Monthly Archives: December 2017

College Football Playoff Preview: Georgia’s Balance vs. Oklahoma’s Offense

If one College Football Playoff showdown is a matchup of old, familiar playoff foes (Clemson vs. Alabama, Part 3) the other is stocked with relative neophytes: Oklahoma and Georgia. It’s the Bulldogs’ first-ever appearance in the playoff since it began in the 2014-15 season, and Oklahoma is making only its second playoff bid after losing to Clemson in the 2015 Orange Bowl. Here’s what to look for in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day between the Bulldogs and Sooners:

Oklahoma’s defense is terrible by playoff standards. Will it matter?

Among this year’s four playoff teams, three are extraordinarily balanced: Alabama, Georgia and Clemson each rank among the nation’s top 10 in efficiency on both offense and defense.All stats and rankings in this story are as of the end of conference championships, since none of the playoff teams have played a bowl game yet.

“>1

Oklahoma, on the other hand, is a study in imbalance.

Not only do the Sooners have the best offense of 2017, but the difference between their offensive efficiency and the second-ranked offenses (Alabama and Oklahoma State) is about the same as the difference between No. 2 and No. 10 Central Florida’s. Since the playoff started four seasons ago, the only offense remotely close to being as efficient as Oklahoma’s belonged to Oregon in 2014 — and the Ducks weren’t really that close to the Sooners.

At the same time, the Oklahoma defense is easily the worst of any playoff team. The Sooners allowed 25 points and nearly 385 yards of total offense per game this season. They rank 59th in the country in defensive efficiency. It’s safe to say that Oklahoma has the most one-dimensional profile of any team to ever make the College Football Playoff.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the Sooners are primed for a playoff letdown. Oklahoma has the best quarterback in the country (Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield) and a host of other weapons that can make opposing defenses pay. Their stat sheet could give any defensive coordinator a heart attack. (This is, after all, a team that surpassed 600 yards of total offense in more than half of its games!)

But it’s also worth noting that in three years of playoff action, the more efficient defense won 67 percent of its games, while the superior offense won only 56 percent. Even if those numbers are skewed by Alabama’s success as a defensive juggernaut, the Tide have won with defense for a reason. Oklahoma will have to buck that trend if they want to prove that a great offense can win, too.

 

Can Georgia keep winning from ahead and complete its rise?

Roughly one year and two months ago, the Georgia Bulldogs were 4-4 under new coach Kirby Smart after losing to the Florida Gators. Their Elo rating was +9.1, only the 33rd-best in the country. And although Georgia perennially hauled in great recruits, there was little to suggest it would be sitting two wins away from a national championship on New Year’s Day in 2018.

From that point on, though, the Bulldogs embarked on one of the great overnight improvements in playoff history. Since that day late last October, they went 16-2 and added 22 points to their Elo rating. Georgia now ranks second behind Clemson in Elo (+31.3). Since the College Football Playoff started in 2014, only one playoff team — Washington in 2016 — added more to its Elo rating between its low point of the previous season and its rating heading into the playoff:

The most improved playoff teams

Among College Football Playoff teams, the biggest improvements in Elo rating between the team’s low point in the previous season and the playoff

Elo Rating
Season Team Before Playoff Prev. Season Low Diff.
2016 Washington 29.4 4.8 +24.6
2017 Georgia 31.3 9.1 +22.3
2015 Oklahoma 29.5 8.8 +20.7
2017 Oklahoma 30.0 9.7 +20.3
2014 Florida State 32.1 12.0 +20.1

The College Football Playoff began in 2014

The Bulldogs are an exceptionally well-rounded team, ranked fifth nationally in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency during the regular season. All-SEC running back Nick Chubb surpassed 1,100 yards for the third time in his career and No. 2 rusher Sony Michel nearly broke the 1,000-yard mark as well. Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm stepped in to instantly become one of the most efficient passers in the country.

FiveThirtyEight: Oklahoma needs help on defense to win the Rose Bowl

Perhaps the only concern about the Bulldogs is if they find themselves in the unfamiliar territory of playing from behind. Fromm has been much better when the Bulldogs have a lead. During the regular season, only three Power Five conference QBs had a bigger split between their Total Quarterback Rating while the team was leading and while it was trailing:

Granted, Fromm’s split comes in a small sample because Georgia seldom trailed during its 12-1 campaign. (Georgia ran only 16 percent of its plays while behind on the scoreboard, nearly half of which came against Auburn in the Bulldogs’ 40-17 November defeat.) But perhaps Oklahoma’s best chance against the Bulldogs is to use its dominating offense to jump out to an early lead, then hope its defense can force Fromm into freshman mistakes while playing from behind. Between Georgia’s impressive balance and Oklahoma’s shaky defense, however, that might be a task easier said than done.

Beside The Points For Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017

Things That Caught My Eye

One game more

The 0-15 Cleveland Browns play the 12-3 Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday, and a loss will make them the second 0-16 team in NFL history. Browns Coach Hue Jackson has promised to make good on a vow he made to swim in Lake Erie if the Browns went 1-15 yet again. Overall, Cleveland is 1-30 under Jackson. Elo suggests that the Steelers have a 95 percent chance of winning on Sunday, and their bye week position in the playoffs is already locked up. [ESPN, FiveThirtyEight]

Okay, so this one settles it.

Surprise: Clemson and Alabama will play in the College Football Playoff again, their third such meeting in three years. That pair of games was a dead heat: each took a national championship, and the aggregate scoring was 76-75, Alabama. Stakes are high, but these aren’t the same exact teams we’ve seen in the playoff before: Alabama’s once ironclad defense has been deemphasized, but it has a stronger offense to compensate. [FiveThirtyEight]

The case for Gurley as MVP comes down to how many voters played Fantasy Football

Todd Gurley, the Rams star running back, has been making a highly persuasive case for why he should be the NFL MVP over other contenders, like water pitchman Tom Brady. One component of the pro-Gurley argument is his incredible December performance, in which he has scored eight touchdowns in three games. This comes as no surprise to anyone playing Fantasy Football, where Gurley’s 107.1 fantasy points gave him the best postseason ever. [ESPN]

Georgia D vs. Oklahoma O

Oklahoma has the best offense in the college football playoff, and on New Year’s Day they’ll play Georgia’s remarkable defense in the Rose Bowl. The winner goes on to face one of the two most recent national champions. Oklahoma’s quarterback, Baker Mayfield, has a completion rate of 53 percent when under pressure compared to 71 percent overall. [ESPN]

Try out our fun new interactive, Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?

Manziel Desired By Football Team

The Canadian Football League approved Johnny Manziel — former Heisman Trophy winner, Cleveland Browns quarterback and cautionary tale — for a 2018 contract. His CFL rights are owned by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who will now be able to sign him or trade his rights. [ESPN]

Sisters on opposite sides of the Olympics

Marissa Brandt and Hannah Brandt, two sisters from Minnesota, will be playing ice hockey in the Olympics, but not on the same squad. Marissa will be playing for South Korea, the country of her birth, while Hannah made Team USA. [NBC Sports]

Make sure to try your hand at our fun NFL game: Can you beat the FiveThirtyEight predictions?


