It’s been hard for me to escape the feeling that something’s off about NFL games this year. But that may be the league’s off-field problems coloring my perception of the on-field play — or the inevitable consequence of living in New York City and having the Jets and Giants force-fed into my living room. Statistically, everything has been pretty normal. Through the first two weeks of the season, the average margin of victory has been 12 points — exactly in line with the historical average. There have been a number of upsets, but not any more or fewer than usually occur early in the year.Week 3 is headlined by a marquee matchup: The Denver Broncos are traveling to Seattle for a Super Bowl rematch against the Seahawks. A less sexy but perhaps equally important game will take place in Glendale, Arizona: the San Francisco 49ers vs. the Arizona Cardinals. The Seahawks and 49ers lost last week, and both play in the NFL’s toughest division, the NFC West. So another loss could be trouble.Let’s go to the magnetic data-storage tape, or rather, to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL Elo ratings. Elo ratings are a “vintage” statistical formula that we’ve brought to life for the NFL. They account for margin of victory, home-field advantage, strength of schedule, prior years’ performance and nothing else — for more on how they work, click here.Last week, we referred to the presence of a “Big Three” in the NFL: the Seahawks, 49ers and Broncos. Those teams remain on top of the Elo ratings, although by a narrower margin. The Niners shed 41 Elo points last week, more than any other team, and the New England Patriots nearly overtook them. Perhaps Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have a vintage year left in them?Any matchup involving the Seahawks, Broncos, 49ers and Patriots would be a good one for the NFL; they are among the more popular teams in the league. The NFL has been fairly lucky over the past several years to have high-profile or big-market teams involved late in the season. But it doesn’t always work out that way. I’m interested in the “Little Four” that lurk just behind the Big Three and rank No. 5 through No. 8 — in order: the Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, San Diego Chargers and Arizona Cardinals. These are good football teams, at least in Elo’s estimation. If you’re rooting for the underdog (and/or bad Super Bowl ratings), perhaps a Large Feline Bowl between the Panthers and Bengals is what you’re after.Below are the projected standings and playoff odds for each NFL team, which are calculated by taking the Elo ratings and simulating the rest of the season thousands of times.Seattle is 71 percent to make the playoffs. That isn’t bad, but it’s a little lower than you might expect for the best team in the league (and down from 81 percent last week). The problem is its division, which also includes the 49ers and the Cardinals; Elo has the Seahawks winning it just 40 percent of the time.The 49ers have still less room for error. Last week’s loss against the Chicago Bears dropped San Francisco to 57 percent to make the postseason, down from 78 percent after Week 1. A loss to a division rival like the Cardinals would probably push the Niners below even money.Other putative playoff contenders have lost twice — most notably, the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts’ probability of making the playoffs is just 40 percent, according to Elo, and they project to an 8-8 record.But the average 0-2 team makes the playoffs only 12 percent of the time. So Colts fans should be thankful. After facing good teams in Weeks 1 and 2, Indy has one of the league’s easiest remaining schedules. You could debate whether the Colts’ AFC South or the NFC East is the league’s worst division (Elo says it’s the AFC South). Indianapolis can be our randomized control trial — it gets to play both! Nine of the Colts’ remaining 14 games are against a team from one of these divisions.Furthermore, the Colts could win the AFC South with a middling record. In our simulations, they made the playoffs 60 percent of the time when they finished 9-7. And they did so a quarter of the time they ended the year at 8-8. Even a 7-9 record was good enough to get Indianapolis into the playoffs 7 percent of the time.For a down-on-its-luck team whose season is already over, look at the Oakland Raiders. They project to just a 3-13 record, according to Elo. And they have less than a 1 percent chance (0.8 percent, if you like decimal places) of making the playoffs.As bad as the Raiders are, those seem like aggressive calls so early in the year. But the Raiders have a tough schedule, with a game against the Patriots this week, two remaining games each against the Broncos and the Chargers, and games against all four NFC West teams. There’s even some chance of a winless season: the Raiders finished at 0-16 in about 6 percent of the Elo simulations. That’s not often, but it’s six times as often as they made the playoffs.Elo ratings can also be used to project point spreads, although we doubt you’d make a profit by betting on them. Last week, Elo had a 8-7 record against the betting lines as listed at Pro-Football-Reference.com, sitting out one game where its spread exactly matched the Vegas line. The Elo point spreads are 16-15 on the season so far against Vegas.This week, Elo has the Seahawks as three-and-a-half-point favorites against the Broncos, compared to four-and-a-half or five points in the Vegas line. That reflects a bigger difference of opinion than you might think; a four-point Broncos loss (as in Seattle 21, Denver 17) is a plausible enough outcome. But to reiterate, we’re not recommending any bets. Among the many factors that Vegas considers but Elo doesn’t is that the Seahawks have historically had a large home-field advantage.There’s a bigger discrepancy in the Cardinals-49ers matchup. Bookmakers have the 49ers favored by a field goal, whereas Elo sees the game as a pick ’em and would bet on the Cardinals if forced to lay down some action. Perhaps you could make a case for the Cardinals, who Elo likes because they finished at 10-6 last year despite a tough schedule and because they’ve beaten a playoff team and won a road game so far this year. But never mind the betting line. In terms of playoff implications, this might be the most important game of the young season.
