MLB Teams Should Go For Talent Not Balance At The Trade Deadline

But to examine the broader question of whether balance helps a team, we need to see if our measure of balance — specifically, the absolute difference between a team’s index and the league average of 100 on both offense and defense — tracks meaningfully with a team’s future success after controlling for its overall talent level.To that end, I computed the same offensive and defensive indices as above for each team on July 31 of every season since 1986, when the trade deadline was permanently moved to that date (except this year, when the commish moved it to Aug. 1 because July 31 fell on a Sunday). As a first pass, I checked whether a change in a team’s balance correlated with improved play over the remainder of the regular season — and the relationship was practically non-existent.2In statistical parlance, the r between the change in a team’s balance from before the trade deadline to after and its change in winning percentage was 0.018. I then did the same thing but for eventual playoff teams only … and got the same result.3This time, the correlation was -0.009. Finally, I looked at whether a playoff-bound team’s balance had any real bearing on its World Series odds after controlling for its talent, and again, a team’s balance had no significant effect. (If anything, less balanced playoff teams have tended to win the World Series more often since 1986, though that finding is likely just noise.)In other words, balance isn’t something for a team to seek at the deadline — talent is. Teams should be wary about dealing from a strength to improve a weakness if it doesn’t leave them in a better overall place than where they started. Even under the bright lights, a run saved is still worth the same as a run scored, balance be damned.Check out our latest MLB predictions. One school of thinking about the MLB trade deadline, which passes at 4 p.m. Eastern time, is that teams should address their weaknesses and become more balanced in preparation for the stretch run. The notion, which we’ve taken as a given around these parts in the past, is that sacrificing in some area of strength (whether on offense, pitching or defense) to plug a weakness makes a team less vulnerable in the postseason. But is that true? Certainly teams should patch up their weaknesses if it doesn’t mean taking away from their strengths, but all else being equal, balance for its own sake may not necessarily help improve a team’s chances.It’s easy to look at a team’s offense/defense balance — defined as how closely matched a team’s run-scoring and run-prevention capabilities are. We can quantify the clubs most in need of it at the deadline this season by indexing each team’s (park-adjusted) runs scored and allowed per game against the league average. In the chart below, the teams in the bottom right-hand corner are the most balanced — they’re good at both scoring and preventing runs1In this case, a lower defensive index is better because it means a team allowed fewer runs. — but those in the adjacent quadrants have a weakness in one of the two categories. (Those in the top left are just bad at everything.) read more

Yankees Ban Reggie Jackson From Club

Reggie Jackson’s back-peddling and apologizing were not enough to prevent the New York Yankees from banning the Hall of Fame slugger from being around the team indefinitely.Jackson, a special adviser to the team, was quoted in Sports Illustrated blasting Yankee Alex Rodriguez, saying, among other things, that Rodriguez’ statistics are tainted because of his admitted use of performance enhancing drugs and that old timers would not vote for him for the Hall of Fame.On Friday Jackson called Rodriguez, manager Joe Giradi and team officials to apologize. That did not temper the team’s anger. Jackson was not in Boston over the weekend, where the Yankees played the Red Sox.“A cooling-off period, but not a death penalty,” a source with knowledge of the team’s thinking called it Jackson’s banishment to ESPNNewYork.com.At some point, Jackson is expected to be back with the team, the source said.Rodriguez said he heard from Jackson but would not get into details of the conversation. “We’re going to keep that very private,” Rodriguez said Friday.In the Sports Illustrated article, Jackson said “Al’s a very good friend,” Jackson said of the Yankees’ third baseman, who has 642 career home runs, placing him fifth all-time.“But I think there are real questions about his numbers,” Jackson said. “As much as I like him, what he admitted about his usage does cloud some of his records.”He went on to say that Rodriguez and Barry Bonds and others who have been part of the steroids scandal should not be in the Hall of Fame.“If any of those guys get in, no Hall of Famer will attend,” Jackson told SI.Rodriguez handled the disrespect with aplomb. But he did say, apparently jokingly, “With friends like that, who needs enemies?”He might have offered that in jest. But if Rodriguez was serious, who could blame him? read more

