The second-and-short scenario is noisier than the others (since first-and-10 is far more common), but the difference is pretty clear. If you compare the horizontal gap between the lines, you can compare scenarios. For example, if a running back has the chance to go down after gaining 9 yards when 53 yards out from goal, he should only take the first down if he can get all the way to the 50-yard line. This difference seems to be tightest at midrange distances (which makes sense because the field is compressed), but it’s generally about 2 to 4 yards.So, if it’s first down and you see a rusher or receiver stretch out for that last yard, boo loudly.Gunslinger of the weekThe fickleness of the Hacker Gods5Don’t worry, you don’t need to pray to the Hacker Gods. You need to pray that the Hacker Gods exist. was on complete display last week, as they decided to let interceptions slide: Twenty quarterbacks threw picks at one point or another, and 10 of them won their games anyway.6In Week 2, only one QB won with any interceptions. This past week, Drew Brees had three interceptions, including a pick-6 with his team trailing — the coup de grace of the gunslinger — and his team still pulled off the win!Blake Bortles — the only rookie quarterback who saw any action last weekend — was not among the winners. He threw two interceptions in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ competitive loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.Most notably, on second-and-12, down 10-9 in the fourth quarter, the Jaguars’ coaches called a run, but Bortles called an audible for a pass. That pass was picked off and returned for a touchdown, and Jacksonville lost 17-9.Here’s what Bortles had to say after the game:It was a run. I just saw guys walk up. It wasn’t a good decision. We could have kept the run on and it wouldn’t have been a bad play. It would have given us a shot and it’s something that I can’t make that mistake again and definitely can’t check out of play into a pick-6.No! Don’t listen to the haters, Blake! Your instinct was right. Second-and-12 on your own side of the field is a terrible time to run in general (see our experimental chart of the week, below), and even worse if it’s late in a game you’re losing. Blake, to try to ensure you keep slinging, you get this week’s Gunslinger of the Week award. May it guide you in future games.Kicking awards for Week 5Last week, I introduced my system for evaluating the most and least valuable kickers. It plots points above and below expectation versus how much the kicker contributed to a game’s scoring margin.But then Alex Henery’s 0-for-3 week for Detroit broke the scale:To get it out of the way: San Francisco’s Phil Dawson is the MVK for Week 5. He went 5-for-5 including two 50+ yarders in a close win against the Kansas City Chiefs. Bravo!But on to the fun stuff: Henery essentially produced the Lions’ loss against the Buffalo Bills all by himself. If he’d made as many field goals as he was expected to, all else being equal, the Lions would have won. (The Lions released him after the game.)The three attempts Henery missed were from 44, 47 and 50 yards out (making him 1-for-5 on the season). Historically, this might not seem like the worst stretch imaginable, and Grantland’s Bill Barnwell had this to say about the ordeal:Imagine judging a hitter based on his batting average over a six-game stretch or an NBA player based on his shooting percentage after two games. That’s about what we do when we judge a kicker, who gets 35 chances to test his mettle across an entire 16-game season.But context matters. NFL kickers don’t miss from those distances the way they used to.7The expected value of kicks on that scale is calculated based on a probit regression over every kick since 2001 that includes the year that the kick was taken as a variable. Kickers now make roughly two-thirds of their FGs taken from 50+ yards and four-fifths of those taken from 40 to 49 yards. Based on my expected-value model (which adjusts for the year that kicks were taken), Henery’s -6.73 points below expectation in the game amounted to the tenth-worst single day by a kicker since 2001 (a period that includes more than 7,000 kicker games). But Kris Brown, a longtime kicker for Pittsburgh and Houston, had the second-worst day by a kicker for the Steelers in 2001, and then the best day by a kicker for the Texans in 2007. So a kicker can bounce back.Meanwhile, Detroit fell to 4-for-12 on field goals for the season. The entire league has only missed 44 attempts this year. That’s right, Detroit is responsible for nearly 20 percent of all missed field goals in the NFL this season! The single worst team kicking season since 2001 belongs to San Francisco in 2012. The Niners missed 14 field goals and ran 20.6 kicking points below expectation for the whole year.Through five games, the Lions are already running 16.6 kicking points below expectation. But Detroit signed former Bronco Matt Prater to try to dig it out of this hole. Prater had one of the best seasons by a kicker of all time last year, but he has been inconsistent, posting negative value added in four of his seven seasons in the league. If Prater isn’t in good form, Detroit may be the new bad kicking champions.Experimental chart(s) of the weekRiffing off the play/drive data I used for the chart of the week, I decided to take a look at whether running or passing is more effective in various situations. This chart uses the same distance and average points as the earlier chart, but it’s split into first, second and third downs with 10 yards to go.8Going for it on fourth-and-10 is too rare to be meaningful. It then plots the ultimate success of the drive when a pass is attempted versus when a run is attempted in those situations.From this, we can see that passing has led to better results in nearly any long-yardage situation. This is a little surprising, especially on first down. Game theoretically, if teams are selecting whether to run or pass optimally, and defending optimally, the value from each should be very similar. It’s possible