Monthly Archives: October 2017

How Clemson And Washington Can Still Make The College Football Playoff

Each week in this space, we examine all the things a certain contending team needs to have happen in order for it to make the College Football Playoff. This week’s edition is a double feature starring the Clemson Tigers and Washington Huskies, each of which fell out of the AP Top 5 after suffering upset losses last week.

Current situations: After Clemson and Washington lost to Syracuse and Arizona State, respectively, the two teams’ College Football Playoff odds were dented pretty badly. According to FiveThirtyEight’s prediction model, the Tigers now have just a 29 percent chance of making the playoff (down from 55 percent going into the weekend), and the Huskies are at 24 percent (down from 43 percent). Six teams are currently ahead of the Tigers and Huskies in our CFP probabilities, and Clemson isn’t even the favorite to win its conference anymore. (Miami has slightly higher odds of winning the ACC.) The relatively straightforward paths for both teams to return to the CFP have now run into major complications.

What the Tigers and Huskies can do: As always, winning out is paramount to getting into the playoff. If Clemson runs the table — which our model gives a 20 percent chance of happening — it will have a 97 percent probability of making the CFP, a near-lock. The Tigers’ trip to NC State on Nov. 4 is easily their biggest obstacle to that; they win that game in 95 percent of our simulations that have them going to the playoff, while they only win it 49 percent of the time in sims where they don’t make the CFP. (That 46 percentage point difference makes it the highest-leverage game left in Clemson’s season.) It should also be noted that these numbers assume that Clemson’s star QB Kelly Bryant is healthy; he was knocked out of the Syracuse loss but seems to be progressing quickly in his recovery.

For Washington, the odds of winning all its remaining games are a bit higher (21 percent), although the Huskies also have a less guaranteed playoff path — only 87 percent CFP odds — even if they do win out. Washington’s most important game comes at Stanford on Nov. 10, a matchup the Huskies win 96 percent of the time in their playoff-bound simulations but only 40 percent of the time in universes where they don’t make the playoff.

Which of Clemson and Washington’s remaining games hold the most weight?

Remaining 2017 matchups, ranked by the amount of leverage on each team’s playoff chances. Based on two sets of simulations: one where the team makes the playoff and one where it doesn’t.

10 North Carolina State 94.6% 48.5% +46.2
11 Florida State 93.5 62.3 +31.2
13 South Carolina 90.1 67.3 +22.8
9 Georgia Tech 93.6 75.0 +18.6
12 Citadel 100.0 99.9 +0.1
11 Stanford 95.6% 39.5% +56.1
13 Washington State 98.0 73.4 +24.7
10 Oregon 94.5 78.4 +16.0
12 Utah 96.7 82.0 +14.7
9 UCLA 95.2 82.0 +13.2

Differences may not add up exactly because of rounding.

Where they need help: As mentioned above, Clemson doesn’t need much in the way of outside help — as long as the Tigers win, they’re still almost guaranteed to make the playoff. They could benefit slightly from anything that boosts their odds of winning the ACC, however, including losses by NC State and Miami. And any wins by Auburn will automatically help Clemson because of its head-to-head victory against those other Tigers in September.

Washington, on the other hand, could use more of an assist from afar. There are two categories for these kinds of games: Some — like Stanford losing to Cal in Week 12 — tend to be entangled with implications about the strength of a team’s own opponents.For instance, consider a situation in which Team A and Team B are conference rivals. Team B might be less likely to win an unrelated game in a simulation where Team A makes the playoff, because Team B is also likely to be weaker in a universe where Team A beats them head-to-head.

“>1 (Arizona State beating USC also fits this category, because it makes Washington’s loss to the Sun Devils look less bad.) But the more interesting ones come where the connection isn’t obvious: Georgia Tech beating Georgia, for instance, helps Washington because it hurts an undefeated Bulldogs team that currently sits ahead of the Huskies in our playoff odds.

Which other games need to go right for Clemson and Washington?

The non-Tigers, non-Huskies matchups that have the most leverage on each team’s playoff chances

12 Wake Forest def. N.C. State 44.6% 38.2% +6.4
10 Virginia Tech def. Miami 36.8 32.5 +4.3
11 Boston College def. N.C. State 26.6 22.3 +4.3
13 North Carolina def. N.C. State 18.1 14.5 +3.6
11 Auburn def. Georgia 47.8 44.4 +3.5
11 Notre Dame def. Miami 49.5 46.5 +3.0
12 Virginia def. Miami 17.2 14.4 +2.8
12 Michigan def. Wisconsin 28.3 25.7 +2.6
12 California def. Stanford 17.9% 14.3% +3.6
13 Georgia Tech def. Georgia 30.2 27.2 +3.0
9 Arizona State def. USC 34.5 31.7 +2.9
13 South Carolina def. Clemson 28.2 25.5 +2.8
13 Notre Dame def. Stanford 48.9 46.2 +2.7
10 Washington St. def. Stanford 40.5 37.8 +2.7
10 Arizona def. USC 28.2 25.6 +2.6
8 Notre Dame def. USC 66.5 63.9 +2.6

Differences may not add up exactly because of rounding.