In late 2009, two men walked into a room somewhere in Japan and found a fisherman hooked up to a polygraph. His name was Manabu Kurita, and he was there to answer some questions. The 32-year-old fishing guide had claimed to have caught a bass that weighed just under 22 pounds, 5 ounces — a weight that would make it co-world-record holder in the all-tackle weight category for largemouth bass, the most hallowed class in all of fishing. The other men in the room were representatives from the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) and, with the polygraph running, they asked Kurita about the precise position of his boat on Japan’s Lake Biwa and the tackle he used to haul in his catch. His answers from the hourlong session evidently passed muster; six months after he hauled the fish in, the catch was certified as the IGFA’s co-world-record holder.The fish Kurita tied is known simply as George Perry’s miracle bass. For almost 80 years, anglers have been chasing that record, and with the help of environmental planners and biologists, they finally equalled it. Or Kurita did. But to understand why it took so long, it’s worth starting at the beginning, on a boat with George Perry, somewhere in rural Georgia.In 1932, Perry, then a 20-year-old farmer playing hooky from the fields, pulled a huge-bellied beast with eyes the size of Ping-Pong balls out of a small oxbow lake in Georgia. He knew his fish was huge, but he had no idea it could be a world record. In fact, there were no official world records at the time. But because he stopped by the post office to weigh it before he took it home for dinner (it took his six-person family two nights to eat the whole fish), there was documentation when he submitted his entry to the big fish contest in Field & Stream later that year. When the magazine started certifying world records two years later, they realized that at 22 pounds, 4 ounces,1Kurita’s fish outweighs Perry’s by almost an ounce, but for fish under 25 pounds, the IGFA rules require fishermen to break a standing record by at least two ounces to take over the top spot. So the two fish are co-record holders. Kurita claims he doesn’t mind sharing, since Perry’s record is what motivated so many anglers in the first place. Perry’s fish far outweighed any other largemouth bass ever caught.For a long time, it looked like Perry’s fish was a unique specimen. For the next half century, no angler got within a pound and a half of his mark. “A lot of us didn’t believe a 22-pound bass could live naturally,” says Jon Storm, the former editor of BassFan.com. “A fish that size was off the map; it wasn’t even part of the cluster.”But in 1980, Raymond Easley caught a 21-pounder in a manmade reservoir near Santa Barbara, Calif., called Lake Casitas. Over the next three decades, as Monte Burke describes in his book “Sowbelly: The Obsessive Quest for the World-Record Largemouth Bass,” modern-day Ahabs fixated on the record, many of them devoting incredible amounts of time and money in monomaniacal pursuit.As the anglers’ mania increased, the sport’s popularity rose. During the 1980s, the fledgling Bassmasters professional tour grew into an ESPN-owned and corporate-branded behemoth.2ESPN owns FiveThirtyEight as well. Winners of its two-day classic — the Super Bowl of bass fishing — won half a million dollars at its peak in 2006. (In 2011, ESPN sold the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, which owns the tour, but it still televises the event.)And while uniformed pros in hundred-thousand-dollar boats outfitted with the latest fish-catching technology competed against each other in timed events on television, amateurs everywhere headed out to their local lakes to try to haul in a goliath. “Not only is the largemouth easily accessible, the tackle required to catch it is pretty straightforward,” says Jack Vitek, the world records coordinator for the IGFA. “It’s open to all demographics.”Over the next 30 years, every one of the IGFA’s records for largemouth bass — save for the all-tackle one owned by Perry — was rewritten by anglers using all sorts of lines and rods. For a while, it looked like Perry’s record would fall any day. One fish — known as Dottie for the prominent black mark near her gills — weighed close to 22 pounds when she was caught and released in 2003. When she was caught again in 2006, she weighed even more than Perry’s fish — but she wasn’t eligible for the record because Mac Weakley had set his hook in her side, not her mouth.Dottie, along with 15 of those 20 new record fish, was caught in one of just a few reservoirs within a hundred miles of Los Angeles. Something was going on in Southern California, and that something was a potent brew of favorable conditions for super fish.Dottie — along with all the other monster fish caught recently — is a Florida bass, which biologists recognize as a different species from the other largemouth bass that populate Alabama, Louisiana and the rest of the fish’s natural habitat. “The Florida bass is genetically and behaviorally different from the largemouth bass,” said Mike Allen, a professor of fisheries and aquatic sciences at the University of Florida who specializes in bass. And while Florida bass and other largemouth bass usually grow to about the same size, only Florida bass have the potential to get truly huge. (Allen speculates that Perry’s fish was a hybrid, based on its location between the ranges of the Florida bass and the largemouth bass.)Big fish attract more fishermen, which is why fishery managers have introduced Florida largemouths not just to California, but also to lakes all over the world, including Mexico, South Africa and — yes — Japan. The Florida transplants have often found that their new environments offer access to a new, highly caloric food source: rainbow trout. While the two fish do not usually coexist in the same areas, the 12-inch trout stocked in these lakes (also to entice fishermen) have proven to be a perfect food for the mega-bass, which pack on weight far more quickly than they would hunting other prey. Bass introduced into new environments overseas have also found new prey to be good eating — in Lake Biwa, Japan, for example, the bass have taken to gorging themselves on carp.The Southern California environment — newly formed reservoirs in a mild climate — also helped with the record bass growth. Cold-blooded animals don’t have to spend as much energy metabolizing in stable temperatures, and Allen says the sweet spots for the stable-temperature zone are in Southern California and Japan.The role the reservoirs play, though, remains somewhat mysterious. “Lakes go through a natural aging process,” says Allen, who explains that trophy fish usually appear relatively soon after lakes have been formed. Perhaps that explains why far fewer giant bass have been caught in Southern California since the early 2000s.While Lake Biwa, the place Kurita nabbed his record bass, has been around for millions of years, Kurita thinks a change in management practices in Japan led to a window for world-record bass that may now be closing as well. “Old days of Lake Biwa fishing, I could catch a lot, but could not get over 10 pounds,” he said. Then, around 2001, Japanese authorities started to treat bass less as a trophy fish and more as a foreign organism to exterminate, he said. As their numbers dropped, the size of the bass Kurita caught grew — for a time. Since 2010, new extermination strategies, including electrification of spawning bass, has made all sizes of bass harder to find, he says.Fishing records are different from human athletic records. While people will almost surely continue to get bigger, faster and stronger, a record fish requires discovery. After years where a confluence of factors produced a run of huge fish, Perry’s record still stands. Almost everyone I spoke to for this article, though, thinks that there is a record fish still out there. Kurita claims he’s seen a 25-pounder paddling through Lake Biwa. Burke says a few monsters may lurk in the lakes of Cuba, where they have been off-limits to many record-focused bass fishermen for dozens of years. Allen thinks there might be a title contender in Zimbabwe, where recently introduced bass are growing freakishly fat. And in parts of the American South, officials have started aggressive management policies — like draining and repopulating lakes with Florida bass — in an effort to bring the record back home.
Usain Bolt ran the 200 meters at the 2013 Areva Diamond League meet in Paris and despite hitting his fastest time this year, Bolt wasn’t pleased with himself.The Jamaican sprinter said his efforts were at about 70 percent after running the fastest 200 meters of the season Saturday with a time of 19.73 seconds.“I think I could have run the last 50 after the turn much better,” Bolt said. “I didn’t come in the straight as powerful as I used to. The last 30 meters, I was kind of, I won’t say struggling, but my technique wasn’t perfect.”Bolt slashed 0.01 second off the previous best time this year, set by American sprinter Tyson Gay at the U.S. trials last month. Gay appears to be Bolt’s only threat in the 100- and 200-meter race.Bolt will compete next in the 100 and 4×100 relay in London on July 26-27. That will be his final major races before the world championship, which begins August 10.
Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, smiles during a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Jackie Robinson Museum, Thursday, April 27, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)NEW YORK (AP) — Ground was broken for the Jackie Robinson Museum after a 10-year wait — matching the length of the Hall of Famer’s barrier-breaking major-league career.Rachel Robinson, the 94-year-old widow of the Brooklyn Dodgers star, attended Thursday’s ceremony in the SoHo section of Manhattan along with her daughter, Sharon, baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred and former National League President Len Coleman.“There are a lot of American heroes. I think Jackie Robinson is in a class by himself,” Manfred said, “and, really, it is impossible to do enough to recognize what he means and continues to mean to the process of change.”About $23.5 million has been raised to build the museum, now scheduled to open in spring 2019 on the street level of an already-existing office building. The Jackie Robinson Foundation hopes to raise a total of $42 million — matching Robinson’s uniform number — to fund an endowment that will pay for the museum’s operations.“Breaking ground allows us to show the country that we are for real,” Sharon Robinson said.Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947 and died in 1972. Rachel Robinson started the Jackie Robinson Foundation a year later.The 18,500 square-foot space, which will include a 75-seat theater, originally was to open in 2009 or 2010 but was delayed when the Great Recession slowed fundraising.“The bottom fell out,” foundation president Della Britton Baeza said.Strada Education Network last month announced a $6.5 million gift to the foundation, which awards several dozen college scholarships annually.Sharon Robinson, now 67, said her mother’s wedding dress, currently in their Connecticut home, will be among the exhibits, which will portray her father’s role in the civil rights movement.“There will be a lot that kids … when you have a visual in addition to reading about something, I think they’ll understand the totality of the man and the importance of having a voice and using it,” Sharon Robinson said. “I think today is more complex. It is not just a Black and white America. We have a great deal of work that needs to be done so that we really are an inclusive country.”Baseball has been concerned about the drop in African-American players — just 7.7 percent on opening-day rosters, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, down from 18 percent in 1991. While there are three nonwhite managers, down from 10 in 2009, and four nonwhite general managers, the institute said nonwhite people comprise 28 percent of central baseball’s professional staff.“It’s important to remember that baseball has a tremendously diverse workforce. I think it’s probably a mistake to focus on any single group, and we have more diversity in the game today than we’ve ever had,” Manfred said. “Having said that, baseball has in place numerous programs designed to promote African-American participation and we feel that our partnership with the Jackie Robinson Foundation is an important part of that programmatic effort.”
Best regular-season statistics, among players who declined as little in the playoffs as LeBron James Hakeem Olajuwon1985-0224.4.184+4.5+1.2+.003+0.1 Walt Frazier1968-7520.0.203+3.9-0.1-.010-0.3 Kevin Durant2010-1727.1.253+6.4-3.6-.077-3.0 PLAYERPLAYOFF YRSPERWS/48SPM*PERWS/48SPM* LeBron James2006-1728.6.258+6.9-0.9-.021-0.8 Magic Johnson1980-9623.9.222+5.1-1.0-.014-0.6 Michael Jordan1985-9828.8.275+7.5-0.2-.019-0.6 LeBron James’s postseason legend continues to grow with each passing year. In recent campaigns, the Cleveland Cavaliers star has even appeared to flip a switch in the playoffs and instantly perform at a higher level. Certainly he did last season, elevating his production markedly from the regular season,1His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) jumped from 27.5 during the regular season to 30.0 in the playoffs, and his Win Shares per 48 minutes (WS/48) from 0.241 to 0.274. and he has shown signs of a boost so far this postseason as well.Playoff LeBron — the destiny-fueled superhero sent to the postseason to capture the Larry O’Brien Trophy — is mostly an optical illusion to basketball fans. Over the course of James’s career, he’s pretty much played the same in the playoffs as we’d expect from his regular-season stats. But because James is so good, just maintaining his remarkable regular-season numbers is by itself a feat — and something that many other stars (past and present) have been incapable of doing.To compare a player’s regular season and playoff production, I gathered advanced stats — including Player Efficiency Rating (PER), Win Shares per 48 minutes (WS/48) and a composite “statistical plus/minus” (SPM) that blends the other two metrics together2The resulting metric is adjusted for team and weighted so as to best align with ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, and is also scaled to represent points above/below per 100 possessions. You can read about it more in this story I wrote about Chris Paul’s incredible career stats. — for all NBA and ABA players since 1963.3For accounting purposes, that was the first season for which we know exactly how many minutes a player split between teams if he switched teams mid-season. Then I tracked how much each player improved or declined when he reached the playoffs.4Specifically, I took a career average for each player, weighted in accordance with how many regular-season and playoff minutes he logged each season.The vast majority of NBA players play worse in the postseason, which makes sense given that the playoffs contain the league’s most difficult opponents. The typical player tends to see his PER drop by 1.1 points, his WS/48 by 0.028 points and his SPM by 1.1 points during the playoffs. James is not immune to this dynamic, but he’s managed to resist the drag of the playoffs more than most. Here are the best regular-season players in my sample, along with how their stats changed in the playoffs (through Sunday’s games): REGULAR SEASONCHANGE IN PLAYOFFS Bob Lanier1974-8420.1.179+3.3+0.8-.002-0.1 Wilt Chamberlain1964-7323.9.239+5.8-1.9-.044-1.5 Who maintains their skills in the postseason? (1963-2017) Stephen Curry2013-1726.7.259+6.5-4.1-.074-2.9 Dirk Nowitzki2001-1624.4.224+5.1-0.7-.037-1.4 So, no, James isn’t Hakeem Olajuwon, who somehow managed to play better in the postseason than he did in the regular season. (Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs is adding to his own legend in that department as we speak.) But James’s regular-season numbers are also better than Hakeem’s, or Magic Johnson’s, or basically everyone else in NBA history. Whether it’s the regular season or the playoffs, you can pretty much expect the same LeBron. He’s great all the time.Check out our NBA playoff predictions. David Robinson1990-0325.5.245+6.4-2.4-.047-1.8 Michael Jordan1985-9828.8.275+7.5-0.2-.019-0.6 Magic Johnson1980-9623.9.222+5.1-1.0-.014-0.6 Chris Paul2008-1726.7.272+6.8-0.5-.054-2.0 Average qualifier17.3.144+1.8-1.1-.028-1.1 Rick Barry1967-8021.6.167+3.0+0.1-.013-0.5 Karl Malone1986-0424.4.214+5.1-3.2-.075-2.8 Shaquille O’Neal1994-1127.4.219+5.8-1.3-.035-1.4 PLAYERPLAYOFF YRSPERWS/48SPM*PERWS/48SPM* Charles