Breakfast Table: Roll the Bones

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: Tue, Nov 5, 2013 at 1:53 AM
Subject: roll the bones breakfast
To: Mark Stopa

The Monday Night game has been over for a couple of hours and there's still a bounce in my step. I had no major stake in the result - the Aaron Rodgers injury actually cost me a fantasy game - but I'm over the moon for Marc Trestman, the Chicago head coach.

I know many pundits didn't endorse Trestman's fourth-down gamble in the fourth quarter; some didn't like the mere idea of going for it there, while others felt it was a poor play call. I can see those debates. But what excites me is seeing a coach who's unafraid to pull the trigger on that sort of move, a coach who doesn't play scared. I want that type of guy on my side.

This is the best way to win over a locker room, too. You don't do it by intimidation, Greg Schiano. You do it by being the smartest guy in the room and you do it by having cojones. If I were a member of the Bears organization, I'd run through a wall for Trestman today.

It makes you wonder why Trestman didn't get a head coaching job earlier. He turns 58 in January. He's had all sorts of assistant coaching success, but he didn't get the Bears job until after a successful stint in Canada. NFL teams apparently labeled Trestman a while ago and it took a while for the label to come off.

Warren Moon went the Canadian route, too, before getting a shot with the Oilers. Doug Flutie was basically laughed out of the NFL before reinventing himself; he was a pretty damn good quarterback with Buffalo and San Diego. The NFL might be a copycat league, but no one wants to go first with the new idea.

With Trestman's gambit in mind, let's talk about risk taking, both in the NFL and in the fake football league. How many coaches have the nerve that Trestman showed at Lambeau? How many current coaches would you gladly put in charge of your team? What's happened to Ron Rivera in Carolina? Are the Panthers ready for the teeth of their schedule?

Where can being aggressive favor a fantasy owner? What players would you be willing to roll the dice on for the final two months?

Grab the dice and toss them to the back wall.

From: mark stopa
Date: Tue, Nov 5, 2013 at 12:39 PM
Subject: Re: roll the bones breakfast
To: scott pianowski

We know Bill Belichick has the stones to go for it on fourth and short deep in his own end. But when the Colts stopped Kevin Faulk short of the marker in that memorable tilt in 2009, all the Tony Dungy types in the media crucified him for it. Check out the recap from that game - "Bill Belichick risked everything on one play." "Stunning gamble." Where's the commensurate level of praise for Trestman today after the gamble worked? That's the problem here - a handful of coaches may have the stones (Sean Payton and Mike Tomlin come to mind), but few have the job security to withstand the media backlash. There's never backlash when the situation is reversed, either. For instance, nobody questions Mike McCoy when he kicked on fourth down from the one, even though San Diego never saw the ball again and lost. When I'm GM of the London Broil in 2024, I'll make sure my head coach doesn't play for the friendliest loss. Surprise onside? Yes. Fourth and short? Take a seat, kicker.

Risk tolerance has been a theme of our discussions throughout the season on Twitter, ever since I gave you Antonio Brown for Roddy White in September. In a vacuum, that's how I play - swinging for the fences. 11 of 12 owners will lose anyway, right? I stand behind that approach for struggling teams. If I'm in eighth place entering Week 10, I'll go see how Roddy White's owner feels about him. Heck, maybe David Wilson comes back healthy. For my first place teams, it's just the opposite. There, I'm protecting my floor, avoiding unnecessary gambles. That's why I put Jimmy Graham and Roddy on the block on Sunday morning before Week 8 in Stopa8k, and why I was shocked to receive nary an offer. That's the type of gamble a struggling fantasy team has to take, and Graham's four TDs since showed why. First place teams also have the luxury of stashing C.J. Spiller on the bench and hoping he's right for the fantasy playoffs (Atl, @TB, @Jax after the Bills Week 12 bye). I'd target Aaron Rodgers right now with this same mindset, whereas lesser teams need to take what they can get. Are you with me here? I know you're more conservative when projecting players off injury. When do you roll the dice in our fake game?

Enough fantasy. What will it take for you to get aboard the Panthers bandwagon? Did Cam Newton wrong you in a prior life? They're leading the NFC in point differential. Sure, they've beaten up on some lesser teams, but it's hard to blow out NFL teams consistently, even bad ones. Ask Seattle. Aaron Rodgers' injury makes the NFC playoff race far more interesting, no? Ignoring the putrid NFC East, I count seven playoff-caliber squads for five spots. Who among the Seahawks, 49ers, Saints, Panthers, Packers, Lions, and Bears are you leaving out of the dance? The AFC has far more clarity, with the top five all but clinched, in some order. I've seen you taking shots at the Chiefs, which I get. But somebody has to win in the AFC playoffs. The Bengals best defensive guys keep going down (Geno Atkins ACL tear is a needle-mover, even as it gets shoved to the back pages with Rodgers hurt), and I know you don't trust Andy Dalton. Has your tune changed there? The Patriots have several key guys on the shelf as well. Are you behind New Englad after one big win over a league doormat? (Cam Newton demands an answer there.) Do you trust Peyton's Broncos in cold weather in the playoffs? Is Andrew Luck ready, even with T.Y. Hilton as his best skill player? Who's playing in the AFC Championship Game?

Do we really have another Vikings game in prime time in Week 10? Ugh. And the Bucs on Monday night? Yikes. At least we have Tony Romo and Drew Brees on Sunday night. Does anything else interest you on the Week 10 slate? We have to back Nick Foles Eagles over Green Bay if Rodgers is out, right? Are the Ravens done for 2013, or do you give them one last chance at home against Cincy? Is Joe Flacco's 2012 Super Bowl run the biggest fraud ever? I faded Baltimore the entire second half of 2012 and now feel cheated. 10 TDs and 9 INTs through 8 games ... I know the skill players aren't great, but he's making 120 million!

I'm bullying you into some predictions, but don't call me Richie Incognito. Seriously, sad story there. Get well, Jonathan Martin. You, too, Gary Kubiak and John Fox.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Wed, Nov 6, 2013 at 6:37 PM
Subject: Re: roll the bones breakfast
To: Mark Stopa

It's fascinating to note how little attention the Trestman gambit received - because it worked. Obviously the Rodgers injury also screened the story, I get it. But you're very right in that these plays are crucified when they don't work, and often brushed aside when they do. (Chris Liss raised a terrific point a week or two ago; when a team is paranoid to play modern percentage football, why isn't the media pressing the issue? Too many beat writers are asleep at the switch.)

I obviously regret not making a Graham offer when you opened the window, though it's hard for most of that league (myself included) to do anything on a Sunday morning as we're all tied to commitments (and happy to do so - you love what you do, you never work a day in your life). I wonder if you would have accepted Tony Gonzalez at the time.

Rodgers isn't someone I'd wait around on, not unless the bench spots are gigantic. Who's to say what his form will be when he returns? The passing game is all timing, and you can't assume it all flows back right away. Look how long it took New England to take stride.

Spiller looked terrific (and finally healthy) against the Chiefs, no two ways about it. I made no effort to buy on him and I regret it now. There's a guy who could be a home-run difference maker, and I'm sure some of his owners were selling low. Sure, Fred Jackson is going to chew up goal-line work and Tashard Choice won't go away, but the offense also gains if EJ Manuel is ready to come back. And Buffalo's schedule gets significantly easier, on paper anyway, down the stretch.

I don't know what to make of the Panthers, to be honest. I don't want to brush aside their cupcake wins because nothing is easy in this league and they're just destroying everything in their path right now. In any competitive endeavor, the idea is to crush the weak opponents and hold your own against the first tier. Heck, San Francisco's story is much the same - the Niners roll has been built against ordinary competition. But when push comes to shove, I want the home team, the Harbaugh team, and the non-Newton team. Prove me wrong, Cam. Niners 27, Panthers 23.

Here's a strange Andrew Luck stat, at least it's strange to me: guess his rating in the fourth quarter. This shocked me. Here are the numbers by period: 91.9, 94.7, 103.5, 73.0. Maybe I'm falling to recency bias; it seems like Indy's won a lot of close games, but I guess it's not through late heroics. I know this sort of stat could mean nothing anyway, and it's not necessary predictive of anything. I just thought it was odd.

I love T.Y. Hilton for what he is, a home-run hitter and a field stretcher. You still need someone to do the dirty work, work the route tree, move the chains. Darrius Heyward-Bey looks like a lost cause. Coby Fleener is useful but not explosive. Don't get me started on Trent Richardson (in addition to his crummy running work, he can't be trusted in pass pro). The Colts need to throw the name brands in the trash and let Donald Brown play more. He's been their best back, by far. (And heck, he was a first-round pick back in his day. Why can't this be their version of the Knowshon Moreno story?).

The NFC North is only going to have two playoff teams. If Rodgers can't come back quickly, Green Bay is in big, fat trouble. Otherwise, I expect Jim Schwartz to snooker the Lions, somehow. But cheer up, Detroit - Megatron just won the World Series of Poker.

The losing coach Monday night should be forced to walk the plank. Better yet, make them go 15 rounds with Richie Incognito. Oh, wait, now Incognito and Jonathan Martin were apparently best buddies? What a bizarre story. I wouldn't want to work for Jeff Ireland or play for Greg Schiano, I can tell you that much. Oh, and Bucs by three.

I'm sure there are leftovers I didn't get to. Catch you in the comments.

From: mark stopa
Date: Wed, Nov 6, 2013 at 9:59 PM
Subject: Re: roll the bones breakfast
To: scott pianowski

As much as I love the Bears offense - it must drive Brian Urlacher crazy that Chicago finally has this offense the year after he retires - I can't back a team that gets killed through the air (NFL-worst 8.5 YPA) and the ground (steamrolled by Brandon Jacobs, Morris/Helu, and Lacy/Starks their past three games). As bad as Seneca Wallace looked on Monday, I say Green Bay stays alive until Rodgers comes back, then sneaks in. The setup reminds me a little of 2010, when Rodgers was hurt in October, the Packers lost twice without him but got hot in December, grabbed the sixth seed and rode it to a title.

Everyone likes Spiller now (or maybe it's just the industry guys I'm reading), but if you wait until the injured guy proves it on the field, the buying window is already closed. I'll roll the dice Rodgers is himself for the fantasy playoffs (Atl, @Dall, Pitt). Andre Brown's value may be 40% higher this time next week - Oakland may ensure it. I'm stashing Dennis Pitta tonight in our 2-TE format. I can't get enough lottery tickets on my bench, especially as we push through the byes.

We agree on Hilton. He's like Torrey Smith, a fine player, but just as the Ravens are lost without Anquan Boldin, where's the Boldin on the Colts? I'm not feeling Indy - maybe I should watch that Denver tape again.

Vegas has the Panthers laying six in San Fran. That seems a bit high, no? I'd like it more if the 49ers weren't fresh off a bye, but give me Cam and the NFL's newest riverboat gambler Ron Rivera. Panthers 27-17. I'd take one Marc Trestman over five Jim Schwartzes, but Trestman can't stop Reggie Bush from going over 200 yards. Lions 31-23. Brees and Payton won't lose two straight weeks, especially at home, but Romo and Dez keep it close. Saints 35-31. The Schianos over the Incognitos, both in the game and their halftime MMA match.

I'm with you on enjoying your work. If talking NFL is a job, then I'll "work" as much as the industry will let me.

(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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