that, on the margins, running and passing do have the same value,9In which case, it would be similar to what I’ve said about NBA 3-point attempts. but from the bubble sizes, we can see that the pass/run ratio is relatively even on first down, so it seems more likely to me that teams are just running in this spot too much.Similarly, we can look at short-yardage spots to see if those situations differ. The chart below is the same as the one above, except it looks at second, third and fourth downs with less than 3 yards to go.10Technically, I’m using “and-1” and “and-2” distances, which includes all distances between 0 and 2 yards, and possibly some distances between 2 yards and 3 yards, as discussed in last week’s column. Running data doesn’t always show what it appears to show, and the “eye test” doesn’t help much either. Our meager human eyes can’t really track the multitude of complex variables involved in whether a running play is successful or not. As I wrote last week, whether a team runs the ball is largely a function of whether it’s ahead or behind. A running back’s productivity is even more a function of role, quality of offense, and the situations his team gets into than it is for a QB. This makes it especially hard to judge outliers (and I love outliers).But the Cowboys have been playing competitive games in which Murray has been very consistent, and he has earned his yards in an extremely impressive fashion.One way to cut down on situational factors3Of course, to be even more accurate, it can help to do a situation-for-situation comparison, like I did for Jamaal Charles and Peterson in my NFC West preview. is to look only at first-and-10 runs that aren’t near the goal line. Like so:Murray has gained an average of 6.4 yards on these runs, compared to a league average of 4.4.His distribution of runs has been great as well. I’ve been critical of running backs (like Peterson) who put up big stats by breaking a lot of long runs but who get stopped too often, making their game like a less-efficient version of the passing game. But that’s not the case for Murray, thus far. He is breaking long runs at the same rate as a back like Peterson, yet Murray has only eight runs for no gain or loss of yardage (10.7 percent, or about half of Peterson’s career average of 22.2 percent). Moreover, Murray’s median run has been 5 yards, which compares favorably even to passing in the same situation, with a median distance of 4 yards. Through the first five games, Murray has been the ideal running back: consistently gaining positive yardage, setting up favorable second-down situations (he leads the league in runs of 7 to 9 yards), and still a threat to go the distance.Chart of the weekOne of my favorite mini-stats from the Murray first-and-10 data is that Murray has five runs this year of exactly4Inasmuch as these things are exact. 9 yards, and none of exactly 10 yards.This is smart! Running for 9 yards on first-and-10 outside of 25 yards from the goal is pretty much always better than running for 10. Getting to second-and-short is more valuable than getting a first down because it leads to a flexible situation and forces the defense to prepare for a wider variety of plays.Here’s the easiest way to understand this: A team is trading one down and one yard for the privilege of having only one yard to gain. Since the team will gain that one yard a high percentage of the time, it has a lot of flexibility: It can rush or sneak to try to pick up the first down (and collect bonus yards in the process), or it can launch a deep pass knowing that, barring a sack or a turnover, it will likely still have a short-yardage play on third down. The opponent has to defend everything from short-yardage runs to deep passes at once, meaning it defends each a little worse than usual.Those two yards before first down, then, are a sweet spot for offenses. How sweet is the sweet spot? Using drive data since 2001, I looked at how many points a possession produced on average, given its spot on the field, when it was second-and-short (defined as second-and-2 or less) versus first-and-10: Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is kinda killing it this year. Through five games, he’s leading the league in rushing by more than 200 yards1His 134 yards per game is more than 30 percent higher than second-place Arian Foster’s 101. — and he’s run for 100 or more yards in every game. He’s even getting MVP buzz, and with his help Dallas is 4-1, tied for the best record in football.Normally I don’t care much about running back stats. RBs have crazy seasons all the time, often signifying very little. This level of performance, for example, is pretty out of character for Murray and Dallas (which has been 8-8 in every year they’ve been together). Seasons like this usually come in two main flavors:The outlier running back has a featured role in some fancy new (usually QB-driven) offense. Examples include Edgerrin James and Marshall Faulk with Indianapolis, LaDanian Tomlinson with San Diego or Marshall Faulk with St. Louis.The outlier back’s stats are a kind of corrupt bargain with defenses that are willing to let the back put up big numbers while otherwise keeping the offense somewhat in check. Likely examples include Adrian Peterson, Barry Sanders and Chris Johnson.2The year Johnson had 2,000 yards, the Tennessee Titans went 8-8. Of the seven times when a running back broke 2,000 yards in a season, only one player — Terrell Davis for John Elway’s Denver Broncos in 1998 — did so on a team that won more than 10 games (or even made it out of the first round of the playoffs). For short distances, it seems that running — on average — produces slightly better results. I was a little surprised by the second-and-short result, since (as previously discussed) this can be a great down for taking shots downfield. But the difference between the two is small, and the results may also be skewed slightly if teams are more likely to run when their chances of picking up a first down are better (such as in second-and-inches situations).On balance, the charts