West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith shined by completing 60-of-64 throws at his pro day in front of NFL scouts Thursday in Morgantown, West Virginia.Smith, who is considered to be one the best quarterback prospects in the 2013 draft, got off to slow start. He threw a 40-yard pass that had a lot of air under the ball and as the receiver turned to catch the ball, it got entrapped by a net hanging from the ceiling.“That net’s the best defender in the building,” Smith said jokingly after the workout to reporters.Smith, who threw for 4,205 yards and led the nation with 42 touchdown passes in 2012, also had two passes dropped and he overthrew two receivers, but managed to stay composed and have an impressive performance for the rest of the pro day.“Overall, I’ve had a fun time with this,” Smith said. “I guess we’ll see on draft day where that goes.”Smith just participated in last month’s NFL scouting combine, where he was limited to about 10-to-15 throws. One dimension that Smith displayed to scouts on Thursday was the ability to take snaps under center since he primarily worked out of a shotgun formation during his collegiate career with the Mountaineers. This allowed him to show his footwork, move around the pocket and throw to all areas of the field.“It was a lot easier than the combine,” Smith said. “For one, I wasn’t up for three days straight before doing this. I was able to get some rest just being back in Morgantown, which is my comfortable environment, and feeling good.”Smith has former Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke to thank for putting together a powerful workout that highlighted his skill set. Weinke is now the director of the IMG Football Academy in Bradenton, Fla.There were 29 NFL teams in attendance to take a look at Smith, but they also got a chance to look at wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Austin and Smith did not participate in the agility drills that were organized at the pro day.The 5-foot-8 Smith ran 4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash at last month’s NFL scouting combine, which was tied for the second-fastest time. He set the West Virginia school record with 2,910 all-purpose yards and ranked second nationally. Bailey led the nation with 25 TD receptions and was third with 1,622 receiving yards.But Austin’s main goal was to show scouts that his size will not be a detriment in the NFL. Austin and Bailey will have a private workout with the Panthers on Friday.After working out, Smith met with representatives from the Jacksonville Jaguars and said that he plans to visit at least another dozen NFL teams before the draft in April. He has a March 22 meeting with the Buffalo Bills and held a private workout with the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this week.“I do believe I have a good skill set,” Smith said. “The main thing they want to see is how I react in the classroom.”It remains uncertain where Smith will land, but many analysts for now predict him as the only lottery quarterback, which could change within the next month.
Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James (23) drives between Cleveland Cavaliers’ Jordan Clarkson, left, and Kyle Korver (26) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, in Cleveland. The Lakers won 109-105. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)CLEVELAND (AP) — Once the video tribute ended, a simple sentiment filled the giant scoreboard. Against a black backdrop, giant white letters delivered the heartfelt message.Cleveland wanted to say something.“THANK YOU, LeBRON,” it said.Eight years after he was treated like a thug, LeBron James was welcomed back properly.Back on the court where he performed for 11 seasons, and under the title banner he helped raise, James returned to Cleveland and rallied the Los Angeles Lakers to a 109-105 win on Wednesday night over the Cavaliers, who played their best game of the season against their former teammate but couldn’t stop him when it mattered most.James finished with 32 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists. He also scored or assisted on 11 straight points as the Lakers overcame a 99-91 deficit in the fourth quarter.But basketball took a backseat to James’ homecoming, which was so different than his return in 2010, when betrayed Cleveland fans unleashed their fury on him.There were no profane chants this time. No derogatory signs. No venom.Only love, and James felt it.“From the time we landed yesterday, it just felt a different way,” he said. “I’m a different person. We’re all different from eight years ago, both good and bad. But more importantly, this experience has been great. So it’s all about growth and we all have grown from that moment eight years ago. So I kind of leave the past in the past and always focus on the present and see what happens in the future.”The Cavs, who came in a league-worst 2-13, gave James and the Lakers all they could handle. And even after giving up an eight-point lead, they had a chance to tie late, but Kyle Korver missed a wide-open 3-pointer with 17 seconds left and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made four free throws in the final 15 to seal it for Los Angeles.Jordan Clarkson had 20 points and Tristan Thompson 14 and 15 rebounds for Cleveland.From the moment he stepped back onto Quicken Loans Arena floor, James was treated like a returning champion.On the night before Thanksgiving, Cleveland said thanks to the Northeast Ohio son, the one who ended the city’s 52-year championship drought.