Breakfast Table: Lame ducks, surging Seahawks

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 19, 2012 at 10:18 AM
Subject: Week 16 Breakfast
To: scott pianowski

Sorry to interrupt you from enjoying #QBsbetterthanSanchez trending on Twitter. (I would take Uncle Rico now, for sure. Even this far removed from 1982.) But it's time again to dish up this week's Breakfast.

We have coaching changes coming in many NFL cities: Philadelphia for sure, probably not Dallas now, Detroit seems like a lock to me but that's your backyard, I don't think in New York with Rex Ryan. Kansas City, too. And then possibly two more jobs no one would want: Oakland and Jacksonville.

Dallas has gone from finished to possibly winning the NFC East. But that assumes they win in Washington in Week 17. This week, they host the Saints, which unbelievably shut out the Bucs with the NFL's worst defense, destroying many fantasy football seasons in the process.

The Giants, once the heavy favorite, are now least likely to win the division. But somehow, despite being the ninth seed right now, they still control their own destiny with two more wins. This confuses me. Big Blue faces its AFC counterpart when it comes to suddenly tripping down a few flight of stairs -- the Ravens. John Harbaugh says the team has to run the ball better. I think that Joe Flacco needs to throw it better, myself. He and Eli Manning are a lot alike in their maddening inconsistency. Do you know that Eli has four games this year with a QB rating under 60 and his brother Peyton has two since November -- 2008?

In stark contrast to the losing teams and teams with struggling QBs stands the 49ers. Aaron Rodgers weighs in this week. Unwanted Alex Smith will get his shot next year with another team and make a fortune. But for now, are the Niners with Colin Kaepernick off the win in New England the heavy favorite in the NFC? Or do we credit the certain No. 1 seed, Atlanta, for the thumping of the Giants more than we blame Eli and company? By the way, Tom Brady after the score was 31-3 had probably the best stretch of play I've ever seen not just from him but from any QB ever. He did everything perfectly for so many plays in a row against arguably the best defense in the league with everyone knowing he had to pass. And it wasn't just the passing in all depths and directions but the pace of his play and crossing SF up with runs, too -- even his own on audibles when the defense tried to get wider splits to improve their pass rush.

Week 16 Breakfast is served.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Dec 20, 2012 at 7:05 AM
Subject: the sound of silence
To: Michael Salfino

The only way to make the Jets-Chargers game interesting is for the coaches to add a bet to the match. Rex Ryan and Norv Turner should agree that the losing coach never works in the NFL again; put that in play and I'll definitely watch. Otherwise, give me the remote and let's move along. The 1980 Jets ended their season with the famous no-announcer game. This year's Jets deserve a full blackout.

I am a little disappointed Tim Tebow isn't going to play. I still maintain his failures will be more watchable than any success Greg McElroy gives us. Maybe I've missed something on McElroy, I don't know. (I grant you the Tebow risk for the Jets; if he plays well, you set yourself up for more problems and headaches.) Otherwise, the failure of this team is somewhat of an overblown story - the over/under on Gang Green into the year was eight wins. They still might get those eight wins. This isn't the crumbling of some empire, it's a mediocre team likely to finish close to expectations.

I'd love to see Tebow try to make it in the CFL; in so many ways, he's the left-handed version of Doug Flutie. A pair of my Yahoo! colleagues are split on the idea: CFL Blogger Andrew Bucholtz doesn't think it would work, while Shutdown Corner's Doug Farrar gives it a shot. I'm in the latter camp, albeit it would take a special offensive mind and a full commitment from an organization (you can argue Tebow has never enjoyed either of those things in the NFL).

Unless the Cowboys flop the next two weeks - and there's a chance of that - I think Jason Garrett is safe. Jerry Jones tends to be loyal to a fault if he likes you, and he's always been a believer in Garrett. But I can't see how Dallas wins out and makes the playoffs; they're getting the Saints at the wrong time, and the Redskins are a horrible matchup for them in Week 17. I'm still not sure who wins this division (I'm eager for your Giants take), but I'd be surprised if it's Dallas.

Jacksonville could be a good job for someone if the team eventually moved. Oakland is a career-ruiner; if you're a young coach, you're better off waiting for a winnable situation. I'd like to see Jim Schwartz sacked but I think he gets another year; he did get the Lions into the playoffs last year and this is not a team used to anything close to success. I suspect he'll be forced to cut some staff, though. Someone's going to be scapegoated.

Is Alex Smith really destined to make a fortune next year? Who's silly enough to sign him? The worst thing any NFL team can do is get tied to a quarterback who has little chance of being in the Top 7-8 at the position. Unless your defense is once-a-generation dominant, you need a star at this position. Smith isn't a bad player, but settling for him sets your organization back a few years.