Big Number

61 percent chance

There are six teams competing for three remaining spots in the NFL playoffs, but none of them are playing each other so it’s going to be a very weird Week 17: a bunch of teams with lots on the line are playing a bunch of teams with not a lot on the line. In the AFC, the contenders are the Ravens (94 percent chance of making the playoffs), Titans (58 percent), Chargers (31 percent) and Bills (17 percent), all playing squads with nothing on the line. In the NFC, it’s the Falcons (70 percent) and Seahawks (30 percent) fighting for the last spot. At least Atlanta is playing Carolina, a playoff-bound team still fighting for seeding. Atlanta has a 61 percent chance of winning that game. [FiveThirtyEight]


Leaks from Slack:

cwick:

This 0-13 Basketball Team Is A Favorite To Make The NCAA Tournament

loved this, and wondered if there’s a ranking for us of the small-conference teams that most lean-in to their underdog nature. would help us see if texas southern is really the harshest

chris.herring:

What a cool idea.

neil:

Yeah this is kind of amazing, they’re easily #1 in average opponent Elo so far this year
(non-conf only)


Predictions


Oh, and don’t forget
Some hockey team had a weiner dog race on ice.

What If College Football Hadn’t Wasted Decades On Polls And Just Used A Stinking Playoff?

The College Football Playoff has transformed the way teams and conferences build their schedules — and created plenty of controversy along the way — in the four seasons since it debuted. And even if the system could stand to make some improvements, it’s also been a relatively successful experiment in adding legitimacy to a championship that used to be determined through such opaque measures as media voting and computer ratings. For all the debate over “who’s in,” at least the eventual champion can say it won the title by beating two top-ranked opponents on the field.

The benefits of a four-team bracket got us thinking: What if the current playoff structure had been in place before 2014? Who would likely have won the championship each year? (Would it have been different from the consensus champs of old?) And which schools would have gained — and lost — the most titles under a playoff system?

Let’s answer those questions. (If you’re not interested in how we’re answering those questions, skip down to the first table.)

First, we’ll need a way to determine which teams would have made the playoff each year. Unfortunately, over the first four years of the actual playoff’s existence, neither the AP poll nor our Elo ratings (which are designed, in part, to predict the playoff selection committee’s tendencies) have completely nailed the playoff field with their four highest-ranked teams going into the bowls. But a combination of bothSpecifically, I added together a team’s rank in each list and re-sorted by that combined ranking, using Elo as the tie-breaker.

“>1 has been a perfect 16 for 16 in terms of predicting the real-life playoff teams.

So we’ll use that Elo/AP combo to pick the four playoff teams in each historical season.A more complicated version of this process might have involved using our full CFP prediction algorithm to produce probabilistic playoff odds for more than the top four teams, but we’ll save that can of worms for another day.

‘>2 (Our Elo ratings can be calculated going back to the 1988 season, so that’s when our hypothetical exercise will begin.) I also found that, once the playoff field is set, the pre-bowl AP rankings alone have done the best job of matching the committee’s seeding for the teams, so we’ll set the seeds that way in our mythical playoffs.

Next, we’ll need a way to play out the theoretical playoff games themselves. For that, we’ll use Elo, which provides a probabilistic forecast for any given game based on the two teams’ pregame ratings. In most cases, we’ll use each team’s pre-bowl Elo ratings to give us the chances of each team winning both its semifinal game and the championship game (conditional on making it that far). The only exception is when a slated matchup happened in a real-life bowl that season, in which case we’ll use the actual result for that semifinal or final matchup.

A great example of this came in 2003, when both of our hypothetical semifinal games — No. 1 USC vs. No. 4 Michigan and No. 2 LSU vs. No. 3 Oklahoma — actually played out in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, respectively. In that case, the Trojans and Tigers would automatically advance to the title game, where each would have almost exactly a 50-50 shot at winning the championship, according to Elo.Technically, LSU would be the slim favorite at 50.47 percent.

“>3 At least one of these real-world matchups happened every year from 1988 to 2013 — except in 1989, when conference bowl tie-ins kept each of the four teams in our playoff field from actually playing one another.

After following all of the rules laid out above, here’s how each season since 1988 would look if a playoff had been in place instead of the system that was used at the time:

What 26 extra years of playoffs would have looked like

Hypothetical College Football Playoff fields for the 1988-2013 seasons based on Elo ratings and AP poll rankings

Playoff Teams w/ Championship Odds
Year Team % Team % Team % Team %
1988 Notre Dame 44 Miami 33 Nebraska 12 W. Virginia 11
1989 Miami 31 Florida St. 26 Notre Dame 24 Michigan 20
1990 Colorado 37 Miami 26 Florida St. 25 Notre Dame 13
1991 Miami 34 Washington 32 Florida 25 Michigan 9
1992 Alabama 44 Florida St. 23 Miami 18 Notre Dame 15
1993 Florida St. 48 Notre Dame 23 W. Virginia 22 Nebraska 8
1994 Nebraska 38 Penn St. 27 Florida 25 Miami 10
1995 Nebraska 53 Florida 18 Tennessee 17 Northwestern 12
1996 Florida 50 Nebraska 17 Arizona St. 17 Florida St. 16
1997 Nebraska 50 Michigan 38 Florida St. 12 Tennessee 0
1998 Tennessee 62 Florida St. 14 Florida 13 Ohio St. 11
1999 Florida St. 40 Nebraska 30 Alabama 24 Va. Tech 6
2000 Oklahoma 51 Miami 23 Florida St. 16 Florida 10
2001 Miami 46 Oregon 39 Florida 16 Colorado 0
2002 Ohio St. 39 USC 22 Georgia 21 Miami 18
2003 LSU 50 USC 50 Oklahoma 0 Michigan 0
2004 USC 51 Auburn 26 California 13 Oklahoma 10
2005 Texas 61 USC 15 Ohio St. 14 Penn St. 10
2006 Florida 42 Ohio St. 20 Oklahoma 19 Michigan 19
2007 LSU 33 USC 29 Va. Tech 27 Ohio St. 11
2008 Florida 62 USC 15 Alabama 13 Oklahoma 11
2009 Alabama 57 Florida 24 Texas 10 Cincinnati 8
2010 Auburn 56 Arkansas 19 TCU 15 Oregon 11
2011 Alabama 55 LSU 24 Okla. St. 11 Oregon 10
2012 Alabama 50 Stanford 20 Florida 19 Notre Dame 11
2013 Florida St. 40 Alabama 22 Stanford 22 Auburn 16

Actual champions (or co-champs) are listed in bold. In 1990, Georgia Tech was co-champion but is not projected to have made the playoff that season.

Playoff selection is based on pre-bowl Elo ratings and AP polls. Playoff games are simulated using Elo, except in cases where a matchup actually took place during bowl season (in which case the actual result was used). Certain teams are listed with a 0 percent championship probability because they lost a real-life game against a fellow playoff team.

Source: Sports-Reference.com

The good news for the old system(s) is that each year’s real-world national champ — or at least the co-champ — would be the favorite to win the playoff as well. (The only time a historical national champ didn’t make our theoretical playoff was in 1990, when Georgia TechMy alma mater, it should be noted.

‘>4 claimed the national title in the coaches’ poll but missed the top four in our rankings after entering the bowls seventh in Elo.) But the fact that the real-world champ tended to be the favorite in our hypothetical playoffs is no guarantee those seasons would have played out the same way: Even after including real bowl results when they happened, the championship favorite in any given year had only a 47 percent chance of winning the title on average.

The most uncertain year of our hypothetical playoffs might have been the aforementioned 1989 campaign; without any real-life bowls to help guide us, our system gives all four teams at least a 20 percent chance of winning the national championship. And among years that featured at least one actual bowl result to work with, the wacky 2007 season — in which playoff favorite LSU would have only a 33 percent of replicating its real-world championship — probably would have kept providing us thrills well into January. But with a playoff in place, many seasons would likely have had different endings than the ones we’ve set to memory over the years.

