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.
POINT DIFFERENTIAL PER 100 POSSESSIONS 2010-11Miami8.57.3 SEASONTEAMFULL SEASONAFTER ALL-STAR BREAK 2013-14Miami6.15.8 2014-15Cleveland3.76.9 2016-17Cleveland2.8-2.8 2012-13Miami9.911.9 2015-16Cleveland5.85.9 2011-12Miami7.23.0 After making six straight NBA Finals, LeBron James and his teams have earned the benefit of the doubt when they hit a rough patch. His Heat and Cavaliers teams have shown they can turn things around in a hurry, almost as if all they needed to do is flip a switch to revert to their dominant selves.But, my, what a rough patch they’re in. The club, which entered Thursday in a virtual tie with Boston for first place in the East, has dropped 10 of its last 17 games. Six of those defeats have been by double digits, including each of their last four1The team’s Big Three missed two of those five shellackings, while only Kyrie Irving played in a blowout loss against the Bulls back on Feb. 25.. Perhaps most troubling: The team’s defense has been the NBA’s worst throughout the month of March, which is saying a lot, given how many teams aren’t really trying to win anymore.It’s becoming harder and harder to ignore what Cleveland’s play might mean for the Cavs’ chances of repeating as champs. This may be the weakest LeBron team we’ve seen this late in a season since his finals streak began in 2011. Our NBA win prediction model gives Cleveland a 2 percent chance of winning it all, less than teams such as Boston, Washington and Toronto.2This is noteworthy since the Celtics are virtually tied for first with the Cavs, while the Wizards and Raptors are currently behind Cleveland in the standings. And while that seems surprising, it shouldn’t be: Cleveland’s recent struggles are testing the limits of how strong a team’s defense needs to be to win a championship.At the moment, the Cavaliers are tied for 22nd in defensive efficiency, a mark that would rank as the worst among any team that’s reached the finals in modern history.3The Cavs managed to reach the finals two seasons ago with the 20th-ranked defense. But they improved considerably at that end of the floor after making midseason trades for wing stopper Iman Shumpert and center Timofey Mozgov.There are several reasons the Cavs aren’t good defenders. Unlike much of the Big Three era in Miami, where players had the athleticism and smarts to fly around and cause havoc on defense, Cleveland is slow footed. Some of that is a function of the Cavs’ roster being long in the tooth; six members of the rotation are at least 31 years old. Other times, it looks as if players aren’t hustling, which partly explains why the club ranks dead last in transition defense, according to Synergy Sports. The Cavs also really struggle to keep the ball in front of them, and are tied for worst in the league at containing pick-and-roll ballhandlers.As the Cavs seek to work out their kinks, opponents have found that they can often generate fantastic looks against Cleveland with minimal effort and ball movement. Last year the club was pretty solid — 12th best in the NBA — at forcing foes to use nearly all of the shot clock. This season, Cleveland is tied for last in the NBA in terms of how often it forces clubs to use the final four seconds of the shot clock. (That lack of pressure also speaks to how seldom the Cavs force their opponents into turnovers compared with the rest of the league.)Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/loveinbetween.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/lackofattntodetail.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Still, context for the Cavs’ struggles is important. Yes, the team looks mediocre and is in real jeopardy of finishing with the No. 2 seed, or worse, in the East. But James hasn’t really needed the top seed to make the finals over these past six years; in four of those seasons, his team finished in second place before going on to win the East anyway.4Looking at this season’s contenders in the East, these teams don’t really stand out as extraordinary compared with what James has seen in the past; at least not when gauging their point-differential strength against teams the four-time MVP has faced in the playoffs before.