On Deck A Sabermetric Broadcast

Although sabermetrics has substantially reshaped baseball’s on-field product over the past few decades, its progress in the broadcast booth has been slower. It’s not hard to see why the two trends haven’t moved in lockstep: While teams adopted the analytics model out of the need to win games, the same market pressures didn’t apply to commentators. For teams, integrating sabermetrics meant they were more likely to win; for commentators, it meant they were more likely to confuse. But now a younger generation is steeped in analytics, and statistically minded fans obsessively check sites such as Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference and Brooks Baseball to get what broadcasts and talk radio aren’t providing.Broadcasters have taken note. In the past few years, we’ve seen some geeky milestones: Sun Sports produced a special sabermetric broadcast of a Tampa Bay Rays game, and WGN flashed a run expectancy matrix on screen during a Cubs broadcast. And Joe Morgan and Tim McCarver, not exactly standard-bearers for the analytics movement, are off the air.On Saturday, Fox Sports 1 is hoping to facilitate the next breakthrough for on-air stat-geekery. During Game 1 of the National League Championship Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants, the channel, working in conjunction with its Just A Bit Outside blog, is mounting a broadcast that promises to focus on “statistics, sabermetrics, and graphics, with plenty of debate and conversation while the action plays out on the field.” The show will feature a split-screen, with the game in one window and in the other a panel that includes longtime sabermetric proselytizer Rob Neyer and ex-players turned stat-friendly broadcasters Gabe Kapler and C.J. Nitkowski, not to mention current San Diego Padres manager Bud Black. It’s an experiment in whether mainstream America — or at least the America that watches Fox Sports 1 on a Saturday night — is finally ready for metrics to invade Morgan and McCarver’s former province.Kapler certainly seems to think it is, noting that plenty of numbers now widely used on TV (like WHIP and OPS) were once just as foreign to viewers as xFIP and Ultimate Zone Rating. “Baseball fans are ready to absorb metrics they can use to predict what’s coming,” he said.Along similar lines, Neyer hopes the JABO broadcast can put numbers to the baseball fundamentals that fans are used to. “We’ll be talking about the same things that everybody else talks about, just on a somewhat different — and ideally, higher — level,” he said.Neyer’s pet example is pitch framing. While most serious fans know that Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is an expert in what Neyer calls “stealing” strikes on borderline pitches, the NLCS coverage will highlight the fact that Molina’s counterpart on the Giants, Buster Posey, is just as good at that dark art according to the numbers.But it won’t be all numbers. The coverage also aspires to effectively blend advanced statistics with the experience of the former players on hand, as well as Black’s managerial mindset. (For instance, in addition to a studio area, the set will also feature one of those whimsical mini-fields upon which Kapler and Nitkowski can perform hands-on demos.) Host Kevin Burkhardt will guide a running conversation that Kapler hopes will appeal to fans seeking hardcore analysis — statistical or otherwise.There’s a tension in any sabermetric treatment of baseball between the cool empiricism of numbers and the gauzy comfort of narrative. In the post-season that’s even more pronounced, because it’s so difficult to make sense of the randomness that short series bring. Neyer thinks the Fox broadcast can straddle that line.“We’re lucky, given the mix of the people who will be on the set, to do both things,” he said. “Gabe Kapler and C.J. Nitkowski are both quite well-versed in sabermetrics. … We can a cite a number, but [when an event] doesn’t fit the statistical narrative, Gabe Kapler can literally jump out of his chair … and demonstrate what happened, and why.”Everyone I talked to — including Kapler, Neyer and producer Matt Schnider — also emphasized that the broadcast will have room for debate between the sabermetric outlook and the conventional wisdom. “Those things do come up,” Neyer said. “One of the tricky things for us will be [when] somebody says something that maybe isn’t supported by the data, we’ve got to be able to jump in (on my laptop or with one of our researchers) quickly and find out if that’s true, and then get it out there and see if we can hash it out.”Perhaps the telecast, then, is better thought of as an update to the way baseball broadcasts are done, rather than a groundbreaking exercise in sabermetric programming. It will be the first televised, in-game manifestation of what Baseball Prospectus’s Dayn Perry famously described as the ideal marriage between sabermetrics and traditional thinking:“A question that’s sometimes posed goes something like this: ‘Should you run an organization with scouts or statistics?’ My answer is the same it would be if someone asked me: ‘Beer or tacos?’ Both, you fool. Why construct an either-or scenario where none need exist?”In a field where traditional broadcasts have clung to more or less the same format for half a century, the beer-and-tacos approach is a refreshing change of direction. read more

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The Lakers Land Anthony Davis OK — Now What