How different? Here are all the schools that would have made at least one playoff appearance under our hypothetical system,Plus Georgia Tech!

“>5 along with their projected and actual national championships won:

How a playoff would have changed college football history

Most FBS college football championships by school under a hypothetical four-team playoff system, 1988-2013

Hypothetical Playoff Results
Team Appearances Semifinal Wins Champs Actual Champs Net Diff.
Florida 11 5.27 3.04 3.0 +0.04
Alabama 7 3.64 2.64 4.0 -1.36
Florida St. 10 5.38 2.59 3.0 -0.41
Miami 9 4.86 2.38 2.5 -0.12
Nebraska 7 4.03 2.08 2.5 -0.42
USC 6 3.60 1.80 1.5 +0.30
Notre Dame 6 2.87 1.28 1.0 +0.28
LSU 3 2.24 1.08 1.5 -0.42
Auburn 3 1.70 0.97 1.0 -0.03
Ohio St. 5 2.25 0.96 1.0 -0.04
Oklahoma 5 2.08 0.92 1.0 -0.08
Michigan 5 2.03 0.85 0.5 +0.35
Tennessee 3 1.09 0.79 1.0 -0.21
Texas 2 1.27 0.72 1.0 -0.28
Oregon 3 1.80 0.60 0.0 +0.60
Stanford 2 0.96 0.42 0.0 +0.42
Colorado 2 0.50 0.37 0.5 -0.13
Penn St. 2 0.84 0.36 0.0 +0.36
Virginia Tech 2 0.90 0.33 0.0 +0.33
West Virginia 2 1.05 0.33 0.0 +0.33
Washington 1 0.49 0.32 0.5 -0.18
Georgia 1 0.50 0.21 0.0 +0.21
Arkansas 1 0.36 0.19 0.0 +0.19
Arizona St. 1 0.40 0.17 0.0 +0.17
TCU 1 0.42 0.15 0.0 +0.15
California 1 0.34 0.13 0.0 +0.13
Northwestern 1 0.30 0.12 0.0 +0.12
Oklahoma St. 1 0.40 0.11 0.0 +0.11
Cincinnati 1 0.43 0.08 0.0 +0.08
Georgia Tech 0 0.00 0.00 0.5 -0.50
Total 104 52 26 26 +0.00

Playoff selection is based on pre-bowl Elo ratings and AP polls. Playoff games are simulated using Elo, except in cases where a matchup actually took place during bowl season (in which case the actual result was used).

In 1990, Georgia Tech was co-champion but is not projected to have made the playoff that season.

Source: Sports-Reference.com

Aside from Alabama, which won the most real-life championships (four) of the 1988-2013 era but would project to have about 1.4 fewer under a playoff system, every other school’s projected title tally is within about a half-championship of its actual count, playoff or not. The anti-Bama might be Oregon, who made only one BCS title game in the years we’re covering (losing to Cam Newton and Auburn in the culmination of the 2010 season) but would figure to make three playoff bids under our hypothetical system — and probably would have given Miami more of a fight than Nebraska did in 2001. All told, the Ducks would figure to have won 0.6 more championships with a playoff than under the actual system.

Over about 25 years, a handful of national titles is about the best you can do (see Bama’s four). So even a half-championship gain is a lot. And the more marginal differences further down the list matter, too. Imagine the effect on the fan bases at Oklahoma State, Cincinnati or Northwestern (!!!) if their teams had managed to get hot during the playoff and take home the championship. In general, you can see a pattern emerge in the table above: Under a four-team playoff, the long-term effect is to take titles away from many of the top programs and give extra chances to the next tier of teams. As counterintuitive as that sounds, given the way a program like Alabama has dominated the CFP since its inception, the addition of an extra semifinal game introduces more randomness to the system, which helps teams down the list.It may have also been easier for non-powerhouse teams to crack the top four in a given season during the previous era of college football, given that the teams making the playoff since 2014 have uniformly been stellar programs. Or maybe after four seasons, we still don’t have enough of a sample yet to know for sure.

‘>6

I once wrote that the BCS wasn’t any worse at picking champs than the College Football Playoff would be, and in a certain sense, that’s not wrong. (Again, the real-life champs each season above would have also been the favorites to win the playoff.) But the more we’ve seen teams get a chance to prove their championship merit on the field against top competition, the more appealing it is. Now I only wish college football had the current system in place for the past quarter-century instead of the confusing mismash of arrangements that preceded it.

What Harry Got Wrong In 2017

It’s almost 2018. For some, that means looking forward to the new year — what are the big political storylines to watch in the coming year? But I can’t do that until we finish one last end-of-year tradition: remembering all the times I screwed up!

That’s right: It’s time for my annual mea culpa column. Happily, this year’s column isn’t nearly as painful as 2016’s, and certainly not 2015’s, the year I laughed off Donald Trump’s entrance into the presidential race. Still, there’s always stuff that I wish I had written better, written differently or not written at all.

First, I think I undersold the chances of Republicans passing a health care bill. Of course, they didn’t pass a health care bill. The various bills they considered were super unpopular and the GOP’s math in the Senate was always difficult, so we were skeptical that Republicans would pass anything. Probably a little too skeptical, however.

Take a look at a couple of these headlines: “The GOP Health Care Bill May Have Found A Better Way To Fail” and “Trump’s Health Care Bill Won Over The Freedom Caucus — But Risks Losing Everyone Else.” For one, it didn’t alienate everyone else — it passed the House. And later, it was just one John McCain thumb away from passing the Senate too. So, I don’t think the GOP health care bill was destined to fail. After all, only recently Republicans passed another unpopular bill.

Screw-up No. 2 came in my preview of Virginia’s gubernatorial primaries. That article included a “survey” from “CSP Polling.” It shouldn’t have. I had never heard of CSP Polling, which showed up in May. And, as I wrote later — in “Fake Polls Are A Real Problem” — I could never find any person willing to go on the record with his or her actual name to stand behind the work. That’s obviously a big problem. We tend to take an inclusive attitude toward pollsters here at FiveThirtyEight, but any legitimate pollster should have real, identifiable people behind it.

Including one stray suspect poll might seem minor, but it’s not. A lot of people come to FiveThirtyEight for guidance on polling. We let them down in this instance. In 2018, we need to be extra vigilant on this front. There are probably going to be a ton of competitive House races. And most of them are unlikely to be surveyed by “gold-standard” pollsters. In other words, it’ll be tempting to grasp at any poll that pops up in a lot of these districts. Unfortunately, many will probably be suspect or shoddy. I put together some advice on how not to fall for these polls, and I would do well to heed it.

OK, screw-up No. 3 is a little wonky but still important. In early January, I wrote “Registered Voters Who Stayed Home Probably Cost Clinton The Election.” The main point of this piece relied on a SurveyMonkey poll. That data was fine, and I don’t think anything in the article was wrong, really. But it was thin. I should have used a voter file too.

Some pollsters use random digit dialing to do surveys — call a random phone number and ask that person if they’re registered to vote. Other pollsters use voter files, lists of registered voters with a bunch of information about each one, to construct their samples. I think a mixed approach to surveying (e.g. combining random digit dialing and a registered voter list) is probably best. And that goes for a lot of analyses too. That article on how much registered voters who stayed home hurt Hillary Clinton should have used more than self-reported voting status, which can be unreliable at times. I wish I had supplemented it with voter file data.

