Hot Reads - Week 3

  Posted 9/18 by Jeff Pasquino, Exclusive to Footballguys.com

Welcome to "Hot Reads", a new column for 2008 here at Footballguys.com. The general purpose of this column will be to collect some of my thoughts and observations throughout the NFL season as we go along - from waiver wire comments, how to get the most out of the Footballguys site, or anything else football related that comes to mind. It will mostly be a free-flowing, stream of consciousness - that means that there's no predicting what I might talk about in a given week. So....welcome to my world.....

Brandon Marshall

About a month ago, Brandon Marshall decided that he'd announce one of his goals for this year. No, not reducing his suspension - I'm talking about catches. Lots of them. About 140 in fact. That was the number that Marshall hung out there as his target for the season, and based on Week 2 I would say that he is well on his way. Marshall torched the San Diego secondary for 18 catches on Sunday, which puts him squarely on a pace for 270 catches this season and 140 by Week 9. That may be a bit of a stretch, but last I checked everyone in the world knows the ball is heading his way, and yet he's still wide open.

Philly - Dallas

Speaking of great performances, were you one of the record number of fans watching the Cowboys - Eagles battle in Texas on Monday Night Football? I was of course, but for those who are unaware - I'm an Eagles fan. Let's just say that Monday Night was not just riveting television, but it also was enough to raise my blood pressure, stress me out, and pretty much make anyone within a 100 foot radius of my television not want to be anywhere near where I was standing. Yes, I was standing for much of the fourth quarter. It was a painful ending to watch, but I have to admit that this had to be one of the greatest games I have ever seen - or at least the first half. What else could you want from a game? Kick returns, long TDs, high scores, defensive scoring - and people wonder why networks pay big dollars to show these games. That was Must See TV.

Hurricane Ike

Sports fans have addictions, whether they know this or not. They have to watch their favorite sport. They live and die with their NFL team. Fantasy football has expanded this realm by leaps and bounds, so it is not a big surprise that when news broke of the NFL's decision to postpone the Baltimore - Houston game due to the horrible storm heading to Texas that many were concerned. No, I don't mean about people that were losing their homes or running from gale force winds - they were wondering about how their fantasy football leagues would deal with this postponement.

I'll give you this - the NFL blew this one. They should have decided long before Saturday as to what they would or could do if the storm did damage to Houston - or they could have just gone ahead an changed the bye weeks just like they wound up doing on Saturday. So now with this late news, fantasy leagues were in turmoil. Do commissioners allow teams to change rosters, or if waivers were closed for the week is it just "tough luck, guy" messages for all? This went on all weekend and impacted leagues great and small who all handled it differently, and I cannot fault any commissioner's decision one way or another. The NFL had already moved the game, so there was a risk to the game in general as for it to be played in Week 2. Those leagues that allowed for extra waiver wire periods for this special circumstance felt that it was best for their league, so I can see that view as well. Some of my teams felt an impact, but it pales in comparison to living in parts of Texas this week - so I took it in stride.

Hey look, Brandon Marshall is still open!

Going for Three

Speaking of tough decisions, did anyone else see - and hear - Sunday Night Football between Pittsburgh and Cleveland? The Browns were down 10-3 with less than four minutes to go and they decided that it would be a great idea to kick a field goal to make it 10-6 rather than pressing their luck on fourth down to keep the drive alive. I couldn't believe the decision, but then I was flabbergasted by what I heard next.

John Madden comes out and says that he agreed with kicking the field goal, since you will need two scores to win the game.

Say what?

Al Michaels gave a halfhearted explanation and tried to defend Madden's side, but it did not make it any better. There is no way that you can justify a team giving up the ball when down by seven points late in the game when they have never come closer to scoring all night long. Maybe if it was 37-30 and you thought that your offense can go down again and score quickly, but even that I still disagree with. You are down by a touchdown and you need to tie the game before you make any attempts at winning it. There will certainly be more time in overtime for you to try and win the game, but don't you have to get there first?

Cleveland fans already know the outcome here, but I openly questioned the decision at the time and would say the same in practically every instance - if you are down by seven late in a game, you need seven, not three....

So much for that....

Well, so much for that pick last week when I said that New Orleans was going to beat the Redskins. Sure, I could say that Drew Brees getting two passes tipped and picked off were flukes, but the truth of the matter is that Las Vegas had better intel than I did. Imagine that - the best info that money can buy. As one observant FBG pointed out in the Shark Pool (a little late, though), those who were wagering on this game were taking the Saints at a 70% clip - yet the point spread never moved. That's a huge piece of information to have. Vegas loves to make money, and the way that they usually do this is by having both teams bet about equally. That way they make the spread on the game by charging 10% on each wager, also known as the "vig" or vigorish. When a game is at 70% on one side and they haven't adjusted the point spread to level the wagering, it tells you that somebody thinks that they know something. I still think the Redskins are a bad team by the way and they were lucky to win, but I digress...

All things considered, I try to be pretty conservative in picking games early in the season. Never get too cocky. Let the teams announce to the rest of the league just how good they are by showing it on the field. We'll see how it plays out. Right now, nothing is leaping out at me, but if that should change I'll likely be at it again in the Shark Pool making more picks that are worth exactly what you paid for them. Did I mention that our message boards are free?

Going for Two

Now for my final point of the week we come full circle and look back at the best game from Sunday. Denver was down by 7 points to San Diego (and they went for the touchdown - send this tape to Romeo Crennel) late in the game and scored a touchdown. Head coach Mike Shanahan did not hesitate and called for a two point conversion attempt to try and win the game right there and not take a chance in overtime. We know how it turned out - Eddie Royal made the catch on nearly the same play as the previous one where it was worth six points - but was this the correct call?

Speculation abounds as to how and why Shanahan did what he did. Did he know that San Diego was out of time outs and couldn't change personnel? Did he feel like he was playing with "house money" after getting a generous no-call on a fumble? Did he not want to put his porous defense on the field again in overtime? Did he know that his offense had run 75 plays (the most since October 22, 2006) and might not last another drive? Did he remember that he is very good on two point plays (15 of 29 since 1995)?

This situation reminded me a bit of a discussion we had several months ago about going for 2 when down by two touchdowns. The NFL (and collegiate) average success rate is between 40 and 45%, depending on what timeframe you look at, but from a sheer statistical standpoint it does make sense to go for two after scoring the first touchdown when you are down by 14 points. The logic there is that if you make it, you can kick after the second to win the game much easier than taking your chances in overtime, and if you miss it you can try again for two to extend the game.

Unless you are a fan of quadratic equations, I suggest that you just take my word for it that if your success rate is over 39% then the math does work out in your favor. But this is when reality steps in and rears its formidable head. This isn't always about what the math tells us. What about the players? Will your offense feel a big letdown if you miss after the first score and trail by eight rather than seven? Does your team have two awesome two-point plays ready to go if you need them? Do you like your chances more if you kick twice, run their defense ragged, and then take it to overtime?

Coaching decisions are fantastic conversation pieces for everyone but the coaches themselves. This is why they are worth every penny if they make the right calls. Shanahan got it just right, while Crennel may want to cash that check quickly this week.

One last thing - Brandon Marshall is still open.

That will do it for this week. I hope you enjoyed this window into my world. Until next time...