“It matters more that we’re playing better basketball than where we’re at,” James told reporters after a 29-point loss in San Antonio this week. “If that results in us having the No. 1 seed, the No. 2 seed, 3 or whatever the hell it is, we need to play better basketball. That’s what it comes down to.”Most clubs would gladly take Cleveland’s problems, given that the Cavs — for all their struggles — have continued to boast a top-flight offense, scoring 110 points per 100 plays (eighth best) over this 17-game span. Coach Tyronn Lue, in a somewhat odd comment, said he has a potential antidote for the team’s defensive woes but that he doesn’t want to unveil it until the postseason begins. (Making the comment even odder: Lue also said he’s not necessarily confident the fix will work.)Yet there are a couple of warning signals worth noting as the Cavs hit the homestretch that simply weren’t there in years past. No James-led team the past six seasons has finished the second half of the season with a negative point differential per 100 possessions, but this one is on the cusp of doing so. Cleveland, with nine games left in its season, is getting outscored by 2.8 points per 100 plays since the All-Star break. Love’s defense has also regressed. It had improved a bit during the first half of the season, but now looks problematic again since he returned from an injury. The Cavs, who were 4.5 points better than normal when Love and James shared the court before Love got injured, have been 24 points worse per 100 plays when that duo plays together since Love came back. And much of that decline is on the defensive end; particularly when offenses find ways to pull Tristan Thompson out of the paint in hopes of punishing Love in the middle of the floor, with no one to guard the basket.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/backdoorplay.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/cavsmiscommunication1.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Defensive rebounding is the other area that’s marked a clear difference from last year. Cleveland ranked fifth in defensive-rebounding percentage last year but now is tied for 24th; a decrease due in part to Thompson’s full-time shift to the center position, where he’s been tasked with increased rim-protection responsibility as opposed to just gobbling up misses.5Advanced tracking statistics suggest that Thompson has held his own defensively at the rim this season. The 26-year-old has held foes to 52 percent from close range, 9 points beneath their average marks, good for seventh best in the NBA among players who’ve had to defend at least four shots per game from within six feet.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/thompsonrebound.mp400:0000:0000:07Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.As such, the Cavaliers aren’t the stingy team they once were. Last season, they allowed the third-fewest second-chance points; now they’re the NBA’s sixth-weakest team in that regard. The Cavaliers have enough problems when they limit opponents to one shot, let alone two or three.But how much of the Cavs’ defensive struggles will matter come June? Knowing what we know about LeBron’s ability to flip the switch, analyzing the Cavs’ late-season struggles this closely may prove to be silly. But if the Cavs do indeed fail to reach the finals, there will have been at least some writing on the wall from earlier in the season. Is it time for LeBron and the Cavaliers to hit the panic button? *The amount of points a team outscores its opponent by over a span of 100 playsSource: NBA.com
OSU sophomore Taylor White (21) and junior Shelby Hursh (19) during a game against Penn State on April 6 at Buckeye Field. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo EditorIts bats might have taken awhile to warm up Tuesday evening, but the Ohio State softball team was still able to sweep its neighbors to the southeast, the Ohio Bobcats, with 11 runs in the nonconference doubleheader. The Buckeyes (27-11-1, 9-4-1), hungry to redeem themselves from a losing weekend at Michigan, dominated Ohio (25-18), which sits in fifth in the Mid-American Conference’s East division.OSU sophomore Taylor White had three hits throughout the doubleheader, all of which were for extra bases. Junior infielder Anna Kirk went 3-for-4 in the second game after falling into an 0-for-5 slump last weekend.Game 1Tuesday evening’s first matchup ended up being a 1-0 pitching contest decided by a single play of small ball. Both OSU junior Shelby Hursh and Ohio redshirt junior Savannah Jo Dorsey threw complete games, and Hursh struck out six batters while only recording two walks.The game remained scoreless until the top of the sixth, when sophomore Ashley Goodwin laid down a squeeze bunt to give the Buckeyes the go-ahead run.After OSU stranded a pair of runners in the first inning, Hursh sent the top of the lineup back to the dugout in order. In the preceding inning, Dorsey, who struck out eight, echoed with three easy outs.Freshman Emily Clark and White led the Buckeyes once again with a double each, but Clark’s leadoff two-bagger in the top of the fourth could not produce a string of hits. The Bobcats briefly threatened in the bottom of the inning in a two-out, bases-loaded situation, but junior Casie Hutchinson popped out to OSU catcher Cammi Prantl.White’s double gave OSU a chance to score in the sixth, and after she advanced to third, Goodwin’s bunt brought her home. Freshman Becca Gavin shut down Ohio second baseman Taylor Saxton with her second putout to second base of the day, and the quick final three outs in the seventh gave the Buckeyes a return to the win column.Game 2In the second game of the twinbill