Breakfast Table: Madison Avenue

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 26, 2012 at 9:34 AM
Subject: Week 17 Breakfast
To: scott pianowski

It's the prelude to the playoffs, I guess. We have exactly one game that really seems to matter -- the Sunday night NFC East-deciding showdown between the Cowboys and Redskins.

Everything else but the seeding appears essentially set. Okay, at the bottom of the NFC, you have the Vikings, Bears and Giants fighting. Really, it's the Vikings and Bears because there is no way Chicago is losing to the collapsing Lions. Or do you disagree? Vikings are the team that wins and gets in, period. (I don't think the Giants even beat the Eagles and Michael Vick.)

The Texans could lose out on the top seed with a loss in Indianapolis, where they've never won. But it's the Colts that don't care now. Plus the Colts are terrible even if they do care, we both know. I mean, 500 yards allowed to the Chiefs and Andrew Luck struggling against that pass defense? Of course, they win again anyway, somehow. One and done, I guarantee it, come January.

So let's spend a lot of time talking about the Redskins and Cowboys. Is Tony Romo underrated as I laid out in my Yahoo! Scouting Notebook? Is RGIII even the best rookie quarterback this year? On the other hand, is he the MVP? I can go either way on both of those questions, somehow. And of course, there's Dez Bryant, who suddenly seems reliable.

Merry Christmas and an early Happy New Year, too. And congratulations for schooling us all in Mark Stopa's Law Firm league. I'm sure that made the holidays brighter. Well played. Week 17 Breakfast is served.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Dec 27, 2012 at 12:31 PM
Subject: oscar gamble
To: Michael Salfino

We're tabling with some heavy hearts this week, with Jack Klugman passing away. I know Oscar Madison had an affect on both of us in our formative years. I'll never forget the image of Madison banging away on the typewriter, Mets cap on, beer overflowing. And you have to love someone who has a cop in his weekly poker game.

Oscar's one of the all-time underrated names, too. I might need to do an Oscar Shuffle Up out of respect to JK. You've got Madison, Wilde, The Grouch, Gamble, Veal. The Academy Awards. De La Hoya. Rest in piece, Jack. I'm assuming you couldn't watch the Jets and Giants any longer. May we all have 90 full and productive years, as you did.

I haven't had a chance to rewatch the Dallas-Washington tape from Thanksgiving Week yet, but I'm almost definitely taking the Redskins on Sunday. Bottom line, I trust Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan more than I trust Jason Garrett and (especially) Rob Ryan. And the RG3 offense is a very difficult one to plan and scheme for. The best hope for Dallas: maybe Griffin isn't 100 percent yet. The Redskins seemed intent on keeping Griffin out of harm's way as much as possible at Philly last week; maybe that tells us something, maybe it's coincidence, maybe it's nothing.

The best teams in football right now might be looking at difficult paths to the Super Bowl. Denver and New England could go either way as AFC Kingpin, but the Broncos surely will have home field with Kansas City coming to town. And the NFC is lucky Seattle won't have a home game in the playoffs (barring the miracle Arizona upset in San Francisco); no one is winning in that place this year. Richard Sherman's appeal looms over this team, too; he'd be a major loss in the playoffs.

We're seeing historical seasons from Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson; any takeaway from that? I suppose the rules of science don't apply to Peterson, but it's a shame he's looking at a LaDainian Tomlinson type of career, no January impact. Megatron padded his stats with plenty of garbage-time yards, but he also got it done despite little help around him (the support receivers aren't good in Detroit, and Matthew Stafford had a very poor year). Imagine if Johnson played with one of the truly elite quarterbacks? Instead, he's Toiling in the D.

I get the idea Peyton Manning is going to win MVP, while Peterson gets Offensive Player of the Year (it's silly that those two awards exist, but the MSM loves a way to split its vote). But for my money, I still think Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the league and it's not even close. Look for the Packers to lay the smack down at Minnesota - Christian Ponder is one of those QBs who can't play from any kind of deficit.

Your witness, Quincy.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Dec 27, 2012 at 1:25 PM
Subject: Re: oscar gamble
To: scott pianowski

Oscar Madison is why I wanted to be a sportswriter. The Odd Couple is my all-time favorite show. I've seen every episode probably 20-plus times. It was an institution here in New York on WPIX-11 throughout my childhood and even through college. My wife jokes that all my knowledge of high culture is through Warner Bros. cartoons and the Odd Couple. She went to the Met a couple of weeks ago to see Aida and didn't know the plot and I described it to her from watching the Odd Couple. Turns out, I was describing Rigoletto, but still. Close enough. And I knew they were both by Verdi along with La Forza Del Destino. And I grew up with my father cutting high stakes poker games and the cops always played, at least in Paterson, NJ.

And I also loved Quincy as a kid, too. It was like -- Oscar Madison is a coroner but is neater and lives on a boat! Not many jokes, but still ornery at least.