One good piece of news for both Clemson and Washington is that, of the six teams ahead of them in the CFP probabilities, all but likely Big 12 winner TCU hail from just two conferences: the Big Ten and SEC. Since the playoff selection committee puts an emphasis on conference championships, some of those teams will by definition see their odds plummet before the Final Four is chosen — we just don’t know which ones yet. So there aren’t many universes where both, say, Alabama and Georgia make the playoff, or both Ohio State and Penn State (to say nothing of Wisconsin).

But Washington and Clemson may also find themselves as enemies down the season’s final stretch; with one loss apiece, they could very likely be competing for the same CFP slot. Indeed, Clemson only makes the playoff in 23 percent of the simulations where Washington is in, versus 31 percent of the sims where Washington misses out. (That same split is 18 percent versus 25 percent from Washington’s perspective.) With only four teams standing at the end of the season, every loss counts — a lesson the Tigers and Huskies might have learned the hard way last weekend.

Check out our latest college football predictions.

Lakers Owner Jeanie Buss On Working With Magic Johnson And Drafting Lonzo Ball

By Chris Herring


In this bonus episode of The Lab, FiveThirtyEight’s NBA podcast, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss joins FiveThirtyEight’s Chris Herring to discuss the upcoming Lakers season. She talks about why she chose to fire her brother — and put longtime friend Magic Johnson in charge — just two days before last season’s trade deadline, plus discusses her initial response to the NBA’s tampering fine against the Lakers and how she still wonders how things might have been different had the Lakers brought Phil Jackson back to the team as a coach in 2012. Click the play button above to hear the interview. We’ll be back with another episode of The Lab later this week.

Don’t Give Up On Ben Roethlisberger Just Yet

The Steelers may be 3-2, but the mood in Pittsburgh is dour. Ben Roethlisberger is coming off a five-interception fiasco against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the latest and worst in a run of lukewarm performances this season. Plenty in Steeler nation are beginning to question whether the 35-year-old Roethlisberger has hit the wall. One of those people is the actual Ben Roethlisberger.

The numbers are definitely not pretty, especially when compared to his career averages. That interception festival he hosted in Week 5 torched his passer rating, which has sunk to 75.8 and is way below his 94.1 career rating entering the season. More alarming than the spate of picks is that Roethlisberger’s yards per attempt, which for his career prior to this year stood at a near all-time-best 7.9, is a career-low 6.5 so far this season.

But a closer look at the numbers shows there’s good reason to believe that this bad stretch is just that: a bad stretch. Here are the key reasons Steelers fans should still have hope — regardless of what Roethlisberger himself is saying or thinking.

History is on his side

We identified several quarterbacks who struggled in the first five games of their age-35 seasons when compared to what they did through age 34.We looked at quarterbacks going back to 1978 to make sure all of them had played in the merged NFL for a decent amount of time. To qualify for the list, each quarterback needed to have a minimum of 125 pass attempts through five games.

“>1 In almost every case, these QBs bounced back to something much closer to their established levels. To be sure, there’s some selection bias at play here — most of these quarterbacks are generally excellent, because erratic and unreliable passers do not usually last in the NFL until they are 35.

Struggling 35-year-olds mostly rebounded nicely

Quarterbacks who posted subpar numbers in their first five games during their age-35 season and how they fared in rest of that year, 1978-2017

Dan Fouts 1986 SD 81.8 7.8 55.4 6.3 84.0 7.7
Jim Hart 1979 STL 70.6 6.9 49.0 5.7 59.0 6.0
Ben Roethlisberger 2017 PIT 94.1 7.9 75.8 6.5
Jim Kelly 1995 BUF 85.8 7.5 67.8 6.3 87.0 7.1
Trent Green 2005 KAN 87.9 7.7 80.5 6.9 94.3 8.3
Drew Brees 2014 NOR 95.3 7.5 91.8 7.2 99.6 7.7
Brett Favre 2004 GNB 86.9 7.1 86.0 7.1 95.4 7.8
Matt Hasselbeck 2010 SEA 83.3 6.9 74.8 6.4 72.3 7.0
Ken Anderson 1984 CIN 82.0 7.3 68.0 7.7 96.1 7.6

*Through age-34 season.
Minimum 125 passes in first five games, with a QB rating worse than career numbers prior to that season.


Among the passers on this list, the average QB rating improved from 71.2 in the first five games to 86.0 for the remainder of the season. Their yards per attempt also rebounded, from a pedestrian 6.7 to a solid 7.4, on average. If Roethlisberger improves at the same rate, his passer rating for the rest of the year would be 88.4 and his yards per attempt would bounce up to 7.2. But Hall of Famers Dan Fouts and Jim Kelly beat those averages, so it’s certainly possible that Roethlisberger could outperform them as well.

Roethlisberger is still doing Roethlisberger things

While the box scores have been ugly, many of Roethlisberger’s underlying numbers have been typical for his career. His accuracy hasn’t declined significantly: Only 17.5 percent of his throws have been off target, which is only a shade worse than the 16.9 percent rate he posted in the regular season from 2014 to 2016. And on deep passes,More than 10 yards.

