Breakfast Table: Pianowski and Stopa Talk Football
Breakfast Table: Pianowski and Stopa Talk Football

This article is part of our Breakfast Table series.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Oct 2, 2014 at 5:12 AM
Subject: we both go down together
To: Mark Stopa

I know no one wants this to be a New England column every week, but I don't know how we can ignore the football game they played Monday night.

I can't see any other conclusion. I think the Patriots as we know it are no more. The dynasty is over.

Mind you, they still might make the playoffs. Mind you, I still have a ton of faith in Bill Belichick, in-season coach. Mind you, Monday's result was largely due to what Kansas City did right in addition to what New England did wrong. (The Chiefs have played one solid game and two excellent ones since its puzzling opening-day loss to Tennessee.)

Monday was a difficult game for me because the result encouraged all the Patriots hate in the universe - and I might have underestimated just how much a lot of people hate this team. A ton of grave dancing. A ton of Twittertosterone.

And a lot of mocking that the Brady/Belichick Pats haven't won a title in a decade. That's the silliest part of it. The Jets haven't been to the Super Bowl since Namath. Buffalo obviously has no rings. It's been 31 years since Miami won a title, and hell, Marino made just one Super Bowl trip. Tom Brady was a very good player on three title teams, and an elite player on two runner-ups. They were luckier than they should have been in the first half of his career and a little unlucky in the second half. It all adds up to a helluva run - but it's a run that sure looks over. I can't imagine how they'll go deep in the 2015 playoffs.

I'm already over the intro word count, so let's wrap this up. Give me your Pats spin and/or your Snoopy Dance, whichever fits. Figure out the Carolina Panthers, who make no sense to me. And give me one believe and/or one make believe team in the NFC East, another division that makes little sense.

And keep it short, hah! I feel like Jon Gruden barking out an endless play to Brad Johnson, and then screaming out "hurry!"

Week 5 Breakfast is served.

From: mark stopa
Date: Thu, Oct 2, 2014 at 8:41 AM
Subject: Re: we both go down together
To: scott pianowski

You're going to make me defend the Evil Empire, aren't you? I feel dirty already, and I haven't even started writing.

Sure, the Patriots looked like trash on Monday night, but the '94 Niners lost 40-8 at home to the Eagles in Week 5 before Steve Young hoisted the trophy at the end of that season. Yes, the Patriots are struggling, but maybe the Chiefs are better than we realized. Rob Gronkowski might be the most talented tight end in NFL history, yet he didn't look like the best tight end on the field on Monday night (Travis Kelce, sign me up). The Jamaal Charles/Knile Davis combo brought me back to the days of Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson. Or maybe Monday night is our latest reminder never to draw too many conclusions about anyone - in our real-life relationships or when assessing NFL teams - based either on their best day or their worst.

For me, the true "show me" game for New England is this Sunday against Cincy. Who you picking there? If the Pats lose a second straight - something they've almost never done in the Belichick/Brady era - then fine, let's get that obituary ready. Right now, though, I still see a team that is likely to win the AFC East, putting them a couple of bounces from playing in the AFC Championship Game yet again. If that seems unlikely right now, just think about Joe Flacco in 2012 or the Giants in 2007 or 2011 - were we even talking about those teams before Week 5? With three months of the season left, who knows what can happen. Maybe Aaron Dobson emerges as a deep threat the Patriots so obviously need. Maybe the Gronk we know returns.

Or maybe Kyle Orton plays like a decent NFL quarterback, and with the rest of the Bills roster being playoff-caliber, Buffalo finally puts the silver bullet in Belichick's cold, black heart. There; I feel better now.

I'm off the Carolina bandwagon. Greg Hardy must be better than we all realized - that front seven is a shell of its 2013 version.

Could Dallas be the best team in the NFC East? Their run/pass balance is scary-good, masking the flaws in that defense. I believe in the Cowboys offense more than I do anything else in the NFC East. Just don't get hurt, DeMarco Murray.

Can the Cardinals win in Denver? Demaryius Thomas vs. Patrick Peterson all over the field looks juicy - pick one. Do we have to talk about the Ravens again (in Indy)? Why do I keep underestimating Baltimore? Is Andrew Luck the NFL MVP at the quarter pole?

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Oct 3, 2014 at 6:35 AM
Subject: Re: we both go down together
To: Mark Stopa

I can give New England a partial pass for the Kansas City loss. Maybe they simply caught the Chiefs at the wrong place and time, and maybe the Chiefs are pretty good, anyway. KC's opening-day loss to Tennessee doesn't make any sense (and the NFL is filled with those types of results, as you alluded to), but since then we've seen a respectable loss at Denver and two convincing wins. Andy Reid might be the most misunderstood, and underrated, coach of his generation.

But consider the rest of New England's resume. The Pats were embarrassed at Miami and also played very poorly in the life-and-death win over Oakland. The win at Minnesota was basically a retroactive Matt Cassel parting gift.

One key to Bill Belichick's legacy is a consistent improvement as a season goes along. New England has been a better second-half team in eight of the last ten seasons, and one of the misses came in the video-game 2007 season (a blistering pace that was obviously unsustainable). While it's very difficult to examine coaching as outsiders, I have to conclude that this long-running trend means something.

Maybe they can coach up the line, get Brady somewhat comfortable again, watch Gronkowski get healthier, and (this seems like the longshot) develop an outside threat, somewhere. Even if the first two things happen, the team will look considerably different. I still give New England a shaky vote to win the division, something like 9-7 or so. But I can't imagine how they'd beat two (or three) good teams in the AFC playoffs. Brady isn't a star any longer (oh, how I miss his dreamy pocket awareness), and they don't have enough playmakers.