I think RGIII not running last week is important. He was wearing a brace. He's not going to be as dual threat now. He's still dynamic but without the wheels being there, I think Tony Romo is better. Of course, Romo was the best QB on the field last week against the Saints and it didn't matter. The Cowboys always seem to find a way to lose. I'm torn, because Romo gets so little respect that I'd love for him to stick a win into everyone's face. But I love Griffin and Morris and the reborn Shanahan and really want to see Russell Wilson face RGIII in a rookie QB battle of the ages. I think this is a coin-flip game but the coin flips always go against the Cowboys, it seems. So, Redskins 27, Cowboys 24.

Hey, the Chiefs have five guys in the Pro Bowl somehow. How is that possible with a team 2-13? Brady Quinn is terrible though, as much as I loved his comments in the aftermath of the Jovan Belcher murder/suicide. Massey-Peabody has the Broncos being 20.5 points better than KC in Denver. I think it will be worse. Broncos 34, Chiefs 7.

Were you concerned about Colin Kaepernick in Seattle? I know the Seahawks are tough, but he did not look like a quarterback who can win a tough playoff game. I know the meme with this is that Kaepernick can lead you back if you fall behind and Alex Smith cannot but didn't Smith win a shootout with Drew Brees just last year in the playoffs? The Niners were 6-2 with Smith and are 4-2 with Kaepernick. Of course, they will pound the Cardinals this week. They've lost the two seed now and I don't see them getting back into the championship game this year. But they'll beat the Vikings or the Bears pretty easily in the wild card round.

I'm not as impressed with Calvin Johnson's year as most. There was a lot of garbage time to it. That discounts the numbers. Plus, the team stunk. The offense overall was a huge disappointment. Peterson is different. It's maybe the most incredible thing I've ever seen, having a year like this so soon after major knee surgery. In some years, I could see him being the MVP even. But not this year, not with the way the quarterbacks have played in Denver, Green Bay, Washington, Seattle and New England. I know the criticism is that if you don't give it to Peterson this year, you may as well call the MVP the Quarterback of the Year Award. Well, it is what it is. No player is ever as valuable as a top quarterback. Who can deny the Vikings would be a lot better off this year with Peyton Manning than they are with Adrian Peterson?

I can't see how you say that no one is close to Rodgers. Brady sure is. And Manning this year is amazing, doing what he did with a new team. Many didn't think he could come close to this level of performance and now that he has you can't just shrug it off as no big deal. Peyton had a much, much tougher road this year than Rodgers so that's why he gets my vote.

I agree with the Packers over the Vikings, but it always scares me when teams are playing only for seeding because they often seem to just not get that. I think it will be tough. I'll call it Packers 24, Vikings 23. The Bears will win not because they are better than Detroit but because the Schwartz has lost his team. Bears 24, Lions 20. And the Giants will continue their epic collapse as Michael Vick showcases himself for next year: Eagles 27, Giants 17.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Dec 28, 2012 at 9:37 AM
Subject: madison avenue
To: Michael Salfino

Oscar was a hero of mine, too: easy going, street smart, always up for adventure. And covering sports for a living, what a racket. The only knock I can put on Klugman is a neighborhood play: he basically validated Brett Somers and plucked her down on the Match Game. But otherwise, I salute this great man.

I'm with you on Romo. He's the most underrated great quarterback in the league, and someone who's been blamed too much for Dallas's failures through the years. He's got a super thing going with Dez Bryant, and he's always had it with Jason Witten. But when push comes to shove, I can't trust a Ryan on defense. We're in the same neighborhood, call it Washington 26, Dallas 23. (A Washington-Seattle matchup in the playoffs would easily be the best matchup of the weekend, the slam-dunk game for Saturday night. I'm rooting for it, too.)

I can't hold the Seahawks loss against Kaepernick. A game in Seattle is the toughest assignment in the league right now. He passed the test against Chicago and New England, and the overall numbers are in a good place: 8.1 YPA, eight touchdowns, three picks. There's no doubt in my mind his upside is a lot higher than Alex Smith's (I know we've beaten that discussion to death), and that's all that matters. Kudos to Jim Harbaugh for having the stones to pull off this move.

I don't have a problem with any of the Kansas City Pro Bowl picks, as odd as it might seem. Heck, Brandon Flowers had a case, too. But when your passing game is toxic, you're probably going to be a bad football team. And the Chiefs never got the full effect of Jamaal Charles because Brian Daboll didn't understand how to use him.

The MVP in any modern football season has to be a quarterback, for obvious reasons. It's not just the physical things he does, but also the mental part of the position, the protection calls, the audibles, heck even leadership counts. There are zillions of elite running backs who never get remotely close to the Super Bowl. If you're a superstar quarterback, you get there eventually. It's a passing game and a passing league.

The Packers aren't just playing for seeding - they're in the chase for a bye. That's important. Teams recognize it. The marginal jumps are from the six seed to the five seed, or from four to three - that's where I really don't think teams care. Green Bay rolls. Chicago, somehow, can't finish off Detroit. The Eagles surprise the dead-ass Giants. The Jets romp over the one team they match up well against. And Houston gets past a Colts team that surprisingly hangs around.

Don't drink too much punch, amigos. See you in '13, Jersey.

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