If the door for contention out in the Western Conference swung wide open this week after a pair of brutal Golden State injuries, it appears that the Lakers just walked right through it.Los Angeles, vying to make the most of LeBron James’s remaining window, agreed to a deal Saturday that would land them Pelicans star Anthony Davis in exchange for Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and three first-round picks, including the No. 4 in Thursday’s draft.The haul was significant from several standpoints: Aside from giving James his first real star running mate out in L.A. (the Lakers will undoubtedly go for one more in free agency), it also takes a couple of other teams out of the running for a serious overhaul. In particular, it’s a blow for a club like the Celtics, who might have been able to further entice free-agent-to-be Kyrie Irving into staying had they landed Davis. (The tea leaves on him staying haven’t looked great lately.)The players involved in the trade, and that No. 4 pick, also suggest that the Pelicans have the makings of a very solid young roster under this new David Griffin regime. Between Zion Williamson (the presumed No. 1 pick), Jrue Holiday, Ingram, Ball, Hart and whomever New Orleans takes at No. 4, the Pels figure to be very good in transition, with considerable versatility on the defensive end. It’s not hard to see how this rebuild could pay dividends more quickly than what some were thinking —particularly if Williamson ends up being the kind of star he is widely expected to be.Above all else, though, there will be immediate interest in what this deal means for LeBron and the Lakers, and whether someone of Davis’s caliber makes them favorites in a now wide-open West, where the reigning five-time conference champs lost both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.Having Davis on the roster gives Los Angeles something it should have had in James’s first year there: A player whom the offense can run through when James isn’t directly involved1He was involved a lot last year, and averaged almost 84 touches per game, among the highest rates in the NBA. Ideally, that number will come down some with another star, as he continues to age., and someone who can keep the team afloat when James goes to the bench. The Lakers beat opponents by 1.6 points per 100 possessions in the time James was on the court last season, but were a disappointing -5.7 points per 100 plays worse than their foes when he was sidelined. Having Davis, and staggering some of his minutes with James’s, should alleviate that problem a great deal.Davis is a generational talent: A terrorizing finisher in the pick-and-roll, and a long-limbed, mobile rim protector that makes players think twice about coming into the paint. He averaged 12 boards a game last season and has improved as a passer and as perimeter jump-shooter, meaning that defenses can’t back all the way off of him. He’s comfortable with his back to the basket, or facing up. He logged 25 points per game this past season and can score when defenses are geared toward stopping him alone — something opposing teams will be able to do less now he’ll be paired with another All-NBA threat in James.This isn’t to say that there aren’t concerns still. While it seems unfathomable now that he would leave, the oft-haphazard club would be wise to make the most of this season, so Davis can go into free agency next season feeling good about the future of the club. In other words, the Lakers want to avoid what happened with Dwight Howard after trading for him several years ago.The most obvious concern with a LeBron-Davis pairing — particularly if the Lakers strike out with other stars in free agency — remains health, which is always a question mark surrounding Davis. While we could go into how many games he’s missed over the years because of injuries (last season was odd, because he often sat to ensure he wouldn’t get hurt prior to being traded) it almost makes more sense to talk about how much he’s played instead. And in his seven seasons, Davis has only logged two, 2016-17 and 2017-18, in which he played in 70 or more games.James is the opposite of injury prone. But this past season’s groin strain, which kept him out longer than he’s ever missed before, showed that the Lakers can’t take his health for granted at age 34. If one or both stars miss real time next year, the rest of the team may be too thin to contend. Still, this gamble seems worth it, since the youngsters they surrendered in the deal weren’t able to get it done when James was forced out. At this point, if you’re the Lakers, you have to be most focused on whatever gives you the highest ceiling, regardless of how low or unsteady the floor might be.The Lakers still have plenty of other boxes to check off, of course. While they were able to hold onto Kyle Kuzma (an interesting choice, since Ball, Ingram and Hart all had elements that arguably make them better two-way options over time), the club still lacks shooting. While Davis’s defense is spectacular at times, the Lakers will certainly miss Ball’s outstanding work as a perimeter defender. And after last summer’s seemingly random free-agency signings, it’s unclear whether general manager Rob Pelinka will fare any better than Magic Johnson did in trying to piece together a balanced enough roster to give Los Angeles a chance at reaching its full potential.But first things first: The Lakers landed a superstar to pair with the one they already had. And in this league, you’ll almost always be happy with accomplishing that most difficult step first, and figuring the rest out later — either through signing another star, or finding complementary pieces along the way. read more

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Dear NFL Kickers Will Not Be Stopped

Did you hear about the NFL’s incredible new rule? On a point-after try, a defense will be able to score a 1-point safety by stopping the attempting team in its own end zone. Oh, and the new rule also moved the line of scrimmage for an extra point to the 15-yard line, making it the equivalent of a 33-yard field goal attempt.But indulge me for two seconds and let’s talk about this 1-point safety, a totally new thing in the NFL. Sure, it’s something that probably won’t come up very often – or, you know, ever. This new safety would occur if the offensive team fumbled the ball backwards, then the players kept knocking it backwards because of their gigantic butter-fingers until an offensive player finally recovered it in his own end zone (yes, on the other end of the field), where they were immediately tackled. (The offense can also score a 1-point safety, but that’s boring.) This opens up the tantalizing possibility of game scores traditionally reserved for baseball, soccer, or curling, like 6-1 (if the only points scored are a touchdown and a defensive point after safety) or 10-1 (if the only points scored are a touchdown, a defensive point-after safety, and two regular safeties).OK, thanks. Back to the longer extra point: The theory is that the league wants to make the play more exciting by making it less “automatic,” and perhaps by encouraging teams to go for two points more often. They’re unlikely to be very successful on either count.Kickers now convert extra points more than 99 percent of the time. That will almost certainly drop, but not by very much. It has been bandied about that kickers have made “only” 91.6 percent of attempts from this distance in the last 10 years. But 10 years is an eternity for kickers – they’re a whole lot better now than they were in 2005. As noted by Kevin Seifert, kickers have made 94.4 percent of field goals from this new distance over the last three years, and 96.7 percent last year. And that doesn’t account for the point-after kicks being slightly easier than their field goal counterparts: They’re never rushed for time, and they’re always taken from the center of the field (technically from wherever the kicker prefers). According to Pro Football Focus, kickers have made 97.6 percent of attempts taken from 30-35 yards from the dead-center of the field over the past three years.When I wrote about kickers in January I developed an era-sensitive model for kickers that at least partially accounts for hash marks (and, if I may, is scary accurate). It’s slightly more conservative than that Pro Football Focus mark, but predicts that kickers would make 96.4 percent of 33-yard kicks next year, rising to about 98 percent over the next 10 years.This isn’t the first time the NFL has been uncomfortable with how good kickers have gotten at their jobs. In 1974, the league moved the goal posts to the back of the end zone, effectively making XPs and other kicks 10 yards harder. Extra point success dropped from 98 percent the year before to 92.1 percent the year after. But it didn’t take long for kickers to recover:From an excitement standpoint, it’s tough to see a significant difference between teams making their extra points 96-98 percent of the time rather than 99. Even if misses happen slightly more often, they’re still going to be infrequent enough that I’d guess they’re more likely to annoy fans after the fact than keep them in suspense beforehand.And while this should marginally improve the math in favor of 2-point attempts, it’s not nearly dramatic enough to make going for two points the obviously better option. (It would have been if the NFL had also moved the line of scrimmage on 2-point attempts up to the 1-yard line, per the Eagles proposal.) Defenses will also be able to score two points on the play by returning a fumble, interception or blocked kick for a “touchdown,” as is the rule in college.And coaches are already pretty irrational about going for two. They have been converted about 47.4 percent of the time over the past 10 years, which would be enough to make them roughly the equivalent of kicking extra points (from an expected-value perspective; though that number may be low because teams that make 2-point attempts tend to be slightly worse than average). At the very least, the expected value of going for it versus kicking is so close that the decision should be dominated by the tactical situation (such as how far ahead or behind they are, and whether they should be playing it safe or trying to gamble) and how good the teams are in short yardage situations. But coaches still basically only make the 2-point attempt when they’re required to.If there is a big shift in favor of going for two, I think it’s more likely to be a result of coaches deciding the new rule gives them cover for it, rather than a large and fundamental shift in the math. And there’s precedent for this: The all-time high for successful 2-point attempts made was 59, set in 1994 – the year the play was first introduced. read more