“A hero has come back,” Cavs coach Larry Drew said before tip-off.James was the last Lakers player introduced before the game, presented with a line familiar to all Cavs fans: “A 6-foot-8 forward from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School,” said arena announcer Sean Peebles. “Welcome home! LeBron James.”The crowd roared and stood as James walked out and huddled with his new teammates, who must have wondered what was in store for them.But unlike that ugly night of Dec. 2, 2010, when James returned with the Miami Heat and was subjected to a toxic, charged atmosphere of hatred unlike anything seen before or since, this was a night for celebration — and maybe more closure.James has moved on.Cleveland, too.With 8:09 left in the first quarter, James was saluted by the Cavs with a moving video tribute during a timeout. Images of James’ playing days with Cleveland — highlighted by the Cavs’ historic comeback to win the 2016 title — were shown along with video clips of his impact on the community, including his opening of the I Promise School in his hometown of Akron.James was touched by the presentation. He bit his lower lip while walking back onto court and pointed to all corners of the building in appreciation, his chance to reconnect with a fan base he’ll always share a special, if not complicated, relationship.“I appreciate these fans, just as much as they appreciate me,” he said. “Every single night we stepped on the floor, they always showed their appreciation to not only myself but to my teammates over these 11 years, especially the last four years —those championship runs that we were making. So that was just my salute to them for them appreciating what I was able to accomplish with my teammates and coaches along those four years.”TIP-INSLakers: Coach Luke Walton is impressed with James’ knack for blocking out external distractions. “The great ones have that ability,” he said. “When they’re on the basketball court nothing else matters, other than what they’re trying to do. Their focus level seems to somehow get higher with the louder the noise gets. I don’t know how. I don’t know why.”Cavaliers: Did not commit a turnover in the first half. … Starting G George Hill missed his sixth straight game with a sprained right shoulder sustained on Nov. 4. Hill has ramped up his on-court workouts in recent days and could be back soon. … Drew said he was unaware of Smith’s comments accusing the Cavs of “tanking.” Drew believes his team is playing hard, and promised to nothing but coach his team to win. “To coach to lose, I don’t understand that, I don’t know how to do that,” he said. “I don’t know how anybody can do that. That’s something I would never, ever do.”SCHOOL DAYEarlier in the day, James made a surprise visit to his I Promise School, a refurbished elementary for at-risk kids he founded and plans to expand.“It was grandparent’s day,” he said. “We kept it that way, we didn’t tell none of the kids until I actually walked into all six of the classrooms individually, spent a good amount of time with those classrooms, my third and fourth graders. It was great. It was a good way to go into Thanksgiving, all of being thankful, the great lives they’ve had.”HOME COOKINGFollowing the game, the Lakers feasted on hamburgers, french fries and shakes from Swenson’s, an Akron drive-in restaurant favored by James.Sitting at his locker, James sipped on a banana shake and smiled.“I’m good,” he said. “I got my hometown food.”UP NEXTLakers: Host Utah on Friday.Cavaliers: At Philadelphia on Friday.
162007Eagles811.7108-8 172014Chiefs810.4109-7 142014Eagles712.8710-6 32012Bears720.5610-6 132003Dolphins712.8910-6 22004Ravens821.189-7 RkYearTeamSeedDVOADVOA RkW-L 12005Chiefs724.4%510-6 The 2008 Patriots, with Matt Cassel at quarterback in place of an injured Tom Brady, are the only 11-5 team to miss the playoffs since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990. Out of the 64 teams who would have been a seventh or eighth seed, only 10 won at least 10 games, and 26 failed to win at least nine games. In most years, an expanded field would just add some marginal 9-7 teams.This season, the Lions and Seahawks would have made the playoffs in the NFC and the Ravens and Chargers would have made it in the AFC as seventh and eighth seeds. The quality of those extra playoff teams wouldn’t be too bad, but it’s not the norm. As you can see from the table above, the 2017 Ravens have the fourth-highest DVOA (18.5 percent) for a hypothetical seventh or eighth seed since 2002. Yet are we really going to miss not seeing a struggling Joe Flacco-led offense and a defense that couldn’t stop Andy Dalton on a 4th-and-12 with the season on the line?If there is an argument against the current playoff format, it would be the usage of tiebreakers. In the AFC, the Ravens, Chargers, Titans and Bills all finished with 9-7 records, but only two teams could claim the wild-card spots. It just so happens that the two teams that were outscored by their opponents (Tennessee and Buffalo) got in, while the two teams that outscored their opponents, each by more than 80 points, were left out. That’s a problem.Conference record was what saved the Bills and Titans here, but that ignores 25 percent of the schedule. If the NFL wants to promote winning at all costs and that every game counts, then performance in all 16 games should matter more. We don’t expect DVOA to come to the forefront of deciding which team goes to the playoffs, but maybe a simple rule that you can’t make the playoffs if you were outscored by 57 points like Buffalo was wouldn’t be so bad. In Week 11 against the Chargers, Buffalo benched Tyrod Taylor for Nathan Peterman, who proceeded to throw five interceptions on route to a 54-24 drubbing. And yet the 9-7 Bills are playing this weekend, while the 9-7 Chargers (plus-83 scoring differential) are at home. Something is off there.The next step in improving the NFL playoffs shouldn’t be getting more teams in but making sure the best teams are getting into the tournament. Let’s hope Goodell steers the conversation that way the next time this inevitably comes up.Check out our latest NFL predictions. 