Barkley1985-9924.3.216+5.1-0.1-.024-1.0 Jerry West1963-7423.5.226+5.0-0.3-.025-0.8 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar1970-8923.4.216+5.0-0.3-.022-0.7 REGULAR SEASONCHANGE IN PLAYOFFS * SPM, or Statistical Plus/Minus, is a mixture of PER and WS/48 that weights each according to how well it correlates with ESPN’s Real/Plus Minus. It is scaled to represent a player’s net points above average per 100 possessions. Data is throughSunday’s games.Source: Basketball-Reference.com LeBron James2006-1728.6.258+6.9-0.9-.021-0.8 Kawhi Leonard2012-1720.2.203+4.3+1.4+.012+0.5 Bill Russell1963-6917.6.179+3.3+0.6-.021-0.4 Tim Duncan1998-1624.4.210+5.3-0.1-.018-0.8 Michael Jordan is always a popular comparison point for King James when it comes to playoff heroics. Jordan did retain more of his output in the playoffs than LeBron has over his career, but MJ is also the exception here — like he is in most basketball-related things. Contemporary stars Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have all experienced far bigger drop-offs in the playoffs than James, as did legends of yesteryear such as Karl Malone and (gasp!) Larry Bird.5I was shocked to see how much Bird’s production dropped during the playoffs over his career, given that he won three championships. All told, James’s regular-season-to-playoffs dip is roughly the same as Tim Duncan’s — pretty good company.James’s ability to maintain his output in the playoffs is even more impressive when you consider that his regular-season numbers are really, really good. It’s easier to display postseason improvement when you are starting with a lower bar. The players who raised their production the most during the playoffs — think Pistons legend Isiah Thomas or ex-Warrior Baron Davis6Amazingly, Davis had the biggest leap in SPM between the regular season and playoffs of any player since 1963! — tend to be moderately good, but not great, regular-season performers. Among players who retained as much of their regular-season selves in the playoffs as James, only Jordan played at a higher level during the regular season: Larry Bird1980-9224.1.212+5.1-2.8-.040-1.7 * SPM, or Statistical Plus/Minus, is a mixture of PER and WS/48 that weights each according to how well it correlates with ESPN’s Real/Plus Minus. It is scaled to represent a player’s net points above average per 100 possessions. Data is throughSunday’s games.Source: Basketball-Reference.com
Scoring is up across the board in the WNBA this year, and one player, Dallas Wings center Liz Cambage, aimed to keep it that way Tuesday when she scored 53 points — the highest individual total in league history — during a 104-87 victory over the New York Liberty.And given the other elements of her game, which included 10 rebounds, five blocks and two assists, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Cambage’s display in 37 minutes of playing time was one of the finer all-around showings the league has ever seen. It’s worth keeping in mind that the WNBA plays 40-minute games as opposed to the NBA’s 48-minute ones. That difference is a key reason that the NBA, which has experienced a spike in triple-doubles in recent years, sees that statistical rarity so much more often than does the WNBA, where it has happened only seven times in league history.Cambage, 26, shot 17-of-22 from the field and 15-of-16 at the free-throw line, all while outscoring New York’s starting five by 10 points. She torched nearly every look the Liberty threw at her, alternating between either side of the floor, and made mincemeat out of double-teams as if she were still being covered by a single defender. She logged 11 points in the first quarter, 17 in the second and five in the third before going off for 20 in the final period to seal the game.Yet a handful of her buckets in the first half came with no one near her at all — largely because she doesn’t hold the reputation of a sharpshooter and had only made five triples in 74 career WNBA games heading into Tuesday’s contest. So one can only imagine the initial shock New York players felt when Cambage calmly drained four threes on five attempts.The 6-foot-8 Cambage isn’t known as a jump shooter. More generally, she isn’t widely known in this country at all despite having long been a basketball star in Australia, where she grew up — perhaps because of her disjointed time in the league. She was the No. 2 pick in the 2011 WNBA draft but made it clear upon being selected by the Tulsa Shock that she didn’t want to play there. As such, she has never played two consecutive seasons in the U.S., and she spent the past four years playing overseas, where many of the best players routinely sign to earn higher salaries.In any case, Cambage — who entered Tuesday averaging nearly 20 points and more than nine boards — has pieced together an impressive season, having been named an all-star for a second time. She ranks in the league’s 95th percentile in post-up situations this year, according to Synergy Sports Technology.1She is tied for the WNBA lead in technical fouls. In games like Tuesday’s, in which Cambage is fully in sync with point guard and fellow all-star Skylar Diggins-Smith, there aren’t a ton of good options defensively to contain her. (New York wasn’t all that successful in denying Cambage during the first meeting between the teams, either, when Cambage scored 28 points on just 17 shots in that game, albeit in a Liberty win)Just minutes into Tuesday’s game, the Liberty tried forcing the ball out of her hands with a double-team, and Cambage simply kicked the ball out to the arc, where Allisha Gray was prepared to knock down an open triple. Then, on her next scoring chance, Cambage — having just illustrated the risk in sending a double-team her way — aggressively sealed her defender inside the restricted area, allowing Diggins-Smith to loft a pass from the arc into her for an easy lay-in. Beyond that, she kept defenders off balance by occasionally putting the ball on the floor and inviting contact, like she did against Amanda Zahui B a pair of times during the final period.Cambage surpassed the WNBA record of 51 points, set in 2013 by Riquna Williams. Cambage’s game Tuesday, with those 10 rebounds and five blocks, was far more complete than that of Williams, who finished hers with just one rebound and three assists. (Williams and Cambage were teammates during that 2013 season.) The next-highest showings are held by names that are far more well known throughout the sport: Maya Moore (48 points in 2014), Diana Taurasi (47 in 2006) and Lauren Jackson (47 in 2007), an Australian ex-player with whom Cambage has drawn comparisons.But a performance like this one only figures to boost her profile. “I’ve had big numbers in China, I’ve had big numbers in Australia, and I’ve heard a lot of people say I could never have big numbers here in the WNBA,” she told reporters afterward. “So I guess this game is for y’all.”CORRECTION (July 18, 2018, 12:15 p.m.): A previous version of this article included an incorrect quarter-by-quarter breakdown of the 53 points that Liz Cambage scored in Tuesday’s game between the Dallas Wings and the New York Liberty. Cambage scored 11 points in the first quarter, 17 in the second, five in the third and 20 in the fourth. (The WNBA originally reported Cambage as having scored 13 points in the first and 15 in the second.)