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Losing An NCAA Tournament Game From Every Seed Isnt Easy But These

✓ Some early exits were more predictable than othersMen’s college basketball teams with at least eight losses in their opening games, including the First Four and round of 64, in the NCAA Tournament, 1985-2017 ✓✓✓✓ Source: sports-reference.com Arizona1155– ✓✓✓✓✓✓6 ✓✓ Missouri1050– Murray State100 Pennsylvania Utah State90 ✓✓✓✓ Valparaiso80 VCU 6 6 ✓ ✓ Louisiana State850– Temple933– ✓✓✓✓✓6 Arizona✓✓✓✓✓✓✓✓ Vanderbilt Oklahoma956– La. State ✓✓✓✓✓✓✓ Missouri✓✓✓✓✓✓✓✓ Xavier922– School12345678910111213141516Total ✓✓✓✓✓✓ ✓✓✓✓✓ East Tenn. State80 8 ✓✓✓✓✓✓ Pennsylvania110 SchoolOpening-round lossesShare as better seed than opponent 6 Iona90 Iowa State✓✓ A few familiar Cinderellas have provided some of the greatest moments in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. But every shocking upset from a ragtag mid-major also means something else: a big-name school has fallen on its face in spectacular fashion.And it seems certain big-name schools are more prone to this than others. In tournaments over the past 10 years, Georgetown has lost its opening-round game playing as a No. 3, No. 6 and No. 2 seed. Arizona won a title and made a second Final Four in the 1990s but also peppered that decade with four losses in the opening round — and in each, the Wildcats were seeded No. 5 or better.So are certain schools uniquely susceptible to March heartache? We looked back over every team’s opening-round game since the tourney expanded to 64 teams in 1985 — including the round of 64 and the play-in games known as the First Four.1The First Four got its start in 2011; play-in games between No. 16 seeds in earlier years were not included in this analysis. Some higher seeds do seem to head home early more than others — and a few of those well-known names are putting together an interesting range of losses.In the past 33 tournaments, 22 teams have made opening-round exits at least eight times.2We didn’t count round-of-64 losses that occurred after a team had won a play-in game. But most of those teams have typically been underdogs — teams that want to win, of course, but aren’t strictly supposed to. Brigham Young, for example, has lost its opening game 12 times, including once in the First Four, but never as a seed better than eighth.3The Cougars have lost as a No. 8 seed four times. Only eight of those 22 teams were seeded better than their opponent in half or more of their opening-round losses. One of those teams is Arizona, which has lost 11 times in the round of 64 and as the better seed in six of those games — most recently in 2016 as a No. 6 seed to a Wichita State team that had to win a play-in game just to be there. Missouri and Indiana have each lost 10 round-of-64 games, though only five of the Tigers’ losses came as the better seed, while the Hoosiers were the better seed in eight of their defeats. Georgia850– ✓ New Mexico ✓✓✓ ✓✓✓✓✓✓ Murray State ✓✓✓✓✓ Lost when seeded … New Mexico State1118– Indiana Georgetown, however, doesn’t show up in our list of biggest opening-round losers, even though it suffered high-profile losses to Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 and Ohio in 2010. Indeed, the Hoyas have lost at the start of the tournament only two other times since 1985, as a No. 6 seed in 2011 and a No. 10 seed in 1997.But Georgetown does have something interesting in common with Arizona and Missouri, teams with high numbers of opening-round defeats. All three have lost an opening-round game as both a No. 2 and a No. 3 seed — a distinction they share with Duke, Iowa State, Michigan State and South Carolina.4Syracuse, which in 1991 became the first No. 2 to lose in the round of 64 when it fell to Richmond, is the only one of the eight teams to share that distinction that hasn’t also lost as a No. 3 seed.This got us thinking: If a team already has round-of-64 losses from two of the top three seeds, how many different seed lines could it lose from?In this day and age, it would be tough to suffer opening-round defeat from every spot on the bracket (especially considering that a No. 16 has yet to fell a No. 1). Major-conference teams are almost guaranteed a seed somewhere between 1 and 11, so they have plenty of opportunities to fail from those seed slots.5Unless a mediocre team manages to win its conference championship, à la the 2008 Georgia Bulldogs, which were seeded 14th because of their 17-16 record. And 14 through 16 seeds are almost always automatic qualifiers from smaller conferences that will have a hard time ever reaching the higher seeds without moving to a power conference or magically transforming into Gonzaga. So, a reasonable goal — if you could call it that — might be to lose from 12 different seeds, or three-fourths of those possible.It takes a special kind of program to have a diversified portfolio of early tournament losses. It has to be good enough to make the tournament often but not so good that it never loses its opener. So teams like Kansas are out: The Jayhawks have made the tournament every year but one since 19856The 1989 tourney. but have lost only two of their 32 round-of-64 matchups. (Duke is in a similar position, with only two opening-round losses other than its two highly seeded defeats.) The team also needs enough regular-season inconsistency from year to year to receive tourney bids from many different seeds — a program that’s good enough for a No. 4 seed one year but just the right amount of mediocre for a No. 10 seed the next.This merit badge of losing might not be possible; no team has reached even the three-fourths mark. These are the programs with opening-round losses from at least six different seeds: ✓✓✓ 6 6 Vanderbilt850– Nebraska ✓✓✓✓✓✓7 Davidson80 Providence ✓✓✓✓ 8 Brigham Young1331%– W. Virginia Texas875– ✓✓✓✓ Montana80 Utah State Marquette 6 Princeton Georgia 6 Princeton911– Schools that are consistently inconsistentMen’s college basketball teams that have lost in the NCAA Tournament’s First Four or round of 64 from the most seeds, 1985-2017 7 6 6 ✓ Indiana978– ✓ ✓✓✓✓✓✓6 6 Source: Sports-Reference.com ✓✓ These teams are closest to running the table, but they all still have a long way to go. Iowa State has some of the hardest seeds out of the way — losing as a No. 27To Hampton in 2001. and No. 38To UAB in 2015. — but also handling the tricky 12 and 13 spots. To get to three-fourths of the seeds, all the Cyclones need to do is lose from those middle seeds of 4 through 7, 9 and 11. (For a long-suffering fan of the cardinal and gold, this feels like an attainable goal.)West Virginia is another team with a good range of losses, and unlike the Cyclones, the Mountaineers actually have a chance to add to their total this year. West Virginia is seeded fifth in the East region — a seed from which it has never lost in the round of 64. The 5-vs.-12 matchups are already ripe for upsets, as we know, so I’ll be picking Murray State to take down the Mountaineers and hand them a fresh seed loss. Like Iowa State and West Virginia, Murray State has six differently seeded opening-round losses, but one of those already came from the No. 12 seed, unfortunately. Penn also could have built on its total this year, but it’s already lost as a No. 16 seed. (And, of course, we’re hoping that the Quakers make another kind of history.)The teams on top of our loser’s bracket, Arizona and Missouri, have lost as eight different seeds, an impressive feat. Both teams have been responsible for several busted brackets, having fallen from the second, third and fourth seeds. We were hopeful that each team could add a notch to its belt this year, but the selection committee didn’t come through for us. Arizona is missing a No. 7 seed loss, but the Wildcats were too strong, securing the No. 4 seed in the South region. Missouri had more options in the middle, needing a No. 5 or a No. 7, but no such luck for the Tigers (well, really, for us) — they ended up with the No. 8 seed in the West.No team wants an early exit from the tournament. But if you’re going to lose your first game, it may as well be in a new and interesting way.Check out our latest March Madness predictions. read more