are fascinating to contemplate, but the takeaway is pretty basic, and so obvious that it’s almost counterintuitive: With long distances to first down passing is generally better, and with short distances running is generally better.Most empirically significant game of Week 6When teams do well despite “bad QB play,” it may not actually mean that their QBs are playing badly. Football is a game of limited resources. If a team’s QB is getting the job done, the GM may devote the team’s resources elsewhere.For example, say a GM has $130 million to spend (around the current NFL salary cap). He spends $65 million on offense and $65 million on defense. He pays the team’s quarterback $10 million, leaving $55 million for the rest of the team’s offense. The QB develops into a big-time stud, which leaves two options: The GM can keep spending the same amount on offense as on defense and end up with an above-average offense and an average defense; or, maybe the QB is good enough to produce an average offense with only a $35 million supporting cast, allowing that $20 million savings to be spent on improving the defense. It might not be pretty (especially for the QB), but whether the team’s wins come through offense or defense doesn’t matter to the GM. Why not have an average offense and a better defense?11Or special teams, or coach, or anything — and this applies to resources other than money, but money is the easiest to examine.This is more than just a thought experiment: The Baltimore Ravens have just $33 million devoted to non-quarterback offensive players — the lowest amount in the league and just 35 percent of their non-starting QB expenditures. In other words, aside from Joe Flacco, the Ravens have distributed their money nearly 2-to-1 in favor of defense. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles have more than $63 million devoted to offensive players other than their highest-paid QB.12Technically, the Eagles’ highest-paid QB is Mark Sanchez. That means Nick Foles is starting out with a 2-to-1 money advantage.13Idea for future article: quarterback ratings adjusted for the salary of the rest of the offense!Which brings us to the most empirically significant game of Week 6: the Carolina Panthers vs. the Cincinnati Bengals.QBs like Andy Dalton and Cam Newton have been eclipsed somewhat by young stars like Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, but the Seahawks and 49ers rank third and sixth in non-QB offensive expenditures, respectively. The Panthers and Bengals rank 15th and 23rd, respectively, by that measure. The Bengals have 38 percent of their cap space devoted to non-QB offense — as a share of non-QB salaries, that’s the fourth-lowest in football.Newton has about a $6 million spending advantage over Dalton. Seeing these two solid QBs on teams that don’t spend like crazy on offense go head to head may help us understand how financial considerations affect the game.Charts by Reuben Fischer-Baum.
The NBA regular season ends Wednesday, and the playoffs begin Saturday. And with that in mind, we’re going to shake things up a bit with regard to FiveThirtyEight’s NBA Power Ratings.Until now, we’ve ranked every team according to a projection of its true talent over the upcoming week — and the upcoming week only — using Real Plus-Minus (RPM) player ratings provided by Jeremias Engelmann and Steve Ilardi. (For more details on the original methodology, see our introductory rankings post.)But this week, with many teams resting key players in preparation for the playoffs, we’re ranking every team according to its projected playoff power rating. This means we’re projecting every team to be at “full strength” in terms of minutes given to players who will be available for the postseason, instead of only projecting for the next week. Playoff probabilities and expected end-of-season wins are still driven by projected minute distributions over the next few days, but the power ratings themselves have been geared to capture the talent that each team is bringing into the playoffs.With the playoffs being emphasized more in our ratings, it’s fitting that the San Antonio Spurs rank in the top two for the first time since early February. They’ve won 11 straight games, a run backed up by the underlying talent of one of the league’s best teams.The Atlanta Hawks also benefit from our switch to “playoff power” — while Thabo Sefolosha’s bizarre season-ending injury hurts their chances of winning the championship, we’ve boosted the playing time for many of their good players who have consistently been listed as day-to-day in the injury report in recent weeks.As for teams on the fringe of the playoffs, we noted last week that the Boston Celtics were basically a coin flip to make the playoffs, battling it out with the Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers for one of the two remaining postseason slots in the Eastern Conference. A week later, the Celtics have all but completely claimed their spot; our model now gives them a 98.9 percent probability of making the playoffs.By the same token, the Heat have almost completely dropped out of the race, with just a 2.4 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason. That leaves the Nets and Pacers to fight over one spot with two games left per team. Our calculations give Brooklyn the inside track largely because of the team’s possession of the tiebreaker over Indiana, in addition to an easier remaining schedule (the Nets face the No. 9 Chicago Bulls and No. 23 Orlando Magic; Indiana faces No. 7 Memphis and No. 15 Washington).Out West, the race for the No. 8 seed is between the New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Pelicans have the edge in our simulations. Oklahoma City is marginally more talented, according to RPM, and is even projected to win fractionally more games on average, but New Orleans holds the tiebreaker over the Thunder.In no small part because of those tiebreakers, there’s a 45 percent probability that the Nets and Pelicans will be the final two teams to slip into the playoffs when the season ends Wednesday.