“>2 Roethlisberger has actually been a hair more accurate, 28.2 percent of his throws have been off target this year compared to 28.3 percent in the past three years.

You would think that as Roethlisberger ages, he would start to lose his trademark ability to move outside the pocket on broken plays and find something down the field. But in a limited sample so far this year, he has still been effective when chased from the pocket — he has posted a 101.2 passer rating on just nine dropbacks in these situations this year compared with 124.2 on 93 dropbacks in the prior three seasons.

One logical explanation for Roethlisberger’s poor start would be that something was amiss with his offensive line. Perhaps he’s under more pressure than usual? But in fact, the Steelers QB is tied with Oakland’s Derek Carr for the least pressured quarterback in the league this year — both have been under threat on just 15.1 percent of dropbacks. And that’s the way it has been for a while in Pittsburgh; Roethlisberger had the second-lowest pressure rate in the league (behind Peyton Manning) from 2014-16.

So if Roethlisberger hasn’t suddenly become inaccurate and he’s not suddenly facing more pressure, the Steelers’ offensive problems may extend beyond the QB and O-line.

Bell and Brown are not helping matters

The real explanation for Roethlisberger’s poor start may be the decline in efficiency of his two top targets, wideout Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell.

On Roethlisberger’s 62 targets to Brown this year, his passer rating has dropped to just 71, down from 112.2 on 480 targets in the past three years. And while it’s hard to tell from a passer rating whether the quarterback or receiver is more to blame, other stats provide some evidence that the 29-year-old Brown is not quite himself this year. According to the NFL, defenses are playing Brown much more tightly at the snap — his average cushion has declined from 5.2 to 4.5 yards, one of the lowest among all receivers. But he’s not making defensive backs pay by running by them, as his average separation is unchanged (2.9 yards).

Bell’s receiving ability, meanwhile, is downright ordinary this year. The prior three years, Roethlisberger had 105 passer rating when throwing to Bell. This year, it’s 85.4. Bell is averaging 3.85 yards before contact and just 1.48 after. The prior three years, those figures were 6.64 and 2.20. It’s hard to blame Roethlisberger for Bell being unable to get open and make defenders miss.

Bell’s ineffective performance so far has also meant that Roethlisberger can’t use him as a safety valve, which has crushed the QB’s stats against the blitz. In the past three seasons, Roethlisberger had a 96 rating on 381 dropbacks against blitzing defenses — mostly because the underneath pass to Bell was so effective. This year, his rating on those plays is down to 54.6, the lowest in the league.

Sunday, Roethlisberger travels to Kansas City to face the unbeaten Chiefs, who have been winning more with offense than defense, which may mean his receivers will be able to find a little more space. And Roethlisberger’s attitude about his ability to perform has undergone a 180-degree turn. “They can question me. I don’t question myself,” he said, three days after his “Maybe I don’t have it anymore” interview. “I think you guys are much more panicked than we are.”

And unless Roethlisberger is a huge outlier and suddenly craters at age 35, or Bell and Brown have completely lost their ability to be dominant receiving threats, it seems there actually is little reason for Steelers fans to panic.

2017-18 NBA Predictions

UPDATED SEP. 14, 2017 AT 1:50 PM

2017-18 NBA PredictionsBased on “CARM-Elo,” a mix of team Elo ratings and our CARMELO player projections. Updated after every game.

More NBA:  CARMELO projections   Every team’s Elo history


1707 1741 -88 Warriors1-2 West 61-21 +8.1 >99% 53% 30%
1618 1641 -16 Cavaliers2-1 East 56-26 +6.3 98% 47% 14%
1534 1612 +48 Timberwolves2-0 West 52-30 +4.8 88% 10% 6%
1530 1608 +9 Thunder1-0 West 51-31 +4.1 83% 8% 6%
1621 1605 +24 Clippers1-0 West 50-32 +4.3 83% 7% 5%
1597 1596 +43 Rockets2-1 West 50-32 +4.3 82% 7% 5%
1526 1593 -10 Raptors1-1 East 50-32 +3.6 93% 18% 7%
1586 1591 -26 Spurs0-1 West 48-34 +2.8 76% 5% 4%
1560 1582 -16 Jazz1-1 West 49-33 +2.7 78% 5% 5%
1550 1577 +11 Trail Blazers1-1 West 47-35 +2.7 72% 4% 3%
1507 1548 +12 Bulls1-0 East 47-35 +2.0 84% 11% 3%
1552 1539 +81 Hawks2-0 East 46-36 +2.5 85% 10% 3%
1467 1509 +44 Magic2-1 East 42-40 +1.2 72% 4% 2%
1475 1503 +31 Mavericks1-2 West 39-43 -0.3 36% <1% <1%
1449 1494 -40 Hornets1-1 East 41-41 -0.4 66% 3% 1%
1578 1490 +21 Wizards2-0 East 40-42 +0.2 63% 3% <1%
1524 1487 +37 Grizzlies2-0 West 39-43 -0.5 36% <1% <1%
1531 1480 -6 Nuggets0-1 West 39-43 -0.8 35% <1% <1%
1454 1471 -91 Celtics0-3 East 37-45 -2.6 48% <1% <1%
1533 1450 +43 Bucks1-1 East 37-45 -1.4 46% 1% <1%
1426 1448 -30 Pistons0-2 East 36-46 -2.2 41% <1% <1%
1395 1436 -9 Knicks0-1 East 34-48 -2.9 35% <1% <1%
1417 1434 -15 Kings1-1 West 33-49 -3.9 14% <1% <1%
1461 1428 -24 Pelicans0-2 West 31-51 -4.2 10% <1% <1%
1465 1417 -31 Pacers0-1 East 32-50 -3.7 25% <1% <1%
1511 1398 -18 Heat0-1 East 31-51 -4.4 21% <1% <1%
1374 1396 -14 Suns1-1 West 29-53 -4.6 6% <1% <1%
1385 1382 +3 76ers1-2 East 29-53 -4.9 16% <1% <1%
1391 1353 +3 Lakers1-1 West 26-56 -6.9 2% <1% <1%
1421 1334 +24 Nets1-0 East 25-57 -6.2 6% <1% <1%