and 70th all-time matchup between the teams, the Buckeyes quickly turned on their previously quiet bats to cruise to a 10-3 win.White added her fourth homer in the top of the fifth, which was also her third hit of the day, and sent the Buckeyes back to Columbus with a midweek sweep. OSU freshman Morgan Ray and junior Lena Springer teamed up in the circle to keep the Bobcats at three runs through the final five innings.White doubled for the second time of the day and eighth time of the year in the top of the first, bringing in two runs.Redshirt senior shortstop Maddy McIntyre jumped on the chance to make a clutch play of her own with an RBI single in the second inning. OSU bumped its lead to four with a steal of home, but Ohio responded with a two-out, RBI single from freshman Morgan Geno.The Bobcats took advantage of another two-out situation on a pair of singles in the third inning, bringing in two runs to tighten the game to a 4-3 contest. Ohio nearly scored in the bottom of the fourth, but Kirk charged a bunt from third to end the inning.White’s home run was the only noise OSU made in the fifth inning, thanks to Dorsey’s relieving effort after sophomore Danielle Stiene headed to the bullpen. Dorsey struck out six before freshman Jamie Wren stepped into the circle for the first time in her collegiate career. In the bottom of the inning, Prantl made a diving catch in left field to leave the Bobcats with another scoreless inning.Kirk led off the sixth inning with a line drive to right field, a stolen base and a trip home on McIntyre’s deep RBI single. Prantl stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded to slam a two-run double off of the outfield wall, which prompted the third pitching change for the Bobcats. Stiene reentered the game but gave up two more runs after Clark’s single found the gap. In the bottom of the sixth, Ohio went down in order on only five pitches, giving it one last chance to close in on the Buckeyes, who also went down in order in the final inning.Gavin caught her third runner at second base to end the day, sending OSU back to Columbus with its 26th and 27th wins.Coming upOSU is scheduled to return to Big Ten play from Friday to Sunday with a three-game series against Purdue. Friday’s game is slated to begin at 6 p.m. at Buckeye Field.
The baseball postseason begins this week and people don’t seem to be excited about it. It’s understandable. Maybe your team didn’t make it or maybe your obsession with Ohio State football supersedes all other sports in your life (as it does for me). However, I can think of one reason everyone should be excited about watching the best of the best play America’s past-time: cotton candy. That’s right, those delicious balls of sugar remind me why baseball is great. Let me explain. I attended a Reds game with my family in July of 1997. The team was struggling through the season, virtually out of the playoff race. As an 8-year-old, I wasn’t concerned and was happy to spend a day at the ballpark. In the middle of the game, I talked my parents into buying me some cotton candy. After thoroughly enjoying the treat, my hands were a sticky mess. Because sticky fingers are an enormous pet peeve of mine (and still are to this day), I left to wash my hands between innings, assuming I wouldn’t miss anything important. As I was drying my hands, I heard the crowd erupt with applause and ran back to my seat. I was too late. I had missed seeing Deion Sanders hit an inside-the-park home run, one of the rarest feats in sports. Both my parents and my sister, who cares nothing about sports, got to witness the event. I was crushed. I have been to countless major and minor league games since 1997 and have never seen an inside-the-park home run live. I have never seen it while watching a live broadcast of a game. I have also refused to eat cotton candy since that day in 1997. Baseball is the only sport that could cause me, at 8 years old, to begin a 13-year boycott of cotton candy. In no other sport can a miraculous, mind-blowing play come out of nowhere, in a seemingly meaningless inning in a meaningless game. Don’t get me wrong — all sports can produce miraculous plays. However, ridiculous dunks in basketball and stupendous catches in football are becoming more and more commonplace. And yes, last-second shots and Hail Mary passes are unbelievable live, but who would get out of their seats in the closing minutes of a game when the potential for such a play exists? No true fan. True sports fans watch for the miraculous moment to happen for their teams, and baseball is the only sport that could deliver such a moment in such a way. Despite the unimportance of the timing, the significance of the play I missed has stuck with me to this day. Until I see an inside-the-park home run live, I will not be eating any cotton candy. So if you’re contemplating whether to watch the MLB postseason and you are truly a sports fan, just remember cotton candy and flip on the game.