It’s no secret that running backs have been falling out of favor on draft day since the NFL’s pre-1980s ground-and-pound era. The amount of draft value invested in the position1As defined by a pick’s expected approximate value in his first five seasons. has declined continuously over the last half-century. This reached a low point in 2014 when not a single running back was taken in the first round for a second consecutive season.Things have changed a bit over the past few years. In the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night, two rushers — LSU’s Leonard Fournette (who went to the Jacksonville Jaguars) and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey (picked by the Carolina Panthers) — were taken among the top eight picks for the first time since 2005. This came after the Dallas Cowboys picked Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in 2016, to great success. And in 2015, two running backs were chosen in the first round.Clearly, a running back renaissance is in the works. Right?Well, sort of. While it’s true that teams haven’t sworn off stud running backs completely at the top of the draft, they’re also being more selective. After McCaffrey went at No. 8, the class of 2017’s other first-round hopefuls — such as Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara and Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon — were all still available at the end of the night. It’s been five years since a team has taken a RB in the second half of the first round.A lot of this has to do with the economics of the position, as ESPN’s Kevin Seifert wrote on Wednesday. Because the rookie wage scale pays high picks well and running backs are being devalued across the league as a whole, highly drafted RBs are instantly among the highest-paid players at their position before they ever take a snap in the pros. That means teams better be damn sure about a running back before spending a first-rounder on him (lest they end up with the next Trent Richardson). The problem: teams can’t be sure about much on draft day. Only the elite of the elite check off enough boxes to make that kind of investment feel worthwhile.Adding to the risk, running backs also age differently from the rest of the NFL. Unlike, say, quarterbacks — who improve steadily during their early-to-mid 20s and peak right before age 30 — a running back’s shelf life is much shorter. Depending on the research you look at, RBs peak somewhere between the ages of 24 and 26, with the majority of their most productive seasons front-loaded early in their careers. So if you do manage to snag a game-changing runner, you’re most likely getting the best he has to offer before his rookie contract even has a chance to expire.Because of this, a team willing to invest a high pick on a running back better be in a position to win immediately, otherwise his best years could be squandered. For all the talk about the “Zeke Effect” — that Elliott’s high selection and subsequent performance in Dallas would spur increased investment in running backs on draft day — Elliott fell into a tremendous situation as a rookie with the Cowboys. Dallas’s mammoth offensive line paved the way for Elliott to lead the NFL with 999 yards before first contact.2To be clear, Elliott is a tremendous player; he was also second with 632 yards after contact. That’s a luxury Fournette won’t have in Jacksonville, where he’ll run behind an O-line that ranked sixth-worst in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards metric. (Maybe he should call 2015 No. 10 pick Todd Gurley, who has had to run behind a patchwork Rams line, for advice.)The Jags are betting that Fournette’s ridiculous ability to break tackles and run away from defenders in the open field will render that point moot, and maybe it will. But that also underscores just how talented a running back needs to be to justify a high draft pick these days. For those who possess that skill level, things are looking up compared with a few years ago. But for the rest, they’ll still have to wait to hear their names called at the podium.
In our quest to solve baseball riddles, we sometimes turn to our friends on Twitter for assistance for topics worth tackling. This one, from @ursus_marit, got our attention. In the eight days since this question was posed, home teams have enjoyed some moderate success. Still, the broader point stands: Road teams are faring unusually well this year. We’re on pace to see the fourth-smallest home-field advantage in the past 20 years, with home teams winning just 52.7 percent of games. There could be any number of reasons for this happening, from random chance to the possibility that Major League Baseball’s closer supervision of umpires is curbing Eric Gregg-level home-cooking calls on balls and strikes. It’s all interesting fodder for backward-looking conversations.What interests us more are the forward-looking implications for this statistical anomaly. Every October, we hear about the challenge of winning games on the road during the playoffs. Could the biggest outliers — the teams performing much better on the road than at home — have an advantage in the postseason?To conduct this experiment, we looked at the entirety of the League Championship Series era (starting in 1969) and tallied home and road winning percentages for every team during the regular season. We then gathered the results of every playoff game during those four-and-a-half decades from Retrosheet.org, noting which teams played at home and which ones played on the road.We controlled for obvious variables, such as overall record and opponents’ record. We then asked our fundamental question: Is there a significant effect that improves playoff outcome predictions, if we also include how much better or worse a team tended to play in a particular location?The answer is: Yes, pretty much. Here’s the quick, slightly gorier math: Looking at all postseason games from 1969 through 2013, we found a marginally significant value to the road team’s road winning percentage minus its home winning percentage, even after controlling for its overall winning percentage. The p-value came in at .07, above the .05 threshold at which we define statistical significance. For every one standard deviation in road winning percentage minus home winning percentage, we can add or subtract nearly 3 percent1To be more precise, 2.9 percent. from the road team’s chances of winning a playoff game.For the 1969-2013 period, the home team won 55.8 of all playoff games.2Compared to 53.9 percent for regular-season games during that period. But make the road team one standard deviation better than average based on road vs. home differential, and the home team wins only 52.9 percent of the time. Make the road team one standard deviation worse, and the home team wins 58.6 percent of the time. We can see how that relationship works in the chart below:The 1969-2013 playoff team with the biggest positive gap between its regular road and home records is the 1981 Kansas City Royals. That’s a bit of a cheat, because that was a strike-shortened season that saw a couple of mediocre teams play into October, thanks to an impromptu rule that granted playoff spots to the best teams from the first and second half of that season. So the Royals cracked the