Forecast fromTodaySept. 14 (preseason)

How this works: This forecast is based on 50,000 simulations of the season and accounts for team fatigue, travel distance to games, and home courts with higher altitudes. Elo ratings are a measure of team strength based on head-to-head results and quality of opponent, while our CARMELO projections estimate a player’s future performance based on the trajectory of other, similar NBA players. Our CARM-Elo ratings, which power the forecast model, blend these two metrics to measure a team’s quality based on both its game results and its roster. Full methodology »

By Jay Boice, Ella Koeze and Nate Silver. Additional contributions from Neil Paine. Illustration by Elias Stein.


The Timberwolves Might Have Too Many StarsLeBron And The Cavs Could Make Dwyane Wade Young AgainHow Will Porzingis And The Knicks Cope With Life After Melo?Carmelo Anthony Makes The Thunder WholeThe Celtics Didn’t Mortgage Their Future — They Insured It


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Dianne Feinstein’s Senate Seat May No Longer Be A Sure Thing

Dianne Feinstein, who’s represented California in the U.S. Senate since 1992, isn’t going to have the smooth reelection she might have hoped for. Reports are surfacing that Kevin de Leon, president of the California state senate, will challenge her in the state’s primary,California holds an all-parties primary.

‘>1 and Feinstein might have reason to be worried.

As we’ve noted recently, the idea that Feinstein would face a primary challenge isn’t a total shock. During the first year of the Trump administration, Feinstein has been singled out by her liberal constituents for being too conservative for their taste. She’s been booed by them at town hall events and a late March poll of California adults showed that Feinstein’s approval rating had slipped 7 percentage points from the previous year, to 49 percent.

Feinstein is feeling the heat in part because her more liberal constituents are correct in surmising that she is more conservative — relative to the politics of the state she represents — than other Democrats. Feinstein has voted in support of President Trump’s agenda about 31 percent of the time, according to our “Trump score.” Ten Democrats have voted with Trump more. But because California is so liberal — Trump lost there by 30 percentage points in 2016 — we’d expect Feinstein to vote in line with the Trump position just 19 percent of the time. That’s a bigger pro-Trump gap than any other Democrat in the Senate.

How often Democratic senators vote with Trump

Difference between a member’s actual and predicted Trump-support scores

Dianne Feinstein CA 31.3% 19.2% +12.1
Mazie K. Hirono HI 26.5 17.9 +8.6
Brian Schatz HI 26.5 17.9 +8.6
Benjamin L. Cardin MD 26.5 20.7 +5.8
Patrick J. Leahy VT 24.5 20.7 +3.8
Mark R. Warner VA 42.9 43.0 -0.1
Chris Van Hollen MD 20.8 21.1 -0.3
Charles E. Schumer NY 22.4 23.1 -0.6
Maria Cantwell WA 26.5 28.7 -2.2
Kamala D. Harris CA 16.3 18.8 -2.5
Tammy Duckworth IL 24.5 27.2 -2.7
Thomas R. Carper DE 30.6 33.3 -2.7
Angus S. King Jr. ME 44.9 47.6 -2.7
Christopher Murphy CT 27.1 30.5 -3.4
Robert Menendez NJ 25.0 28.8 -3.8
Christopher A. Coons DE 29.2 33.8 -4.6
Richard J. Durbin IL 21.3 26.2 -4.9
Edward J. Markey MA 14.6 20.7 -6.1
Jack Reed RI 22.4 28.7 -6.2
Sheldon Whitehouse RI 22.4 28.7 -6.2
Patty Murray WA 22.4 28.7 -6.3
Bernard Sanders VT 14.3 20.7 -6.4
Elizabeth Warren MA 10.2 20.3 -10.1
Tim Kaine VA 32.7 43.0 -10.3
Richard Blumenthal CT 18.8 30.5 -11.7
Michael F. Bennet CO 30.6 43.8 -13.1
Catherine Cortez Masto NV 34.7 48.7 -14.0
Kirsten E. Gillibrand NY 8.2 23.1 -14.9
Martin Heinrich NM 22.4 38.0 -15.5
Cory A. Booker NJ 14.3 30.1 -15.8
Ron Wyden OR 16.3 33.9 -17.6
Tom Udall NM 20.4 38.0 -17.6
Bill Nelson FL 36.7 56.3 -19.6
Amy Klobuchar MN 30.6 50.5 -19.9
Jeff Merkley OR 12.2 33.9 -21.7
Margaret Wood Hassan NH 30.6 53.0 -22.4
Jeanne Shaheen NH 30.6 53.0 -22.4
Al Franken MN 25.0 49.6 -24.6
Gary C. Peters MI 29.2 54.2 -25.0
Debbie Stabenow MI 28.6 54.2 -25.7
Robert P. Casey Jr. PA 28.6 55.3 -26.7
Tammy Baldwin WI 20.4 55.4 -35.0
Joe Donnelly IN 47.9 84.8 -36.9
Joe Manchin III WV 55.1 93.6 -38.5
Sherrod Brown OH 30.6 70.3 -39.6
Claire McCaskill MO 43.8 84.6 -40.8
Heidi Heitkamp ND 51.0 92.9 -41.9
Jon Tester MT 38.8 86.1 -47.3