Lakers Owners Jeanie and Jim Buss Differ on Dwight

Photo by Flickr/Scott MecumLos Angeles Lakers owners Jeanie and Jim Buss have both expressed their feelings publicly about the departure of Dwight Howard.In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Jim said Howard “was never really a Laker. He was just passing through.”In a recent interview, Jeanie’s opinion of the Howard’s exit differed.“It’s disappointing that Dwight isn’t here,” Jeanie said. “I feel like we failed him.”The free agent center left  the Los Angeles Lakers and signed a four-year deal with the Houston Rockets worth $88 million.In February, longtime Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss died from cancer. His executive position and ownership passed to two of his children, Jeanie and Jim. Jeanie is in charge of business and Jim is in charge of basketball operations.“My brother ultimately makes the [basketball] decisions,” said Jeanie. “I defer and will continue to defer because that’s what my dad believed would be successful.”Jeanie let it be known that she would like to be more involved with the Lakers’ basketball decisions.“I would be more comfortable if I understood what the decision process was, and I’m not always involved in it,” she continued. “To be held accountable by the league and not have a seat at the table when decisions are made is hard.”Jeanie also said she believes her father might have had success persuading Howard to stay in LA. read more

The Jaguars Defense Isnt Playing Well Enough To Win With Bortles Anymore

QBR48.245.5 yearFOllowing year Cardinals2010308th101926th0 49ers2013306th (tied)5294th (tied)3 Bills2011309th62123th (tied)1 Patriots2010382nd5343rd3 Bears2012441st92813th (tied)6 Bengals2013313rd (tied)52610th (tied)3 Jacksonville’s defense regressed even more than expectedNFL teams from 2010 to 2016 that had at least 30 takeaways and five defensive touchdowns with how they fared the following year, along with the 2017-2018 Jacksonville Jaguars Texans2014342nd52512th (tied)3 Patriots2012412nd52910th (tied)3 There’s no denying that Bortles and the offense are a problem. But this was perfectly predictable. This year, Bortles is playing exactly like you would have expected. His QBR and passer rating are similar to his career rates, and his yards per dropbacks metric is actually significantly better.Bortles has led his team to only 34 points in four losses, though all of those came without bell-cow running back and 2017 fourth-overall pick Leonard Fournette in action. While the Jaguars have averaged 4.3 yards per rush this year, the same rate as in 2017, it could reasonably be argued that defenses no longer need to focus as much on stopping the run, making the sledding more difficult for Bortles and the passing game.But more importantly, last season the Jaguars could count on getting some offense from their defense. They had a league-high seven return touchdowns on picks and fumbles in 2017. But this year, they have had only one — and none in the games they lost. And their defense is not even setting up their offense with good field position via the turnover, as they had just two takeaways in the four defeats after finishing second in the league last year by averaging more than two per game. Sources: Pro-Football-Reference.com, ESPN Stats & Information 2018 Blake Bortles compared with his career average prior to this season Passer rating80.380.8 Chiefs2016331st5267th (tied)3 2018Career Chiefs2013362nd71430th (tied)1 Lions2011343rd (tied)71727th0 Yards per pass play6.415.98 Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com Packers2011381st (tied)52318th (tied)2 The Jacksonville Jaguars’ Super Bowl dreams are turning into a nightmare. And the obvious culprit is quarterback Blake Bortles, who was benched early in the second half of Sunday’s 20-7 loss to the Houston Texans — the team’s third-straight defeat.A civil war appeared to erupt after the game in the locker room, which beat writer Daniel Popper of The Athletic described as having “surpassed 212 degrees Fahrenheit.”“The Jaguars are sinking helplessly into the burning cauldron with no lifeline in sight,” Popper wrote on Twitter.The defensive players were yelling the loudest, so the narrative is that the finger-pointing is at Bortles and the club’s offense. But those fingers may be pointing the wrong way: The real reason for the team’s struggles is that its super-human defense is not merely regressing as expected in forcing turnovers and converting them into touchdowns — it’s collapsing. Cardinals2015332nd6284th (tied)3 DefenseYearTake-awaysLeague RankDef. TDsTake-awaysLeague RankDef. TDs Jaguars2017332nd7529th (tied)1 Bears2011315th (tied)5441st9 Cardinals2013306th (tied)52514th (tied)4 Make no mistake, the Jaguars defense overall is still very good — second in yards allowed and second in yards allowed per pass play. It’s just not supplementing an offense that needs supplementing. So now the Jaguars attack isn’t Bortles-plus — it’s just Bortles. And completely unsurprisingly, “just Bortles” is not a recipe for NFL success.NFL teams this decade that had at least 30 turnovers and at least five defensive touchdowns generally badly regressed — from an average league rank of 3.5 in turnovers to 13.5. But the Jaguars thus far have gone from second to a tie for 29th. So now a team that appeared poised to return to the postseason after reaching the AFC Championship is on life support.Head coach Doug Marrone seemed to concede after Sunday’s game that Bortles wasn’t really to blame for the team’s woes, but he had to do something.“I just literally did it to try to get a damn spark from this football team, to put everyone on notice that they have to focus, and they have to go out there and play better,” he told reporters. “That’s not fair to the quarterback, but that’s the way this business is. … The one thing you do with that position, doesn’t matter the name, doesn’t matter who it is: When you make a move to get a spark, everyone goes on notice. Everyone.”But the spark Marrone was trying to get isn’t really the spark that the Jaguars need. It’s some turnovers.There’s a chicken and egg issue here though. Turnovers are easier to come by when you have the lead. In 2017, the Jaguars forced 41 sacks and 13 picks in 372 pass plays while they were leading — when the opposing offense was more reckless and pass-happy.Those 372 plays were 63 percent of all opponent dropbacks last year and led to 62 percent of the Jags’ picks and 75 percent of their sacks. This year, opponents are throwing only 44 percent of their passes while trailing — and those plays accounted for just 47 percent of their sacks and 33 percent of their picks.So the way for the Jaguars to function better as a team is for someone on either side of the ball to make a play early and give Jacksonville a lead. They’ll get a chance Sunday in London against another team that’s learning that success in the NFL is far from stable, the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles, who are also just 3-4. But if the Jags can’t turn it around, the temperature in their locker room might never go down.Check out our latest NFL predictions. read more