postseason that year, despite posting an overall record that was three games under .500, with a terrible 19-28 home record that netted a .404 home winning percentage.The table below shows the top 20 playoff teams since 1969, as ranked by biggest positive gap between road and home records:Now here’s the million-dollar question: Which potential playoff teams are playing much better on the road this year than at home?Here again, the Royals make an appearance, this time as the playoff contender with the third-biggest positive road-to-home split. Kansas City sits at 42-32 (.568) on the road this season vs. 40-35 (.533) at home, a gap of .035. The Royals are battling for their playoff lives, holding a two-game lead in the race for the second wild-card spot — not counting a soon-to-be-completed suspended game in which they trailed 4-2 in the 10th inning before rain pushed the game’s end to Sept. 22. That means if the playoffs were to start today, Kansas City would travel to Oakland for a one-game playoff. With veteran ace James Shields potentially getting the call for that game,3Depending on how the schedule plays out and if the Royals juggle their rotation. the A’s limping to the finish line, and KC being tough on the road, that could be a favorable matchup for the Royals.Bachelor No. 2 is the Los Angeles Dodgers. They own the best road record in the National League, a stellar 46-29 (.613), but a more modest home record of 40-35 (.533) — a gap of .080. The Dodgers sit just a half-game behind the Washington Nationals for best overall record in the NL, meaning they have a chance to secure home-field advantage until the World Series. On one hand, this would lessen the importance of being world-beaters on the road. On the other, having an unusually strong road record in the regular season correlates to overall success in the playoffs, not just road playoff success.But the most intriguing sleeper might be the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners own the best road record in the American League, a gaudy 42-29 (.592), but just a 38-40 (.487) mark at home — a huge gap of .105 that would be the fourth-largest for any playoff team in the past 45 years. The Mariners are the team on the Royals’ heels. They have a killer one-two starting pitcher combination of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma,4Granted, Iwakuma has slowed down in his past few starts, including a rough outing Monday in which he allowed four runs in just 4.1 innings. potentially setting up Iwakuma to start a one-game playoff on the road (assuming the schedule holds and King Felix starts the final game of the regular season). They also face a remaining schedule that could bode well in their quest to crash the postseason dance: a tough four-game set in Anaheim, then three against a weak Houston Astros team, four against a Toronto Blue Jays team that will probably be eliminated by then, and three final games against the Halos — who will almost certainly have clinched the AL West, setting up a potentially easy series against second-string talent while the Angels’ stars rest. And more than any other team, Seattle won’t bat an eyelash at the severe home/road split left in these final two weeks; 10 games on the road vs. just three remaining at home could work out great for the Mariners’ playoff hopes.So, keep an eye on these road warriors as the regular season enters its home stretch. If history is any guide, they might surprise in the playoffs … assuming they get that far.
CARM-Elo chancesVegas chances 8Timberwolves47-3515651<110 How Elo is forecasting the Western Conference playoffsAs of April 12 7Bucks44-3815001<120 TeamRecordRatingWin Conf.Win TitleWin Conf.Win Title 2Warriors58-241628844435 376ers52-3016593011175 Statistical favorite: After years of taking a backseat as Golden State dominated our pre-playoff predictions, the Houston Rockets are now front-runners to win the West. Specifically, CARM-Elo gives soon-to-be MVP James Harden and friends a 57 percent chance of making their first NBA Finals appearance this summer. Incredulous? Fine, but doubt Houston at your own peril. Remember that this season’s Rockets team shares many of the same characteristics with the Warriors back when Golden State was first making the climb toward transcendence. Teams that produce all-time great seasons like Houston has this season tend to win NBA titles at a tremendously high rate. Nothing in the regular-season numbers suggests that the Rockets should be anything other than solid favorites to take the conference — if not more.Betting favorite: There is a huge disparity between the chance our model gives the Golden State Warriors of winning the championship and what the betting markets say. CARM-Elo gives the defending NBA champs only an 8 percent chance of winning the West, tied to the team’s relatively unexceptional 58-win campaign that ended with Steph Curry injured and Steve Kerr calling his team out over a series of listless final-month losses. And yet, Golden State remains the betting market’s Western Conference co-favorite (alongside the Rockets), with an implied 44 percent chance of going to the NBA Finals for a fourth-straight season. Similar to the situation with the Cavaliers, the Warriors’ strong odds can be attributed to disagreement over how much we should read into a talented team’s regular-season struggles. The oddsmakers are clearly putting a lot more weight on Golden State’s track record than what we’ve seen on the court in 2017-18 — and considering how well we know the Warriors are capable of playing, that’s probably a good call.Dark horse: The West is so crazy that we could highlight a few teams here, but the Utah Jazz stand out in particular. According to CARM-Elo, they rank as the NBA’s third-best team going into the playoffs — trailing only the Rockets and Raptors — even after making our adjustment for playoff experience (of which the Jazz have very little). Utah put itself in a bit of an unfortunate position by losing to Portland on the final day of the regular season, which dropped the Jazz from the No. 3 seed down to No. 5. As a result, Utah lost home-court advantage in the first round, and the formidable Thunder were locked in as its first-round opponent. (It also set them up for a potential second-round collision course with the Rockets.) Even so, our model lists the Jazz as tied with OKC for the second-best chances of winning the West, and they could prove a dangerous opponent for the top seeds if they make it out of the first round.Best first-round series: CARM-Elo says the closest matchup of the first round is the aforementioned clash between the Thunder and Jazz. Oklahoma City is a slim favorite at 52 percent, by virtue of having home-court advantage. But these teams are very evenly matched: Both posted 48-34 records, and only 5 points of CARM-Elo separate their ratings. This one might be a referendum of sorts on the importance of playoff seasoning — the Jazz are the least-experienced team in the postseason field, while the Thunder rank fourth-highest behind only the Cavaliers, Warriors and Spurs. That edge might be enough to push OKC over the top, although whoever wins the prize likely has a date with the Rockets in the next round. Enjoy these teams while they last.Check out our latest NBA predictions.CORRECTION (April 12, 2018, 4:45 p.m.): A previous version of this article misstated the possibility of the Utah Jazz facing the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round if the Jazz had won their final game. Although Utah would have been the No. 3 seed if it had won, it could have played several different teams depending on the results of other games. 