Thad Matta and the Ohio State men’s basketball team are already in the process of assembling a strong class for 2014, less than two months removed from this year’s National Signing Day for men’s basketball recruits. That class became stronger Friday night, when D’Angelo Russell verbally committed to the Buckeyes.Russell confirmed the commitment, which was first reported by Rivals.com, on his Twitter.Russell, a native of Louisville, Ky., is a shooting guard from Montverde Academy (Fla.). He is listed at 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds by Rivals.Russell is ranked as the nation’s No. 11 overall recruit by Scout.com, No. 22 by Rivals and No. 24 by ESPN.com. Russell is rated as a 5-star recruit by Scout and a 4-star recruit by both Rivals and ESPN.With Russell’s commitment, the Buckeyes already have four verbal commitments in the class of 2014. Keita Bates-Diop, a forward from Normal, Ill., is rated as a 5-star recruit by both Rivals and ESPN. The Buckeyes also have commitments from Jae’Sean Tate, a 4-star forward from Pickerington, Ohio, and David Bell, a 3-star center from Garfield Heights, Ohio.The Buckeyes have two incoming recruits, both rated as 4-star recruits by Scout, Rivals and ESPN, for the 2013 season. Power forward Marc Loving is a two-time state Division I Player of the Year from Toledo, Ohio, while shooting guard Kameron Williams comes to the Buckeyes from Baltimore, Md.Sophomore guard Amedeo Della Valle was the only member of the Buckeyes’ 2012 recruiting class.
Ohio State freshman quarterback Justin Fields speaks to the media for the first time on National Signing Day on Feb. 6. Credit: Colin Gay | Sports EditorK.J. Hill did not think he would be back for his fifth and final season.He left the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 thinking his career as an Ohio State wide receiver was over. But he made the decision to follow in the footsteps of those before him — Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon — to come back for one more year as the veteran guy in the receiver room. It was not until Hill returned to campus for the spring that he met sophomore quarterback Justin Fields, the heralded five-star recruit who spent his freshman season at Georgia. On Wednesday, Ohio State’s first spring practice, both were on the field, Fields taking snaps and Hill running routes, trying to duplicate the same chemistry quarterback Dwayne Haskins had with his three fifth-year receivers. “You know, first day, kind of nervous,” Hill said. “But all of us just have to get our timing right with each other.” Fields’ nerves were visible early in the practice period, overshooting receivers on short, 10-yard curl routes, leading receivers too far on out routes. But to head coach Ryan Day, those mistakes are going to happen. The former quarterbacks coach said his players are allowed to fail because failing leads to growth. The head coach said the quarterback who learns from his mistakes best usually wins the starting job. And yes, Day said there will be a competition for the starting quarterback job, though Fields remains the heavy favorite to win the starting spot. “It’s going to be a battle Day One,” Day said. “The guys were out there, we were splitting up the reps. During the spring, Mike [Yurcich]’s going to roll those guys in and out. Everyone is competing.” The head coach said he does not have a timetable to determine whether Fields or redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin will be the starting quarterback, but both will get equal reps with the first-team offense, something he said is healthy at every position. Day said Baldwin has been in the offense for a year, but he has not had the opportunity to run it with the first team cut. He said the redshirt freshman looked good doing that in the first practice of the spring. As for Fields, the head coach described him as a quick learner, doing a nice job in the meetings learning the offense with passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich, who is in his first season with Ohio State. At this point of the season, Day said it was good to go out onto the field to get a feel for