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Who Are The Favorites In The 2019 NFL Season

Kansas CityP. Mahomes+59161510.369%50%9% Chance To… Travel distance and rest matter. We used to give a blanket home-field advantage of 65 Elo points for every game that wasn’t at a neutral site. Now, we modify our home-field effect4Which is worth a flat adjustment of 55 Elo points. using the distance the visiting team needed to travel to get to the game, docking a team by 4 points of Elo for every 1,000 miles traveled.5This effect is not applied to international games, though it is used for the Super Bowl. Teams also perform better after a bye week (including teams that don’t play during the opening week of the playoffs), so we now give a bonus of 25 Elo points whenever a team is coming into a game fresh and extra-rested. The AFC South experienced a dramatic shakeup when Andrew Luck retired two weeks ago, giving the division a whole new favorite: the Texans. Now, Houston is in somewhat tenuous possession of that distinction, with No. 6-ranked QB Deshaun Watson leading the way — despite last weekend’s bombshell trade that shipped star pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney to Seattle. The Titans aren’t far behind Houston, although QB Marcus Mariota has regressed over the past few years: In Week 12 of the 2016 season, his Elo adjustment would have been 61 points higher than an average quarterback; now it’s 34 points below average. The Jaguars are right in the mix as well, thanks in part to the acquisition of former Eagles backup Nick Foles; Foles adds 14 points of Elo compared with the team’s long-term historical QB rating (i.e., Blake Bortles). Finally, the Colts went from first to last in Elo’s division prediction — literally overnight — after Luck retired. Backup Jacoby Brissett is worth about 90 fewer Elo points by himself than Luck would have been — a huge blow to Indy’s chances of making a return trip to the playoffs. Even so, this is the most uncertain division race in the league. Chance To… ClevelandB. Mayfield+915168.441252 TeamStarting QBvs. avgElo RatingProj. WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin Super Bowl New EnglandT. Brady+52164011.180%69%14% Chance To… N.Y. JetsS. Darnold-4814527.124111 L.A. RamsJ. Goff-915889.660%46%7% How we’re predicting the AFC North race OaklandD. Carr-2614135.8125<1 L.A. ChargersP. Rivers+415809.659366 Quarterback ratings are relative to the average NFL team’s long-term rolling QB performance and are included in the listed Elo ratings. Simulations are updated as of Sept. 3, 2019.Source: ESPN PittsburghB. Roethlisberger+8715699.558%41%5% MiamiR. Fitzpatrick-213895.5104<1 MinnesotaK. Cousins+1215408.543273 Quarterback ratings are relative to the average NFL team’s long-term rolling QB performance and are included in the listed Elo ratings. Simulations are updated as of Sept. 3, 2019.Source: ESPN CincinnatiA. Dalton-4014146.2158<1 TeamStarting QBvs. avgElo RatingProj. WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin Super Bowl Quarterback ratings are relative to the average NFL team’s long-term rolling QB performance and are included in the listed Elo ratings. Simulations are updated as of Sept. 29, 2019.Source: ESPN This is the tightest division race in the NFC. The Bears are favored to win again, though Mitchell Trubisky is Elo’s second-lowest rated QB in the North. (He’s 13th overall, so it mainly speaks to the quality of passers in this division.) On the other side of the ball, the amount of talent on Chicago’s defense is impressive, a necessary component as the Bears are hoping to repeat as last year’s stingiest defense in terms of points allowed. The Vikings come in slightly lower but are still 13th overall by the Elo rankings. So should we blame QB Kirk Cousins for Minnesota’s disappointing 2018 season? Probably not. Although his Elo rating wasn’t as high as during his 2016 or 2017 campaigns, Cousins was good for most of last year, and he enters 2019 as our 12th-ranked quarterback. But the best QB Elo in the division belongs to Aaron Rodgers of the Packers. Even if former coach Mike McCarthy didn’t always put him in the best position to succeed, Rodgers still had solid numbers last season and is currently ranked seventh in QB Elo. (It’s the rest of the roster that’s holding Green Bay back from a division probability better than that 24 percent.) Last, we have the Lions. They project to finish fourth, with QB Matthew Stafford coming off his worst season in years and a second-year coach already on the hot seat. But we do call for Detroit to return to its rightful place in the NFL standings, with roughly a 7-9 record, after last season’s 6-10 hiatus. The Chiefs are the second-most-likely team to win the Super Bowl, trailing only the Patriots. One of the biggest reasons: Elo ranks Patrick Mahomes as the fourth-most-valuable QB in the league behind Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees. Although K.C. will probably regress some after last year’s breakout (we think the Chiefs’ point differential will fall from +144 to +79), and the defense is no better than average (it ranks 16th in ESPN’s preseason Football Power Index), we think this is the team most likely to dethrone New England. The Chargers aren’t running very far behind, either, ranking sixth in overall Elo. L.A. didn’t do much over the offseason — and its trademark injury problems are already cropping up — but this remains one of the most talented rosters in the game. The gap between this division’s top two and bottom two is vast. The Broncos upgraded under center with former Ravens QB Joe Flacco, but he’s still mediocre at best. Late summer for the Raiders has been a circus even by the standards of a “Hard Knocks” team; maybe Brown will improve QB Derek Carr’s numbers, but the team has plenty of other question marks. Oakland and Denver won’t be helped by playing the two toughest schedules in the league, either. Chance To… WashingtonC. Keenum-2414276.31691 Quarterback ratings are relative to the