One of the big questions for the 2018 midterm elections is what will turnout look like. The evidence so far suggests Democrats will do far better turning out voters than they did in the 2010 or 2014 elections. How much better? We don’t know. So let’s not make too many assumptions about who will turn out in 2018 based on previous midterm elections. Voter lists will help us understand just how different the turnout patterns are in 2018.

Screw-up No. 4 is an error of omission. In July, I wrote, “Red-State Senate Democrats Haven’t Drawn Strong Opponents — Yet.” That was true at the time. But it’s not true anymore, and it hasn’t been for some time. In fact, the GOP has a number of fairly good candidates running in red states with Democratic senators, including Indiana and Missouri. You wouldn’t know that, though, if you were just reading FiveThirtyEight. That article deserved a follow-up.

Often, it’s not the bad articles you write that get you in trouble. Instead, it’s the articles you don’t write.

So that’s that. I’m sure there were other things I messed up in 2017, but these are the errors that still gnaw at me. As is tradition, however, let’s close out this column on a more hopeful note. Here are a few things I think I got right:

  • I never lost faith in the laws of political gravity. After Trump’s election, it became fashionable to say that “nothing matters,” that the normal rules of politics don’t apply anymore. I never thought that was the case. And, as we’ve seen in all types of elections in 2017, it’s not.
  • I’m now 2-for-2 — or 3-for-3, depending on how you count — in pulling out the “normal polling error” card. The idea here is that many people treat polling as an exact science. It’s not. Instead, it’s perfectly normal for polls to miss the result by a lot. So, just before the 2016 election I pointed out that Trump was only a normal polling error behind Clinton. And just before the special Alabama Senate election, I wrote that Democrat Doug Jones was just a normal polling error behind Republican Roy Moore.
  • Finally, here’s an article I’m proud of: “Fake Polls Are A Real Problem.” After a bunch of media outlets cited a Delphi Analytica poll of the 2018 Michigan Senate race showing Kid Rock winning, I spent weeks sifting through the survey’s data and trying to track down the people behind Delphi Analytica. The resulting article showed just how careful journalists need to be in citing pollsters they’ve never heard of.

Thanks for reading. I’ll see you all in 2018!

Beside The Points For Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017

Things That Caught My Eye

Five years is kind of a hard cap

Marvin Lewis was head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals for 15 years and never managed to win a Super Bowl. Reality is, coach-quarterback combos that work tend to be the ones that click early. Every coach/starting quarterback combination who won a Super Bowl did so within their first five seasons of working together. [FiveThirtyEight]

Yeah I had a nasty case of the “Vegas Flu” once and learned I probably shouldn’t play roulette anymore

The Las Vegas Golden Knights are doing really well, and here’s one theory as to why their opponents appear off their game: They play hockey in Las Vegas, a fun place with booze and gambling and late nights on the town before hockey games. “Hockey flus” have historically spread in certain cities, be they “Roxy Flu” in Vancouver thanks to the Roxy club, or “Philadelphia Flu” because the team was a bit punchier than a typical squad. Vegas has played seven teams this season that as of Tuesday appear playoff bound, and all those good teams lost in Vegas. House always wins. [ESPN]

Fiesta Bowl pivots to Overwatch

There’s a groundswell of colleges and universities fielding competitive esports teams, and Thursday the Fiesta Bowl organization announced they’ll be partnering up with Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind Overwatch, to put on the Fiesta Bowl Overwatch Collegiate National Championships in February. It’s the first time a collegiate bowl organization and a games publisher have collaborated, and comes just as the Overwatch League, a competitive league with the backing of several NFL owners, is about to kick off. [ESPN]

40 bowls, each slightly better

This year there are 40 collegiate football bowls, the first season of bowl contraction since 1995, thanks to the Poinsettia Bowl folding. Yes, this year has what an analysis of Elo scores indicates is the worst bowl matchup in the past 30 years, Georgia State vs. Western Kentucky. But overall, quality is up based on the average matchup Elo score compare to last year, which had some rough bowls. [FiveThirtyEight]

Try out our fun new interactive, Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?

Slash & burn

Scoring is up in the NHL this season, but it’s not the fault of the goalies. A number of rule changes — including higher enforcement of slashing penalties — means an average of 3.3 power plays per game, which kickstarts scoring opportunities and plausibly scoring. [FiveThirtyEight]

Figure skating in Detroit

A program spun off from Figure Skating in Harlem offers ice skates, uniforms, coaching and instruction to girls who commit to practicing two hours a day four days a week and maintaining a B average or higher in the city of Detroit. For a sport that can cost into the tens of thousands for high-level instruction, the program — which seeks to recruit 300 girls by year end 2018 — is trying to be an on-ramp for those who aren’t born into affluence. [The Undefeated]

Make sure to try your hand at our fun NFL can you beat the FiveThirtyEight predictions? game!


Big Number

0.69 first downs per target with Gronk

Rob Gronkowski gives the Patriots offense a massive kickstart. When Gronkowski is off the field, the team this season notched 72 receptions, 771 yards, 100 targets and 0.32 first downs per target. When Gronk was on the field — even if he’s not the one getting the ball, just if he’s there and needing to be covered — the team notched 277 receptions, 3,429 yards, 400 targets and 0.69 first downs per target. [FiveThirtyEight]


Leaks from Slack:

kyle:

College basketball rankings: OU’s Trae Young has stats better than Steph Curry’s

cbs going hard

neil:

:fire: :fire: :fire: :fire:
In fairness, these numbers are pretty insane


Predictions


Oh, and don’t forget
Wes, you ham

This Season’s Bowl Games Are Less Terrible Than Usual

As a college football fan, I love bowl season. Yes, the sheer number of bowls has exploded out of control in recent years, and yes, the economics of bowls is often problematic, and yes, some of the names have become downright ridiculous. But I’m still a bowl-game enthusiast. What can I say? It takes me back to the holidays of my childhood, when there was simple joy in consuming as much football as possible. It’s not Christmas without the CarQuest Bowl.

Which at various times has also been known as the Blockbuster Bowl, the Micron PC Bowl, the Tangerine Bowl, the Champs Sports Bowl and the Russell Athletic Bowl. Also: It’s now called the Camping World Bowl.

“>1

As SB Nation’s Bill Connelly recently pointed out, each of these games holds similar meaning for a large group of people, easy as that is to forget sometimes. (It doesn’t hurt that even low-level bowls draw decent TV audiences, too.) And after years spent climbing toward Peak Bowl Season, this season’s crop of games might even be toning down the “participation trophy” element of going bowling — if ever so slightly. Mediocre bowls are unavoidable in today’s game, but there are also more good ones this year than usual.

Last winter gave us 41 bowl games, which tied with the previous bowl seasonyear before for the most ever. It also provided some of the worst bowl matchups in history, the byproduct of including 17 different .500 teams and three more that finished with more losses than wins. (Notably, both North Texas and Mississippi State went into their bowls with seven losses apiece!) According to FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings, the 2016-17 bowl season had the lowest average matchup qualityWhich I calculate by taking the harmonic mean of pregame Elo ratings for the two teams in a matchup. (I used the harmonic mean to ensure that both teams in a game were of a certain quality — in this case, a low one.)

‘>2 of any season since at least 1988-89, the earliest season we track Elo.

Last year’s bowl slate was the extension of a two-decade trend toward postseason games of ever-decreasing quality. But it may have also been a culmination of sorts. After zero seasons of bowl contraction from 1995 to 2016, this year’s schedule has been sliced by a game, to 40 (the Poinsettia Bowl folded in January).The Miami Beach Bowl also ended its run, but it was relaunched as the Frisco Bowl.