The NFL Games To Watch With The Playoffs On The Line

CIN0.00.0PIT15.85.411.01491 ATL0.00.0TB0.00.00.91470 NO74NO67NO 31, PIT 28-6.6– PICKWIN PROB.PICKWIN PROB.ResultREADERS’ NET PTS DAL100.00.0NYG0.00.00.91488 TEN62.147.1IND37.847.094.71552 IND74IND75IND 28, NYG 27-1.4– CHI68CHI73CHI 14, SF 9+0.9– Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 16Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 16 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game MIA61MIA61JAX 17, MIA 7-2.2– KC100.00.0OAK0.00.00.51492 DEN61DEN62OAK 27, DEN 14-3.1– PHI66PHI51PHI 32, HOU 30-14.7– CLE60CLE66CLE 26, CIN 18+2.6– The best matchups of Week 17Week 17 games by the highest average Elo rating (using the harmonic mean) plus the total potential swing for all NFL teams’ playoff chances based on the result, according to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL predictions KC54KC56SEA 38, KC 31-5.0– CAR62%CAR51%ATL 24, CAR 10+9.5– NE100.00.0NYJ0.00.00.81467 Team ACurrentAvg. Chg*Team BCurrentAvg. Chg*Total ChangeGame Quality DEN0.00.0LAC100.00.01.01518 LAR77LAR83LAR 31, ARI 9+0.7– MIN72.0%+/-31.6CHI100.0%+/-0.063.41597 BUF0.00.0MIA0.00.00.81395 HOU100.00.0JAX0.00.01.21489 LAC66LAC67BAL 22, LAC 10-3.5– MIN55MIN63MIN 27, DET 9+4.4– There are a few other games with playoff probability on the line. As mentioned earlier, the outcome of the Eagles’ game with Washington is very much of importance to the Vikings, who would clinch with a Philadelphia loss. The Cleveland Browns’ matchup with the Baltimore Ravens has done the unthinkable — made Pittsburgh Steeler fans root for the Browns — since a Baltimore win would eliminate the Steelers from the postseason picture. Baltimore could still make the playoffs with a loss, but the Ravens would need Pittsburgh to lose its game against Cincinnati, which is also happening simultaneously at 4:25 p.m. ET. (In related news: Are you ready for a completely insane Sunday afternoon of football?)Although other games could determine seeding, and there are a few stray percentage points of playoff odds’ difference at stake around the league, those are basically the games that will carry the most weight in Week 17, and we can’t wait to see how they all play out.FiveThirtyEight vs. the readersWhile you’re prepping for the playoffs, be sure to check out FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings using our NFL prediction interactive, which simulates the rest of the season 100,000 times and tracks how often each team should make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. Did you know you can also pick against the Elo algorithm in our prediction game? Maybe you can also climb up our giant leaderboard.Here are the games in which Elo made its best — and worst — predictions against the reader picks last week: ARI0.00.0SEA100.00.00.61451 Home teams are in bold.The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction. PHI28.020.0WSH0.00.040.81512 GB57GB59GB 44, NYJ 38-0.3– OUR PREDICTION (ELO)READERS’ PREDICTION CAR0.00.0NO100.00.00.51587 NE84NE83NE 24, BUF 12-2.0– Game quality is the harmonic mean of the Elo ratings for the two teams in a given matchup. Total Change adds up the potential swing in playoff odds for every team in the league (not just the two teams listed).*Average change is weighted by the likelihood of a win or loss. (Ties are excluded.)Source: ESPN TEN73TEN74TEN 25, WSH 16-1.4– LAR100.00.0SF0.00.01.21499 It’s the last week of the NFL’s regular season, and that means it’s time to game out all of the fun playoff scenarios facing each team.Here at FiveThirtyEight, we like to measure the most important games of the week based on how much they swing every team’s odds of making the postseason (across every team in the entire league). And by that standard, you can’t top Sunday night’s game between the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans, which will shift around nearly 95 