52002Patriots815.779-7 One of the key findings is that the average No. 4 seed has a DVOA of just 6.0 percent, which is roughly half of the average No. 5 (11.1 percent) and No. 6 seeds (12.3 percent). This is still higher than that of the average No. 7 (4.9 percent) and No. 8 seeds (3.5 percent). This suggests that the move from three divisions to four may not be working out too well, since the final division winner that gets the No. 4 seed is often an unimpressive team. The 2010 Seahawks infamously went 7-9 (30th in DVOA) but, with their home-field advantage, still knocked off the Saints in the playoffs that year. The 2014 Panthers made the playoffs with a 7-8-1 record (24th in DVOA) and won a playoff game over an Arizona team that had the dreadful Ryan Lindley at quarterback because of injuries to its top two passers.Would we really be adding more quality teams with extra seeds? The following table shows the top 20 teams in DVOA that would have been seeded seventh or eighth since 2002. 42017Ravens718.579-7 82009Steelers814.2109-7 202007Browns79.71210-6 102012Giants813.479-7 192009Texans79.7149-7 On Sunday, Seattle kicker Blair Walsh missed a 48-yard field goal with 32 seconds left, ensuring that the Seahawks would lose to Arizona, fall to 9-7 and miss the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Even before the kick, Seattle knew its playoff fate was sealed thanks to Atlanta clinching the last playoff spot with a win over Carolina in a game that had just wrapped up.But what if Walsh’s kick had been the difference between Seattle making the playoffs and the Detroit Lions, who also finished 9-7, getting into the tournament as a seventh seed? Lions head coach Jim Caldwell certainly wouldn’t have been fired on Monday if his team were in the playoffs for the third time in four years. Walsh’s kick would have carried so much more pressure that he probably would have been even wider right on the miss.That type of memorable finish in Week 17 is just part of what the NFL has in mind when talking about the idea of playoff expansion. In May 2014, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expected the league to expand the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams for 2015. It never happened, and despite Goodell’s statement in 2016 that it would likely happen at some point, all is quiet on the playoff expansion front.But does the NFL really need more playoff teams? The NBA and NHL use 16 playoff teams, but that makes some of the first-round matchups a chore (and a bore) to watch. NFL teams already play only 16 games a season, so that exclusivity with only 12 teams qualifying should be considered a positive, not a problem.This is the 16th season with the current playoff format of 12 teams making the tournament from eight divisions. That actually makes this the longest-running playoff format that the NFL has used since the advent of the Super Bowl, and it’s hard to argue with the success the NFL has enjoyed in the current makeup. Some sixth seeds in this era, such as the 2005 Steelers and 2010 Packers, went on incredible runs all the way to championships. The four coveted first-round byes tend to produce a fascinating divisional round weekend where fans can usually count on at least one shocking upset.Is the system perfect? Of course not, but it has been working quite well at creating memorable postseasons and deserving champions. Aside from the potential logistical problems of an expanded field — a 14-team playoff, for instance, would require six games played on wild-card weekend — the biggest argument against expansion is that the league can barely put 12 quality teams into the tournament as is. This is a brutal sport with plenty of significant injuries that inevitably weaken contenders come January. Just last year, the AFC playoffs featured games started by Matt Moore (Miami), Connor Cook (Oakland) and Brock Osweiler (Houston) because of late-season injuries to starting quarterbacks. We’re getting Nick Foles on the top-seeded Eagles this year because of Carson Wentz’s injury, and LeSean McCoy’s status is up in the air for the Bills this weekend.Now that could be brushed off as bad luck, but the statistics also show the drop in quality of teams once you get to a hypothetical seventh or especially eighth seed in each conference. Football Outsiders uses Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, or DVOA (further explained here), to measure a team’s efficiency. We charted the average DVOA for a team by its conference seed since 2002, and we found that seventh and eighth seeds were clearly a notch below wild-card teams. 62010Chargers715.489-7 The best teams to just miss the playoffsHighest DVOA among both conferences’ theoretical No. 7 and No. 8 seeds for the NFL playoffs, 2002-2017 122010Giants713.0910-6 152015Jets712.4910-6 92011Jets813.5108-8 182013Cardinals710.01010-6 112008Patriots713.1911-5 72002Broncos715.289-7 Source: Football Outsiders