8Wizards43-391487<1<121 TeamRecordRatingWin Conf.Win TitleWin Conf.Win Title 5Pacers48-3415473<110 How Elo is forecasting the Eastern Conference playoffsAs of April 12 Statistical favorite: The numbers say this might finally be a breakthrough year for the Toronto Raptors, who are in the playoffs for a fifth straight season but have only one conference finals appearance (and zero NBA Finals berths) to show for it. Everything seemed to come together for Toronto this season, from a mega-efficient offense to a defense that improved to fifth-best in basketball. Add in a career year from DeMar DeRozan and a world-beating second unit, and the result was the top seed in the East — with a 42 percent chance to win the conference, according to CARM-Elo. That number is much higher than the 30 percent chance that CARM-Elo is giving the 76ers, the team our model thinks has the second-best chance of making it to the NBA Finals. And it’s hugely better than the 14 percent we’re giving the three-time defending conference champion Cavaliers. If the regular-season indicators mean anything, Toronto has earned every bit of its favorite status.Betting favorite: Another year, another case of the stats underrating the Cleveland Cavaliers’ chances in the East. Our model struggled to assess the Cavs last season too, and LeBron James’s squad proved the data wrong by tearing through the East with only one loss en route to the NBA Finals. The same scenario is shaping up to happen this season — and Vegas knows it. That’s probably why the Cavs are favored by the markets to win the conference again (albeit as less of a favorite than in the past), despite a regular season that was unimpressive by the standards of a LeBron team. In the battle between skepticism over Cleveland’s inconsistent form and trust that James can will his team to an eighth consecutive NBA Finals,2Including his time with Miami and his second stint in Cleveland. the bettors are still giving LeBron the benefit of the doubt.Dark horse: Although our ratings are higher on the Philadelphia 76ers than the Las Vegas odds are, both predictions think the Sixers are an intriguing pick to contend for the East crown. On the one hand, Philly’s near-total lack of playoff seasoning is a troublesome indicator for the postseason, where experience matters more than we sometimes acknowledge. (A late-season injury to star big man Joel Embiid also complicates matters; Embiid is recovering but probably won’t be ready for Game 1 of Philadelphia’s opening series with the Heat.) But Philadelphia is loaded with talent, from Embiid down low to likely rookie of the year Ben Simmons at the point and No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, who on Wednesday became the youngest player to post a triple-double. The Sixers are also playing at something close to peak form going into the playoffs, having won 16 straight games to close out the regular season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the longest winning streak ever for a team entering the playoffs, and it’s one big reason why both our model and the Vegas odds list Philly as the only East team other than Cleveland or Toronto with a double-digit probability of winning the conference title.Best first-round series: The East doesn’t have as many quality first-round duels as the West, but the Celtics and Bucks should be an interesting matchup. Boston lost its star player, Kyrie Irving, with just a week to go before the playoffs. The Celtics have home-court advantage and enough supporting talent to win a postseason series without Irving, but the onus will be on Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier to cap off their breakout seasons with great playoff performances. On the Milwaukee side, the Bucks have largely underachieved this season, although they’ve been slightly better after firing Jason Kidd in January. They also have the best individual player in the series by far, according to Basketball-Reference.com’s Value Over Replacement Player, in Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak had an MVP-type season this year, and he possesses the skills to potentially take over a series all by himself. It’s been a year since the Bucks put a scare into the Raptors before losing in the first round, and Milwaukee could be poised to actually win this time around. 1Raptors59-23168342%17%29%7% 3Trail Blazers49-3316126332 4Thunder48-3416589532 Vegas odds based on the implied probability of betting line.Source: VegasInsider.com 1Rockets65-17177257%44%44%35% 7Spurs47-3516226310 5Jazz48-3416639531 2Celtics55-2715789231 6Heat44-381491<1<110 6Pelicans48-3415954210 At long last, it’s time to put regular-season basketball in the rearview mirror and move on to the NBA’s main event — the playoffs are finally here! And FiveThirtyEight is here, too, to help predict how it’ll all go down. With the help of our CARM-Elo projection model, and the betting odds1According to Sportsbook.ag. as a second opinion, what follows is our survey of both the Eastern and Western Conference postseason landscapes. And in a departure from last season, when the Warriors were near-universal favorites on the eve of the playoffs, there’s actually some uncertainty in the playoff outlook this time around. Vegas odds based on the implied probability of betting line.Source: VegasInsider.com CARM-Elo ChancesVegas Chances 4Cavaliers50-3216251444510
Ohio State recruit Chris Carter’s attorney doesn’t think there’s a case against the three-star recruit, he told The Lantern on Thursday. “As a criminal defense attorney,” said Harvey Bruner, Carter’s lawyer, “I don’t believe there’s anything.” Bruner said a Cleveland policeman told him charges would not be filed against Carter, who was released from jail Wednesday afternoon after being arrested Tuesday on suspicion of misdemeanor sexual imposition. The case is still under investigation, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Thursday. Bruner said he expects the investigation to be completed Friday. Carter, from John F. Kennedy High School in Cleveland, was held on suspicion of fondling as many as eight girls while pretending to measure them for junior ROTC uniforms, The Plain Dealer reported Wednesday. Carter, 18, is a member of his high school’s JROTC, Bruner said. Carter did not sign a letter of intent on National Signing Day, Wednesday. The university cannot comment on recruits who did not sign a letter of intent, team spokeswoman Shelly Poe said. Bruner has not talked to Carter since the time of his release, but Bruner said Carter would sign with the Buckeyes. “I know that for a fact,” he said. Carter is a 6-foot-4, 325-pound lineman and a three-star recruit, according to Scout.com. Carter was held in jail overnight Tuesday. A 15-year-old girl told officers that Carter took her out of her classroom and into another room, and told her he needed to measure her for a uniform, according to a police report.