average NFL team’s long-term rolling QB performance and are included in the listed Elo ratings. Simulations are updated as of Sept. 3, 2019.Source: ESPN Quarterback ratings are relative to the average NFL team’s long-term rolling QB performance and are included in the listed Elo ratings. Simulations are updated as of Sept. 3, 2019.Source: ESPN Chance To… TeamStarting QBvs. avgElo RatingProj. WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin Super Bowl How we’re predicting the NFC South race How we’re predicting the NFC North race DenverJ. Flacco-1614626.82091 TeamStarting QBvs. avgElo RatingProj. WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin Super Bowl How we’re predicting the AFC East race San FranciscoJ. Garoppolo-2114807.428171 HoustonD. Watson+2915338.443%32%3% As we said above, the Patriots are not only the division favorites (for what feels like the millionth consecutive season) but are also the model’s top Super Bowl pick. Their fate is tied to Tom Brady continuing to play well at an age when basically no other QB has done that, of course, and he’ll have to do it without favorite security blanket Rob Gronkowski, who retired in March. But Brady hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down yet, and he’ll get to face the NFL’s easiest schedule7According to the average Elo ratings of New England’s regular-season opponents, adjusted for expected starting QBs and home-field advantage. in 2019. Perhaps surprisingly, Elo gives the Bills a slight edge over the Jets for second place in the East. Both teams’ sophomore QBs (Josh Allen and Sam Darnold) played well down the stretch last season, though our model likes Allen a bit more. New York had the more eventful offseason, signing Le’Veon Bell and abruptly firing GM Mike Maccagnan, but the Bills might have made steadier progress. And the Dolphins bring up the rear, though they have the division’s second-highest rated Elo QB in newcomer Ryan Fitzpatrick. (Amid questions of Miami tanking, Vegas gives the Phins 500-to-1 Super Bowl odds, the worst in football.) IndianapolisJ. Brissett-5514797.328191 Chance To… How we’re predicting the NFC East race AtlantaM. Ryan+6715338.339233 TeamStarting QBvs. avgElo RatingProj. WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin Super Bowl N.Y. GiantsE. Manning-2714246.4179<1 DallasD. Prescott+1815478.949334 TeamStarting QBvs. avgElo RatingProj. WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin Super Bowl New OrleansD. Brees+61160410.063%46%8% ArizonaK. Murray-5013895.5106<1 Tampa BayJ. Winston+714466.61791 Quarterback ratings are relative to the average NFL team’s long-term rolling QB performance and are included in the listed Elo ratings. Simulations are updated as of Sept. 3, 2019.Source: ESPN The more things change in the NFL, the more they stay the same. Fresh off of their sixth Super Bowl win with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at the helm, the defending champion New England Patriots open the 2019 season as our favorite to win again. The rest of the top contenders are similar to last season’s as well: the Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles round out the top five in Super Bowl odds, according to our predictions.But our NFL Elo model has changed in a somewhat significant way. You can read more about how it all works here, but in a nutshell, we have added a number of wrinkles to make our football picks more accurate:Quarterback adjustments. We hinted at this over the summer, but we now track rolling performance ratings1Based on a regression between Total QBR yards above replacement and basic box score numbers (including rushing stats) from a given game, adjusted for the quality of opposing defenses. for each QB in the league, which can then be compared with a team’s own rolling QB rating to adjust its Elo in games with a different quarterback starting.2This is very similar to the way we handle starting-pitcher adjustments in our MLB Elo model. (Related to this, we have a new interactive page that shows the relative quality of every quarterback in the league.)3Initial ratings for rookies are based on draft position, ranging from a 0 for an undrafted free agent to a +113 for a No. 1 overall pick like Arizona’s Kyler Murray. TeamStarting QBvs. avgElo RatingProj. WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin Super Bowl JacksonvilleN. Foles+914987.835242 TennesseeM. Mariota-3415027.836252 Quarterback ratings are relative to the average NFL team’s long-term rolling QB performance and are included in the listed Elo ratings. Simulations are updated as of Sept. 3, 2019.Source: ESPN CarolinaC. Newton+1415158.338223 BuffaloJ. Allen-1214757.630151 SeattleR. Wilson+1415458.746314 Green BayA. Rodgers+2815228.238243 Rumors of the Steelers’ demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated. Despite a tumultuous offseason that involved officially losing Bell8The running back sat out all of last season as part of a contractual dispute. and also shipping receiver Antonio Brown to the Raiders, Pittsburgh remains the top-ranked team in the North. Part of that is thanks to Ben Roethlisberger, who checks in as Elo’s No. 1 overall QB, and part of it is because the Steelers have one of the league’s easiest schedules. The Ravens and Browns are neck-and-neck behind them; Elo is skeptical about Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson after he posted not-so-great numbers as a rookie, but it thinks his supporting cast is superior to Baker Mayfield’s in Cleveland — despite the Browns’ big offseason (hi, Odell) and general hype level heading into 2019. Meanwhile, the Bengals are a distant No. 4, as QB Andy Dalton has seen better days, and the team is breaking in a first-time head coach (Zac Taylor). TeamStarting QBvs. avgElo RatingProj. WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin Super Bowl BaltimoreL. Jackson-4015278.441263 DetroitM. Stafford-2214586.922121 Chance To… PhiladelphiaC. Wentz+2015869.863%49%7% Last year, the defending champion Eagles suffered a historic