‘>3 And although the current slate included Saturday’s Cure Bowl between Georgia State and Western Kentucky — the single worst bowl matchup of the last 30 years, according to Elo — the average quality of all bowl games has (slightly) increased for the first time in three years. After a period of runaway expansion, there might be signs the new-millenium bowl frenzy is finally leveling off.

Because of the College Football Playoff, this year’s semifinals — the Sugar and Rose bowls — are, unsurprisingly, far better than the long-term norms for those games. But the next several tiers of bowls also contain a large number of better-than-usual matchups, including Ohio State and USC in the Cotton Bowl and the Heart of Dallas Bowl with West Virginia and Utah. Of this year’s 25 best bowls (according to Elo), 18 are higher-quality games than the historical average for those bowls:

The 2017-18 season’s top bowls are better than usual

Elo game quality for the 25 best bowls of 2017, compared with each bowl’s overall 1988-2017 average

Game Quality
Date Bowl Favorite Underdog 2017 Game Avg. Since 1988 Diff
1/1 Sugar Clemson Alabama 2282 2080 +202
1/1 Rose Georgia Oklahoma 2267 2066 201
12/29 Cotton Ohio St. USC 2161 1960 201
1/1 Peach Auburn UCF 2041 1862 179
12/30 Orange Wisconsin Miami 2035 2049 -14
12/30 Fiesta Washington Penn St. 2018 2042 -24
1/1 Citrus Louisiana St. Notre Dame 1989 1947 42
12/28 Alamo Stanford TCU 1951 1812 139
12/30 TaxSlayer Mississippi St. Louisville 1864 1814 50
12/28 Camping World Oklahoma St. Virginia Tech 1855 1772 83
12/28 Holiday Washington St. Michigan St. 1825 1847 -22
1/1 Outback S. Carolina Michigan 1821 1851 -30
12/29 Sun NC State Arizona St. 1788 1759 29
12/29 Music City Northwestern Kentucky 1772 1704 68
12/27 Pinstripe Boston College Iowa 1762 1629 133
12/27 Texas Missouri Texas 1750 1676 74
12/16 Las Vegas Boise St. Oregon 1746 1649 97
12/29 Belk Texas A&M Wake Forest 1742 1747 -5
12/26 Cactus Kansas St. UCLA 1734 1680 54
12/30 Liberty Memphis Iowa St. 1702 1695 7
12/26 Heart of Dallas West Virginia Utah 1687 1565 122
12/27 Foster Farms Purdue Arizona 1661 1689 -28
12/23 Birmingham South Florida Texas Tech 1635 1665 -30
12/23 Armed Forces San Diego St. Army 1581 1520 61
12/24 Hawaii Fresno St. Houston 1580 1523 57

Game quality is determined by taking the harmonic mean of Elo ratings for the two teams in a game. Historical averages for bowls include previous iterations of each bowl under different names and sponsors.

Of course, the dregs of this year’s bowls are truly awful, even by the standards of games named after dollar stores, potatoes and a regional pirate festival. Aside from the guilty pleasure of binge-watching football, those exhibitions might end up making the best case yet for contracting the bottom third of all current bowls outright. But the worst of the worst mostly clear out by Dec. 22, after which we should be treated to an eminently watchable set of matchups.

In a season flush with good college football teams, the same mechanism that produced drama down the stretch of the playoff selection process will also provide some measure of redemption for the bowls. As long as there are 40 of the things, we’ll never be able to go back to a bowl season exclusively reserved for top programs — but for this year at least, we’re trending back in that direction some, once we make it past the first week or so.

The ‘Most Powerful Political Players Of 2018’ Draft Extravaganza!!

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): OK, welcome all. Today we’re doing a “MOST POWERFUL POLITICAL PLAYERS OF 2018 DRAFT!!!!!!!” The idea here is both to look back on our 2017 picks and see how horrible they were and to preview what we’re looking for in 2018.

In case you forgot: The goal is to pick a team that will have the most influence over politics, policy and the national discourse in 2018.

Here are the final teams we drafted for 2017:

Our old, 2017 ‘power draft’ teams
Round Nate Harry Clare Micah
1 D. Trump M. Pence R. Mueller M. McConnell
2 P. Ryan M. Meadows A. Kennedy J. Sessions
3 J. Comey J. Kushner B. Sanders G. Cohn
4 S. Bannon B.R. Luján R. Tillerson T. Price
5 J. Roberts R. Maddow R. Murdoch S. Collins
6 H. Clinton I. Trump D. Coats N. Gorsuch

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): My team was good.

I HAVE NO REGRETS! (Except maybe, like, Rex Tillerson.)

micah: Harry’s team is the worst?

clare.malone: 100 percent.

harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): I’m still impressed by my Ben Ray Luján pick!!!

micah: Nate’s last three picks are 👎

My only bad pick was Tom Price, former Health and Human Services Secretary.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Attorney General Jeff Sessions was an overdraft

micah: No way.

natesilver: Yes Shway.

harry: Oh lord.

clare.malone: Well, we are all very glad to have Perry in on this year’s fun.

micah: Let’s start the new draft!

Remember, it’s a snake draft. Everyone pick a number between 1 and 100 so we can determine the order. Nate has a random number generator.

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): 14

micah: 88

clare.malone: 73

harry: 51

natesilver: 50

natesilver: OK, i’m gonna randomly pick the number … Micah will observe.

The number is … 39!

micah: RIGGED!

harry: This is trash.

natesilver: So order is Nate, Harry, Perry, Clare, Micah.

micah: Remember, this is for 2018!

We’ll do five rounds — we’ll go one-by-one in the first three and round-by-round for the last two.

natesilver: With the first pick of the 2018 power players draft, the New York Nates select … Donald J. Trump, president of the United States.

micah: Bad pick.

natesilver: Oh come on, dude.

natesilver: I wouldn’t trade Trump for your next three picks combined.

micah: I mean, because we include influence over the national discourse, it’s a good pick. If we were drafting for influence over policy only, I could argue it’s an overrated pick.

natesilver: We’re talking about a man who can lead us to war.

Or back us into war.

micah: I’m just saying that — given his level of involvement in the crafting of legislation — he has less influence over the nation’s business than your average president.

clare.malone: hmmm.

harry: I mean, that’s true.

natesilver: Wait, is it true? It seems … uh … not true. He totally drives “the conversation” more than any other president.

clare.malone: I’m not sure that’s true in the age of the imperial presidency!

Presidents inherently have huuuuuuge power.

perry: In terms of influence over policy, Congress has probably done its big bill (taxes), so much of the policy will be foreign affairs and executive branch stuff in 2018. That’s really Trump.

natesilver: Yeah, and what Perry said.

micah: Perry and Clare, I’m just trying to criticize Nate’s pick — stop taking his side.

clare.malone: Excited to spend the next hour with you all on this.

micah: Harry, with the No. 2 pick.

harry: Folks, I’m going to shock the world.

clare.malone: Al Franken.

micah: lol

harry: Here it is….

Are you ready?

natesilver: Bad pick.

harry: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Boom CRUSHED IT.

micah: OMG

natesilver: Oh my fucking god.

Sam Bowie.

micah: It’s a 2018 draft, Harry! Not 2020!

natesilver: Darko Milicic.

clare.malone: Explain, Harry.

harry: OK, it’s pretty simple for me: Democrats are in a position to take back one or maybe both chambers in Congress. Well-educated women are leading that charge. Democrats will have some overarching message, and I chose the person who has been the most anti-Trump and the most outspoken. She’s also in the New York media market.