California just passed legislation to become a “sanctuary state,” a move that’s been met with displeasure by the Trump administration. De Leon seems likely to play up the state’s need to assert itself as a powerful bloc of resistance to Trump. In recent weeks, local news sources have noted de Leon’s rebukes of Feinstein, whom he paints as sympathetic to Trump.

In August, after Feinstein said Trump “can be a good president” if he were to “learn and change,” de Leon hit back, saying, “It is the responsibility of Congress to hold him accountable — especially Democrats, not be complicit in his reckless behavior.” Most recently, de Leon pushed back against Feinstein’s comments that the recent massacre in Las Vegas couldn’t have been prevented by changes in gun laws because the shooter had passed background checks.

Feinstein is supported by national Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and fellow California Sen. Kamala Harris, but she reportedly pushed up the announcement that she would run for reelection to this week out of worry that de Leon would announce soon. After Feinstein’s reelection announcement, Rep. Ro Khanna said that Feinstein was “out of touch” and that it was time for Democrats to “move on” from the 84-year-old Senator. Khanna, for his part, floated not de Leon, but Rep. Barbara Lee or former Labor Secretary Robert Reich as possible alternatives.

Whomever jumps into the race, Feinstein’s 2018 looks like anything but smooth sailing.

How Oklahoma Gets Into The College Football Playoff

Each week in this space, we examine all the things a certain contending team needs to have happen in order for it to make the College Football Playoff. First up, the Oklahoma Sooners, who are hoping to rally back from their stunning home loss to Iowa State on Saturday.

Current situation: According to FiveThirtyEight’s College Football Playoff projections, the Sooners rank eighth with an 18 percent chance of making the playoff. They had been in a good spot before the loss — third in the nation, with a 45 percent CFP probability — but the unranked Cyclones held what had been the nation’s best offense to its fewest expected points added (EPA) of the season and (more importantly) torched the Sooner defense for its third-worst single-game EPA performance since 2005.The first season for which adjusted EPA is available.

“>1 The shocking defeat ended OU’s 17-game conference winning streak, dropped the Sooners from third to 12th in the AP poll and made their road back to CFP contention a steep uphill climb.

What the Sooners can do: The good news for Oklahoma is that our model gives the Sooners an 11 percent chance of winning the rest of their games, which is better than any other one-loss team in the country except Notre Dame and Ohio State. (And Oklahoma’s head-to-head win over the Buckeyes should come in handy if it comes down to an OU-OSU comparison by the committee.) If they can do it, they should be in great shape for the College Football Playoff: The model gives OU a 92 percent chance of getting in if it wins out.

To pull it off, the Sooners will have to prevail in a couple of tough — but certainly winnable — home contests: against Texas (this Saturday) and TCU (Nov. 11). They’ll also have to win on the road against Kansas State in two weeks and — this is the biggie — beat Oklahoma State in the Nov. 4 Bedlam in Stillwater. ESPN’s Stats & Information Group gives the Sooners about a 58 percent chance of winning that game, and it’s the one they can least do without. According to our model, OU beats the Cowboys in 88 percent of the simulations in which the Sooners make the CFP, while they lose to OSU in 54 percent of the simulations where they miss the CFP.

Here are the most important games left in the regular season for Oklahoma, based on the biggest difference in winning percentages between our simulations where the Sooners make the playoff and ones where they don’t:

Which Oklahoma games hold the most weight?