what the quarterback room — specifically Baldwin and Fields — can handle. “Who are they? What is their identity going to be?” Day said. “It’s Day One, so it’s hard to tell.” The expectations remain to find a leader behind center who has the ability to move the ball downfield consistently and have a way to self-diagnose strengths and weaknesses to better suit the offense the quarterback is running. But Day is realistic. He said he expected for the spacing and timing of balls thrown from his quarterbacks to be off. “Shoot, that’s even normal in the NFL,” Day said. As practice went on, the head coach said the timing from all the quarterbacks improved and the ball came out well. Despite acknowledging there is a long way to go with a long list of things to improve, Day said that he was encouraged by what he saw in the first practice of the spring. And that is why he wants time. No matter the expectations behind Fields, the head coach said he wants to be prepared for whatever happens prior to the season opener against Florida Atlantic on Aug. 31. “You don’t really know how it’s going to play out,” Day said. “It’s one thing I learned a long time ago — to do all that early on doesn’t help at all, it doesn’t do anybody any good.” Day is not focused on naming a starting quarterback. Instead, he’s helping lead quarterbacks to learn the offense to prepare for the starting job.
Speaking after the meeting, Miss Jones said: “I feel so thankful for what he said, especially because he lost his mum at a similar age.”It meant a lot to me. He said I was really brave and strong and that I should be proud of myself. He was really nice and so was Kate.”Over the past year, the Duke and Duchess have focused much of their public work on promoting the emotional and psychological well-being of children, teenagers and adults. Miss Jones, also 18, emotionally revealed that she began self-harming after her mother was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.She told the couple that Youthscape helped her cope, especially when her mother died when she was just 14.William told her: “What happened should never have happened to you and you should never have gone through it.”The fact you have gone through it and got where you are now, you should be really, really proud.”Kate, who was wearing a blue and white LK Bennett dress, told both girls they were “so courageous” and “strong”. The centre reopened in April after a £3.2 million revamp. It was designed for the organisation as a national hub for its work.Founded in 1993, the charity specialises in young people’s social, emotional and spiritual development. It has pioneered projects such as SelfharmUK, which is the only dedicated imitative aimed at helping youngsters understand and recover from self-harm.The royal visitors met Holly Keany, 18, and Ellis Jones, listening intently to their stories as they described everything they have been through during their lives. The Duchess of Cambridge has revealed a part of her childhood saying she loved the American card game Uno.Kate told youngsters at a newly revamped centre for young people her and her siblings played the chase-based game regularly.The Duchess also said she was fan of the book Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins.Laura Murphy, 20, said: “She said it was really, really good.”William and Kate were visiting the Youthscape building at Bute Mills in Luton, Bedfordshire, as part of their drive to raise awareness about mental health. William and Kate visiting the Youthscape building at Bute Mills in LutonCredit:Eddie Mulholland for The Telegraph William at Kate arriving the Youthscape centreCredit: Chris Jackson Touring the building, they met some of the young people who use the facilities spread across the mill, which was built in 1911.William, an avid Aston Villa fan and president of the Football Association, joined Jermaine Hylton, 17, and Youthscape worker Matt Allen in a game of Fifa on a computer.Playing his favourite team against Luton Town, who recently beat Villa, William scored a goal during the match, but one of the boys told him it was offside.William jokingly said after his celebration: “What? