The New England Patriots had their first Week 1 loss since 2003 on Sunday, falling 33-20 to the Miami Dolphins in South Florida.There were a number of areas in which the Patriots struggled, but the biggest was probably pass protection — quarterback Tom Brady was sacked four times, hit on seven occasions and forced into 18 hurried throws per Pro Football Focus’s numbers. (PFF’s data is available to members only.) And the Dolphins generated their most damaging pressure against Brady when they didn’t send extra pass rushers to blitz him. On plays that Miami blitzed, Brady was sacked once and posted a respectable 7.5 adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A); meanwhile, when he wasn’t blitzed, Brady was sacked three times — and fumbled twice — and his ANY/A dropped to 2.7.Brady’s pre-snap reads are so good that the prospect of a defense sending extra pass rushers — and leaving one-on-one matchups behind those pass rushers — only makes the Pats QB more deadly. That’s why opponents have a history of being more successful against New England when they don’t blitz, instead counting on their defensive line to generate pressure without the help of additional rushers.Miami frequently lined up with five defensive linemen and overwhelmed the Patriots’ offensive line. Cameron Wake created major havoc (two sacks, two forced fumbles and three hurries) coming in from the edge, but the Patriots also had serious breakdowns in protection up the middle. Between rookie Jordan Devey and converted tackle Marcus Cannon, New England’s offensive line featured the two worst pass-blocking performances by any guards in Week 1, according to PFF’s play-by-play grading system. Dan Connolly also posted the worst performance of any center. (Miami’s Earl Mitchell and Jared Odrick had the two best pass-rushing performances of any defensive tackles.)The temptation might be to lay the ultimate blame for New England’s blocking debacle at the feet of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, since he abruptly traded away former All-Pro left guard Logan Mankins just weeks before the regular season kicked off. But while Mankins is still a certified road-grader when it comes to clearing running lanes for ball carriers, he was a below-average pass blocker by PFF’s play-by-play grades last year and is 32 years old this season (putting him near the age when offensive linemen historically see a major decline in performance). It’s unlikely the drop-off between Mankins and Cannon was solely responsible for the Patriots’ protection mishaps Sunday.And it bears mentioning that Miami’s scheme would have been vulnerable if the Dolphins’ two linebackers in the 5-2 front, Jason Trusnik and Jelani Jenkins, hadn’t played so well in coverage. According to PFF’s numbers, they dropped into coverage on nearly 70 percent of the snaps for which they were on the field and only allowed 3.9 yards per target on the eight passes that came their way. Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots’ devastating tight end, was also held to 1.8 yards per route run, a rate well below his career mark of 2.4. (Measuring coverage performance on a per-route basis is important because the best pass defenders strive to be invisible to the stat sheet when it comes to targets.)The good news for New England is that its pass protection wasn’t great up the middle last year, either, but the team still managed the NFL’s fourth-best offense. We already noted that Mankins was a below-average pass blocker at left guard a season ago, but Connolly also graded as one of the worst pass-blocking right guards in the league in PFF’s system, and Ryan Wendell (who played sparingly Sunday but allowed two hurries) was the league’s very worst pass-blocking center. Tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer need to play better than they did — granted, Miami has one of the best pass-rushing defensive lines in football — but all is not lost for the Patriots, even if they will probably spend all season struggling to slow down interior pressure from opposing linemen.
With an 11-3 record, the Arizona Cardinals were the first team in the NFC to clinch a playoff berth and have already tied their franchise record for wins in a season. All this, despite losing their top two quarterbacks, Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton, to injury. With a win Sunday night against the Seattle Seahawks, the Cardinals would clinch the NFC West and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.But much like the Florida State Seminoles in their run to the College Football Playoff, the Cardinals have eked out wins in a lot of close games. So the question remains, are the Cardinals lucky or good? They’re lucky — Arizona probably isn’t as strong as its record — but also have been one of the most clutch teams in the NFL this season.Let’s begin with the luck. The most unambiguous measure of luck in football is fumble recoveries. They tend to be random acts, and a team with an unusually high fumble recovery rate one year generally regresses to the mean the next. The Cardinals lead the NFL in fumble recovery percentage; they’ve recovered 17 of 27 (63 percent).More generally, Arizona has not controlled games like a team that has won 11 of its first 14 games. The Cardinals have had, on average, a 52 percent chance to win across all of their plays in all of their games this season, which ranks 15th in the NFL. Every other team with at least 10 wins ranks in the top 10 in average win probability.A team with an average win probability around 50 percent would be expected to win about half of its games. Similarly, a team with a scoring margin of +43 — as the Cardinals have through 14 games — would be expected to win about eight games.Pythagorean expectations, which were first popularized by baseball’s Bill James and then translated to the NFL, can be used to estimate how many games a team “should” win based on its points scored and points allowed. By this measure, the Cardinals have 2.7 more wins than would be expected. That is the biggest difference between expected wins and actual wins in the NFL and the largest by a team since the Colts went 11-5 in the 2012 season with a negative scoring margin.A higher-than-expected win total suggests a team is winning close games, which is exactly what Arizona is doing. The Cardinals are 5-0 in games decided by eight points or fewer, the best winning percentage and tied for the most wins in the NFL. Arizona has an NFL-high four wins in which they trailed entering the fourth quarter.Winning close games, however, is not purely luck. The Cardinals have an uncanny ability to perform their best with the game on the line. They lead the NFL in points allowed (43), points margin (+59) and turnover margin (+12) in the fourth quarter. And a metric called win probability added, which looks at a team’s contributions to winning (accounting for late, close-game situations), has them atop the NFL when adding their offensive, defensive and special teams WPA.A mixture of luck and clutch plays have the Cardinals one win away from home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. With a 7-0 record at home, who knows what will happen once the playoffs begin, as the Cardinals look to complete one of the most improbable runs in NFL history.
There’s not much of a pattern. But if anything, the wealthier countries have gained ground on the poorer ones. The top two quintiles (the richest 40 percent of countries) have seen their Elo ratings improve by a population-weighted average of 24 points, while the bottom two (the poorest 40 percent) have seen them decline by 30 points. In particular, a number of high-population countries that rank somewhere between the 20th and 39th percentile in per capita income, like China, India, Indonesia and Nigeria, have failed to improve their soccer programs at all, at least judging by their results in international play.10Perhaps soccer is at least holding its ground against a rising tide of global inequality? Actually, income and wealth differences between nations have been declining, according to research conducted by Milanović and others, even as they’ve increased within many countries like the United States. The finding is sensitive to the calculation method, however.One last question. Have low-population countries gained ground relative to high-population ones? It’s not clear that this is a desirable outcome, but it might be what we’d expect given that under Blatter, FIFA has allocated developmental funds almost without regard to population. (A few million dollars should go much further in a country of 500,000 people than one of 50 million.) But there’s no evidence of this either. Countries with a population of less than 10 million people had an average Elo rating of 1280 in 1998; it’s virtually unchanged at 1283 now.Perhaps FIFA’s development funds are too small to make a difference. Or perhaps, given the corruption in the organization, a lot of the money earmarked for soccer development is being used to enrich local plutocrats at the expense of their countries’ soccer programs. Nor have poorer nations improved their performance relative to wealthier ones. The next chart divides countries into quintiles based on their per capita GDP9I use the purchasing-power parity version of GDP as of 2006, the midpoint of Blatter’s tenure. and tracks how their Elo ratings have changed since 1998: GDP PER CAPITA PERCENTILEAVERAGE ELO CHANGE, POP. WEIGHTED It might seem hard to defend Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president who announced his resignation last week in the wake of a global soccer corruption investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.But a few brave souls have tried. Branko Milanović, a developmental economist at the City University of New York Graduate Center, wrote that while FIFA’s corruption may be regrettable, the decentralization of power under Blatter has at least contributed to the “spread of the game to the rest of the world” beyond the traditional European and South American soccer powers.FIFA’s governing structure and its corruption are clearly related. Through its “one country, one vote” principle and its policy of allocating development funds fairly evenly across countries — Comoros and Brunei get about as much money from it as China and Brazil — Blatter can command the loyalty of a majority of FIFA’s members even if they represent a minority of the world’s population, soccer audience and soccer revenue stream.But here’s the problem. Despite FIFA’s having earmarked more than $2 billion in soccer development funds under Blatter, there’s no evidence that the soccer playing field has become more level — at least not when measured by success on the pitch. In international play, the European and South American countries are as dominant as ever, while Africa has made little progress and Asia has perhaps regressed. Nor is there any evidence that poorer countries have become more competitive in soccer relative to wealthier ones. If anything, the disparity has grown since Blatter became president in 1998.The rest of this analysis will be pretty simple. We’ll compare the Elo rating for each country’s men’s1What about women’s soccer? It’s even more dominated by developed countries like the United States, Germany, Japan and Norway. Those four countries account for all four women’s World Cup winners, and all four winners of the Summer Olympics women’s tournament, during Blatter’s tenure. national team as it was on June 8, 1998 — the day Blatter took over as FIFA president, a few days before the 1998 World Cup — to what it is now.2More precisely, the figures represent each country’s Elo rating as of Tuesday, June 6, when I downloaded the data. (For more background on Elo ratings, see here. Higher ratings are better, and 1500 represents an average team. You can find all of the data we’re using in this article at GitHub.)First, we’ll look at performance by region, with countries divided according to the six continental confederations under FIFA.3The analysis excludes countries that didn’t have an Elo rating as of June 8, 1998. For each confederation, we’ve listed Elo ratings for the 10 largest countries in descending order of population, along with the confederation average,4The average includes countries not listed within the top 10. weighted by population.5Population figures are as of 2006, the midpoint of Blatter’s tenure. 40-59th+4 Europe (UEFA) and South America (CONMEBOL) remain the dominant soccer continents. Although some individual countries in Europe (Germany, Turkey) have improved their national teams since 1998 and others have seen them decline slightly (Italy, Russia), the continent as a whole has seen little overall change under Blatter. UEFA’s average Elo rating, weighted by population, is 1793, almost identical to its 1797 rating when Blatter took over.South America, however, has improved considerably. Although Brazil’s Elo rating is not much changed from where it was in 1998, five of the 10 CONMEBOL countries (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela and Uruguay) have improved their Elo rating by more than 100 points. This is interesting given that CONMEBOL is poorly represented under “one country, one vote,” representing 4.8 percent of FIFA members but 13.5 percent of the World Cup audience.But what about the rest of the world?The closest thing to a success story is the North American confederation, CONCACAF, which has improved its Elo rating by a population-weighted average of 61 points since 1998. Partly that reflects the continued development of the U.S. and Mexican national teams, since the United States and Mexico represent more than three-quarters of CONCACAF’s population, though other members of the confederation have improved on average too. Still, while that might be good news for North American soccer fans, it doesn’t help Blatter’s argument that he’s helped spread the wealth: CONCACAF has the highest per capita GDP among the six confederations.The poorest confederation, by contrast, is Africa (CAF), but it’s shown little improvement soccerwise. In the 2014 World Cup, its countries combined for three wins, three draws and 11 losses.6This tally includes the losses that Nigeria and Algeria had in the opening round of the knockout stage. The 2010 World Cup, held in South Africa, wasn’t much better, with only Ghana advancing to the knockout stage among the six African entrants. Overall, Africa’s combined Elo rating is 1483, no better (indeed, slightly worse) than it was 17 years ago.Asian (AFC) teams seemed to have nowhere to go but up in 1998, with a continental average Elo rating of just 1323 when Blatter took over. The expansion of the World Cup from 24 to 32 teams in 1998 doubled the number of Asian participants, and the continent was host to the World Cup for the first time (in Japan and South Korea) in 2002. Instead, however, Asian nations have mostly seen their performance decline. Of the 45 AFC members to field a national team in 1998, 28 have a lower Elo rating now. This includes the two most-populous countries in the world. China’s men’s team has stagnated, still having qualified for the World Cup only once in its history (2002), while its women’s team, once the major global rival to the United States and Germany, has regressed. India, meanwhile, hasn’t come close to qualifying for the World Cup for many years, a description that also holds for other poor but populous Asian countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam.Finally, in the Oceania confederation (OFC), New Zealand has improved its performance since 1998, while the other, poorer members of the confederation have declined on average. (Australia, which defected from the OFC to the AFC in 2006, is counted under Asia instead.)As a sanity check, I’ve also listed the World Cup record of teams from “the rest of the world” — that is, CONCACAF, AFC, CAF and OFC — in matches against Europe and South America.7The tallies include knockout-round games, and games that go to penalty shootouts are considered draws. In the five men’s World Cups contested under Blatter, the rest of the world had 25 wins, 42 draws and 98 losses against Europe and South America, accumulating 0.71 points per match.8Counting three points for a win and one for a draw. That’s slightly worse than the final three World Cups, 1986, 1990 and 1994, under Blatter’s predecessor João Havelange. And while progress was steadily upward under Havelange — points per match for the rest of the world increased in each World Cup from 1974 through 1994 — their best performance under Blatter, 2002, is now four World Cups behind us. 0-19th-8 20-39th-34 80-100th+15 60-79th+34
John Walls’ name hardly is mentioned when the discussion of the NBA’s top point guards is the subject. And the 2010 No. 1 pick in the draft who is finally healthy, is intent on changing that conversation.His latest case for inclusion was made Monday night, when Wall plastered the Memphis Grizzlies for a career-high 47 points in a Wizards’ 107-94 victory in D.C.“I was just in a zone,” Wall said after posting the third-highest point total in the NBA this season. “I made my first couple of shots and I knew I was in a great rhythm. Ten points the first quarter, I knew I had it going.”Wall’s blazing speed and quickness with the dribble and ability to finish drives have been the hallmark of his success at Kentucky and the NBA. But Monday night he displayed a much-improved jump shot, going 13-22 from the field.If Wall can become a consistent jump-shooter, then he will join Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker among upper echelon NBA point guards.“When somebody has it going like that, there’s really nothing you can do,” said Grizzlies’ guard Mike Conley, who was on the receiving end of Wall’s explosion. “You just put a hand up and hope that he misses. He had one of those nights where he was feeling it. We threw everything we had at him and he made the plays.”The performance by Wall leaves Wizards fans and the city of Washington D.C. to wonder how good the team would be if he had been healthy and played at this level all season long. He missed 33 games this season with a left knee injury. But here is the telling statistic about Wall’s value: The Wizards are 21-16 since his return.Monday’s performance was even more significant because the Wizards were without guard Bradley Beal (sprained left ankle), guard A.J. Price (groin) and forward Trevor Ariza (flu). Right before the game Wizards coach Randy Wittman also announced that forward Nene (sore right knee) and Martell Webster (abdomen strain) would also be out.“Right now,” Wall said, “we’re just trying to salvage the games we can win and finish the season strong, so I knew I had to step up big.”He did. Wall, who made a career-high 19 free throws on 24 attempts, he hit a jumper with four minutes to go as the clock expired to make it a 94-83 Wizards’ lead. That was the basket that kept Memphis at bay.Wall also had seven rebounds and eight assists — the type of all-around brilliance that catches people’s attention.“I’ve witnessed a lot of games. I’ve played with some pretty good players,” Wittman said. “I’ve coached some pretty good players. That was an incredible performance for him. . . That was incredible.”
Just like that, the Chicago Cubs suddenly have roughly a coin flip’s prospect of winning their first World Series in 108 years. The Cubs grabbed this chance by winning 9-3 on Cleveland’s home turf in Game 6 on Tuesday, evening the Series at 3-3. Chicago struck first, scoring six runs against the Indians’ Josh Tomlin, who was starting on three days’ rest. Now it all comes down to Game 7 tonight, when the Cubs will face another starter going on three days’ rest: the Indians’ unhittable ace, Corey Kluber.The last time Chicago faced Tomlin, the result was very different. In Game 3, Tomlin — operating on a normal amount of rest — held the Cubs to only two hits over 4.2 innings, shutting down their offense in a 1-0 Chicago loss. Part of that dominance came from an inconsistently called strike zone, but Tomlin was genuinely sharp that night.Tomlin couldn’t muster the same magic Tuesday. The major difference was the amount of rest. Since 2000,1To reflect the modern usage of starters. there have been 12 World Series starts on three or fewer days of rest by pitchers who also had at least one start with more rest in the same series (counting Tomlin in this series). The 11 pitchers who made those 12 short-rest starts tend to be among the best in baseball, including Curt Schilling, CC Sabathia and Josh Beckett (Schilling made two short-rest starts in the 2001 World Series). Overall, those 11 pitchers allowed an average of 2.6 more earned runs per nine innings in their short-rest World Series starts compared with their non-short-rest World Series starts. In other words, pitching on short rest added about 2.60 to their ERAs. Without complete time off, these starters got much worse in other key indicators: walks per nine innings rose by 0.6 while strikeouts per nine fell by 0.9.2To account for different numbers of innings that our 11 pitchers threw in the World Series, we weighted each pitcher’s stats by the harmonic mean of the number of innings he threw in short-rest starts in the series and the number of innings he threw in non-short-rest starts in the same series.Kluber, the Game 7 starter, isn’t just any pitcher, of course. He’s one of the best in baseball, and he shut down the Cubs on short rest already once this series, in Game 4.3The Indians have been careful about managing Kluber’s workload, consistently removing him after about 80 pitches. But World Series starts tend to be short anyway, averaging 92 pitches (since 2000), so Kluber’s starts this Series haven’t been much shorter than normal. And to make matters worse for the Cubs, Chicago manager Joe Maddon inexplicably put closer Aroldis Chapman into Tuesday’s game with the team up five runs in the seventh inning. That may have been because of a lack of trust by Maddon in his bullpen or simply extreme risk aversion in a big moment. After the game, he said, “I thought the game could have been lost right there if we did not take care of it properly.” Either way, Maddon taxed one of his best resources.Meanwhile, the Indians kept both of their super relievers — Andrew Miller and Cody Allen — out of the game. If a tired Kluber does begin to struggle, Indians manager Terry Francona can turn to these arms for several innings. The World Series will therefore come down to a recipe that has worked so well for these Indians during the playoffs: a tired but effective Kluber, combined with fireman appearances by two top relievers. To break their championship drought, the Cubs will have to overcome this pairing like no other team has before in these playoffs.
Utah12152118%6%<1% Penn State—2741<1%<1%<1% You can spin all of this as a good thing (“the committee starts with a blank slate every week and gives each team a fair shake!”) or a bad one (“the committee is inconsistent and indecisive!”). Either way, it has implications if you’re trying to anticipate the committee’s next move — as we, like so many other college football fans, are foolishly trying to do.Our way is pretty geeky and statistical, of course. Last season, we introduced a model that simulated the rest of the college football season and sought to forecast which four teams would make the playoff. We described the model as “speculative” since the committee was a new thing, giving us no historical data to measure its behavior; instead, we used the historical behavior of voters in the coaches’ poll as a substitute.For several weeks, the model seemed to be uncannily accurate! Then … a (mild?) disaster. Our final set of simulations gave TCU a 91 percent chance of making the playoff, Florida State a 68 percent chance, and Ohio State a 40 percent chance. But TCU, the safest bet according to the model1After sure-things Alabama and Oregon, to whom the model gave a 100 percent chance., was the one left out.While we could have sheepishly attributed this result to “bad luck” — a 91 percent chance isn’t a 100 percent chance — we don’t think that’s the right conclusion here. Instead, after a year’s worth of experience under our belts that let us see how the committee works, we’re making a couple of revisions to the model:First, we account for the committee’s potential to scramble the ratings slightly from week to week, even where the on-field action didn’t seem to warrant it, such as in its flip-flopping of Florida State and TCU last year. The mechanics of this are a little involved; I’ll describe them briefly down below.Second, we assign a small bonus2Because we don’t have a firm idea of how much the committee rewards conference champions, we treat the magnitude of the conference championship bonus as being uncertain, and it varies from simulation to simulation. In some