never surprised when anyone challenges the Cowboys in Dallas; Jerry World hasn't proven to be much of a home field advantage (16-13 SU, 11-18 ATS). Or maybe that speaks to the way the league is wound at the moment, something related to the design of newer stadiums. Are you siding with the Griffins or the Romos?

Sorry, readers, the Patriots and Jets play this week. Thus, we will discuss. That's how it goes. The Jets should have won the first meeting, and now the Patriots have to trudge forward without Rob Gronkowski, their second-best player.

There's a lot of deadwood on the Sunday slate, but we have one intriguing game in each time slot. The Falcons have been the untrustable No. 1 seed all year and now they play at frisky Tampa Bay. If you were starting a new team, would you pick Josh Freeman over Matt Ryan? Is it too late for the Bucs to reopen the NFC South race?

The Niners and Saints should be a corker in the second wave, perhaps the best defense against the best offense. And if you like football, you can't wait to see Kaepernick do the Humpty Dance again. Does New Orleans have a legitimate chance to win here, get back into the playoffs, or both?

And then there's the Giants, the November swooners coming off their bye. I feel like we've been through this, but is there a logical reason to explain the timing of these third-quarter slumps? Does Big Blue get its groove back against Green Bay? And how far can the Packers go with no running game and all those defensive injuries?

Time to pick the bone clean. Week 12's Microwave Breakfast is served.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 1:51 AM
Subject: Re: cranberry breakfast
To: scott pianowski

Dream scenario for Jets fans in this nightmare of a season is that the Jets beat the Patriots (I'll give that a 30% chance) and then get these season-closing games: Cardinals, at Jaguars, at Titans, Chargers, at Bills. Can't get easier than this. Of course, teams circle the Jets on their schedule with a smile, too, I'm sure.

Have you gotten over the Gronkowski injury yet? I get that coaches do not think about injuries with players in blowouts. They're sitting them mostly to just give the backups some snaps. And, yes, Gronkowski wasn't even playing on the last scoring drive before getting hurt on the extra point. But what I don't understand is throwing the football WITH TOM BRADY in these situations (3rd and 7 up 52-24 on the drive in question). That's when you are supposed to just run the ball off tackle with your backups and turn it over on downs. Then, the opponent does the same thing and it's game over. But the Patriots really go out of their way to embarrass teams. I don't understand what purpose that serves irrespective of Gronkowski's injury, which is really only tangentially related (though deliciously karmic, for the Belichick haters).

But Aaron Hernandez is likely back for New England so I don't think Gronkowski's loss is that big a deal against the Jets. If Mark Sanchez can avoid turnovers, the Jets will probably win because New England's pass defense is still sickening despite all the Andrew Luck giveaways. But I can't see Sanchez playing clean two weeks in a row, especially feeling like he has to make plays and especially at home, where he usually plays really tight. I see the Patriots winning this game 30-20 with the help of some short fields or even a defensive touchdown.

Sometimes defenses can really be thrown when a backup quarterback comes in early after an injury. Especially when the backup plays so differently (and better, too) than the starter. Suddenly, with Henne, the Jaguars had a downfield passing game. Still, though, no excuse for that effort against the Jaguars. The offense responded. I don't get why people do not think Matt Schaub can come back when the situation calls for it. He's had 25 games now with a 100-plus QB rating since 2009, fifth most behind Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. It's more than Ben Roethlisberger (21). I will not be surprised in the least if Schaub lights up the Patriots even if New England gets off to a multi-touchdown lead in January. It also looks like Andre Johnson's obituary was hastily written -- he leads the NFL in yards per pass route. So the efficiency is there, obviously. But what the heck is wrong with Arian Foster, who looks like an undrafted free agent most carries to me. Houston has a huge edge at QB because Matthew Stafford isn't even good this year, so give me the Texans by a touchdown on Thanksgiving.

My head says to pick the Cowboys but I hate giving points when you can make the case that the underdog has the better quarterback. I really like Tony Romo. Robert Griffin III, though, is a freak who is setting rookie records for accuracy and passer rating and interception rate while running it great, too. He may have had the best game ever for a quarterback given that he had a perfect passer rating with four TDs and also ran the ball for over 80 yards. That's hard to beat. I know the Eagles mentally packed their bags halfway through the first quarter, but still. I'll say 24-23 Cowboys in the game of the week.

I think the Bucs and the Falcons are both really lucky teams. Massey-Peabody has Tampa slightly below average and the Falcons barely a point better than the Jets on neutral field. Freeman came on late but otherwise was terrible. He's been hot but has had a real roller-coaster career with 14 games over a 100 rating and 14 games under. Ryan torpedoed his Most Valuable Player changes with a five interception, zero TD game that he will not recover from, statistically. Only Bart Starr in 1967 won a game with five picks and no TD passes. I think both guys are really similar. I like them both, but love neither. They're playoff quarterbacks and not championship ones because I'm never surprised when either stinks it up against anyone. Ryan, by the way, 23 over 100 and 13 under 70. That's okay, actually, about Joe Flacco and better than Eli Manning (21-13) and Matthew Stafford (14-11). If you like this stat (and I do), you have to conclude that Stafford and Eli are way overrated. I have no problem saying that about Stafford but stipulating it about Eli vexes me a little, I confess (again, these stats are just from 2009 because I was trying to rank Sanchez -- 12 over, 24 under). To me, the stat is like finding out how many times a pitcher gets rocked (five-plus runs) versus the times he pitches a high-quality start (maybe seven-plus innings, two runs or less).