hangover to start their 2018 season, but eventually righted the ship to make the playoffs and even win a first-round game. Armed with Elo’s eighth-ranked QB (Carson Wentz), a talented supporting cast and one of the easiest schedules in the NFL, our model thinks Philadelphia should be division favorites in 2019 — particularly if the Eagles have better injury luck. The defending East champ Cowboys might have something to say about the Eagles being favorites, however, regardless of the holdout of RB Ezekiel Elliott. We rank QB Dak Prescott ninth in Elo, right behind Wentz. Once again trailing in the division are the Giants and Redskins; Washington has the better Elo rating but is slightly less likely to make the playoffs because of a tougher schedule than that of New York. Fittingly, both teams have mediocre veteran QBs (Eli Manning and Case Keenum) trying to fend off highly drafted rookies (Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins). At the top of the NFC South, we have Drew Brees and the Saints coming in as favorites to win the division for a third straight year. Elo rates Brees as the league’s third-best QB, even though he sputtered down the stretch of last season and will turn 41 in January. Fortunately for New Orleans, its supporting cast appears to be good enough to help ease Brees into old age, ranking eighth in QB-independent Elo.9I.e., the team’s adjusted Elo rating if Brees were to be replaced with an average starter at quarterback. As for the Falcons, Matt Ryan is No. 2 in our QB rankings, but the rest of the team ranks 25th in QB-independent Elo. That’s more an indictment of a defense that ranks 23rd in preseason projected FPI than an offense that still includes hyper-productive WR Julio Jones, but Atlanta is hoping that a coaching staff of all new coordinators can help Ryan. The Panthers are still only three seasons removed from a Super Bowl appearance, but they’ve gone exactly 24-24 since then. Elo calls for more of the same this season, with an 8-8 projected record, although Carolina does have the No. 10 QB in our rankings (Cam Newton) and a respectable 38 percent chance of getting back to the playoffs. Finally, the Buccaneers are hoping to end the franchise’s postseason drought at 11 seasons — but they need to improve on last year’s horrid defensive performance and get more consistency from both Jameis Winston and a passing attack that had the third-highest game-to-game QB Elo variance10Trailing only the Rams and the Nathan Peterman-led Bills. of any team in 2018. How we’re predicting the AFC South race ChicagoM. Trubisky+1215669.152%37%5% How we’re predicting the AFC West race The playoffs are different. We found that differences in talent between opposing teams tend to be amplified in the NFL postseason, so now Elo differentials are multiplied by 1.2 before computing the expected win probabilities and point spreads for playoff games.Altogether, these changes improved our historical predictions by quite a bit in backtesting, so we’re feeling confident that our 2019 picks will be better than ever before.6You might notice that we don’t have a dedicated factor for defense included in the model. For one thing, defense would implicitly be part of a team’s non-quarterback Elo rating; for another thing, it was difficult to find specific defensive variables (such as coordinators) which improved predictive accuracy — perhaps because defense is notoriously difficult to predict between seasons. For cases below where we do need to refer to a team’s projected defensive quality, we used ESPN’s Football Power Index projections for the upcoming season.And what are those picks, exactly? Let’s run down what our Elo model thinks of each division in the NFL, starting with… Quarterback ratings are relative to the average NFL team’s long-term rolling QB performance and are included in the listed Elo ratings. Simulations are updated as of Sept. 3, 2019.Source: ESPN How we’re predicting the NFC West race What would Vegas do? In the past, our preseason ratings would simply be each team’s final rating from the previous season, reverted to the league’s average Elo rating by one-third. But our new system also incorporates ratings derived from a team’s over/under win total according to the Las Vegas sportsbooks, giving those twice the weight of mean-reverted Elo when setting a team’s preseason rating. Chance To… The Rams are coming off a Super Bowl run, and there were times last season when they looked unbeatable, not least because of a GOAT-level performance by defensive lineman Aaron Donald. But with questions remaining about QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley — to say that neither were major factors in the playoffs would be an understatement — L.A. might be due for a regression, even if Elo does still consider the Rams division favorites. A number of signs point to a decline, from L.A.’s 6-1 record in close games last year and favorable bounces in recovering fumbles, to a more difficult schedule and even the possibility of adverse effects due to more injuries. Elo thinks the Rams’ point differential will drop from +143 to +58 this season. Behind them, the Seahawks have the division’s best (slash only above-average) Elo QB in Russell Wilson, and they did some offseason shuffling — Clowney and Ziggy Ansah will replace Frank Clark on the pass rush, for example. But Seattle mostly looks like the same good-but-not-great team it was last season. The 49ers will get a do-over with Jimmy Garoppolo after the QB was injured three games into the 2018 season. But is Jimmy G. any good? Elo’s still not sure. It ranks Garoppolo 22nd among starters heading into 2019, despite his hefty price tag. All three of those teams could potentially contend for the division, though. For the Cardinals, that looks like a long shot at best with the tandem of rookie QB Kyler Murray and first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Elo gives Arizona the worst rating and tied for the lowest playoff odds of any team in the NFL this season. read more