total points of playoff probability. (Really, that’s for the two teams involved — the winner will make the playoffs and the loser won’t, which effectively makes it a play-in playoff game.) Oddly, it’s only the third time ever that the Titans will play in NBC’s flagship Sunday night game (the last was in 2009), while for the Colts, it will have been exactly 60 years and two days since they beat the New York Giants for the NFL title in the Greatest Game Ever Played, which helped make TV-spectacle games like this one possible.That may not be the best game of Week 17, however. We also like to include an element for team quality, and Titans-Colts is still just the No. 13 team in our Elo ratings against No. 14. When the Minnesota Vikings face the Chicago Bears, it will be No. 6 vs. No. 11 in Elo, and it’s a game that has plenty of playoff significance in its own right. The Vikings wouldn’t automatically miss the playoffs if they lose, but they would not be in great shape (35 percent), while they would clinch with a victory. And the Bears have plenty to play for as well; a win and a Rams loss would help them get a first-round playoff bye. Of course, fans of the Philadelphia Eagles will be watching this game closely: A Vikings win would end Philly’s season, while a Bears win would give the Eagles a chance to play their way in. (Both games kick off at 4:25 p.m. ET.) DET0.00.0GB0.00.01.41456 Playoff %Playoff % DAL75DAL72DAL 27, TB 20-3.2– BAL84.325.4CLE0.00.051.11524 After a shellacking at the hands of our algorithm in Week 15, readers rebounded slightly this week, losing by an average of 25.3 points. Philadelphia’s last-second win over Houston may have kept the Eagles in the playoff hunt, but it cost readers 14.7 points on average in our game. Readers did pick up 9.5 points on average in the Atlanta-Carolina game; though they incorrectly picked the Panthers to beat the Falcons, they did so by a smaller win probability than Elo.Congrats to Scott S, who led all users in Week 16 with an even 300 points, and to Greg Chili Van Hollebeke, who maintained his No. 1 ranking on the season with 1,075.4 points. Thanks to everyone who has been playing — and if you haven’t, be sure to get in on the action! You can make picks now and still try your luck against Elo, even if you haven’t played yet.Check out our latest NFL predictions. read more

Lets Overreact To MLB Opening Weekend

More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Embed Code FiveThirtyEight The Hot Takedown crew gathers this week to discuss March Madness upsets and the first few MLB games. Over the weekend, Michigan State clinched a spot in the Final Four with a 1-point win over the pre-tournament favorite, Duke. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo lauded the top seed, calling the Blue Devils arguably “the best team in the country.” We look at whether Duke is worthy of the praise and what we can expect going into this weekend’s games. Also, Neil has a perfect bracket and we’ll never let it go.Our second segment takes stock of MLB’s opening weekend, including which teams faltered and which are surging. With the season barely underway, what warrants concern and what’s an overreaction? Could the Braves’ lackluster start have been predicted? Andy Bunker of Atlanta’s 92.9 “The Game” sure seems to think so. Using our Elo model, we discuss whether other weekend surprises and uproars deserve our attention — or if it’s still too early to tell.Finally, our Rabbit Hole of the Week takes a look at the youngest athlete in pro baseball. There’s a lot of, “He was born when?!” “Gen Z?!”Here’s what we’re looking at this week:We can’t take our eyes off the FiveThirtyEight March Madness interactive.FiveThirtyEight’s MLB predictions are also demanding our attention.Revisiting Travis Sawchik’s analysis of Christian Yelich feels particularly relevant after his opening weekend performance. read more

The Texas Rangers Are Making Unsustainable History In OneRun Games

The chart above contains two extreme outliers: the 2016 Texas Rangers and the 2012 Baltimore Orioles, the only two teams in recent history with a better than .750 winning percentage in one-run games. In isolation, both performances were extremely unlikely to happen by chance (less than 1-in-10,000 odds), though given the huge sample of seasons we have so far — 2,452 team-seasons in MLB’s history — you’d expect such a thing to happen eventually.One-run performance is messy, but it isn’t all luck. The correlation between a team’s bullpen strength and its one-run winning percentage is significant but fairly weak, highlighting the role of randomness in these situations.3The r value is .28. Just as any given plate appearance can produce almost any imaginable outcome, a game that hinges on only a single run is mostly up to chance.That said, a good bullpen elevates the probability of holding a one-run lead. Add up that edge over the course of a season, and each win above replacement from the bullpen is worth about one extra point to a team’s winning percentage in one-run games. A five-win bullpen upgrade, which could take a team from roughly the bottom 10 percent of MLB bullpens to the top 10 percent, would net an extra five points of winning percentage. Over an average number of one-run games (46 per season), that’s equivalent to 2.3 more wins. If you total up that improved bullpen’s contribution in one-run games and their estimated contribution over the rest of the season (3.6 wins4If there are 46 one-run games per season, that leaves 116 other games, or 71.6 percent of the season. 71.6 percent of their five wins is 3.6 wins.), that five additional bullpen WAR ends up buying you about 5.9 wins in on-field results.55 WAR of bullpen talent can buy 5.9 wins for a team because of the high-leverage situations in which relievers are deployed, where talent is able to be converted to wins at a greater rate. This fact may help to explain why relievers seem to be overvalued by front offices relative to the sabermetric consensus.But all of this assumes a top-notch bullpen anyway. And, surprisingly, the Rangers’ bullpen hasn’t been exceptional — or even good — this year. Although the 2012 Orioles’ relievers produced more than six wins of value, the Rangers’ pen has a paltry 1.1 WAR between them. Based on that alone, we’d expect their record in one-run games to fall below .500.Anchored by closer Sam Dyson and Matt Bush, the top of the Rangers’ bullpen has been fine. But that duo has been dragged down by poor outings from other relievers such as Tom Wilhelmsen and Cesar Ramos.Of course, Wilhelmsen and Ramos are typically used in low-leverage situations, only appearing in one-run games as a last resort. So I also looked to see whether I could explain one-run performance better by focusing on the top relievers in a given bullpen. But counting only the top three or top five relievers didn’t improve the model after controlling for the total WAR of the bullpen. Neither did looking at exceptionally unbalanced bullpens, i.e. those whose top relievers produced much more WAR than their teammates. That doesn’t necessarily rule out the possibility that WAR fails to account for something special that the Rangers’ bullpen might be doing to win one-run games, but league-wide data doesn’t provide much support for that notion.If the Rangers can’t attribute their one-run success to the greatness of their bullpen, to what do they owe it? The answer is timing. The Rangers have played much better when the game is on the line, as measured by FanGraphs’ Clutch score. Their bullpen ranks eighth in the league in Clutch score, but even more impressively, their offense ranks first.6Their starting pitchers are more average, ranking 13th in baseball. Combine these two performances and you have a team that saves and scores runs better than any other when it counts.But unfortunately for the Rangers, performance in the clutch is not a stable indicator of success. We need look no further than the 2016 Phillies for proof: Philly dominated the league in one-run games for the first two months of the year, rolling out to a 14-3 record in those contests through May 20th, which would have shattered the all-time mark if it had continued. It didn’t. By the end of the first half, the Phillies’ one-run record was down to 20-9 (which still would have been put them in the top 25 all-time); now they’re at a pedestrian 25-17 for the year, which drops them below the 200th position on the all-time list.The lesson here is that a team’s record in one-run games tends to regress to the mean. The Rangers are more than 90 percent likely to make the playoffs, but they won’t be able to count on this kind of luck in tight contests when they get there. The 2016 Texas Rangers are making history. Their 30-8 record in one-run games gives them a .789 winning percentage that, if it holds up, would set a record for the best winning percentage in one-run games since 1901. But the Rangers have a not-so-slight problem that could haunt them in the playoffs: performance in one-run games is almost entirely — though not exclusively — a matter of good timing and luck, not skill.By all accounts, the Rangers are a decent team. Their run differential is +9, and sophisticated projection models such as FanGraphs’ (which looks at talent alone, not their record so far) would call for them to win 84 games over the course of a full season. Their excellent record in one-run games has helped put them over the top, though. They’ll probably finish with more than 90 wins and the AL West crown, despite the rival Houston Astros posting a much better run differential.Performance in one-run games is notoriously variable. But one argument for the Rangers’ ability to sustain their record-setting mark might be a lights-out bullpen. Closer Sam Dyson has 30 saves, so perhaps the Rangers’ relief corps has earned more of those one-run wins than most teams with a similar record would deserve.To test this theory, I looked at the relationship between a team’s bullpen performance and its record in one-run games, going back to 1988.1That year was chosen because it is the beginning of the current era of baseball. I used data gathered through Aug. 27, after which the Rangers won two more one-run games. I summed up FanGraphs’ wins above replacement for each team’s bullpen, and then plotted it against the team’s winning percentage in one-run contests.2I also tried the same analysis with Baseball Prospectus’ version of wins above replacement and got similar results. read more