Remaining Sooner matchups ranked by the amount of leverage on OU’s 2017 playoff chances

10 Oklahoma St. 88.2% 46.1% +42.2
11 TCU 92.9 55.3 +37.6
8 Kansas St. 91.1 67.1 +24.0
7 Texas 93.2 69.4 +23.8
9 Texas Tech 95.5 73.7 +21.8
13 W. Virginia 97.6 81.7 +15.9
12 Kansas 99.8 96.9 +2.9

Where they need help: In addition to winning their remaining games, the Sooners could use some strategic upsets elsewhere across the nation to get an extra boost. For instance, two-loss Stanford — while probably out of the CFP race itself — can help clear a CFP path for Oklahoma with an upset over 6-0 Washington on Nov. 10. Similarly, Florida State takes out Clemson on Nov. 11 in more simulations where OU is playoff-bound than not. And Michigan can help the Sooners by beating Penn State in two weeks, though the one-loss Wolverines themselves are also trying to claw back into the playoff picture. Just one of these upsets — in concert with Oklahoma running the table from here out — would nearly be enough to guarantee the Sooners safe CFP passage.

Which other games need to go Oklahoma’s way?

The non-OU matchups that have the most leverage on the Sooners’ playoff chances

11 Iowa St. Oklahoma St. 70.7% 66.2% +4.4
12 W. Virginia Texas 55.0 51.2 +3.7
11 Stanford Washington 39.2 35.5 +3.7
7 Kansas St. TCU 66.2 63.1 +3.0
11 Florida St. Clemson 24.6 21.8 +2.8
9 W. Virginia Oklahoma St. 69.7 66.9 +2.8
8 Michigan Penn St. 22.1 19.4 +2.7
13 Louisville Kentucky 44.0 41.4 +2.6
9 Georgia Tech Clemson 16.9 14.4 +2.5
10 Oregon Washington 20.4 18.1 +2.4
7 LSU Auburn 67.3 64.9 +2.3
9 Ohio St. Penn St. 63.9 61.6 +2.2
12 Kansas St. Oklahoma St. 73.9 71.7 +2.2

Includes games that were most commonly won in simulations where Oklahoma made the College Football Playoff and most commonly lost in simulations where Oklahoma didn’t make the CFP.

Check out our latest college football predictions.

The Last Time The Chiefs Were This Good, They Won A Super Bowl

The Kansas City Chiefs’ Week 5 win over the the Houston Texans was significant for several reasons. It squashed any lingering doubts about who the NFL’s best team is, as the league’s only 4-0 team moved to 5-0. It also solidified KC’s place atop our NFL projections, as we now give them a 97 percent chance of making the playoffs and an 81 percent chance of earning a coveted first-round bye. But perhaps the team’s most impressive achievement so far is this: These are the best Chiefs since KC’s last (and only) championship team, 48 years ago.

Using Elo, our pet metric for judging a team’s strength at any given moment, we can trace the various incarnations of the Chiefs week by week in NFL history. Their current Elo rating of 1701 is the highest it has been since the team hit its all-time peak rating of 1775 after defeating the Vikings in Super Bowl IV. Of the 899 weeks for which we have Elo data on this team, there are only eight in which Kansas City’s rating was higher than it is right now — and all of them came in that 1969 campaign, in the last year of the AFL. Move over, Len Dawson, make room for Alex Smith.

But we have certainly seen hot starts from Andy Reid’s team before. They started the 2013-14 season 9-0 and then lost five of their next seven regular-season games before bowing out to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Wild Card game. So will this year be any different?

The defense has regressed since the 2013 season, surrendering 22.2 points per game through five games, compared with 19.1 for the whole of the 2013 season. But they’ve maintained respectability despite losing star safety Eric Berry, who went down for the season with a torn Achilles tendon in the team’s opening-night road win over the New England Patriots. And any step back here has been more than compensated for by improvements on offense. Led by Smith and rookie running back Kareem Hunt, the offense is off to a blistering pace, averaging an NFL-best 32.8 points per game, 5.9 points better than the 2013 team managed to produce.

This may be hard to digest, but Smith is having one of the best starts to a season of any quarterback in NFL history. In almost every major offensive category — passing completion rate, passer rating, adjusted yards per attempt and interceptions — Smith ranks among the best. Here are the best season-opening five-game stretches ever, according to passer rating, among QBs who made more than 150 passing attempts in that span in any season since 1950.

Alex Smith is in royal company … plus Daunte Culpepper

Top passer ratings among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 150 attempts in a team’s first five games of a season, since 1950

1 P. Manning 2013 DEN 5-0 75.8% 1884 20 1 136.4
2 T. Brady 2007 NWE 5-0 74.1 1383 16 2 128.7
3 D. Culpepper 2004 MIN 4-1 72.2 1766 18 3 127.0
4 A. Smith 2017 KAN 5-0 76.6 1391 11 0 125.8
5 A. Rodgers 2011 GNB 5-0 71.7 1721 14 2 122.9
6 K. Warner 2000 RAM 5-0 72.1 1947 14 7 122.0
7 M. Ryan 2016 ATL 4-1 69.1 1740 12 2 121.6
8 D. Marino 1984 MIA 5-0 65.2 1527 15 3 121.6
9 T. Brady 2015 NWE 5-0 70.6 1699 14 1 118.4
10 D. Brees 2009 NOR 5-0 69.2 1400 13 2 118.4


In addition to having the fourth-best passer rating in this time frame, Smith has yet to throw an interception. And among these quarterbacks, Smith’s completion rate of 76.6 percent is the highest. The table above puts Smith in some nice company: Every QB joining him is either a Hall of Famer already or will likely be one soon — with the exception of Daunte Culpepper. (And unlike Culpepper, Smith doesn’t have the luxury of being able to heave jump balls to Randy Moss.) In this group, Culpepper and Smith also stand out as the only ones to not start at least one Super Bowl in their career to date. Culpepper may be alone in that regard after this season.