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Womens lacrosse Ohio State has sights set on NCAA tournament redemption

OSU coach Alexis Venechanos running practice ahead of their Feb. 6 match-up with Vermont. Credit: James King IIWhile its season opener is not until Feb. 6, the Ohio State women’s lacrosse team already has its sights set on the Big Ten championship later this year.Senior defender Meredith Bushell and the rest of the Buckeyes are looking to overcome the disappointment of not advancing to the NCAA tournament last season.“We’re definitely using it to fuel our fire, we’re using it as a motivation,” said Bushell. “We were not happy with the results we had last year, so we’re looking to make it this year.”Prior to last season, OSU had made two consecutive NCAA tournaments and seemed to be in prime position to earn a third berth until they stumbled late in the season. This year, OSU coach Alexis Venechanos said she feels like the foundation that has been built in the previous years has their team trending up.“Our goal is to have that mission: to be playing in Maryland in May” Venechanos said. “Our last game right now is in April so, if we’re playing in May, it will be for the Big Ten championship and NCAA championship.”While the Buckeyes launched themselves to an 11-1 start in 2016, they dropped their last five games of the year, including an overtime loss to Rutgers in the Big Ten tournament, ultimately finishing at 11-6.“Knowing that (the Big Ten conference) is one of the tougher ones, it kind of excites us. It kind of adds something,” senior midfielder Paulina Constant said. “We’re definitely still excited. We are planning for every single one of those games down from Michigan all the way up to Penn State, Maryland and all of those games. We’re not taking any of them lightly and we’re excited to play each team, get to the Big Ten [tournament] and hopefully win.”OSU will need to find new sources of production on both ends of the field after graduating their two leading point-getters, Cian Dabrowski and Rainey Hodgson, along with their starting goalie Katie Frederick.“We have new faces on both ends of the goal, literally, and our goalie competition is fierce, it’s competitive,” Venechanos said. “I think this year we’re going to have a lot more balance, we have a lot of different types of looks. We have tall girls, we have short girls, we have lefties, we have righties, we have dodgers, we have feeders, so I think we’ll be more dynamic because of that.”The team is not shying away from the challenges that this season is going to bring them. Instead they are embracing it. Constant said she believes they will be successful by taking what worked well from last season and seeing how it will work for them this year.“Of course we had a lot of our attack graduate. But just encouraging everyone to step up, I think that’s a big thing for us,” Constant said. “Just making sure that everyone has the confidence. We have the skill, we just need the confidence to be able to do it.”While their first game against Vermont is Monday at 7 p.m. in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the Buckeyes are hoping their last is in the NCAA championship game.“Our goal is definitely long term, but it’s on our mind daily: what are you going to do to get us to be playing in the NCAA tournament?” Venechanos said. read more

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Saturdays loss affects pride more than championship chances

The Badgers took down the top-ranked, undefeated Buckeyes in Madison, Wis. It’s happened twice since October in two sports. But let’s move on. Let’s move on from Badger fans allegedly spitting on Ohio State players, chanting homophobic slurs with Buckeyes on the free-throw line and screaming, “F— Ohio!” before the opening tip. The land’s best fans are above that. Let’s move on from the notion that somehow there’s a connection between Saturday’s loss and the Oct. 16 football game. Let’s move on because, unlike that football game, this team’s chances at a National Championship are the same now as they were on Friday. A loss in February does not break what could be a dream season in college basketball. Coach Thad Matta has continually emphasized that this team’s goal was never to go undefeated — it was to win the Big Ten Championship. The team had already moved on from an undefeated season before taking its first loss. Even with the defeat, OSU leads the conference by two games with six contests left. Four of those are at home, including the regular-season finale, a rematch against Wisconsin on March 6 in Columbus. At this point, it would take more than one loss to cost this team a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But while Saturday’s defeat is relatively inconsequential in the big picture, it sure doesn’t feel that way, does it? Until the Buckeyes beat the Badgers, there are things that happened in the loss to Wisconsin that we can’t move on from. We can’t move on from watching a 15-point lead dissolve almost instantaneously, after a barrage of threes jet-fueled the bedlam at the Kohl Center.    We can’t move on from that unutterable feeling that churned the pits of our stomachs when we watched a guy named Mike Bruesewitz hit a game-deciding shot, when Wisconsin’s student body rushed the floor or when we couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing Jordan Taylor’s stat line that included 5-for-8 on 3-point shooting. We can’t move on from the fact that Wisconsin fans have started labeling the Badgers “Buckeye Killers.” The rate of winning that OSU has achieved in football and basketball makes losing to the same school over and over again that much worse. We wouldn’t be the fan base we are if these things didn’t bother us. It’s part of a good fan’s DNA to squirm when falling to a rival, regardless of whether the loss means anything. But the beautiful thing about sports is there’s always another opportunity. And the impact of Saturday’s result would shrink if the Buckeyes hammered the Badgers March 6 at home, like they should. “To be spit on is just nasty,” freshman forward Jared Sullinger tweeted following the game. “On top of that in my Face. Before and after the game. Smh. I just kept walking. More fuel to the fire.” Although it was tough, Sullinger did the right thing. Wisconsin will get what’s coming. Until then, let’s move on. read more

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Commentary Sundays game between Browns Bengals offers both teams a chance at