The Pats Comeback Was Incredible — Even If You Think The Falcons

The play he’s talking about came as the Falcons clung to a 28-20 lead with about four minutes left in regulation time. The Patriots had just finished scoring 17 unanswered points to pull to within a single score of Atlanta, and the Falcons had run a grand total of six offensive plays over that span before QB Matt Ryan started the drive at his own 10. Atlanta still had about a 92 percent chance of winning the game according to ESPN’s win probability model, but a window had been opened for the Pats.At first, the Falcons appeared to close it again. Ryan hit Devonta Freeman for a 39-yard gain to reach midfield, and a few plays later, Julio Jones made an amazing catch that seemed destined to join the pantheon of great Patriot-killing Super Bowl grabs. But on second and 11 from the New England 23, the Falcons decided to pass instead of running the ball and setting up an insurance field goal, and Ryan was sacked for a loss of 12. Between that and a 10-yard holding penalty on the subsequent play, the Falcons were pushed out of accurate kicker Matt Bryant’s field-goal range and had to punt the ball back to Brady.The rest, as they say, was history.If the Falcons had run the ball on those second and third downs instead, then kicked the field goal, they’d have forced the Patriots to mount an 11-point comeback with something like 2:30 to play — not an 8-point comeback with 3:30 to go. The odds of a team doing the former are about 3 percent; for the latter, 8 percent.The counter-argument, of course, is that 8 percent is still improbable. Even after the sack and the punt, the Falcons were still overwhelmingly likely to win the game. Only one Super Bowl in history had ever seen a team overcome longer second-half odds. (Granted, it was the Patriots’ victory two years ago.) In order to tie the game, Brady and the Pats still needed to:Convert a third-and-10 from their own 9;Complete a 23-yard pass to Julian Edelman, whose catch rivaled the greatest in Super Bowl history;Complete a 20-yard pass to Danny Amendola;Have James White scamper 20 more yards on two catches;Score a touchdown from the Falcons’ 1;Successfully pull off the 2-point conversion.If just one of those plays goes differently, we might be talking about Atlanta’s first Super Bowl title. And even after all that, the Pats still needed to stop Ryan and the Falcons from quickly driving for the game-winning score with under a minute left (which has happened before), and they needed luck on the opening coin toss of overtime and they needed a handful of big plays in OT in order to win. Hot Takedown’s Super Bowl Special As you may have heard by now — perhaps from the eardrum-shattering sound of New England Patriots fans booing Roger Goodell — the Patriots are Super Bowl champs, having rallied back from a 28-3 deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 on Sunday. The comeback alone was historic, ranking as the most improbable in Super Bowl history, but there’s also a whole layer of history attached to the accomplishments of New England quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, plus the revenge narrative of Deflategate. It’s a lot to keep track of.Amidst all the postgame analysis, however, there’s always a place for second-guessing the Super Bowl loser’s coach. And on Sunday night, New Yorker staff writer James Surowiecki provided an instant classic in the genre: Related: Hot Takedown It’s true that the decision to pass instead of run and kick was the proverbial turning point, from which most subsequent plays saw the Pats increase their chances of winning until they hit 100 percent on White’s game-winning TD run. It’s also true that running the ball and going up 11 would have made the Pats’ comeback more difficult — and when you’re going up against the best coach/QB tandem ever, it’s generally not a good idea to gift them free win probability.But in the end, the Falcons still had plenty more chances to snuff out the Pats’ comeback from that point onward. Whether because of poor defense or Brady’s clutch-ness (or both), they didn’t — and it’s the totality of many plays that has us talking about Brady and Belichick’s legacies on Monday, and not crowning a new champion in Atlanta. read more