I thought Shane Vereen would be better than this, by the way.

Cam Newton doesn't look healthy at all, and Carolina's lost too many key defenders. But who wins that division? Atlanta's front seven stinks, and the offensive line is in disarray (though Matt Ryan can shield some of it, at least in the passing game). The Saints haven't shown us a good game yet. Obviously Tampa Bay can't win the division. I guess it's Atlanta by default.

I still think the Eagles win the NFC East; best coaching, most diverse offense. I refuse to put four months of faith in Jason Garrett. Tony Romo looks hurt to me. And the workload they're giving to DeMarco Murray is reckless. I'll re-evalute the Giants if they take care of business against the Falcons, but I smell an upset there. (Or maybe it's just Jersey sewage.)

And maybe I'm the old man chasing people off the lawn, but why do good players stay on the field in blowouts? Randall Cobb caught a late pass in Thursday's blowout win over Minnesota, and I wanted to throw my remote at the TV. What's the upside, Mike McCarthy? Drain the clock, use the least important players you can, and get off the damn field. Plus players don't grow on trees.

The Cardinals have three sacks in three games. I can't see how they'll get Peyton Manning's uniform dirty. It's a shame the Carson Palmer injury looms over what could be a fun Arizona season.

Most of Baltimore's best players are the guys who get the least amount of credit - look at their offensive line grades on PFF (hat tip, Adam Levitan). You know I'm all for Luck, but I would like to see him do it against a good defense, too. The schedule's about to get harder.

Make your picks. I'll tack on a short ending when we ship.

From: mark stopa
Date: Fri, Oct 3, 2014 at 3:44 PM
Subject: Re: we both go down together
To: scott pianowski

It's easy to poke holes in Dallas, sure. It's not like I'm clamoring for Jason Garrett to get a contract extension or win Coach of the Year. But I can make Swiss cheese out of the Eagles just as easily. Nick Foles' accuracy has been abysmal most of the year, and a battered offensive line isn't helping Foles or LeSean McCoy. What do you make of Foles? Is he a top-15 real-life quarterback? Or is he a mediocre talent masquerading as something more because of a good system? And don't even get me started on the Eagles defense - 10 passing TDs allowed is worse than everyone except the Jaguars.

OK, Chris Liss, I hear you - the Giants have an argument in the NFC East, too. Somehow, 2014 Eli looks like the 2011 version (29 TDs, 4,933 yards, 8.4 YPA, Super Bowl title), not the 27-INT guy from 2013. Talk about a confounding player - is Eli a Hall of Famer? The stats say no (has he ever been a top-five real-life QB at any time in his career?), but since when does the Hall turn away two-time Super Bowl winning QBs? The Giants improvement isn't all Eli, either - Victor Cruz has a little bit of that salsa back in his step (I offered Cruz to you in a fantasy trade a few weeks ago and you passed - where do you rank him now?), Larry Donnell and Rashad Jennings are both adding a new dimension to the offense, and the line is blocking much better (just six sacks allowed).

What's the most telling stat for the Panthers decline? How about allowing 5.7 yards per rush, a full half-yard more than any other team. The NFC South is like the AFC East, though, in that 9-7 might win it. I love the Falcons for fantasy purposes (pinball always rules the roost), but I still say the Saints have the most talent in the division. We know Drew Brees will be fine, but did you know they lead the NFL in yards per rush? I want to see the edgy, aggressive Sean Payton we've seen in past years, though, not the guy who punted on 4th-and-2 in plus territory down 7-0 last week. (Belichick punted in that situation on two straight drives on Monday night, the first trailing 7-0 and the second 14-0. He needs to get that edge back, too.)

Good point about the DeMarco Murray workload (on pace for 396 carries). With his injury history and the Cowboys offensive line, there's an upside stash to be made in fantasy, no? Who you claiming, Lance Dunbar or Julius Randle?

This week, I don't see how the struggling Patriots offense will score on a stingy Bengals defense (56.9 QB Rating and 5.4 YPA both lead the NFL by a country mile). Cincy 23-13. Colts edge the Ravens (I'll pick Baltimore to win a game eventually). Broncos big. Saints bigger. Chiefs/Niners is interesting with both teams 2-2. The Chiefs seemed like a great value ATS at +6 - all five of us took them in Rotowire Staff Picks. Can KC send the Niners to 2-3? I'll say yes. Chiefs 23-20.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Oct 3, 2014 at 6:34 PM
Subject: Re: we both go down together
To: Mark Stopa

I guess I trust Atlanta more than most, and Matt Ryan. Even with no line, they upset the Giants. At some point Eli will make some loose throws, and I do like Atlanta's secondary.

KC looks like a bad matchup for San Francisco, other than the timing of the game (short week, complacency of a big win). I hope the Chiefs win but I'll say Niners by three. What's the better fit for Jim Harbaugh: Miami or the University of Michigan?

Buffalo trips up Detroit. Matthew Stafford isn't good. If Kyle Orton can become Trent Dilfer 2001, Buffalo can make the playoffs.

I have no idea how Dallas would operate in a post-Murray world, but I think it's coming. I also think this is a classic time to fade Dallas, now that they're giving heavy wood at home. Texans outright.

Give me the Pats, too. And I have no good reason other than history and the head coach. And their defense can't be as bad as it looked on Monday.

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Scott Pianowski
Scott Pianowski writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire
Mark Stopa
Mark Stopa has been sharing his fantasy insights for Rotowire since 2007. Mark is the 2010 and 2012 Staff Picks champion (eat your heart out, Chris Liss) and won Rotowire's 14-team Staff League II in consecutive seasons. He roots for the Bills and has season tickets on the second row, press level to the Rays.
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