NBA free agency started with a bang Sunday afternoon, when news emerged that superstar Kevin Durant would be leaving the Golden State Warriors to sign a four-year deal with the Brooklyn Nets. The move comes days after it became clear that fellow star Kyrie Irving would be ditching the Boston Celtics to sign with Brooklyn, which just reached the playoffs for the first time since 2015.The agreements mark an enormous shift for the Nets, a franchise that was in the doldrums for years after being on the losing end of what many, in hindsight, called one of the worst trades in NBA history. And perhaps more important on a macro level, the Durant deal decreases the likelihood of the Warriors — who figured to be hobbled this coming season regardless — remaining as dominant as they once were. There’s a good chance the league could be wide open this coming season — and beyond, perhaps, if Kawhi Leonard doesn’t decide to sign with the Lakers.Yet it’s still difficult to size up what, exactly, this move means for the Nets in the immediate future because of the prognosis for Durant, who may not play at all this coming season after rupturing his Achilles during Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Achilles injuries are often devastating for NBA players, and we simply don’t know how the 30-year-old Durant, a near 7-footer with a skill set we’ve never seen, recovers from his. But even if Durant isn’t the force he once was when he returns, this signing puts the Nets in a conversation for a title they likely would not have been in otherwise.Irving figures to be a better and more consistent player than D’Angelo Russell. But his presence alone (or with players like DeAndre Jordan and Garrett Temple, who are also likely to sign with the Nets, per reports) likely won’t be enough to make Brooklyn the favorites to win the East in 2020 — not unless Kawhi Leonard leaves Toronto (which is a possibility), Jimmy Butler leaves Philadelphia (another possibility), and the 60-win, Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Milwaukee Bucks somehow take a considerable step back. Durant coming back before the end of the season might give Brooklyn that chance, but given what just happened earlier this month, that risk doesn’t really seem worth it for either side.Once he is healthy and ready to play, though, look out. The Nets had already developed a nearly ideal canvas for star players like Irving and Durant to add their creative paint to. Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie both had moments in which they shone during the team’s first-round loss to Philadelphia. Joe Harris was not only the 3-point champion at All-Star weekend but also led the NBA in 3-point percentage, at 47 percent. While Jarrett Allen is undersized as a center, he’s shown a fearlessness that bodes well at the rim, and Brooklyn found creative ways to maximize his talent there, by using sets that were essentially one-man zone schemes. The club once found itself on the receiving end of more missed calls than any other NBA team in clutch scenarios, but now has bonafide stars who figure to get the benefit of the doubt in late-game spots.Irving and Durant join a team that’s been praised for its strategy, both from a front-office standpoint and on the court. Without all the draft picks they sent away in that fateful deal for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, Nets general manager Sean Marks gambled on solid young players who were discarded by their original franchises. Some, like Dinwiddie, were simply found in free agency. Others came over in trades, when opposing clubs decided they wanted to dump talent to free up cap space or to lower their luxury-tax bills. Brooklyn saw this as an opportunity to rummage for potential treasure, while also collecting future picks to make up for the ones it lost in the Celtics deal.On the court, the strategy was just as wise. Under coach Kenny Atkinson, the Nets began utilizing a Moreyball-style shot chart, prioritizing looks around the rim and from deep, while largely eschewing midrange jumpers. On defense, they have done the exact opposite, luring opponents into some of the most inefficient shots in the game. It all played a big part in making the Nets competitive again and building them into a playoff team. And for all the talk surrounding the possibility of Durant and Irving joining the Knicks, this was one area in which they simply couldn’t compete with their rivals across the East River.But the Nets have added the finishing touches on what, until now, was simply a strong base.Brooklyn just pulled off whatever a four-year-long episode of “Fixer Upper” would look like. The Nets took a house that essentially no one would have wanted, tore it down to the studs, and now, with Irving and Durant, could be the hottest ticket in town. They were last in attendance in 2018-19, but that — and perhaps the NBA landscape as a whole — figures to change. That’s the power of signing a player like Kevin Durant, even if he doesn’t return quite as dominant as he was prior to the Achilles injury.
Gale Sayers1.8 Walter Payton0.4 Kobe Bryant1.6✓Jesse Owens0.7 Serena Williams1.1✓Walter Payton1.5✓ Simone Biles1.1 Pele1.9 Stephen Curry0.7 Shaquille O’Neal0.5 Kevin Durant0.9 * Significant if higher than 90% confidence level. Poll for The Undefeated’s “50 Greatest Black Athletes.”Source: Surveymonkey Arthur Ashe0.8 VOTERS UNDER 35DIFF.SIG.*VOTERS 35 AND UPDIFF.SIG. Pele0.9 Jackie Joyner-Kersee0.5 Julius Erving0.8 Jerry Rice0.8 LeBron James0.6 Gale Sayers0.8 Carl Lewis0.7 Isiah Thomas0.9 Floyd Mayweather0.4 Differences in ratings of black athletes by rater’s age Gale Sayers0.3 As we’ll see throughout this exercise, not all of the differences in voting between groups were statistically significant.3Using the standard errors of the poll data sent to us by SurveyMonkey, we set up confidence intervals around the difference in each group’s average composite score. Then we used those intervals to determine which differences in an athlete’s ratings were significant at the 90 and 95 percent levels — meaning we are reasonably confident that the true difference in ratings between groups is not zero. However, some were — and few more so than the male-female split over Serena Williams, one of history’s greatest athletes (full stop). Women ranked Williams as the third-best black athlete of all time; men slotted her at No. 13. She wasn’t alone in experiencing this kind of ratings gap: The five female athletes in the top 254Serena and Venus Williams, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and Wilma Rudolph. were all rated higher on average by women who took the survey than by men. Apparently even data sets can’t avoid the argument over