simulations, winning the conference championship is associated with a fairly large bonus; in others, it’s associated with no bonus at all. (The bonus can never be negative, however.) On average, however, it’s fairly small, and it acts as the equivalent of a tiebreaker in otherwise close cases. to conference champions.3The program breaks all ties for conference championships based on head-to-head results among the tied teams, and then randomly if the tie remains unresolved. We may build in more complex tiebreaking rules later in the season to the extent they become relevant.Third, the model accounts for slightly more uncertainty than in last year’s version.These aren’t huge changes — the backbone of the model is the same as last year — but for what it’s worth, the revised version of the model would have correctly predicted the top four seeds last season, and in the right order. (Both Florida State and Ohio State would have been projected to leapfrog ahead of TCU in the committee’s final standings.) I say “for what it’s worth” because it’s not very much of an accomplishment to “predict” something after it’s already happened. But having one year’s worth of data on the committee’s behavior is a lot better than none.The model works by simulating out the rest of the season thousands of times. It’s iterative, meaning that it does this week by week. The process works like this:Start with Week 10 committee standings.Simulate Week 10 games.Forecast how Week 11 committee standings will change in response to simulated Week 10 games.Simulate Week 11 games.Rinse and repeat until you get to the final committee rankings on Dec. 6.The model also simulates conference championship games and the four-team playoff itself. Thus, it provides a probabilistic estimate of each team’s chances of winning its conference, making the playoff, and winning the national championship.We’ll be updating the numbers twice weekly: first, on Sunday morning (or very late Saturday evening) after the week’s games are complete; and second, on Tuesday evening after the new committee rankings come out. In addition to a probabilistic estimate of each team’s chances of winning its conference, making the playoff, and winning the national championship, we’ll also list three inputs to the model: their current committee ranking, FPI, and Elo. Let me explain the role that each of these play. Toledo24244328%<1%<1% Oklahoma St.14111415%6%1% Ohio State31447%61%16% Florida State16131513%5%<1% Alabama42614%41%11% Arkansas—3926<1%<1%<1% Iowa9122925%7%<1% Northwestern214257<1%<1%<1% Memphis13143621%6%<1% UCLA2321225%1%<1% Wisconsin—18245%<1%<1% Florida1091241%18%4% Oklahoma1516315%14%5% TCU84237%31%11% Stanford1161346%19%3% Baylor610132%31%13% UPDATE (Nov. 1, 2016; 7:30 p.m.): Our 2016 College Football Predictions follow the same methodology as our predictions from last year did, except they will update more frequently. Check out the article below for more details. Notre Dame589—25%5% Michigan State731915%22%3% Are you ready for some football? Or at least, some vociferous arguing about football?Last season’s first-ever College Football Playoff taught us two things. First, going from a championship game to a four-team playoff won’t end the annual bickering over which teams belong. Second, the playoff selection committee seemingly takes a different approach than voters traditionally have in the coaches’ and media polls. In particular, they are more willing to scramble teams’ positions from week to week, even when everyone wins out.Florida State, for instance, despite never losing during the regular season, moved from No. 2 in the committee’s initial rankings to No. 4 on Dec. 2, before being upgraded to No. 3 in the committee’s final rankings on Dec. 7. More consequentially, TCU dropped from No. 3 to No. 6 — and out of the playoff — in the committee’s final rankings despite having won its final game over Iowa State 55-3. Historically, it’s unusual in the coaches’ and media polls for a team to lose ground after winning a game, and there’s almost no precedent for a team dropping three spots, as TCU did. Mississippi18171020%8%2% Temple22324541%<1%<1% Houston25233330%2%<1% Mississippi St.201917<1%3%<1% North Carolina—262323%<1%<1% Remember: the committee rankings are a starting point for the model and not the ending point. At this relatively early point in the season, the committee standings won’t matter very much; there are too many opportunities for the teams to be scrambled later on. (Consider, for instance, that eventual national champion Ohio State started out at No. 16 last year.) They’ll tend to matter more as the season goes along, although, as we saw with TCU last year, nothing except for the committee’s final rankings are all that definitive.FPI is ESPN’s Football Power Index. We consider it the best predictor of future college games so that’s the role it plays in the model: if we say Team A has a 72 percent chance of beating Team B, that prediction is derived from FPI. Technically speaking, we’re using a simplified version of FPI that accounts for only each team’s current rating and home field advantage; the FPI-based predictons you see on ESPN.com may differ slightly because they also account for travel