She is very important to the public discourse.

micah: That’s all fair.

perry: It really isn’t.

micah: Hit him hard, Perry!

clare.malone: Totally fair arguments, but she is not a good No. 2 pick.

perry: And the next five to six picks will show why. Gillibrand is not going to be a big player compared to lots of others. Is she the most important woman in Congress, even? I think no …

harry: Again, this is discourse, not policy. Just so I’m clear.

clare.malone: Wait … it’s POWER, not discourse or policy. Right? And all the trappings that come with that: driving conversation, wrangling, etc.

micah: It is power over discourse and policy and everything politics!

perry: Gillibrand basically removed a senator (Franken). That is power. But I don’t think she will do that again in 2018.

clare.malone: You think Nancy Pelosi’s still the most important woman in Congress, Perry?

perry: Yes, Pelosi.

micah: Don’t answer that!

clare.malone: hah

micah: lol

clare.malone: I feel like that’s a good transition to Perry’s Pick (TM).

micah: Perry, with the No. 3 pick!!!

perry: Robert Mueller.

clare.malone: Yeah. Good choice.

micah: Yup. Special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential connections with the Trump campaign; that’s a big job.

harry: Boring.

perry: I could make a case for him being No. 1, even. He could change the course of the presidency if he brings charges against Trump. Or if he clears Trump or never charges him and ends the investigation — that would be a huge win for the president.

natesilver: What if he gets fired next week, though?

perry: What he says in the wake of that firing would be huge. FBI Director James Comey was fired and that was a disaster for Trump.

micah: OK, here’s my anti-picking-Mueller argument: He could get fired, as Nate said. Also, he’s a straight-down-the-line guy. He’s basically at the mercy of whatever the facts on the ground are. So he’s only playing out a string.

To be clear, I don’t buy that argument.

But still.

natesilver: Yeah, I don’t buy it either. But I also don’t see how he could be ranked ahead of Trump.

harry: Mueller is the type of guy who many in the press think is important, but many voters don’t care about.

micah: Clare, with the No. 4 pick.

clare.malone: There are so many names to parse through.

micah: I know my pick.

My next two, in fact!

SNAKES!

clare.malone: Bully for you.

micah: lol

clare.malone: OK.

I’m going to go with a 2018 wave-themed pick: Nancy Pelosi, Democratic minority leader in the House.

micah: Oh god.

That’s a Harry-level bad pick.

clare.malone: hahahaha

natesilver: No, it’s better than Harry’s pick.

micah: Even if Democrats win the House, Pelosi wouldn’t become speaker until 2019 (and that’s assuming she does become speaker).

perry: Actually, Pelosi has essentially already forced out two members of Congress (John Conyers; Ruben Kihuen), one more than Gillibrand.

clare.malone: Ben Ray Luján is who I should have picked, right, Harry?

harry: That’s right.

natesilver: Pelosi could also influence whether impeachment proceedings against Trump begin this year.

micah: How?

People, Democrats are in the minority in the House.

natesilver: Let’s say Trump fires Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein or something. Is that grounds for impeachment? Could depend a lot on whether Pelosi wants to press the case.

clare.malone: Anyhow, here’s what I figure: She’s still a powerful fundraising, wrangling force in the party. (See my definition of power above.) And the Democrats might be heading into a little upswing, and might be tangling with Trump over DACA, etc.

perry: She will have huge influence over how the Democrats campaign in 2018, which matters for 2019. She will be a huge player in deciding if Democrats make impeachment a campaign issue this year.

harry: Micah’s probably thinking of picking Martin O’Malley, so don’t listen to him.

natesilver: I will note that Pelosi was NOT DRAFTED in our previous power players draft

micah: I have the No. 5 and No. 6 picks …

With the No. 5 pick, I select …

Anthony Kennedy, Supreme Court justice.

clare.malone: Snipin’ my team, huh.

harry: Ah, good old Tony K.

micah: And with the No. 6 pick I select …

John Kelly, chief of staff to the president.

perry: Excellent choices.

natesilver: One good pick and one bad pick there, Micah.

clare.malone: Crap. Kelly was mine.

harry: I think they are both terrible.

natesilver: No, Kelly is a bad pick.

clare.malone: No way.

micah: Nate, you’re wrong.

natesilver: Go back and look at our previous power player drafts and you’ll find that the people for whom the argument is “this person has Trump’s ear” always turn out to be crap picks because that changes so quickly.

micah: I don’t think Kelly’s power comes from having Trump’s ear.

natesilver: What power has he actually demonstrated so far?

clare.malone: He reportedly fired/forced out Omarosa.

micah: Kelly’s power is literal, in the sense that he has lots of control over White House personnel, as well as what information gets into the Oval Office (much more than former chief Reince Priebus, it seems). But he also has symbolic power, because so much of Trump’s credibility with other players in Washington rests on Kelly.

AND

If Kelly gets forced out, whatever he says will be hugely impactful. He knows all.

natesilver: Oh come on, you could have said the same about Steve Bannon.

And that pick — which I made in the fourth round last time — hasn’t aged well.

micah: No, I wouldn’t have said Bannon controlled the information flow.

And I wouldn’t have said that any of Trump’s credibility rested on Bannon.

natesilver: But you’d have said something equally bullshitty about him.

micah: lol

clare.malone: OK, you guys done fighting?

micah: Quiet power is still power!

perry: I think the dismissal of Kelly will be a big story if that happens. And if he stays, I think that means Trump has stayed somewhat normal (not fired Mueller, for example). Kennedy is big because the Supreme Court has big decisions coming up on gerrymandering and gay rights, and he is the swing vote. Kennedy could be No. 2.

natesilver: Yeah, the gerrymandering thing is a big deal for 2018, potentially.

micah: Lots of SCOTUS cases coming up that could literally redraw the political map.

harry: Just a quick add: I wouldn’t be surprised if John Roberts plays a bigger role than people think, so that may decrease Kennedy’s influence.

micah: OK, Clare with the No. 7 pick.

clare.malone: Vice President Mike Pence.

natesilver: Good pick.

micah: Hmmmm.

clare.malone: I think if the investigation of Trump goes … certain ways, Pence is on the up-and-up. And he’ll stop being so DL about his accumulation of power and dolla dolla bills.

Richard Nixon was only eventually forced out because he lost Gerald Ford’s vouching for him.

natesilver: I mean, there’s a nontrivial chance that Pence could become president next year, so start with that.

And if he turned on Trump, that would be a big deal too.

harry: I’ll add his being the tie-breaking vote in the Senate. That becomes a lot more nontrivial as Democrat Doug Jones of Alabama joins the chamber.

micah: Remember when Nate picked Obama in the first round?

natesilver: Obama was freaking president for part of this year! I don’t see how one can justify taking Kelly over Pence.

micah: Odds are that Pence will not have any official power when 2018 ends.

perry: Pence will not break from Trump. Or say anything interesting. Pence had virtually no influence in 2017. I guess former national security adviser Michael Flynn lying to him and Pence allegedly being mad about it mattered. I think.

micah: That’s the modal outcome.

Right. I’m with Perry.

natesilver: We’re drafting for UPSIDE, though. Trust the process.

micah: Stop making up new goals for the draft.

We’re drafting for POWER!

harry: Remember when Pence led a movement that got Franken expelled? Oh, wait. That was Gillibrand. That’s why my pick was freaking awesome.

Thank you.

micah: OK, Perry with the No. 8 pick.

perry: Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader.

harry: I got no beef with that pick.

micah: I do.

natesilver: One could argue that the Senate isn’t going to pass much in 2018.

clare.malone: Yeah, that’s why I wouldn’t pick him that high.