Sounds like he's ready for the Jets interview.

The Niners and Patriots just played the Game of the Year, I guess. I don't know how they top that. It felt a lot like the Saints-Niners playoff game last year. It's also a joy to watch a game between two modern coaching staffs, two heads coaches who understand the need for selective aggression. And I agree that the second half might be Tom Brady's finest play.

Of course now the Patriots have to find a way to, likely, win at Denver in the playoffs. They're an underdog in that spot. And as much as everyone's writing off (or at least dinging) Houston, they still strike me as a problem matchup. Then again, does anyone have faith in Gary Kubiak and Matt Schaub when push comes to shove?

There's not a lot of juice on the Week 16 slate. I'll give you first run at the fresh snow. The Giants and Ravens, Saints and Cowboys, I guess we have to go there. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh play an elimination game, but can the winner really go anywhere?

And the Niners and Seahawks, of course. Any game in Seattle tends to be a fun watch, and it's also going to be the conclusion to a lot of fantasy seasons. If you were starting a fresh team next year and had your pick, would you take Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson?

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Dec 20, 2012 at 11:24 AM
Subject: Re: the sound of silence
To: scott pianowski

Ryan hasn't done a good job since the offseason but he's far from a guy who should never coach again. Same for Turner, who just needs to transition into the coordinator-only phase of his career like Wade Phillips. Ryan's situation is more complicated. He's never had the level of personnel of some other coaches who couldn't take that one extra step, plus has never had a losing season, yet. The Jets definitely need to bring in a real football man to run the player procurement side of the operation. And that person has to be strong enough to tell Woody Johnson to get lost when it comes to football decisions. Of course, a person with those kinds of bonafides will have to have the authority to name his own head coach and so if Rex has to go under those circumstances, so be it. But he will and should remain a head coach, somewhere.

The Jets do not exist to make their games watchable for you or for anyone else. Tebow is a complete joke who will never start an NFL game again, thankfully. How can you have missed anything on McElroy when he hasn't even really played yet? And if the Jets are a "mediocre team likely to finish close to expectations," why do you want Ryan exiled from the NFL in perpetuity?

Does the CFL even exist anymore? If so, Canada can have Tebow on a platter with brown gravy and cheese curds.

Jerry Jones is a believer in whatever head coach won't tell him to get his ass off the sideline and keep his nose out of the football operation. So he needs weak enough for that but strong enough to have respect in the locker room. That's pretty much an impossible line to toe -- and that's why the Cowboys are doomed to always be, at best, on the periphery of contention.

The Giants can't win the division, really. They need two wins and for the winner of Dallas-Washington to lose their other game. That's unlikely to happen given the Redskins play the Eagles this week and the Cowboys are at home. Plus I don't think the Giants are going to win in Baltimore.

You never know which Eli Manning is going to show up for Big Blue. Those four games this year with a passer rating under 60 are second most in the league (minimum 20 attempts) behind only Sanchez. It ties him with Ryan Lindley, Brady Quinn, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden. That's not company you want to keep, even acknowledging that he has more starts than two of those guys. And it matters -- teams are 13-60 in those sub-60 rating games (Manning is 1-3). Worse, Eli is in his ninth year. Since 1990, when we really are fully into the inflated modern passer rating due to the higher-percentage, lower-INT-risk passing game, only 18 QBs in their ninth season or later have had more than four stinkers like this. And since 2000, we've only had six -- Bledsoe in 2003 (6); Favre in 2005 (6), 2006 (6), 2000 (5); Kerry Collins in 2004 (5), Matt Hasselbeck in 2008 (5). Is this company you want to keep beside Favre? Actually, I think Favre is a pretty good Eli comp, slightly less playmaking ability though but about the same when it comes to mistakes.

I don't agree with you on Smith. The obvious answer to who would want a QB can't crack the top seven or eight at the position is: 24 or 25 teams. Smith is sixth in passer rating since 2011 behind Rodgers, Peyton, Brady, Brees and Romo. I don't understand what you're saying about how if you don't have a top eight QB, you can't win a Super Bowl without a once-in-a-generation defense. That's silly. Jake Delhomme almost won a Super Bowl. Matt Ryan is maybe top eight and certainly not clearly better than Smith. Matt Schaub, not better than Smith, also is about to be a No. 1 seed. Eli Manning isn't top seven or eight (I thought he was but was wrong) and has won TWO Super Bowls.