8Point differential 4True shooting percentage and free throw rate* vs. avg. SportWeightCategory 62013 Arizona Diamondbacks0.7861999 Green Bay Packers1.03 11MINMLB-0.29-0.29+0.05-0.514.32 MLB10 PTSWinning percentage 13WSNMLB-0.09+0.50+0.21+0.644.56 *In addition to categories shown here, the weighted sum of the squares includes sport-specific categories not listed in the table.Source: Sports-Reference.com 92001 Toronto Blue Jays0.8691970 San Diego Chargers1.15 6Points per game* vs. avg. Pittsburgh wasn’t always this nondescript, of course. As of a few years ago, they’d been quite good — making the playoffs3Assuming you count the wild-card game as “the playoffs.” in three straight years from 2013 to 2015 — and before that, they’d been extremely bad, missing the postseason for 20 straight years. Obviously, neither of those performances will land you anywhere near our list of the most average teams. But Pittsburgh has turned in some faultlessly pedestrian play recently, with a string of near-.500 seasons that culminated in this year’s middling masterpiece.For fans seeking long-term mediocrity, the Philadelphia Flyers might be a good option, having finished with between 39 and 42 wins in four of their last five seasons. (And in the one season they didn’t, they still racked up points for a league-leading 18 overtime losses, which could easily have turned into ties — aka the best possible outcome for fans of .500 play — under the NHL’s old standings system.) According to our algorithm, no team in major pro sports has been more consistently mediocre over the past five seasons than the Flyers, although they narrowly edged out the NBA’s Washington Wizards — another great pick if you want to watch dependably so-so basketball.In the long run, the Pirates still have a ways to go to catch the Flyers and Wizards, not to mention the Tampa Bay Rays (MLB’s current five-year kings of the commonplace). But for one magical season, Pittsburgh has been home to one of the most fiercely undistinguished teams in pro sports history. TeamSportWin PCT.Scoring Diff.Scoring Off.Scoring Def.Sum of Sq. Z-scores* 62005 Cleveland Cavaliers1.3361979 Los Angeles Kings0.70 The old MLB single-season record holder for mediocrity — who could reclaim their crown, I suppose, if the Pirates play too well or too poorly over the next month — were the 1923 Brooklyn Robins,2Because that’s what the Dodgers were called back then. whose record and number of runs scored and allowed were impeccably ordinary. But the Robins’ OBP was a little outside the norm, and that might prove to be their downfall against a team as relentlessly humdrum as this year’s Pirates. Pittsburgh’s only real historical competition could be the NHL’s 1976 Vancouver Canucks (who went 33-32 with 15 ties, scoring just one less goal than they allowed) and the NFL’s 1984 Cincinnati Bengals. With an 8-8 record and precisely identical numbers for points scored and allowed (339), those Bengals were the 2007 Patriots of garden-variety football. Pittsburgh needs to bear down and really focus on being as unremarkable as possible if it has any hope of catching the Bengals.Here are the most average teams in each sport since 1971, when the NBA began tracking opponent statistics (which allows us to calculate our detailed numbers for all four leagues): 6SEANFL+0.31+0.34+0.28+0.353.36 NHL10Points percentage 1PITMLB-0.09+0.02-0.10+0.110.30 51998 Washington Wizards1.2352009 Anaheim Ducks0.55 The Pirates are the most average team in sportsTeams whose weighted sum of squared z-scores were closest to 0.0 (perfectly average) for the most recent MLB/NFL/NBA/NHL season * Both for and against the team in question. 12MILNBA+0.25-0.07+0.04-0.144.49 102018 Washington Wizards1.64101978 Detroit Red Wings0.83 12018 Pittsburgh Pirates0.3011984 Cincinnati Bengals0.20 31989 Boston Celtics1.0131997 Phoenix Coyotes0.34 3LAAMLB-0.16+0.20+0.25+0.121.54 5PHIMLB+0.37-0.01-0.33+0.243.06 Who’s the most average of them all?Most average single-season teams in MLB/NFL/NBA/NHL since 1971,* measured in squared, weighted sums of the difference from league average 4WASNBA+0.16+0.13+0.07+0.091.64 4On-base percentage and slugging percentage* vs. avg. 16NYMMLB-0.54-0.31-0.57-0.045.75 6Points per game* vs. avg. 22017 Indiana Pacers0.6922008 Nashville Predators0.23 82008 Washington Wizards1.4281989 Hartford Whalers0.72 8Point differential 20LACNBA+0.08+0.01+0.70-0.796.62 NBA10Winning percentage NBASQ. DIFF. At 64-67, the Pittsburgh Pirates are nobody’s idea of a special team. Although they harbored some aspirations of contending before the season — and even held a half-game lead over the NL Central as late as May 17 — Pittsburgh has been pretty mediocre for most of the 2018 campaign, even after inexplicably picking up pitcher Chris Archer at the trade deadline.One way in which the Pirates have been exceptional, however, is in their lack of exceptionality. In addition to their .500-ish record, they’ve scored almost exactly as many runs (576) as they’ve allowed (577), at per-game rates that are almost exactly average on each side of the ball, in a manner — as measured by their on-base and slugging percentages for and against — that is almost exactly average. The Bucs are unspectacular right down to the core, and that makes them, statistically, the world’s most middle-of-the-road baseball team — not just of this season, but in all of modern history (since 1901).Or at least, they are according to a method I put together to seek out the North American pro teams in the big four leagues (so, MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL) who hewed closest to their sport’s average numbers in a season. For each team, I calculated its z-scores (standard deviations above or below average) in winning percentage, per-game victory margin and scoring per game (both for and against), plus a metric I threw in (varying by sport) to represent each team’s style of play. Then I squared each z-score, weighted them (see below) and added up those numbers to arrive at a team’s overall difference from league average, where lower is better.Here are the numbers I looked at for each sport, along with how much weight each one carries: 8Goal differential 81984 California Angels0.8582011 Chicago Bears1.14 17COLMLB+0.54-0.02+0.63-0.535.76 4Passing/rushing yards per attempt* vs. avg. 19FLANHL+0.28+0.05+0.18-0.106.17 14DALNHL+0.03+0.25-0.36+0.825.29 7TENNFL+0.31-0.22-0.21-0.193.85 71997 Detroit Tigers0.8371978 Washington1.12 4Shots per game and shooting percentage* vs. avg. 32010 Florida Marlins0.5131981 Washington0.79 15CBJNHL+0.35+0.30-0.07+0.605.47 MLBSQ. DIFF. 91982 Portland Trail Blazers1.5991983 Vancouver Canucks0.78 8MILMLB+0.54+0.17-0.14+0.393.92 Finding the most average teamsCategories (and weights) considered when measuring MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL teams against their league’s average for a given season 52000 Detroit Tigers0.7551999 Detroit Lions0.88 NFL10Winning percentage 9DALNFL+0.31+0.22+0.10+0.354.06 41993 Seattle Mariners0.6441991 New York Jets0.87 Z-Score (std. deviations above/below avg.) 101976 Cleveland Indians0.86101987 Minnesota Vikings1.17 6Runs per game* vs. avg. NHLSQ. DIFF. NFLSQ. DIFF. The weights are somewhat arbitrary, but hopefully they make sense: A record close to .500 is the essence of average-ness — and worthy of the strongest weight — but we can also give bonus points for being average at every level as we dig deeper into a team’s statistical portfolio.