I think McConnell will not only see a post-tax bill ebb in Washington power, but he’s a toxic force out there in the states for Republicans who are running as anti-establishment.

micah: +1,000,000

perry: Confirmations matter, and they go through the Senate, including if a seat on the Supreme Court opens up or the secretary of state needs to be replaced. Also, the only real Russia investigation in Congress is happening in the Senate. And McConnell, unlike Pence or House Speaker Paul Ryan, might really break with Trump in some strong way. Remember how McConnell behaved in August? McConnell is also likely to fight in primaries against Tea Party candidates.

micah: He might fight them, but he’ll lose.

natesilver: Perry is right. McConnell is clearly better than anyone else on the board.

harry: You wanna bet, Nathaniel? I bet you my pick crushes.

clare.malone: Do tell.

micah: With the No. 9 pick, Harry selects …

natesilver: Harry just said, “I can’t remember the name.”

micah: Not a great sign.

harry: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Nailed it, boom. (Note: I fully expect him to be fired soon.)

natesilver: Wait, are you messing with us?

micah: Are you deliberately throwing this?

harry: I love this draft!

clare.malone: Performance art.

micah: Make your argument.

natesilver: No, let’s not waste anyone’s time.

Just move on to the next pick.

micah: I mean, these drafts are always 50 percent farcical. But, Harry …

harry: I saw “The Disaster Artist” this weekend. I just think we hear more about Tillerson than most administration officials. Foreign policy is going to be a big deal. His firing could set off a firestorm.

micah: That’s not totally crazy.

Nate with the No. 10 pick.

natesilver: OK. I’m going with House Speaker Paul Ryan.

micah: 💤

harry: In all seriousness, I nearly went with Ryan. I just thought it was boring.

micah: He might not even be speaker soon.

natesilver: He’s probably on the way out the door. But in some ways, that makes him more “dangerous” in the short run. He could do things that are politically unpopular with the general public — like big cuts to welfare programs.

Or he could turn on Trump since he was a lame duck anyway.

clare.malone: I think Ryan is too much of a party guy to ever do that

micah: He’ll say, “I have serious concerns about the president’s decision.”

natesilver: Yeah, I think Mueller would rise above that level.

What if Trump fires Mueller? And Ryan is worried about trying to protect his majority, or at least mitigate the damage?

perry: If he pushes a Medicare reform/cuts plan, that has the potential to turn a wave into whatever is worse than a wave. Ryan as a lame duck is a big policy danger for Republicans. He favors stuff that is even more unpopular than this tax plan.

micah: Nate, pick.

natesilver: OK, with the No. 11 pick, I take Chief Justice John Roberts.

I got ALL THREE BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT, YO!!!!

clare.malone: I do respect spreading the power.

micah: That was my original team.

Harry, with No. 12.

natesilver: Harry’s gonna pick Ralph Northam.

harry: I select Mike Rounds. I’m kidding. I’m going with Jeff Sessions.

micah: Good pick.

natesilver: “Fine.”

harry: I DID IT!!!!!!

perry: Sessions has big policy influence; less on discourse. But I think he set most of his policies in 2017.

micah: Perry, please pick the No. 13 person.

perry: Sean Hannity, Fox News host.

He really matters to the conservative discourse. And I think he is going to defend Trump in ways that are problematic for the rest of the party, like leading the push to fire Mueller or Rosenstein.

harry: Hannity is this draft’s version of me picking Rachel Maddow.

clare.malone: No, I think it’s a good pick.

micah: That’s a hard pick to judge.

clare.malone: Hannity influences the GOP base enormously.

micah: Or does he just reflect the base? Is he the tail or the dog?

perry: I agree that it’s hard to measure his impact on discourse.

natesilver: One might argue that Hannity doesn’t have that much influence because there’s no chance he’ll turn on Trump.

He’s not a “swing” vote, so to speak.

harry: Hannity is a partisan. He toes the party line.

perry: Micah is right: I’m not sure. I think my question is not if he will swing against Trump, but does he call for things (firing Mueller or Rosenstein, for example) that are extreme, and thus put the party in a bind.

micah: Clare, with the No. 14 pick!!!

clare.malone: You guys are going to ridicule me, but…

Steve Bannon

micah: Clare.

☹

clare.malone: Bannon is still going to make trouble in Republican primaries and cause chaos. That’s a power of sorts. And it could cost the party seats.

micah: True.

natesilver: That’s not a ridiculous pick, but something feels weird about how Bannon went from being picked in the fourth round last time to the third round this time.

He might have some influence, but I don’t buy that he has more influence on the outside than the inside.

Also, it seems possible that some of the people in his orbit will peel off after the Roy Moore debacle.

clare.malone: I definitely think that could happen. But he’s a powerful enough pest to be a pest for the full year.

micah: OK, so with the No. 15 pick, I select Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

harry: Oh lord.

micah: If the GOP tries to do entitlement reform in 2018, Collins will wield a ton of power.

harry: Unless there’s a senator absent, she needs another partner in crime to wield power.

natesilver: I mean … meh? There’s also a universe in which the Senate is split 50-50 after the November elections and she might think about switching parties.

micah: You beat me to it! Switching parties is an underrated possibility.

natesilver: It’s not that uncommon, historically.

micah: OK, so now let’s do the fourth round. Everyone give their picks, and then we’ll debate the whole round as a group. The order is me, Clare, then Perry, then Harry, then Nate.

With the No. 16 pick, I select Michael Flynn.

natesilver: “creative”

clare.malone: Mike Pompeo, CIA director.

perry: Mike Pompeo.

yuck

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

micah: Wow!

harry: Mitt Romney.

natesilver: Going to go with a little bit of a sleeper here … Kirsten Gillibrand.

micah: haha

harry: LOL.

natesilver: I’ll take Chuck Schumer.

harry: Should have gone with Bill de Blasio.

micah: Micah had the best pick that round.

Flynn could bring down the whole administration if there’s a there there!

natesilver: Is he credible enough to do so?

micah: He’ll likely have documentation

clare.malone: I think the kids call it “receipts.”

perry: Foreign policy is big, so Pompeo will matter if he stays at CIA or moves to the State Department. So that is why I was going to pick him.

Cotton is also an important adviser on foreign policy to Trump, whether he joins the Cabinet or not. If we are talking about war with North Korea, those two matter.

harry: I have no problem with Flynn as a pick. If Trump or people close to Trump go down because of Mueller, it’s likely that Flynn will play at least some role in that.

clare.malone: Perry has explained my pick.

Sorry for picking it, but great minds!

micah: OK, LAST ROUND!!!!!

Nate -> Harry -> Perry -> Clare -> Micah

natesilver: Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general.

harry: I’m panicking. I don’t know who to pick. It’s tough. It’s crazy out there. I’m going to select with the biggest pick that I’ve ever made …

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary.

micah: Jeez.

perry: Jared Kushner.

clare.malone: John Dowd, Trump attorney.

micah: Joe Biden.

harry: BIDEN?!

micah: He’s running. Will play a kingmaker role in midterms. Etc.

natesilver: Dan Quayle wasn’t available?

clare.malone: What about Bernie?

We maybe overlooked him.

micah: I’m very meh on Bernie.

harry: I’d like to reverse my selection and select Fritz Mondale.

perry: Bernie’s impact in terms of the Senate may be important as well. Biden campaigned for Jones, but did that matter?