I wouldn't write off Houston at all. Haven't the Patriots blown out teams in the regular season before only to lose to them in the playoffs? I can't remember. But I can't see the Patriots getting out of Denver alive. We did a piece on Peyton for the Journal this week that I helped research. We pulled the splits for him and it's really hard to see any substantive difference in his performance on any type of throw relative to his pre-surgery levels. Teams are blitzing him more this year -- 32% of the time versus about 26% with the Colts. But Manning is eating them alive -- 100 QB rating versus the blitz. Yes. Manning is still saying he's not all the way back. I told my editor Geoff Foster that it's like Jim Brown laying on the ground after every tackle for that extra few seconds and struggling to get up only to run you over on the next snap. It's gamesmanship.

I don't trust either quarterback in the Giants-Ravens game. But worse for the Giants is that Hakeem Nicks is not healthy. And where's the Giants pass rush in these games? It's as inconsistent as Eli. Ravens 27, Giants 17. I don't trust the Saints either. Josh Freeman is another volatile QB that they maybe caught on a terrible day. Cowboys 27, Saints 23. The Steelers aren't going to lose to the Bengals at home. And this is bad news for the Patriots, I think, because Roethlisberger is not going to be an easy out in the Wildcard round. Steelers 24, Bengals 20. I'll take Russell Wilson over Colin Kaepernick this week and next year, too. Seahawks 23, 49ers 16.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Dec 20, 2012 at 5:46 PM
Subject: walking backwards
To: Michael Salfino

I was just having fun with Ryan and Turner. That said, they should both be coordinators (I feel better about Ryan, the far more modern tactician of the two). I wouldn't want either guy in charge of a team I owned or cared about.

Obviously the Jets don't have to placate any outsiders with their decisions. But I bet one of the reasons not to use Tebow is to avoid getting sucked up into the vortex if he plays well. The Jets were silly enough to think Tebow could be dynamic as a limited-package player, give them an edge over opponents. At least they were wise enough to know when to give it up. I would like to see Mike Tannenbaum signed to a lifetime contract.

I agree (at least I think it's agreement) that Jerry Jones is the biggest problem with the Cowboys, speaking generally. It's great to have deep pockets and a desire to win, but you need to let football people run the show. George Steinbrenner had a second act where he was the deep-pocketed owner who at least stood partially to the side; maybe Jones can eventually be that guy. Or maybe the ship has already sailed. Saints 34, Cowboys 24.

A sharp disagreement on Alex Smith isn't going to drive traffic, but we have one. Be careful comparing efficiency stats of quarterbacks when one group is driving an offense and one group isn't. Some players post pretty numbers through the "hide the quarterback" game (mostly producing in hitter counts) and it skews how valuable they really are.

You need a QB who can win a "here we come" game, forced to throw it 40-50 times if need be. You need a quarterback who can overcome a deficit and beat defenses that know what's coming. Smith isn't that guy. Watch the San Francisco at Minnesota tape again. Better yet, here are some numbers: in Smith's career in the fourth quarter when trailing, he has a 5.8 YPA, a 54.6 completion percentage and a 64.3 rating. This isn't the Rally King.

Maybe the line I draw with QBs isn't at the No. 8 spot, but it's in that neighborhood. You need someone who can be a front-door Pro Bowler (not someone who makes it as the fourth alternate), someone who could carry an offense on his back for a while if needed. And the only way you're going to win a title without that is if the rest of your team is ridiculous. Brad Johnson is enough if you're sitting on that elite Bucs defense. Almost anyone mistake-free could come out smelling like a rose on the 2000 Ravens. The 1985 Bears had Jim McMahon, a reasonable player but no one who ever got Hall of Fame consideration. If your quarterback doesn't have a shot to at least be in that Eli Manning/Ben Roethlisberger group (guys who are worth Hall of Fame consideration), you're just spinning your wheels.

In other words, as our buddy Mark Stopa will tell you, Ryan Fitzpatrick is more curse than gift.

I'd take Wilson over Kaepernick, too, mostly because we've seen a lot more of Wilson, we can make a better grade on him. But Wilson isn't going to grow five inches at any point. If someone felt you could do more with Kaepernick, I wouldn't get into a snowball fight over it.

I hate the Ravens but I have them putting the Giants away. Washington does just enough to get past Philly. The Seahawks and Niners beat the crap out of each other, but it's awfully tough to beat the Seahawks in that building. Wilson's receivers dropped everything in the first meeting; that won't happen Sunday. Hawks by 3.

And the Jets beat the Chargers on a safety, maybe an intentional safety by Norv Turner. I might talk myself into that game after all.

Merry Christmas, Jersey, and to everyone who follows the game along with us. We appreciate you.

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