Mens basketball Ohio State pulls out ugly win over NC Central Tate

OSU junior forward Jae’Sean Tate (1) looks for an open teammate during the Buckeyes home opener against North Carolina Central. The Buckeyes won 69-63. Credit: Ashley Nelson | Sports DirectorThe Ohio State men’s basketball team opened up its 2016-17 home schedule on Monday night against the North Carolina Central Eagles out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. In front of a crowd that seemed to be less than the 9,787 reported people in attendance, the Buckeyes underwhelmed in what many thought would be an easy blowout victory.OSU won Monday night’s affair versus the Eagles 69-63 in what was a flashback to the 2015-16 team that strung together several games of uninspired play. OSU was still able to come away with a victory in a game that looked similar to last season’s early losses to Texas-Arlington and Louisiana Tech. However, there were hardly any positives other than it was a win. The performance was so discouraging that junior forward Jae’Sean Tate offered an apology to the Buckeye faithful after the game.“We didn’t come ready to play today,” Tate said. “This one is on us, as the players. We didn’t come out like we had practiced. I apologize to Buckeye Nation and we’re going to try our best to go out there on Thursday and play as hard as we can.”After Friday’s season-opening victory in Annapolis, Maryland, against Navy, OSU coach Thad Matta said that there were times in which he could tell his players weren’t “thinking the game.” Monday at the Schottenstein Center was a bit more concerning to Matta, who said he couldn’t pinpoint the reason behind the absence of a competitive mindset.“We, for whatever reason, we weren’t thinking. Some things happened that I’ve never seen happen before in terms of 38 practices,” he said. “We weren’t mentally and physically very tough. We obviously got to get that corrected.”In the Navy game, the Buckeyes struggled at times to figure out the Midshipmen’s zone defense. Redshirt junior guard Kam Williams, sophomore point guard C.J. Jackson and redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson all came off the bench and provided a spark that ignited a sluggish offense.On Monday against NC Central, the difficulties against a zone were still present, but the bench was not there to boost the OSU attack. Williams scored 23 points in the first game of the season, including 5-for-6 from 3-point land. It took him until 6:24 remaining in the second half for him to cash in his first 3-point bucket of the game. He scored just nine points in 31 minutes.Thompson grabbed seven rebounds and scored six points in 17 minutes and was a factor in the second half. However, the amount of dispassionate play on defense left much to be desired after 40 minutes.Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop followed up his 14-point, 14-rebound game against Navy with just nine points and two rebounds on Monday night. After the game, Matta said that Bates-Diop had been out of practice for the past two days with an illness, which contributed to his lack of production.Without Bates-Diop and senior forward Marc Loving, who sat with foul trouble for much of the game, OSU couldn’t produce a lot of offense against several zone and man-to-man looks NC Central threw at the Buckeyes.“We did some things that were so uncharacteristic … we never had that flow,” Matta said. “We got work to do.”With OSU up 12, Jackson made a steal off of an inbounds pass and patiently waited for Williams to dart down the lane. Williams bobbled the pass and his shot was blocked, which turned into a transition three on the other end. NC Central guard Patrick Cole then hit another three on the next possession, trimming the lead to six for OSU. Cole torched the Scarlet and Gray with 26 points on 10-for-19 shooting.Another major factor was free-throw shooting. OSU shot just 11-for-23 from the line, including 1-for-4 down the stretch.Jackson played more minutes than sophomore starting point guard JaQuan Lyle for a second straight game. Lyle had a minus-six plus-minus rating while Jackson had a plus-three. Jackson had eight assists compared to just two from Lyle.Matta said that before Thursday’s game against Providence, there could be a few changes in the lineup. For Tate, he knows that OSU can’t win many games based on its play on Monday.“We just got to make sure it’s not a repeat of last year. We can’t be lackadaisical. We got to be the first team to punch the other in the mouth.” read more