In the Pitts

Kansas City’s Week 6 opponent had a slightly less glorious Week 5. In fact, the Pittsburgh Steelers suffered one of the worst losses in their 85-year history. Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions in a brutal 30-9 loss at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars (yes, them). The Steelers’ loss was so bad that they dropped 55 Elo points, the 49th-worst single-game drop in more than 30,000 NFL games, and the franchise’s third-worst loss ever. Steelers fans may not want to remember the two worse losses, but we’ll remind them anyway: a 24-6 defeat at home to the newly formed Houston Texans in 2002 and a 34-10 thumping on the road against the previously winless Cincinnati Bengals in 1979 (ouch!).

The latest loss means Roethlisberger is under intense pressure to retire, with even the two-time Super Bowl winner admitting that he might not have it anymore. That, along with the quarterback’s public spat with wide receiver Antonio Brown in Week 4, means the Steelers could be in a minor crisis. Pittsburgh finds itself 3-2 and atop the AFC North standings, with the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals lurking just behind. Looking at the underwhelming slate of opponents the Steelers have played so far — the Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars — gives even more cause for concern. The Steelers travel to the Chiefs next week before a home game against their bitter rivals the Bengals and a visit to the surprisingly good Detroit Lions. The rest of October could alter Big Ben’s plans in 2018.

FiveThirtyEight vs. the crowd

Week 5 in our NFL prediction game — in which we invite you to pick football games and try to outsmart our Elo algorithm — was much better for you readers than the previous two weeks had been — readers were just 21 points behind the Elo predictions in Week 5 compared with 146.2 points behind in Weeks 3 and 4 combined. The readers made gains mostly by being less wrong than our algorithm. Both Elo and the readers picked the Oakland Raiders to beat the Ravens and the New York Giants to beat the Los Angeles Chargers, and neither of those picks worked out. However, the average reader was less confident in either the Raiders or the Giants of winning than Elo was, so readers lost fewer points on those misplaced bets.

The biggest net gain for Elo came in the Miami Dolphins’ win over the Tennessee Titans. Even without factoring in that the Titans’ Marcus Mariota was inactive for the game, Elo put its faith in Jay Cutler and the Dolphins and was rewarded. (Never doubt Jay Cutler! Haha, no, we’re kidding. Definitely doubt him.) That’s it for this week — be sure you make your picks for Week 6.

Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 5

Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 5 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game

OAK 68% OAK 58 BAL +9.4
NYG 68 NYG 59 LAC +9.0
DAL 53 GB 57 GB +6.7
DET 63 DET 59 CAR +2.6
MIN 58 MIN 64 MIN +2.0
NE 61 NE 66 NE +0.1
PIT 80 PIT 79 JAX +0.0
PHI 65 PHI 67 PHI -0.6
KC 67 KC 65 KC -4.1
SEA 55 SEA 51 SEA -6.3
NYJ 65 NYJ 59 NYJ -7.3
BUF 51 BUF 57 CIN -9.3
IND 75 IND 62 IND -11.3
MIA 59 TEN 51 MIA -11.9

Politics Podcast: Corker Uncorked



Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who recently announced that he would retire at the end of his term, is not holding back anymore. Over the weekend, he said President Trump’s recklessness could put the country “on the path to World War III.”

The FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast teams weighs in on how Corker’s criticism could affect Republican politics in the near and long term. The crew also talks to University of Utah communications professor Shannon McGregor about the effect that social media is having on U.S. elections.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with occasional special episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

World Cup Anxiety Reaches Its Boiling Point For The USMNT

Since 1990, qualifying for the World Cup has seemed like a birthright for the U.S. men’s national team. In the three decades since it last failed to qualify for a World Cup (1986), all of England, France, Portugal, Uruguay and the Netherlands have missed the cut at least once. In fact, largely because of the comparatively easy qualification process for teams from this part of the world, only six countries have a longer active World Cup streak than the U.S.Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, South Korea and Spain.


That run may come to an end this year. After taking just 1 point from its last two matches, the U.S. is running dangerously close to being left at home when the World Cup convenes in Russia next year. What happens in the Americans’ high-stakes match against Panama in Orlando on Friday night will go a long way to determining that. Here are three three factors that will bring you up to speed on the match.

1) Make no mistake — this one is really important.

ESPN’s Soccer Power Index projects that if the USMNT can win, the side will have a 93 percent chance of making the tournament. But a loss cuts the U.S.’s chances down to 44 percent.