Eli has three straight games under a 60 rating. Teams since 2011 are 22-107 when their QB has a rating of 60 or below (minimum 20 attempts). Which reminds me, ESPN, if passer rating is such a lousy stat, why does it correlate so well to winning and losing? The only major flaw is how it dings the running quarterbacks but doing nothing with their rushing TDs. (And that makes Griffin's rating even more impressive.) The Giants also can't stop No. 1 receivers. Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Steve Smith and A.J. Green are the only true No. 1s they've played and they have gone 22 completions in 33 attempts for 398 yards and three TDs -- a 138.2 passer rating. Do the Packers have a No. 1 receiver though? Bye weeks used to be a problem for the Giants but they've won their last four. Coughlin 88-61 overall and 13-21 in November. I don't know what to make of that. I actually hate historic stats in football because the deck is shuffled every year. Giants 28, Packers 27.

I really like the Saints-49ers games. It's fascinating for a lot of reasons. Primarily, for me, in seeing who Jim Harbaugh plays at quarterback. It's hard to bench Alex Smith, who is hot and who has a QB rating for the year over 100. And he was good last year and good in the playoffs, too. But Colin Kaepernick gives them another offensive dimension with his great running ability and more explosive throwing. I can't see Alex Smith demolishing a good Chicago defense like Kaepernick did and that's the kind of team that the Bears are going to have to beat in January. Kaepernick has a lower floor, for sure. But I'd rather see what happens with Kaepernick and have Alex Smith in reserve, if I'm Harbaugh. The Saints are not a team I'd want to be playing right now. They have relocated their running game with Mark Ingram of all people (I had him dead and buried). And Drew Brees is as dangerous as ever. Even the defense looked okay last week, but the Raiders are just a total joke right now so who knows what to make of that.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 12:20 PM
Subject: ghost of brian coutu
To: Michael Salfino

I can live with Gronkowski getting hurt on an extra-point try. That's just crummy luck. Teams only have 45 players in uniform on game day; this isn't high school or college football, where backups share numbers and lockers and there's always a scrub to turn to. Name one other player in the history of football injured on an extra-point try. One guy. Anyone.

Gronkowski didn't play the offensive series prior to the kick, so it's not like he was over-exposed late in this game. That said, I think most pro clubs are far too reckless with their elite talent during garbage time. There's no reason to get Shady McCoy injured when the Eagles are trailing by 25. Matt Forte saw a lot of late carries Monday, for some reason. All those late passes the Patriots threw in 2007 blowouts were careless - why encourage some pissed off defender to go Jeff Gillooly on the quarterback's knees?

At some point you accept the game is over and it's get on the bus time. Wrap the game as quickly as you can and move on.

You know I'm head over cleats for Griffin but last week's game became grossly overrated in 15 seconds. Griffin only threw two passes in the first quarter, a modest 15 for the game, and the match wasn't competitive for the final three quarters. And Philadelphia's pass defense has been atrocious since the coordinator switch. This unit hands out pinball numbers at the door. Consider:

-- Matt Ryan posted a 137.4 rating (his best of the year) at Philly in Week 8, starting the game with six lengthy scoring drives in a row.
-- Drew Brees went for a 128.2 rating in Week 9.
-- Tony Romo scored a 122.1 rating in Week 10.

Add it all up and here's the Todd Bowles Era through four weeks: 76-for-97, 910 yards, 11 TDs, 0 picks. That's a 9.4 YPA and a 143 rating, and even if you take Griffin's share of it out, we're looking at crooked numbers (8.7 YPA, 129.6 rating). These guys can't stop anyone or anything.

Well, maybe they'll stop Cam Newton on Monday. Who knows? That game didn't make our survey.

I'd like to see Freeman nudge the completion percentage forward, but either way I'll take him over Ryan in a start-from-scratch question. The 2011 sample is a throw-away; so many things went wrong in Tampa. Freeman challenges you deep and he extends plays with his mobility, two things you don't get as often with Ryan.

The funny thing about the Patriots secondary is that it stops primary wideouts just fine, but slot receivers and tight ends have a field day. Good news for Jeremy Kerley and Dustin Keller, both of whom did well in the first meeting. The line (Pats -7) is too high, but no way I'm taking Sanchez over Brady in a game that has meaning. Patriots 27, Jets 24.

Coughlin's teams in Jacksonville consistently hit the wall in October, but the other months were fine. The "wear them out" theory means nothing now that teams can't hit in practice; and heck, the Giants always seem to play well in December. Some things aren't meant to be understood. I like your score; I'll call it 30-27, Giants.

Kaepernick's start against Chicago was almost too good to be true. This looked like Steve Young from the mid-90s. The accuracy blew me away. Nobody's that good, right? I can't see how Harbaugh doesn't roll with this, see where it leads. He has no previous commitment to Smith anyway. I'm picking the Saints because of prep time, home field and the desperation angle, but I could see that one going either way.

Texans by 3. Redskins upset the Cowboys; Dallas hasn't played Griffin yet and there's no time to adequately prepare for the avalanche. Freeman rallies Tampa past Atlanta. Chelmsford rolls over Billerica.

A happy and save Thanksgiving to all of our readers. We appreciate you.

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