(The components I chose at the deepest level — true shooting percentage, yards per attempt, etc. — in each sport were also arbitrary, but I wanted to include metrics that summarize how a team plays on both offense and defense. To truly be the most average team, you must not only finish as close to .500 as possible, but you must do so while playing like a typical team of the era.)And by that standard, the Pirates have managed to outshine every other current team, easily topping the other sports’ most mediocre contenders: the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.1All numbers are through Aug. 26, 2018. 21979 Chicago Cubs0.4921972 Atlanta Falcons0.56 *1971 is the earliest season for which detailed opponent stats are available for all four sports, making our calculation possible.Source: Sports-Reference.com 8Run differential 2NJDNHL+0.35+0.10+0.18-0.021.44 71997 Minnesota Timberwolves1.3872014 Detroit Red Wings0.72 6Goals per game* vs. avg. 12016 Dallas Mavericks0.4211976 Vancouver Canucks0.23 10PHINHL+0.42+0.20+0.31+0.034.08 42007 New Jersey Nets1.1741975 St. Louis Blues0.35 18DETNBA-0.16-0.03-0.68+0.736.03
For a middling NFL quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals starter Andy Dalton has already accomplished quite a bit in his football career. In college, he led Texas Christian to more postseason top-10 finishes (three) than the program had mustered in its previous 69 seasons combined, and graduated as the school’s most decorated passer by just about every metric. Soon he was drafted into the NFL just three picks shy of the first round. In the pros, Dalton has won more games in his first three seasons than all but three signal-callers in NFL history. If you plotted out the entire population of people who play quarterback at any level of football, Dalton would be near the top 1 percent.1If Dalton is the 16th-best QB in the NFL, and there are roughly 100 QBs in the league (around three for each of the NFL’s 32 teams) — plus a few recent QBs for each of the 120 FBS college programs — Dalton would currently rank in the 97th percentile of all QBs with any kind of professional aspirations.And yet, Dalton — who signed an instantly scorned six-year, $115 million contract extension with Cincinnati last week — is also a symbol of mediocrity. What’s a team to do when its “quarterback of the future” matures into something less than a perennial Pro Bowler but something more than a scrub? For all his achievements, Dalton has been exactly average as a passer in his NFL career, and at age 27 he isn’t likely to get much better before his performance starts to decline.This is the dilemma for teams like the Bengals: While average quarterbacking is difficult to replace, it’s also not good enough to reliably lead a team to Super Bowl contention, even with strong defensive help.There’s a tendency for talking heads to proclaim with certainty that a team “will never win a Super Bowl with so-and-so at quarterback,” only to see the prediction disproven in a flurry of playoff upsets. (Joe Flacco was Exhibit A of this two years ago, and before him, Eli Manning.) We always know less about the NFL than we think we do; the best team in the league only wins the Super Bowl 24 percent of the time (perhaps less often in recent years — 2013 notwithstanding), and it’s notoriously difficult to predict which team will claim the title. For teams with quarterbacks below the Brady-Manning tier, there’s comfort in this uncertainty — it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that the Bengals could collect a Lombardi Trophy behind a league-average quarterback like Dalton.But since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, such results are uncommon. Take a look at the chart below, which uses a simple logistic regression between a team’s defensive SRS rating,2SRS — which stands for “Simple Rating System” — is a schedule-adjusted power rating designed to measure how many points per game better or worse a team is than average (0.0 is average). In this case, it measures the degree to which a team allows fewer points per game than an average team would against the same slate of opponents. its primary quarterback’s adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A) index,3ANY/A is the best simple measure of a passer’s efficiency, taking into account his yards per attempt (including sacks and sack yards lost), touchdown passes, and interceptions thrown. The advanced passing indices at Pro-Football-Reference.com contextualize statistics to account for changing league conditions; according to PFR’s formula, the NFL average is always 100, and one standard deviation of performance is 15 index points (creating a scale essentially the same as that for IQ scores). So, for example, a 115 ANY/A index would mean a QB was one standard deviation above the NFL average in passing efficiency. and whether or not the team won the Super Bowl during the season in question.Only five of the 44 post-merger Super Bowls have been won by a team whose primary passer produced an ANY/A index of 100 or below (100 is average.) Of those five, three — the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers and 1986 New York Giants — boasted notably great defenses.4Those ‘08 Steelers and ‘00 Ravens defenses were particularly dominant, with respective DSRS marks of +8.2 and +8.0 — each of which ranks among the 14 best post-merger defenses. The ‘86 Giants were a tick lower at +5.8, but still rank 64th defensively among all teams since 1970.Take a look at that chart again — even with the aid of a dominant defense5The Seahawks’ +8.9 DSRS mark a year ago made them the seventh-best defense since the merger. (the green line), the best chance of winning the Super Bowl a team can reasonably expect with an average quarterback is somewhere between 15 and 20 percent.6Coincidentally, that’s almost exactly the same as a team could expect to do with an average (0.0 DSRS) defense and a historically great 145 ANY/A index quarterbacking performance. And that’s the absolute best-case scenario. Equip a mediocre passer with a less exceptional defense and watch the odds fall even lower.For Dalton, that means a Super Bowl is a remote prospect. Paired with merely a good — but not historically great — defense, like last year’s Cincinnati’s side,7DSRS: +3.0 Dalton’s middle-of-the-road quarterbacking would project to be enough for a championship only 2.2 percent of the time in a given season.8Not coincidentally, Las Vegas gives the Bengals 35:1 odds for a Super Bowl win this season, which works out to 2.5 percent after adjusting for the vigorish. Astonishing championship runs like the one Eli Manning (91 ANY/A index) and the Giants (+0.4 DSRS) made in 2007 are highly memorable, but that’s because they’re not the norm.Moreover, Dalton isn’t even likely to get better, nor to be as good as he is now for very long. He’ll turn 27 during the 2014 NFL season, the age at which quarterbacks normally have their best seasons before Father Time erodes their skills. Keeping in mind that passing-rate statistics are known for their year-to-year inconsistency, if Dalton proceeds along the typical quarterback’s career path, he’ll only stay around average9Meaning a projected ANY/A index above 98. for two more seasons after 2014. Using a simple projection system-like method of predicting future quarterback performance,10For those interested, the weights for a QB’s past three (age-adjusted) seasons are 4.8, 3.8 and 1.4; QBs are also regressed to the mean by adding 1,809 dropbacks of a prior ANY/A index of 97.6. Dalton projects for an average ANY/A index of 98 over the next five seasons. Since the merger, there have been 159 teams whose primary quarterback projected to have a five-year ANY/A index between 97 and 99, and only 18 of them (11 percent) went on to win at least one Super Bowl, all defenses being equal.11This is consistent with the Bengals’ aforementioned 2.2 percent Super Bowl probability each year over a five-year period.Again, this means it’s not impossible for the Bengals win a Super Bowl with Dalton as their quarterback. But it’s unlikely (especially given my Grantland colleague Bill Barnwell’s research showing that Dalton is particularly susceptible to mistakes when under pressure12Lest you think Barnwell’s numbers are due to statistical noise in a small sample, I checked. Since 2008, the difference in a quarterback’s efficiency when pressured or not is correlated at r=0.55 from one year to the next. That’s a pretty high number for an individual football metric. (For reference’s sake, the same year-to-year correlation for ANY/A index is just 0.41.) This means QBs who struggle against pressure do it because it’s a persistent shortcoming, which is bad news for Dalton and Cincinnati.).In light of all this, it may seem crazy that the Bengals just committed to Dalton as their quarterback for the foreseeable future. But the simple truth is that quarterbacks of Dalton’s caliber — yes, those league-average quarterbacks — don’t just fall from the Cincinnati sky like turkeys on Thanksgiving.13And it helps that the contract’s structure makes Cincinnati’s actual obligation to Dalton smaller than the deal’s raw numbers would suggest.According to the simple projection system described above, 15 quarterbacks forecast to have more efficient seasons than Dalton in 2014. In a 32-team league, that makes Dalton as average among starting QBs as we’ve come to expect. But if the Bengals had to replace him, they likely wouldn’t get a better starting QB. Dalton is 16th-best in all of football, backup QBs included.14For the sake of independent second opinions, Football Outsiders’ KUBIAK projections are only a bit more liberal, ranking Dalton 13th among 18 above-average QBs according to projected 2014 DVOA.And just because Dalton is average, that doesn’t mean he’s a replacement-level QB. While the replacement level is, by definition, the standard of production that can be provided by any minimum-salary free agent (of which there is a bountiful supply), average quarterbacking talent isn’t nearly as easy to replace.15Historically, the replacement level for NFL passers rests at an ANY/A of about 0.75 below league average, which translates to an ANY/A index between 90 and 91.As a consequence, the odds are not high that Dalton’s replacement would be as good as he is. Using data on the succession of every NFL team’s starting quarterbacks since the merger, we can model the probability that a new starter will post an average ANY/A index superior to that of his predecessor, based on the performance of the passer he replaced16Note that this sample includes the myriad scenarios under which a starting QB can be replaced — injury, retirement, trade, free agency, etc.:As maligned as Dalton and his contract are in Cincinnati right now, it’s unlikely the Bengals will see better alternatives on the horizon anytime soon. Based on the historical pattern of teams who replaced their starting quarterbacks, the probability of the Bengals’ next starter being better than the league-average Dalton is only 42 percent.And an average quarterback, while unlikely to move the needle much for a team’s Super Bowl odds, can still be useful in getting to the playoffs. According to another model I developed,17Based on data since the NFL expanded its playoff field to 12 teams per season in 1990. a perfectly average QB18Sporting a 100 ANY/A index. and a good defense19At +3.0 DSRS. (like the Bengals had in 2013) can get a team to the postseason 57 percent of the time. A replacement-level stopgap would be hard pressed to deliver a playoff berth under the same circumstances.Teams like the Bengals find themselves in a difficult predicament when trying to assess whether to invest in a league-average quarterback for the long haul. Other sports have their own pieces of conventional wisdom about the perils of getting stuck in the middle between rebuilding and contending, but the NFL’s version is unique. A trip to the playoffs is attainable behind an average passer — and, given the randomness of the NFL postseason, a playoff berth can sometimes be a ticket to an unexpected Super Bowl. At the same time, locking into a long-term deal with a quarterback who isn’t special puts a ceiling on a team’s plans of legitimately contending for championships year in and year out.As one NFL club president told ESPN’s Jim Trotter last week, “Teams are just afraid to say, ‘Let’s start again, because we literally do not have a legitimate chance to win a Super Bowl with the quarterback that we have.’ They’d rather have an average to above-average quarterback than wait to get a great quarterback. I think it’s more than fair to say that the fear of the unknown is greater than the fear of the known.”Depending on a franchise’s aspirations, this may not actually be an irrational reaction. Great quarterbacks are extremely difficult to come by. Andy Dalton isn’t one of them, but he is average. And in the grand scheme of pro football, that makes him a pretty rare player.