Among the group of six in CONCACAF, Mexico has already punched its ticket to Russia, and Costa Rica needs only a single point from two matches to join El Tri. That leaves two remaining spots for the region: Third place gets the last automatic qualifier while fourth place will play in an inter-confederation playoff against either Australia or Syria. Panama is currently a point ahead of the U.S. in the table, and every team has two matches left to play. Here is how the result of this game will affect the various scenarios::

  • A win for the U.S. against Panama would boost the Americans into the third guaranteed qualifying place with only a relatively easy trip to Trinidad and Tobago remaining. Any other result will leave the USMNT scoreboard-watching.
  • If the two countries draw in Orlando, Panama will need only a win over an already qualified Costa Rica team to secure the third qualifying spot.
  • A win for Panama would clinch World Cup qualification for Los Canaleros for the first time in their soccer history, leaving the U.S. sweating Honduras’s results in hope of landing in the fourth-place playoff.

2) Home Pulisic is the best Pulisic.

In such a huge match, the U.S. will be looking to its young superstar to step up. However, Christian Pulisic has been a very different kind of star in home and away matches. Since Bruce Arena took over for Jurgen Klinsmann, he has kept Pulisic on the wing in the team’s three away matches in CONCACAF qualifying (against Panama, Mexico and Honduras). But during the three qualifying home matches (against Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago, and Costa Rica), the Borussia Dortmund attacker has been free to roam infield in a free, creative role — and this has been true regardless of formation. In the three home matches, Pulisic had three goals and two assists. In the away matches, he had a clutch assist against Panama but has otherwise been kept off the scoresheet.

Here’s a look at all of Pulisic’s pass receptions (home and away) in those six World Cup qualifying matches.

In the home matches, Pulisic received 40 passes in the central area of the final third.This refers to the area of the penalty box extended out to about 35 yards from goal.

“>2 In the qualifiers on the road, he received just 11 in that area. At home, he has been free to drop back in buildup, receiving 30 passes in the defensive half, compared with 12 while away. Pulisic is distinctly a winger in away matches, with 63 percent of all his away receptions (40 out of 64) taking place in wide areas; in home matches, that figure is only 35 percent (43 out of 123).

This is by design. With half the teams in the CONCACAF “Hex” qualifying group reaching the World Cup, a pattern of home wins and away draws is more than sufficient for a berth. In the recent away matches, the USMNT has taken a more conservative approach and kept Pulisic in his assigned position to protect the wing and offer a counterattacking outlet. Looking for wins at home, Arena has freed Pulisic to make plays either early in buildup (dropping back into the defensive half) or around the box (receiving passes in the center).

The U.S.’s attack has thrived with such tactics, outscoring its opponents 8-2 in home matches. Even in the 0-2 loss to Costa Rica, the Americans led the expected goals tally 1.3 to 0.8, meaning that they had more opportunities despite the result. Panama was able to slow Pulisic down in its home fixture (a 1-1 draw), but he will be much harder to contain in a less tactically restricted role on Friday night — assuming that Arena and Pulisic continue this recent pattern.

3) The U.S. needs to plug the holes in midfield.

The U.S. lined up in a 4-4-2 formation in both of its last qualifying matches, with a pair of strikers in each (Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood vs. Costa Rica; Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris vs. Honduras). Two strikers, plus the use of Pulisic in a more aggressive role, should strengthen the attack, but Arena will need to tighten his midfield at the same time. The opening goal against Honduras shows why U.S. fans should be a little worried.

Certainly defender Omar Gonzalez’s missed tackle was the biggest problem on this goal, but he was put in position to make this mistake because the U.S. midfield allowed a pass to be picked out under absolutely no pressure. The 4-4-2 formation gives the U.S. one fewer player to challenge opposition passers in midfield. What’s more, the U.S.’s back line has been shaky, which puts more pressure on the midfield to prevent the sort of attacking moves that can apply pressure on the defense.

And in the last two games, the two center midfielders — first Darlington Nagbe and Michael Bradley, then Bradley and Kellyn Acosta — have been unable to disrupt opposing midfielders, who have connected on many direct forward passes. Against Costa Rica and Honduras, the U.S. conceded 21 direct attacking moves driven by long, forward passes through midfield.I am defining direct attacks as attacking moves in which at least 60 percent of overall ball movement is directly toward goal and long forward passes as passes that travel at least 15 yards forward toward goal.

“>3 In the four previous matches, the U.S. had conceded just 22 of these direct midfield attacks.

The USMNT should be favored against Panama no matter the lineup, but a susceptibility to direct, central attacks doesn’t bode well. One or two good counterattacks could be enough to get Los Canaleros their result. The solution here could be some sort of single-striker system. By not playing two out-and-out-strikers, Arena would have flexibility to get another presser into midfield without limiting Pulisic positionally. Of course, this puts more of the burden on the 19-year-old to create goals by himself, but ultimately, what else is a superstar for if not that?

Whatever he chooses, Arena needs to get this game right because a World Cup trip — as well as his legacy — may hang in the balance.

Check out our latest club soccer predictions.