where the top female athletes would rank in comparison with their male counterparts.On the opposite side, legendary running back Walter Payton was rated much higher by men than by women — in fact, when you sort athletes by how much better they were ranked by men than women, four of the top six were football players.By age Two athletes stand out as having significantly more support among nonwhite voters than white ones: Serena Williams and Kobe Bryant. Out of the 60 athletes who received composite scores, Bryant was ranked dead last by white voters, which was one of the big reasons he — shockingly — didn’t crack The Undefeated’s top 50. (Nonwhite voters ranked him at No. 34.)Williams was arguably even more affected by white voters. Nonwhite respondents placed her as first on the entire list, while white voters placed her 11th overall; the two groups’ combined numbers put her as No. 6 overall in The Undefeated’s ranking.It’s also interesting to note that although none of the white voters’ preferences rise to the level of statistical significance, the top three athletes rated notably higher by white respondents — Jesse Owens, Bill Russell and Jackie Robinson — each took major strides in breaking down barriers that kept African-Americans from full and equal participation in their sports. The question of how race shaped Americans’ notion of what makes a great black athlete deserves a longer look, and our colleague Jerry Bembry is diving into that later today at The Undefeated.Taken together, all these differences in voting patterns tell a complex story about how race, gender and culture help determine how an athlete is viewed — and ultimately how his or her legacy is appraised. Although some biases are predictable (for instance, older fans think athletes were better back in their day), some are more surprising. Measuring these trends serves as an invitation to a broader conversation about what we value most in sports and why.Read more: The Undefeated’s list of the 50 greatest black athletes Stephen Curry0.1 Bo Jackson0.1 Jim Brown0.8 Magic Johnson0.7 Wilma Rudolph0.8 Ray Robinson1.4 Willie Mays1.2 Serena Williams1.3✓Bill Russell0.7 Michael Johnson0.4 FEMALE VOTERSDIFF.SIG.*MALE VOTERSDIFF.SIG. Usain Bolt0.2 Ernie Banks1.4 Arthur Ashe0.4 Ken Griffey Jr.0.5 After a month of counting down the list, our friends at The Undefeated have finally reached the top 10 in their ranking of the 50 greatest black athletes of all time. The top of the heap includes some easy calls but also a few surprises.You can read more about the ranking methodology here, but in essence, The Undefeated and SurveyMonkey conducted a poll of American adults, asking them to rate a pool of celebrated black athletes in categories including their on-field1Or on-court, or on-ice, or — well, you get the idea. dominance and their influence on society. Those results were then used to create a composite score that eventually determined the top 50.The poll’s responses were weighted to make sure they reflect the demographics of the country as a whole, but not every segment of society agreed on how every player should be ranked. Using the survey’s composite scores,2Which are made up of a player’s grades in each component category and range from about 18 to 21. we broke down how voting groups differed when grading the athletes:By gender Joe Frazier1.2 Reggie Jackson0.7 Kobe Bryant1.8✓Hank Aaron2.2✓ LeBron James0.6 Muhammad Ali0.1 When we split voters up by age (voters under 35 versus voters age 35 and up), a few interesting trends emerge. The most obvious is that younger respondents tended to give higher marks to younger players: Aside from Muhammad Ali and Bo Jackson — both icons — every member of the list of players most favored by younger fans is under 50; conversely, the youngest member of the group most favored by older fans is Joe Frazier, who would be 73 if he hadn’t passed away in 2011.The older cohort of voters also seemed to have a higher opinion of athletes in general, rating the entire pool about 0.6 points better, on average, than their younger counterparts did, and rating 14 players at least a full point higher than the under-35 group did.By race * Significant if higher than 90% confidence level. Poll for The Undefeated’s “50 Greatest Black Athletes.”Source: Surveymonkey Roberto Clemente1.6 Differences in ratings of black athletes by rater’s race Wilt Chamberlain0.5 Derek Jeter0.6 Wilma Rudolph0.9 Differences in ratings of black athletes by rater’s gender Sugar Ray Leonard0.9 Jim Brown1.2 * Significant if higher than 90% confidence level. Poll for The Undefeated’s “50 Greatest Black Athletes.”Source: Surveymonkey Serena Williams0.2 Derek Jeter0.7 Bill Russell1.3 LeBron James1.2 Scottie Pippen0.5 Arthur Ashe1.7 NONWHITE VOTERSDIFF.SIG.*WHITE VOTERSDIFF.SIG. Pele0.5 Larry Fitzgerald0.3 Muhammad Ali0.6 Bo Jackson0.2 Jackie Robinson0.6 Gabby Douglas0.8
Atlanta’s offense isn’t as explosive anymoreTeam stats between the 2016 and 2017 regular seasons Atlanta finished the game against Los Angeles with 124 rushing yards on 39 carries (3.2 yards per carry) — or a slightly more respectable 119 yards on 33 carries by players other than Matt Ryan — against a Rams defense that finished 30th in the league in that category, giving up 4.7 rushing yards per attempt. This was possible because the Rams committed a lot of resources to stopping the run, but Atlanta never took advantage.The Rams didn’t need to panic. Even though the Falcons forced them to stack the box, Atlanta never looked like a threat to capitalize on that and break the game open. Yet after that 16-play drive to open the second half, Rams running back Todd Gurley had just six carries for the remainder of the game and caught only a few short passes. The Rams trailed for most of the game but racked up 7.2 yards per carry when they ran it, including 101 yards on 14 carries by Gurley. Against a Falcons team with just four double-digit wins this season (against seven in the 2016 regular season), and which saw steep declines in big plays, L.A. limited the most effective part of its offense in a game that was going to remain close no matter what.The Falcons get the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round, and with Nick Foles under center for Philly, Atlanta may run out to another early lead. If that happens, the Eagles would be well-served to treat the Falcons’ offense as it exists this season, not worry about it magically ramping up to last season’s levels — Atlanta hasn’t cracked 30 points since November. On offense, the Eagles are fourth in yards per rushing attempt this season, and they aren’t a huge risk to go pass-heavy with Foles at quarterback anyway. But Philadelphia not only has a solid ground game, it also has a defense that limits big plays, ranking 10th in the league in yardage gained on plays of 20 yards or more despite playing with a lead for most of the season.Further reason for Philadelphia to play within itself: Even if the 2016 Falcons’ offense does materialize, the Eagles were one of the only teams to slow Atlanta last season, holding the offense to its second lowest yardage output of the year and its lowest points total. So worst case, the Eagles’ defense can punch its weight with theoretical max. But we haven’t seen much, if anything, to suggest that the Falcons offense of old will line up this weekend.Check out our latest NFL predictions. At the start of the second half of the wild-card game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Los Angeles Rams, the Falcons received the kickoff and set off on a 16-play drive that lasted more than eight minutes and included 11 rushing attempts. It ended with a field goal. To hear many observers tell it, this was a turning point, a moment in which the Falcons finally asserted their commitment to running the ball, finally protecting a lead the way they ought to have in last season’s Super Bowl, when they squandered a 28-3 lead. Fair enough. But it was also indicative of a season-long trend for Atlanta: These Falcons aren’t built to run away with the game, so they may be best served running out the clock.The decline in the Atlanta offense after former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan left in the offseason is well-documented. New coordinator Steve Sarkisian has been under fire seemingly from jump, accused of running a less ambitious version of the Atlanta offense under Shanahan, sending players in motion less often and under-utilizing star wideout Julio Jones.The declines have come across the board but have been most glaring in scoring, especially in the red zone. The Falcons dipped from first in points scored in 2016 (540) to 15th in 2017 (353), and from eighth in red-zone touchdown percentage to 23rd. The offense has fared better when it simply has to gain yardage (it ranked third in yards per drive), but the scoring offense has not improved. And if the Falcons can’t be trusted to score, the strategies teams employ against them probably shouldn’t assume they will. Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group Red-zone TD percentage6250-12 Double-digit wins74-3 Yards per game on plays of 20+ yards170119-51 30-point games114-7 20162017Change
Tom Watson19709.89.68.9 Ernie Els1994—9.49.8 Tiger and Jack move the Masters ratings needleAverage Sunday Nielsen rating by player performance, 1958-2017 Average rating Tiger Woods199511.610.08.7 Bubba Watson20087.57.58.7 Player1st mastersWonTop 10Other* Gary Player195126.96.36.199 Jack Nicklaus195910.49.58.9 Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and Phil Mickelson also boast one Masters victory apiece with a Sunday rating of 10.5 or better, though all of Palmer, Watson and Mickelson’s other wins were below average in terms of viewership.6Faldo’s two other wins drew above-average viewership.And that matters. From a ratings perspective, viewers don’t seem to care very much who’s battling it out atop the leaderboard on the final day of the Masters — unless it’s Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus. In the table below, you can see how television ratings increase with the success of those two. Statistics bear this out, too. High finishes by Woods and Nicklaus are the only variables I identified that have a statistically significant effect on Sunday ratings. There’s no bounce when most other big names do well — and in many cases, there’s a decline. Jordan Spieth20188.8.131.52 Phil Mickelson199184.108.40.206 Seve Ballesteros19778.08.88.8 Rory McIlroy2009—7.88.8 Jose Maria Olazabal198220.127.116.11 Greg Norman1981—9.48.6 Billy Casper19518.104.22.168 And what about when lesser-known golfers take home the green jacket — like if Tony Finau or Bernd Wiesberger were to make a run on Sunday after solid starts? In those cases, CBS should hope they’re dueling with Tiger Woods. When Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel and Trevor Immelman won in 2013, 2011 and 2008, respectively, Tiger finished in the top five. Those Sundays saw an average rating of 9.2. Meanwhile, Danny Willett and Mike Weir’s victories — with Woods out of the tournament in 2016 and out of the top 10 in 2003 — produced an average final-round rating of 8.0. In fact, since Tiger burst onto the scene in 1997, the five lowest-rated final rounds have coincided with his three Masters absences and two worst finishes.Even Mickelson — who has long been one of the most popular golfers on tour — didn’t move the Masters rating needle on his own. Before Lefty finally won his first title at Augusta in 2004, he was the best golfer without a major and had finished in the top 10 at a major 17 times. And yet, his narrative garnered the Masters a 7.3 rating, at the time the fourth lowest since 1958. This may have had to do with Tiger being well off the lead that Sunday, finishing tied for 22nd.7The final round of the 2004 Masters also started one hour early because of the possibility of inclement weather. Flash-forward to 2010: Woods — who was playing in the wake of scandal — was competing with Mickelson and others in a dramatic final round on Sunday. Phil would win his third green jacket, Woods finished tied for fourth, and the broadcast notched a 10.7 rating, sixth highest ever.8Mickelson’s second Masters victory in 2006 produced a below-average 8.4 rating despite Tiger finishing tied for third. Woods had won in 2005, and each time he’s pursued a repeat, ratings have declined from the year before.Masters ratings are ultimately influenced by more than just who’s in the mix toward the end of the final round. But when you’re basking in the Masters theme song and Bob Ross-like whispers of CBS’s Jim Nantz this Sunday, rest assured that if he’s calling Tiger’s name on 18, CBS will be enjoying the type of ratings that only Woods (or Nicklaus) can create. Tiger Woods returned to the Masters on Thursday for the first time since 2015, shooting an opening-round 1-over 73 and slotting into 29th place headed into Friday. One year after his fourth back surgery — and six months removed from talk that he might never play competitive golf again — the 42-year-old is in the midst of a highly anticipated comeback.So far, Woods has delivered. He finished in the top five at back-to-back PGA Tour events in March, and television ratings, ticket prices and fan excitement have swelled with his return. And that got me wondering — just how much of an impact does Woods have on television ratings for the Masters? Considering that the likes of Jordan Spieth (first place through round one) and Rory McIlroy (tied for fourth) remain in contention as we near the weekend, are they a decent enough consolation prize for CBS if Woods falls off pace by Sunday?I looked back at the event’s national Nielsen ratings since 1958,1CBS first televised the Masters in 1956, covering the final four holes. There are no Nielsen ratings available for that telecast. In 1957, CBS aired one hour of Sunday Masters coverage, earning a rating of 3.0. Given the limitations, I excluded those two years from this analysis. showing the percentage of TV-owning households tuning in, with an eye toward some of golf’s biggest names — players who commonly appear on lists of the “greatest golfers of all time,”2Excluding golfers who played or peaked before CBS began televising the Masters. those who have won the Masters multiple times in the television era and a couple of recent winners. I specifically focused on the ratings for Masters Sunday, when the four-day tournament’s final round is usually played.3The Masters has concluded on Monday six times since 1958. In 1961, 1973 and 1983, the final round was completed on Monday because of rain earlier in the tournament. In 1962, 1966 and 1970, players who were tied for the lead after the final round competed in an 18-hole playoff on Monday. The Masters switched to a sudden-death playoff in 1976. I elected to show Sunday ratings to maintain consistency of day, as Monday afternoon telecasts can be subject to ratings drop-offs.Tiger Woods’s first two Masters victories, in 1997 (14.1 Sunday rating) and 2001 (13.3), produced the highest Sunday ratings in event history — about 50 percent above the long-term average. In ratings terms, that’s roughly on par with last year’s college football national championship and the deciding game of the NBA Finals. In 1997, Woods became the youngest champion at the Masters, set a new margin-of-victory record and shot the tournament’s lowest-ever 72-hole score.4270, equaled by Jordan Spieth in 2015. Ratings came back to earth when he won again in 2002 (9.2) and 2005 (9.8) but were still above average. The next three highest-rated rounds came in 1975 (11.9), 1972 (11.8) and 1966 (10.9),5The 1966 Monday playoff between Jack Nicklaus, Tommy Jacobs and Gay Brewer earned a Nielsen rating of 12.0. when Jack Nicklaus won three of his six green jackets. Nick Faldo19722.214.171.124 *Includes tournaments in which the player made the cut but finished outside the top 10Sources: PGA Tour, GolfStats.com, CBS Press Express, USA Today Ben Crenshaw197126.96.36.199 Sergio García199188.8.131.52 Arnold Palmer195184.108.40.206 Bernhard Langer198220.127.116.11 Vijay Singh199410.08.89.5 Lee Trevino1968—9.99.1
With the score tied, 17 seconds to play, and a No. 1 ranking and unblemished record at stake, most teams in college basketball would turn to their savvy veteran to deliver the win. Not Ohio State. When the Buckeyes’ perfect season was in jeopardy against Northwestern on Saturday night it was freshman forward Jared Sullinger who was called on to lead his team to victory. “As soon as we got the steal, I looked up and there was 15 seconds on the shot clock,” senior forward David Lighty said. “Coach (Thad Matta) kind of looked at me and I said, ‘Keep going, keep going,’ and they had the play set up for us, and we just ran it right then and there and it worked to perfection.” “Perfection,” in this case, meant finding Sullinger in the post, where he was able to draw a foul and drain one of his two free throws to secure the nerve-racking 58-57 win. Despite Sullinger’s relative inexperience at the collegiate level, his teammates said they have total confidence in his ability to deliver. Students’ take on 2010-2011 Ohio State men’s basketball team by RMSchanz “That’s a play we like to go to, throw it to him in the post and let him make the best decision,” freshman point guard Aaron Craft said. “He has our confidence to make the right decision. If he is open then he will do what he did tonight, and if not, he’ll make the pass out.” Sullinger is no stranger to having the ball in his hands with the game on the line. The 6-foot-9 forward led his Northland High School team to a state Final Four appearance in 2008 and won an Ohio state championship the following season. And although the game programs list Sullinger as a freshman, he said that doesn’t matter once he steps on the court. “On the court I try to carry myself as a man and just play like a man, like my dad always told me to play like,” Sullinger said. “As soon as I step inside that rectangle, it’s an automatic switch that I have had ever since I was young.” Matta said he recognizes the freshman’s ability to flip that switch and perform at crunch time. Though Sullinger is just 22 games into his freshman campaign, Matta has no problem putting the game in the star forward’s hands. “I knew we were going to get a pretty good look at it,” Matta said of his team’s final possession against Northwestern. “He’s got a knack; he’s hit some big shots and some big free throws in his career, and we were pretty pleased.” The Buckeyes return to action when they host Michigan at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Do the Buckeyes have revenge on their minds coming into Saturday’s game against Wisconsin? In a word, no. On Oct. 16, 2010, OSU, then the No.1-ranked team in the country, was upset, 31-18, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. The Badgers went on to win a share of the Big Ten title and advanced to play in the 2011 Rose Bowl. First-year OSU head coach Luke Fickell said the Buckeyes won’t forget the feeling of last season’s loss in Madison, but added that this season’s game against Wisconsin is not about redemption. “None of us forget the feeling,” Fickell said. “That’s probably the most important thing. You learn from losses. You learn how to react and respond. But you never forget the feeling. That’s the one thing I reminded them (the players) of. We’re not going to dwell upon last year.” How will Wisconsin react to its first loss of the season? Will the Badgers’ loss to Michigan State cause them to fold or be motivated? The Badgers took their first loss of the 2011 season last Saturday when Michigan State senior quarterback Kirk Cousins’ last-second, Hail Mary pass was deflected, then caught by senior wide receiver Keith Nichol and later ruled a touchdown. Game officials reviewed the play, which ended with 00:00 remaining on the game clock, and ruled that the ball broke the plane of the end zone. That ruling ended the game and gave the Spartans a 37-31 win. OSU junior defensive tackle John Simon gave a players’ perspective on rebounding from a loss, and he said he doesn’t expect Wisconsin to lay down for OSU or anyone else. “You just got to move on,” Simon said. “Learn from it, watch tape the next day, make the corrections, come out fighting. They’re not going to back down or anything like that. We know we’re up for a fight on Saturday. We’re looking forward to it.” Which Wisconsin players could hurt the Buckeyes’ players on Saturday? We’ll get more specific than a blanket statement, but don’t doubt that the entire Wisconsin offensive unit could potentially hurt the Buckeyes. Wisconsin is second in the Big Ten in red zone efficiency, scoring on 36-of-38 trips inside their opponents’ 20-yard lines. Of those 36 scores, 32 were touchdowns. As far as specific players are concerned, fifth-year senior quarterback Russell Wilson, a transfer from North Carolina State, will be the player to watch on Wisconsin. Wilson leads the Big Ten in passing yards per game, touchdowns and total passing yard with 254, 16 and 1,780, respectively. Wilson has formidable targets to throw to, of course. Sophomore Jared Abbrederis and senior Nick Toon are fourth and seventh in receiving yards per game in the Big Ten, respectively, and have combined for nine touchdowns. And you can’t forget junior back Montee Ball, who leads all Big Ten rushers with 768 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. What does OSU have to do to beat Bucky? To put it plainly, OSU needs to have a truly balanced offensive attack if they want to compete against the Badgers Saturday. Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller was 1-of-4 passing in OSU’s upset win against then-No.16-ranked Illinois on Oct. 15. By game’s end, the Buckeyes’ four passing attempts stood against 51 rushing attempts. Suffice it to say that a similar offensive formula will not work against Wisconsin, which boasts the No. 3 defense in the Big Ten. Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Jim Bollman is going to have to mix an occasional passing play into OSU’s game plan. Then, the offensive line has to protect Miller. Another big game from senior running back Daniel “Boom” Herron wouldn’t hurt either. Can the Buckeyes upset Wisconsin and shock the world on Saturday? OSU is coming off an impressive road win at Illinois and has had two weeks to prepare for Wisconsin. These factors, plus the electric Ohio Stadium atmosphere all seem to suggest the Buckeyes have at least a fighting chance against the Buckeyes. Wisconsin is the more talented team, but is coming off a potentially devastating road loss that may have knocked it out of BCS title race. The question is whether OSU can ride its momentum and the inevitable overflow of crowd support on Saturday to overcome a more skilled opponent. The Buckeyes could pull off the upset, but it isn’t likely. OSU has faced good individual players on opposing teams in 2011 and one decent team in Nebraska, but Wisconsin is still the class of the Big Ten. Saturday isn’t just a statement game for the Badgers, its a “we still think we’re a top-five team in the country and we’re going to show you why” game. Emotion will allow the Buckeyes to make a game of it on Saturday, but the better team will leave the ‘Shoe with a win. Final Score: Wisconsin 24, Ohio State 17