Sophomore connection Posey becomes popular pick to receive Pryors passes

In times of uncertainty, it’s nice to have a security blanket.Lately, as the offense has struggled to find consistency, quarterback Terrelle Pryor has used the time to develop a sense of security in fellow sophomore and starting wide receiver DeVier Posey.The pressure felt by Pryor is not on him alone, but the recruiting class he was a part of. The 2007 recruits were some of the most coveted in OSU’s history, and several of those young players have been thrust into big roles on offense early in their careers.“I don’t feel like it’s pressure on him, I feel like it’s pressure on everyone,” Posey said. “Even though he’s the quarterback, we’re part of the offense too.”Posey, like Pryor, was highly touted. The five-star recruit from Cincinnati was seen by many as the “go-to guy” Pryor would need. His rare blend of size, speed and hands allows him to make plays down field with speed or over the middle as a possession receiver.Posey and Pryor’s connection on the field has become more apparent this season, especially in the last few games.The duo only hooked up once for a score in the Buckeyes’ first four outings, but Pryor has found Posey for five touchdowns in the last four games.Although Posey has been Pryor’s main target recently, he knows Pryor is trying to make whatever play he can.“I feel like the quarterback that he is, he’s just trying to find someone,” Posey said. “I think he finds Dane [Sanzenbacher] in big situations, he finds Ray [Small] in big situations and even Duron [Carter]. I really don’t feel like he’s just looking for me, I feel like he’s just looking for somebody to throw to. To be a great quarterback, you have to spread the ball around, and I feel like he’s trying to do that.”Posey had a career-high nine receptions and a touchdown against Purdue, but the Buckeyes’ loss to the Boilermakers put a damper on the numbers. While Posey and Pryor connected quite a bit two weeks ago, it wasn’t the offensive output the Buckeyes needed against a Big Ten opponent. That has seemed to be the story of OSU’s young offense this season, but Posey and Pryor have become the lead playmakers together.“We’ve definitely had drives when we’ve been on the same page, it’s just been a little bit bumpy certain games,” Posey said. “But we know what we’re capable of. We’ve shown it in spurts, we’re just hopeful that we can do that more.”The chemistry between Posey and Pryor has been key for big plays. All of the combo’s touchdowns in the last four games have been for more than 20 yards. Big scores from outside the red zone give the offense momentum.“It feels good, but it’s better for our offense,” Posey said of becoming more of a playmaker. “As an offense, we needed plays like that. We need big plays for our feeling. Last week was so rough, it just makes us feel better.”Pryor hooked up with Posey eight times for 161 yards and two scores in OSU’s win over Minnesota. Both touchdowns were bombs hurled by Pryor, who found an open Posey for 62 and 57 yards.“The touchdowns feel good, but I’m only half of the equation,” Posey said. “Terrelle made great passes. I know he’s definitely relieved, he’s going to be able to relax now. But I know he’s going to want to do more, because that’s just the kind of kid he is. He always wants to get better.”Pryor’s progression in his second year has been heavily scrutinized by fans and the media. Posey, however, has also been making strides, but his biggest critic may be himself.“I feel like I still have a lot of learning to do,” he said. “I feel like I can make more plays. I always feel like when I leave the game, I’m not satisfied. I feel like that’s how I have to be. I feel, personally, that I’m nowhere near where I want to be yet. I haven’t reached my full potential. I’m learning a lot and really trying to incorporate that knowledge onto the field.”Like Pryor, the coaches know that with time, bigger things will come from the young receiver. His big play recently, however, hasn’t gone unnoticed.“We felt like DeVier was always going to end up being a good player and he’s steadily done that,” coach Jim Tressel said. “He had a little bit of a hamstring or something in preseason where he missed a bunch of time and didn’t develop quite like we’d hoped early on there, but DeVier’s going to be a good player. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s a learner.”Only sophomores, Pryor and Posey have time to grow and progress together, something that could be key for the Buckeyes‘ future. read more