I’m not so sure it did.

natesilver: One of the more interesting developments is how Bernie actually hasn’t been at the forefront of many of the conversations this year. That’s why I gravitated more toward people with some sort of official position of power. Still, Bernie deserved to go ahead of some of the more dubious picks in the last round or two.

micah: Lots of people who were picked last time were not picked this time: Hillary Clinton, Dan Coats, Ivanka Trump, Rupert Murdoch, Rachel Maddow!!!

perry: Ivanka Trump has really made no difference.

Lots of those pieces written about her were kind of a waste.

micah: Very much so.

natesilver: Who picked Kushner?

perry: I did.

Kushner matters to the Russia investigation, in that he will be cleared or not cleared and that matters.

natesilver: I thought that was an underrated pick in the sense of Kushner could give Trump some very bad advice … or Trump could pardon Kushner.

perry: Right.

micah: Trump pardoning Kushner doesn’t make Kushner powerful!

We have this debate every time! Power is active, not passive!!!!!!!!

OK, here are the teams:

Our 2018 ‘power draft’ teams
Round Nate Harry Perry Clare Micah
1 D. Trump K. Gillibrand R. Mueller N. Pelosi A. Kennedy
2 P. Ryan R. Tillerson M. McConnell M. Pence J. Kelly
3 J. Roberts J. Sessions S. Hannity S. Bannon S. Collins
4 C. Schumer M. Romney T. Cotton M. Pompeo M. Flynn
5 R. Rosenstein S.H. Sanders J. Kushner J. Dowd J. Biden

harry: My finest draft ever. I’ll be collecting my awards later today.

micah: OK, everyone vote for a winner. You can’t vote for yourself.

Then we’re done.

perry: Nate picked five people who are in the center of the action. That seems like the best plan and the best group.

micah: Ugh. I vote for Nate’s team too.

harry: I vote for myself.

micah: You can’t.

harry: If I don’t vote for myself, then who will?

micah: No one. Your team is bad.

harry: 😔

natesilver: Recusing my own team, I’d rank the other four teams:

  1. Perry
  2. Clare

[big gap]

  1. Micah

[really big gap]

  1. Harry

micah: lol

clare.malone: I vote for Nate’s, probably.

unfortunately

harry: Clare Malone.

micah: YAY!

Thanks all!

My main takeaway: Nate doesn’t appreciate John Kelly’s power.

Politics Podcast: Lessons From Alabama

FiveThirtyEight

 

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast team sorts through the various narratives that have emerged after Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in last week’s Alabama Senate election and discusses what the upset means for Democrats looking ahead to 2018. The crew also weighs the political implications of the Republican tax overhaul, which could get a final vote this week.

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.

The Great NFL Passing Boom Is Over. Hope You Enjoyed It!

In 2011, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints spearheaded an aerial assault on the NFL’s record books. Brees not only broke Dan Marino’s single-season passing record by 392 yards, he also led a small army of quarterbacks who either approached (Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning) or also surpassed (Tom Brady) the 27-year-old mark.

But that was just the beginning of a six-year offensive explosion that saw repeated leaguewide increases in passes thrown, total yards gained and points scored per game. In 2017, the Saints again boast the league’s most prolific offenseIn terms of total offensive yards.

“>1 — but this time, Brees is leading the charge in the other direction.

The Saints currently rank 18th in pass attempts — after finishing either first or second in eight of Sean Payton’s 11 full seasons as head coach. Brees is on pace for Saints-career lows in per-game pass attempts and yards — and the rest of the NFL is following suit. In one season, leaguewide passing attempts, passing effectiveness, total yardage and scoring rate stats have all reverted to pre-lockout norms. The revolution appears to be over; the question is why.

To understand the factors behind the NFL’s offensive implosion, we have to look at what ignited it in the first place.

Halfway through the 2011 season, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King had a roundtable of experts advance various theories — from the offseason lockout to the weather. Denver Broncos defensive back Champ Bailey hit on something big: a dramatic increase in the use of shotgun formation.

“What I want to know is, did college and pro coaches have some sort of secret meeting or something?” Bailey said. “Seems like there’s not the prejudice against the shotgun there used to be. Basically, what I see when I line up now is no more smashmouth football.”

In 1996, three years before Bailey entered the NFL, pro offenses lined up in shotgun formation on just 7 percent of snaps, according to Football Outsiders. By 2011, that figure had increased to 41 percent. In 2016, Chip Kelly’s San Francisco 49ers set a record, using shotgun on 99 percent of their plays. The leaguewide average for last season, 68 percent, matched the league high from just five years earlier.

In this decade, teams began throwing more and more. In 2010, the leaguewide per-game pass attempt average was 33.7; last season, it was 35.7. Offenses didn’t have a reason not to throw; it was working. In the 2015 season, NFL teams posted 6.41 net yards per attempt, the highest mark in half a century.

Per-game scoring rose from an average of 22.0 points in 2010 to 23.4 points in 2013 — an all-time high — before holding at 22.8 in 2015 and 2016. Total yards per game was already at an all-time high in 2010 (336.0); it rose almost every season afterward until peaking at 352.7 in 2015. The average number of first downs gained per game climbed from 18.9 to a best-ever 20.3 last season.

But this year is different. NFL teams have averaged 22.0 points per game, the fewest since 2010. Same goes for per-game yardage (337.1) and first downs gained (19.4). Per-game pass attempts have also dropped, to 34.2, the lowest since 2011.

Teams are passing less often, and they’re less effective when they pass. As a result, offensive output is down across the board.

As with the explosion, there are plenty of factors that are likely contributing, from the law of diminishing returns to a spate of quarterback injuries. The latter has forced the likes of Jacoby Brissett, Tom Savage and Brett Hundley into headlining roles for their offenses. It also seems that college and pro defensive coaches finally held their own secret meeting; NFL defenses have adjusted how they cover shotgun and spread-style offenses, smothering the short passing game.

Defenses are also getting after the passer much better than last year, sacking quarterbacks on 6.5 percent of dropbacks (up from 5.8 percent); that’s the second-highest sack rate since 2006.

Payton and the Saints set off the passing explosion, but now they’re on the leading edge of the implosion. The Saints used shotgun less frequently in 2016 than all but seven teams. This season, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group, they’ve run fewer plays in shotgun or pistol than all but four teams.

Payton was part of that 2011 roundtable interview, and what he said then still resonates.

Teams always pay close attention to how the Super Bowl champions play, Payton said. That year, the champs were the Aaron Rodgers-powered Green Bay Packers, whom Payton said “threw a lot more than they ran it, played good defense and broke the formula of what wins.” That’s “a good starting point in terms of 2011’s passing spike,” he said.

The team that everyone’s copying right now didn’t win the Super Bowl, but they came close.

The Atlanta Falcons used shotgun less than any other team during their 2016 run to the big game, lining up under center on 60 percent of snaps. The Falcons led the league in scoring, racking up 71 more points than the second-best Saints. They threw the ball just 537 times, seventh-fewest in the NFL, while finishing fifth in rushing yards thanks to a hot tailback tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

Payton seemed to follow suit. He bolstered his running game, adding tailbacks Adrian Peterson and Alvin Kamara, as well as free-agent guard Larry Warford. Peterson didn’t work out, but Warford and Kamara did — and now Kamara and Mark Ingram are one of the best running-back tandems of all time and the Saints are No. 1 in offensive yardage.

It’s difficult to imagine the NFL returning to the shotgun-averse state it was in when Bailey entered the league. Giving quarterbacks more time, a better look at the field and more options just has too many inherent advantages.

But teams that can both run and pass the ball well from under center will always be harder to defend, and teams that can’t throw the ball well are no longer putting up big numbers just by throwing it more.

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