The Ohio State men’s basketball team played its first game in November, but to the players, the real season has just begun. “The Big Ten has started,” said junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. “We’re shooting real bullets now.” The No. 8 Buckeyes (11-2) opened Big Ten play on Jan. 2 with a blowout win against Nebraska, but winning league games will likely become substantially tougher in the coming weeks. OSU is set to face three ranked opponents in its next four games, and three of those four games will be played away from home. Directly ahead is a matchup on Saturday against No. 11 Illinois (13-2) in Champaign, Ill. The Illini were upset by unranked Purdue in their Big Ten opener Wednesday, which might have displayed some of Illinois’ weaknesses, but also a served as a cautionary tale of what can happen when a team doesn’t play its best on the road against a conference opponent. “You see Illinois, who’s playing great, go in against Purdue and taking a loss,” said junior point guard Aaron Craft. “Every game in the Big Ten is going to be a tough game.” If the Buckeyes are to beat the Illini, and win a game against a ranked opponent for the first time this season, it’s likely imperative that they contain senior guard Brandon Paul, who torched OSU for 43 points last season as Illinois secured an upset win at home against the then-No. 5 Buckeyes. This year, Paul is averaging almost 19 points per game and has tallied double figures in all 15 of the Illini’s games this season. “We saw first hand, when he’s rolling, how good he can be,” said OSU coach Thad Matta. “He’s one of the best guards, not only in the Big Ten, but probably in the country.” Smith Jr. said that OSU will play with a heightened awareness on defense to ensure Paul doesn’t produce a repeat performance. “Of course we know what he’s capable of from last year,” Smith Jr. said. “Hopefully we just come out and play a better defensive game and be able to guard him a little better.” If there was a particular facet of the game in which the Buckeyes struggled last year against Paul, it was finding him while in transition defense. Occasionally OSU lost track of Paul on the fast breaks, allowing the guard to spot up for wide-open jumpers. As a result, he buried eight 3-pointers. “They like to get out in transition and run a lot,” Smith Jr. said. “He spots up on the wing and if you get there a second late, the shots going up. Sometimes he’s fortunate enough to make a lot of those shots.” Saturday’s matchup will also be the first meeting between Matta and his long-time assistant John Groce. Groce served under Matta at OSU from 2004-2008, and was also on Matta’s staff while at Xavier and Butler. Matta. though, said he’s not focused on who he’s coaching against, just the task at hand. “That’s all irrelevant,” Matta said. “It’s a Big Ten basketball game and you’ve got to get yourself ready to go.” The Buckeyes are scheduled to tipoff with Illinois at 2:15 p.m. Saturday. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
Ohio State junior starting pitcher Connor Curlis delivers a pitch Friday night against Nebraska in Bill Davis Stadium. Credit: Mac Connor | Ohio State AthleticsThe Ohio State baseball team (17-8, 0-1 Big Ten) got off to a hot start, scoring three times against Nebraska starter Luis Alvarado in the first two innings.But the Cornhusker ace blanked the Buckeyes over the next 6.1 innings and Nebraska (14-12, 2-2 Big Ten) finished off a 7-3 win in the Buckeyes’ conference opener Friday night.“We tried to control [Alvarado]’s rhythm a little bit, but he was pounding the strike zone,” head coach Greg Beals said. “Give his competitive spirit credit, because he got popped in the mouth early in the game and stayed in there and kept competing.”With no outs and a runner on first in the fifth inning, Husker junior shortstop Angelo Altavilla laid a sacrifice bunt attempt down the third base line. Third baseman Conner Pohl threw the ball away, allowing Nebraska sophomore center fielder Joe Acker to score on the throwing error. Altavilla later crossed home plate on a single by senior first baseman Scott Schreiber to give Nebraska the 5-3 lead.In the bottom of the ninth inning, a pinch-hit single, a fielder’s choice and a walk loaded the bases with two outs for Ohio State junior second baseman Brady Cherry. Nebraska closer Jake Hohensee shut down the opportunity and polished off his sixth save of the season with his third strikeout.Junior Connor Curlis started on the mound for the Buckeyes and was nearly unhittable through three innings, sitting down nine of 10 batters with four strikeouts. But the game began to unravel in the fourth inning.Schreiber smacked his team-leading seventh home run of the season, a no-doubter over the left field fence. Senior second baseman Zac Repinski kept things going with a one-out double to put two runners in scoring position. Both runners scored on a ground ball and a single to even the game at three.Curlis finished with eight strikeouts, surrendering three earned runs in 6.2 innings of work. Ohio State extended its early lead when redshirt junior designated hitter Nate Romans deposited the 1-0 pitch directly above the 400-foot sign in center field during the bottom of the second inning that put the Buckeyes ahead 3-0.“He came at me with the changeup first pitch and he didn’t hit with it, so I was sitting fastball and he left it up,” Romans said. “It’s kind of funny too, because we’ve got these new bat regulations and stuff and the wind was blowing in.”Nebraska scored two insurance runs in the eighth inning, closing the door on a potential Buckeye comeback.
