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Mike H.: Now that Larry Fitzgerald has had a quiet couple of games, the media echo chamber is offering up "Fitz had a terrible back half last year, so...." As if it's clearly a pattern that will repeat. Argh?
Argh, indeed, Mike. This "argument" (which I will destroy momentarily) is based on the idea that Fitzgerald turned 33 in August. Reggie Wayne and Derrick Mason had 100-catch seasons at age 33. Wayne and Marvin Harrison both topped 1,300 yards. Terrell Owens topped 13 touchdowns twice past age 33. I'm not saying Fitz isn't nearing the end, but there's no defined endpoint for most receivers the way there is for most running backs. Since 2001, 30 wide receivers have posted 1,000-yard receiving seasons at that age, and by the way: Fitz is on pace for 1,133.
But numbers. Pshaw. Just watch him play. Last week: one-handed grab, full extension, red-zone catch over the middle where he takes a huge shot and pops up. Would any Cardinals fan right now say Larry Fitzgerald is the team's problem? Not Carson Palmer? Not the other receivers, who suck? Not the kicker blowing two wins?
And this brings me to my real point, which is: people are stupid. Never listen to people.
The invention of Excel is a pox on the world. (Not really, but hang with me.) Now people frantically search for correlation in football the way they do in baseball, and the problem is what? Say it with me: small sample size. Could Fitz fail to find the end zone the rest of the season? He could. He hasn't scored since Week 5. It's been a little bit of a bummer. But if he fails to score again, will it be because he's old, or because he tailed off last year? The distinction between correlation and causation still eludes people. Sixteen games per season don't provide enough data to be casting wild assumptions like this. Which is why football is not a data-mining sport, however much certain folks want to turn it into baseball. The difference comes down to not enough repeatable simple phenomena to provide good data.
I'm not numbers-averse; I'll wager I'm better with a spreadsheet than most folks who traffic exclusively in them. But I know what a declining veteran looks like. It's why I told you that Andre Johnson was done before his season in Indy last year, when on average he was selected in the fourth round. And it's why I'm telling folks now: hey, I can't guarantee Fitzgerald doesn't fall off statistically in December, but I can guarantee it won't be because he's out of shape or fading physically. This is why I put in all those hours watching film, to be able to make that distinction.
Brad R.: Help with this disagreement. I think Nirvana is good, but that grunge is mostly terrible. My wife disagrees and cites Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and the like as examples, at which I scoff. What say you?
I like Pearl Jam a lot, probably more than Nirvana. In Utero is actually kind of middling in spots. And "Rape Me" literally rips off the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" riff; I mean, obviously, that's intentional, but it's the kind of move John Lennon would've made 15 years after a Beatles hit, not two. I know folks say early PJ is warmed-over 70s arena rock, but I like The Who. I'm OK with that. Eddie Vedder in a Kaiser helmet. What's cooler than that?
I'm nostalgic for 90s music because we're always nostalgic for things from our youth. It's why in last week's mailbag I totally mocked The Big Chill and now I'm turning around like, "Yeah, I had that Candlebox record. Wasn't too bad!" Anyway, the moment I decided whatever was passing as "grunge" had turned to crap was the moment I heard "Glycerine" by Bush. What, that was '95 or '96? Yeah, the party was over. I had friends in Austin who would just sway to that crap. And legend had it Bush only ever got signed because someone heard this really bad band playing but thought the lead singer was hot enough to get ladies interested. (Gwen Stefani agreed.) So let's not say we hate grunge. Let's just call it the post-"Glycerine" line. I'll defend Siamese Dream to the bitter end.
Matthew E.: With Rob Gronkowski out for good, how savvy would it be to pick up Malcolm Mitchell and Dion Lewis? And does Martellus Bennett get a big upgrade?
Yeah, poor Gronk. He was doomed the moment The Simpsons called him "Bonk." If Earl Thomas hit me as hard as he hit Gronkowski a couple weeks ago, it would've sterilized me. Gronk merely punctured a lung and ruptured a disc in his back. Doesn't this have to be the last time we ever hear anyone say they'd take Gronk in the first round of a fantasy draft? I say it's a shaky strategy even he stays healthy—because math—but how can anyone believe he'll stay healthy?
Bennett is the obvious beneficiary here, because he's the only guy left on the roster who can perform maybe 70 percent of the duties Gronk can. He's huge, he can block, he's got good mitts—he's just not an uncoverable full-grown grizzly running around out there. Despite his up-and-down season, Bennett deserves to be at least a top-ten tight end most weeks.
The other guys? There are just too many of them. Mitchell has been a nice story, but outside receivers don't tend to get consistent run in Tom Brady's offense, to say nothing of the fact that Chris Hogan gets more snaps. Julian Edelman is there. James White is there. Danny Amendola is there. You'll feel touched by the gods if there's a week where you guess right on one of the Patriots ancillary receivers, but it probably won't last.
Jon H.: As a self-proclaimed "bad guitar player," what's hardest for you to play? What are you best at?
I'm a fine rhythm player. I can teach myself a lick if I have to. But I have zero improvisational ability, zero panache, zero of my own style. If beige wallpaper got pretty good at playing chords, it would sound like me.
Sometimes I think, "I should buckle down and get way better at scales, I should look up some music theory on the web, I should find some people who are legit good to play with who would shame me into actually learning something." And then I play the riff to "Blister In The Sun" which was like the third thing I ever learned on the guitar. I'm not what you would call touched by the gods. More like touched by Fred Durst. (But not literally. Ew.)
Dan B.: Could you talk about your general strategy when it comes to keepers? Clearly, DeAndre Hopkins is an otherworldly talent, but his QB situation is awful.
Sean C.: Is Todd Gurley worth keeping in a keeper league, or are his floor and his system too risky?
I lump these questions together because they're coming from the same place: please tell me the future of these players. The problem is: we all told you their futures last year, and we said the exact wrong thing. Both Hopkins and Gurley were first-rounders in '16 after tearing up the league last year, and now they suck.
My shtick is I tell people to draft (or in this case, keep) talent. I don't do that because I can guarantee the most talented players will always produce the best numbers. I do it because it's the least awful methodology. What are the alternatives? Draft entirely based on last year's numbers? That's how Blake Bortles and Danny Woodhead turn into early-round picks. Draft entirely based on situation? That would be great, except it seemed for all the world that Hopkins' situation would be better this year, because Brock Osweiler seemed an obvious upgrade over Brian Hoyer. (Oops.) Draft based on quality of schedule? This year you would have been terrified of teams who had to play the Panthers and Bengals, and laughed if your guys had to play the Chargers or Buccaneers.
I agree with Dan: Hopkins is a stud. Gurley is a stud, too. I don't think their exceptional '15 campaigns were flukes; I think everything has gone against them. The Texans signed a quarterback who instantly terrified his coaches into calling an Alex Smith game plan, which fails to take advantage of what Nuk can do. And Gurley's surroundings somehow got worse in SoCal, as Case Keenum turned into Keenum 2.0 and couldn't keep a safety honest if his life was at stake. He'd just throw another two-yard out and accept grim death.
I'm not saying situations don't matter, because my God, they absolutely do. I'm saying the NFL changes so much year to year and that we're terrible at predicting the ways it'll change. Suddenly the Falcons and the Raiders might have the second- and third-best offensive lines in the game, and before you say we should've seen that coming: remember the Texans signing and drafting their way to a brand new awesome o-line interior? Remember the Vikings fixing things by signing Alex Boone and Andre Smith? Big changes don't always work! This is how the Cowboys go from doormat to dominant! This is how the Cardinals turn to bird turd! The NFL is great, but it's weird and delicate and mighty hard to parse before the games begin.
All of which is to say: keep good players. I can't definitively say that Dan and Sean should automatically keep Hopkins and Gurley, because I don't know what it'll cost. For sure, neither of those guys is getting drafted in the first round next year, because now the market knows that they bring flop-risk with them. That's as it should be. But my money is usually on good players eventually bouncing back, because no matter how set in concrete a situation looks in the NFL, it isn't.
Aaron F.: If you were a character in a Wes Anderson film, what would your entrance music be?
I'm not sure what song, but it would be by Cat Stevens and it would annoy the living shit out of me.
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