Despite their record, the Cleveland Browns (0-5) have played competitively in every game this year. Last week, they led the defending-champion New York Giants 14-0 before their prolific offense caught fire. Now they host the Cincinnati Bengals (3-2), who are coming off a disappointing loss at the hands of the Miami Dolphins. In that game, Cincinnati’s high-flying passing game was stifled by a defense that had been ranked 30th against the pass. Trailing by four points in the fourth quarter at home, the Bengals failed to generate offense when they needed it the most with their last two drives ending in a missed field goal and an interception to essentially end the game. Last week’s loss leaves room for questions. Are the Bengals the team that averaged 13 points per game in their two losses or the squad that kept opponents guessing on their way to scoring 33 points a game during a three-game win streak? One of their victims during that run was the Browns. But Cleveland’s secondary looks to prevent that sort of production this time around. In week two, when the Browns allowed Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton to throw for 318 yards, they were without a key component of their defensive backfield, shutdown cornerback Joe Haden. Now the third-year corner is back after serving a four-game suspension and will be assigned the task of blanketing Bengals receiver A.J. Green, who has 365 yards and three touchdowns receiving in his last three games. Should Haden be able to shake off the rust and take away Dalton’s favorite target, the Bengals may be exposed for their lack of go-to options on offense. After Green, there is a steep decline in the talent at the wide receiver position. Andrew Hawkins has done an admirable job in the short passing game and rookie Armon Binns has been relevant. But neither have shown the ability to carry the load. If Green is locked up, Dalton will need tight end Jermaine Gresham to step his game up and play like the Pro Bowler he is. Meanwhile, Cincinnati’s running game has not been reliable. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis is averaging just 3.3 yards per game and has already fumbled twice. Looking to get something going against the Dolphins, the Bengals turned to running back Bernard Scott. The career-backup showed signs of life with eight carries for 40 yards but sustained a knee injury and will be lost for the season. Cincinnati cannot afford another weak showing on offense against a Cleveland team that will be on the attack. While the Browns know they may not have the Bengals’ superior offensive personnel or chemistry the likes of the Dalton-to-Green connection, they are not intimidated by Cincinnati’s defense. In week two, rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden passing and rookie running back Trent Richardson each had their most productive games of the year. Weeden passed for 322 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions while Richardson rushed for 109 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries. Playing at home with their pride on the line, Cleveland will give the Bengals a good fight, hoping a win will validate and encourage a young squad that is making progress but has nothing to show for it yet. Cincinnati, meanwhile, looks to prove that last week’s game was a fluke and that their offense can score with the best of them. Another strong showing in the passing game will silence their critics and prove the Bengals are a force to be reckoned with. read more

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Ohio State mens lacrosse sets lofty goals for 2013

The Ohio State men’s lacrosse team is heading into the 2013 season looking to shake off the sting of back-to-back losses in the Eastern College Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals in 2011 and 2012. Coach Nick Myers said his team’s growth in the off-season might be enough to make that hope a reality. “We’re a team that’s fighting and clawing to get better every day, I’m really happy with the effort we’ve put forth in practice,” Myers said. “I think right now the coaching staff is probably most thankful for the leadership that we’re getting and the way these guys are responding to the challenges that we’re putting in front of them.” The team can look for leadership in returning seniors Logan Schuss, Dominique Alexander and Kevin Mack, who will all join the Ohio Machine at the end of the season after being drafted in the 2013 Major League Lacrosse Collegiate Draft. Alexander, a midfielder and co-captain for the Buckeyes, said he’s excited to play for the Machine but won’t let his future distract him from his duties at OSU. “(Getting drafted) was pretty awesome, my family was pretty excited,” Alexander said. “Obviously my focus right now is the season, but it’s definitely something to look forward to.” In front of a sold-out crowd, the Buckeyes defeated Team Canada, 17-10, in its preseason opener on Jan. 20. And even though it’s early, some members of the team said their sights are already set on making it to the sport’s biggest stage. “I think the goal is definitely to get to the NCAA tournament, and once you get there anything can happen,” said junior goalie Greg Dutton. “I think we have the guys to do it, and I think we are a lot more mature than we have been in past years. We’ve got good senior leadership and we should have the expectation to make the tournament.” Like Dutton, Schuss has been named to the 2013 Preseason All-American team by Inside Lacrosse. The attacker was named last season’s ECAC Offensive Player of the Year, and Myers hopes for similar production this season. “I think Logan’s a guy that benefits off his teammates’ ability. He has incredible talent but he’ll be the first to tell you he’s as good as the five guys around him helping make plays,” Myers said. “I certainly think he is one of the best players in the country.” No. 20 OSU is set to play No. 12 Syracuse Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. read more

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For Sarah Miller Ohio State gymnastics is home

Ohio State gymnast Sarah Miller was named the Big Ten Events Specialist last week after being named Big Ten co-event specialist the previous week, continuing her soar on the scoreboards, but everything has not always been so easy for the talented athlete. After losing her mother at the age of 3, her grandparents at ages 13 and 14 and a coach as well, Miller managed to stay on track with gymnastics. Miller credits her successes and her tenacity to her late mother, who did mommy-and-me gymnastics classes when Miller was 2. “I think the main reason I stuck with gymnastics is because my mom got me into it and just kind of trying to make her proud in what she started me in,” Miller said. The junior Collegeville, Pa., native has found a safe haven in gymnastics. Every aspect of the sport has become a sense of comfort for Miller. “I know that if I didn’t have gym, I don’t know what I would do. It’s my home. It’s my stress reliever,” Miller said. “This is my family and these are my girls.” Melanie Shaffer, junior all-around gymnast and an acquaintance from Miller’s childhood turned friend, teammate and roommate, also provided a sense of comfort for Miller. “We became really close friends when we first got to Ohio State, but we met a little bit throughout club gymnastics because we are both from Pennsylvania,” Shaffer said. Although several of Miller’s teammates see her as the funny girl on the team, her coach said that Miller has a guard up. “She’s not super easy to get to know right away,” said Carey Fagan, OSU women’s gymnastics coach. “I think it takes a while for her to trust people and to let people into her inner circle because she’s lost a lot of people over time, and I think that has impacted her, and she takes her time getting to know people.” Fagan has also noticed that Miller has the tendency to be rather tough on herself. “She’s a perfectionist,” Fagan said. “She likes to go until she gets it right and I think that mentality over the years has taken a toll on her body.” Titled the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2011, she began to experience the pressures of a collegiate athlete. “Winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, she has sort of emerged as the star of our team and she thrives (on) that,” Fagan said. “She loves being in that anchor spot in her events and she competes remarkably under pressure.” The expected dream of a collegiate gymnast is usually to make it to the Olympics, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth for Miller. “There’s always that (Olympic) dream when you’re a little kid, but after I started to come to realize, it’s not really what I want,” Miller said. “My dream is to be a collegiate coach.” OSU women’s gymnastics is set to next take on Michigan Friday at 7 p.m. at St. John Arena. read more

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