A lottery winning rapist told police “I’m a multi-millionaire, I’m not going anywhere” as they tried to arrest him, a court heard.Iorworth Hoare, 64, now known as Edward Thomas claimed the police were jealous of his lifestyle after he was convicted of resisting arrest.He became aggressive after four police officers arrived at his house following an allegation of flashing, telling them: “I’m a multi-millionaire, I’m not going anywhere.”Hoare, who was convicted of attempted rape in 1989, hit the headlines in 2004 after winning £7.2 million on the Lotto while on weekend leave. He was released from prison in 2005 but remained on life licence. I explained the reason why I was there, and his words were: ‘I’m a multi-millionaire, I’m not going anywhere.’Pc Sam Maughan The charges of flashing were previously dropped, but Bedlington Magistrates’ Court in Northumberland heard Hoare’s demeanour was “very aggressive” when officers arrived to take him into custody following the allegation.After entering his house, a converted chapel in Broomley, Northumberland, he demanded to use the phone to contact his solicitor.Pc Sam Maughan told the court after they handcuffed one of his hands, Hoaremoved across the room and had “clenched his right fist and was extremely tense”.A scuffle ensued and another officer, Pc David Chadwick, was forced to deliver a “knee strike” and force him down onto a sofa, resulting in Pc Chadwick suffering cut fingers and a grazed wrist. Pc Maughan said during the incident that Hoare refused to look her in the eye and only addressed the male officers.”I asked if we could go inside and he took us into the living room area,” she said. “I explained the reason why I was there, and his words were: ‘I’m a multi-millionaire, I’m not going anywhere.'”He started going towards the telephone, stomping around saying: ‘I’m not going anywhere, I want a solicitor.'” Hoare, who lives with his partner as well as ten cats and two tortoises, claimed “the police were jealous, I have a very good lifestyle”.He also told the court that if he had wanted to fight then the outcome would have been different, saying: “I have been in prison a long time, I know how to fight. I would know what to go for first.”Chairman of the bench Richard Smith said they were satisfied that the offence of resisting had been committed as they found the evidence of the police compelling.”We believe their behaviour was proportionate and you became aggressive and were shouting after being arrested,” he said. Hoare was sentenced to one day in detention and ordered to pay £650 costs. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.
Julie Hartridge, the coroner’s officer, told the hearing that Mr Pearson was a “healthy man” and an experienced swimmer. Simon Pearson died as he battled to save his 10-year-old daughter LilyCredit:Caters News Agency A businessman who drowned trying to rescue his daughter repeatedly urged her to “hold my hand” moments before he died.Simon Pearson, 47, lost his strength as he battled to hold his 10-year-old Lily up above the waves.He had been swimming with his daughter and his father-in-law, Anthony McGregor, at Lido Bosco Verde in Ostuni, southern Italy, where the family was on holiday in July.The trio got caught in a strong current, but while Mr McGregor managed to cling to a buoy, Mr Pearson fought desperately to hold Lily out of the water.A rescuer who reached the pair was faced with a choice over who to save and managed to get the little girl to safety.Italian beach worker Martino Maggi, 49, also died trying to save the family.Mr Pearson’s final words were revealed by his wife, Emma , 43, at an inquest in Shropshire.In a statement, Mrs Pearson wrote: “Lily told me that the whole time the only word Simon uttered was ‘hold my hand’. She said ‘he was working so hard to try and save me’ but then her dad lost his strength.”Simon was a dearly loved husband, son and father and we will never forget how hard Simon worked to save his daughter.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. The inquest heard that the Pearsons, their two children Lily and Monty, six, and Mrs Pearson’s parents Yolanda and Anthony McGregor settled at the beach at 9.30am, just minutes before the tragedy.They had been visiting the resort for 15 years and were familiar with the area.Mr Pearson, a former public schoolboy from Old Church Stoke, Powys, was the managing director of building firm Jesmonite.His family did not attend the hearing at Shirehall but the statement from his wife was read out in the court.The inquest was told doctors in Italy found Mr Pearson’s lungs full of water.Shropshire Coroner Mr John Ellery concluded that his death was caused by drowning.Mr Ellery said: “It was clearly an accident. This was a double tragedy and our condolences to both the Pearson family and Martino’s family in Italy.”Giuseppe Chiarelli of Brindisi Port Authority said that particular stretch of coastline “unfortunately isn’t new to this kind of tragedy”.As recently as July 14 four lifeguards rescued three Russian tourists and an Italian who were unable to return to the shore of a nearby beach.