Week 8 of the NFL season was rough for the Carolina Panthers. On Sunday, they squandered a chance to steal a win against the suddenly vulnerable Seattle Seahawks, losing 13-9 at home. That night, the Saints — Carolina’s only NFC South rival of consequence — routed the Green Bay Packers 44-23. The Panthers’ lead in the NFC South is now so small it actually takes some arithmetic to determine that their 3-4-1 record is superior to the Saints’ 3-4 mark.Going into Week 8, we estimated the Panthers’ playoff probability to be 55 percent.1As a reminder, playoff probabilities for this article are derived from a betting-market-based ranking system that is separate from FiveThirtyEight’s Elo-based playoff probabilities. In the case of the Panthers, the estimates did not differ much, with the Elo rankings giving Carolina a 60 percent chance of making the playoffs. But with our latest simulations, that number has tumbled to 30 percent. Only about half of this drop can be attributed to game outcomes and resulting win-loss-tie records. The remainder of it is due to an update to the rankings (derived from Vegas point spreads), which has widened the gulf between the Panthers and the Saints.But this week, the Panthers have an opportunity to claw back some of their losses. On Thursday night, they host the Saints at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. As you can see in the above charts, the Saints and Panthers each have 32 percentage points of playoff probability riding on this game. This is a remarkably large number at the midpoint of the season.Several factors have combined to make this game a perfect storm of playoff implications. First, the Panthers’ tie game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 6 renders the divisional tiebreakers moot, removing a layer of uncertainty from our projections and throwing the playoff implications into starker relief. The NFC South also exists in its own playoff bubble, quarantined from the rest of the NFC (see the NFC chart above — the South is surrounded by a healthy buffer of gray cells). The second-best team from the NFC South is unlikely to contend for one of the two wild card seeds, making playoff probability synonymous with division title probability. With fewer teams with which to exchange playoff probabilities, the amount of each weekly probability “swap” becomes that much larger. And finally, the Panthers and Saints go into Thursday night’s game with near-identical records, thus the winner will emerge with sole possession of the lead in the NFC South.In the AFC, the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens in the North is similar. It’s also a divisional matchup with significant implications for the participating teams, and little to no consequence for the rest of the league.At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Sunday’s game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Houston Texans. This game features a total playoff swing of 73 percentage points split among 19 NFL teams. More than half the league has a rooting interest in the outcome. As one would expect, AFC teams do better with a Houston loss and NFC teams do better with a Philadelphia loss. Somewhat surprisingly, the Dallas Cowboys’ playoff hopes only swing by a relatively small amount, despite being in a tight race with the Eagles for the NFC East title. The reason for the relatively low stakes is that a win by the Eagles largely trades division title probability for wild card probability. An Eagles win would drop the Cowboys’ division title chances from 48 percent to 42 percent, but their wild card outlook would increase from 30 percent to 34 percent, resulting in a net playoff loss of only 2 percentage points.The most anticipated game of the week figures to be Sunday’s matchup between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots. But in terms of playoff implications, the latest iteration of the Brady-Manning rivalry ranks fairly low. The Broncos are a virtual lock for the playoffs in our simulations. A loss to New England would be but a scratch, dropping their playoff prospects from 99 percent to 98 percent. The stakes are higher for the Patriots but far from make or break. A loss would drop their playoff chances from 79 percent to 73 percent.This game does have a significant impact on the race for the top playoff seed in the AFC. Going into Week 9, the Broncos are the clear favorite, with a 79 percent chance of winning the No. 1 seed. If New England is able to pull off a victory at home, the race opens up considerably. The Broncos’ chances drop to 59 percent, with the benefit largely accruing to the Patriots: The Patriots’ top-seed probability would increase from 9 percent to 21 percent. And because the first tiebreaker used is head-to-head matchups, a win against the Broncos is worth two games to the Patriots.A New England victory would also increase the Colts’ chances from 4 percent to 7 percent. The Colts opened the season with a loss to the Broncos, thus the head-to-head tiebreaker works against them here. The chart below summarizes the anticipated top-seed probabilities under both outcomes of the Denver-New England matchup.Our game summary table features some new columns this week. Each game’s impact to the finer points of playoff seeding is also assessed and summarized. The Ravens-Steelers game has the largest impact on division title probabilities (seeds No. 1 through 4). The Cardinals-Cowboys game is most consequential for which teams qualify for a first-round bye (seeds No. 1 and 2). And as we have already called out, the Broncos-Patriots game has the largest impact on which team gets the top conference playoff seed. NFL Playoff Implications, our weekly guide to what games matter, and whom they matter to, returns for Week 9 of the NFL season. For an explanation of the methodology, see here. The rankings behind these probabilities can be found here, at the co-author’s blog.
UPDATE (Sept. 3, 10:45 a.m.): Sure, Tom Brady can play a full season again after a judge reversed the league’s four-game suspension. But the Patriots still lost a first-round draft pick in the Deflategate fracas. In May, Neil Paine wrote that the draft pick was the real penalty for the Patriots. We originally published this article after the punishment was first announced. In the wake of the NFL’s Deflategate report, the league announced late Monday that it would fine the New England Patriots $1 million, suspend quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games of the 2015 season, and strip New England of two draft picks — a first-round pick in 2016 and a fourth-rounder in 2017.After news of the disciplinary action broke, much of the coverage has centered around the loss of Brady and how his absence will affect the Patriots next season. Certainly questions abound in that department; chief among them is whether backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo can steer the ship while Brady sits. In response to the punishment, sportsbooks in Las Vegas downgraded New England’s line by 4 points in their opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers and have scratched half a win off the team’s 10.5-win opening over/under (now it’s 10.0, according to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook).1A half-win may seem like a somewhat modest amendment — after all, whenever a future Hall of Fame quarterback is lost, there’s always the concern that the team will completely fall apart without him — but even an extra half-loss could have big implications for New England’s Super Bowl odds.Lost amid the hand-wringing over Brady’s suspension, though, is the value of the lost draft picks. Teams with New England’s 2014 Simple Rating System (SRS) score tend to pick 22nd in the first round of the draft two years later and 21st in the fourth round (or 117th overall) the year after that. Those numbers probably understate the quality of the picks, since without four games of Brady, the Pats may fare worse than the average 10.9-SRS team. But they serve as a good gauge of what the Patriots were stripped of in Monday’s decision.Turning to Chase Stuart’s invaluable research on the value of draft picks, those two picks are worth 19.2 points of marginal Approximate Value (AV) over the first five years of the draftees’ careers. Brady himself has averaged 15.7 AV per season over the past three years, and a replacement-level QB produces about 8.5 AV per 16 games, so Brady’s marginal value in the first four games of the 2015 season figured to be somewhere between 1.5 and 2 points of AV.In other words, according to AV, the cost of New England’s two lost draft picks dwarfs the cost of Brady’s four-game suspension (assuming its original length is upheld after appeals). While the latter will cause a glaring hole in the Patriots lineup on opening day, the former is a long-term disadvantage that may ultimately prove more damaging.