distance and days of rest.But if FPI is good at predicting, it’s not very “politically correct,” meaning that it deliberately doesn’t care about how human beings might rank the teams. For instance, FPI currently has a USC with three losses as the fifth best team in the country — ahead of undefeated Clemson! Committee voters would never do that.Instead, that’s the role that our college football Elo ratings play. If you’re familiar with FiveThirtyEight, you’ll be familiar with Elo ratings. They’re a simple mathematical system that form the basis of our NFL forecasts, for instance. We’ve also applied Elo to soccer, the NBA, basketball and other sports.Our college football Elo ratings are a little different, however. Instead of being designed to maximize predictive accuracy — we have FPI for that — they’re designed to mimic how humans rank the teams instead.4As based on a historical analysis of the coaches’ poll and last year’s week-to-week committee standings. Their parameters are set so as to place a lot of emphasis on strength of schedule and especially on recent “big wins,” because that’s what human voters have historically done too. They aren’t very forgiving of losses, conversely, even if they came by a narrow margin under tough circumstances. And they assume that, instead of everyone starting with a truly blank slate, human beings look a little bit at how a team fared in previous seasons. Alabama is more likely to get the benefit of the doubt than Vanderbilt, for example, other factors held equal.How do Elo ratings help the model? As it plays out each week of the season, the model forecasts each team’s new projected ranking based on a combination of its committee ranking in the previous week, the game result (as simulated by FPI) and its Elo rating. In other words, Elo ratings form a counterbalance against the committee rankings, which as we’ve seen can be subject to change. Last year, for instance, Elo had Florida State ranked very highly: As an undefeated returning national champion, the Seminoles had the profile of a team that human voters typically love. Elo also had Ohio State ranked highly, well ahead of TCU. Thus, the model wouldn’t have been so surprised that Florida State and Ohio State jumped ahead of TCU in the final standings.5I don’t want to overstate the importance of the Elo ratings, either. They make up about 20 percent of the weight in the model (the exact fraction varies slightly from simulation to simulation), and they’ll usually be pretty well correlated with the committee rankings. So while they might result in a team being projected to move up from fifth to fourth, they won’t usually imply wholesale changes.If the rankings still look a little off to you — if you can’t quite figure out how a team gets to where it does based on Elo, FPI and its current committee ranking — there’s one other likely culprit, which is a team’s future strength of schedule. LSU, for instance, is given only a 30 percent chance of making the playoff in part because they have a brutal schedule ahead, with games against Alabama (this weekend), Mississippi and Texas A&M — plus a potential SEC Championship game against Florida. If a team has already taken a loss or two and is currently out of the running, however, a tougher upcoming strength of schedule may help it, because it means that the team has more opportunities to impress the committee and get it to reconsider.Most importantly of all, there’s still a lot of football left to be played. It’s hard for any team to run the table, and even current front-runners like Ohio State and Baylor won’t be safe if they endure a loss. Thus, only two teams (Ohio State and Clemson), start with more than a 50 percent chance of making the playoff in our initial forecast. USC—20530%4%1% Oregon—2532<1%<1%<1% Clemson17756%51%12% Texas A&M193016<1%<1%<1% TeamCFPEloFPIConf. TitlePlayoffsNat. Title RankingProbability of … LSU25822%30%8% Michigan1722187%6%<1%
More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Embed Code FiveThirtyEight Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s show (Nov. 29, 2016), we’re joined by college basketball whiz Ken Pomeroy as we discuss whether men’s NCAA basketball is broken. Next, we pose the same question for the women’s side and ponder whether UConn’s dominance may be coming to an end. Finally, we have an update on the deadlocked World Chess Championship from FiveThirtyEight’s Oliver Roeder. Plus, a significant baseball digit on Yoenis Cespedes’s reported new contract with the New York Mets.Links to what we discussed:You can read more of Ken Pomeroy’s basketball insights at his website.Jay Caspian Kang wonders what is the matter with college basketball.EspnW’s Mechelle Voepel previews which teams might stop UConn’s women’s basketball championship streak at four.Oliver Roeder explains potential chess Armageddon.The New York Times reports that the Mets will re-sign Cespedes for four years and $110 million.Significant Digit: 12.5 wins above replacement, the amount of production Cespedes will need to offer over the next four years of his contract to justify $110 million. The value of a win above replacement has skyrocketed, and Cespedes would have to average about 3.1 WAR per year.
OSU redshirt junior wide receiver Michael Thomas (3) during a game against Hawaii on Sept. 12 at Ohio Stadium. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo EditorThe number of Ohio State underclassmen yet to make an announcement with regards to leaving school with NCAA eligibility remaining is down to one, as redshirt junior receiver Michael Thomas announced his decision to leave with a message posted to Twitter on Tuesday.“I’ve had a chance to speak with my dad and family, the people I lean on, and have decided to forgo my senior year and chase a lifelong dream of playing on Sundays,” Thomas wrote.Thomas stepped up as the true No. 1 target in OSU’s thin receiving corps in 2015. The Los Angeles native led the team in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns with 56, 781 and nine, respectively.The 6-foot-3 wideout was notable for his strong hands and ability to stay inbounds along the sideline, and caught multiple passes in all 13 games. He tied a season high with seven catches in the Fiesta Bowl win against Notre Dame.“This is a very hard decision honestly because I genuinely love Ohio State/Urban Meyer and everything this institution has to offer,” Thomas wrote. “It’s hard to say goodbye, but this is an opportunity of a lifetime I can’t pass up.”Thomas is projected to be one of the first receivers selected in the 2016 NFL draft. He finished his college career with 113 catches for 1,602 yards and 18 touchdowns. He led the team in receptions his final two seasons, with 54 grabs in 2014.With Thomas’ announcement, the only OSU player yet to announce a decision about leaving or staying is junior safety Vonn Bell. Should Bell make the same decision as eight of his underclassman teammates, OSU would only have six returning offensive and defensive starters in 2016. Bell has until Jan. 18 to declare for the draft.
OSU then-junior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe (10) during a game against Purdue on Oct. 16 at St. John Area.. Credit: Lantern File PhotoThe Ohio State women’s volleyball team has a lot on the table at this weekend’s tournament – redemption against Wyoming, a shot at taking down a top-10 opponent and playing in the same venue where the NCAA Final Four will be held in December.Wyoming gave OSU its first loss in a 3-1 match to open the Buckeyes’ season in 2015. The Cowgirls have started off this fall 1-3, compared to OSU’s 3-0.OSU will face Wyoming in their second match of the Sports Imports D.C. Koehl Classic in Columbus, following a bout with LIU Brooklyn (0-3).The Buckeye “tribe” is choosing not to worry too much about the past though and will be focusing on perfecting themselves in order to play its best game.“We’re a new team, they’re a new team. I think focusing on the Buckeyes and our side of the net, the things we can control … that’ll help us ease into this weekend,” said senior middle blocker, Taylor Sandbothe.Sandbothe already has a lot to show for this season – Big 10 Player of the Week and all-tournament team at the North Texas Challenge and a career-high 32 points last weekend against a No. 16 Texas A&M squad – but she attributes all of her success to her fellow Buckeyes.“Without the girls standing behind me, without our coaching staff, there is no Taylor Sandbothe,” she said. “I’m so blessed to be a part of that kind of stuff, but it just speaks volumes of what our team is and what our coaching staff instills in us.”No. 11 OSU will also take on No. 10 Brigham Young University in the final match of the tournament on Saturday, marking the second time already this season that OSU will face a top-25 opponent. BYU dominates the history between the two schools at 7-0.Despite the record books, the Buckeyes feel they are capable of taking on the tough competition. They look forward to using non-conference games to prepare for later in the season.“I think because these teams are a lot different than the Big 10 teams, it’s kind of like us building our resume, our tool box,” said junior outside hitter, Luisa Schirmer. “That will help us later down the road when we’re struggling against a Big 10 team.”Schirmer is hitting .259 on the season and accounts for 28 OSU kills. She was also named to the D.C. Koehl Classic all-tournament team during her freshman year.Schirmer’s face lit up when she was asked about the opportunity to play at Nationwide Arena. If the team were to make the Final Four, the team will be playing at the same location in December.“I’ve been in there for a Blue Jackets game, but the fact that we get to be down on that court is going to be crazy,” she said. “I really hope there will be a lot of people there to cheer us on.”OSU head coach Geoff Carlston echoed Schirmer, acknowledging the gravity the weekend holds for his team.“I think it’ll make it real that the Final Four is here as soon as we walk in and go to practice at Nationwide,” he said. “That vision of being there in the Final Four will become more crystallized.”Carlston added he hopes the tournament will draw fans from the first Buckeye football game, also on Saturday in Columbus.This weekend’s tournament carries with it a long-lasting legacy. The Sports ImportsClassic’s name was changed to the Sports Imports D.C. Koehl Classic in 2012 to honor D.C. Koehl, a figurehead in the OSU athletic department for almost 40 years.Koehl had a deep passion for volleyball, serving as the sport’s communication director for three decades. He passed away in 2012, but his namesake and fervor will live on through the tournament – the first home match for his much-loved Buckeyes.OSU is set to play at noon on Friday against LIU Brooklyn at Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus.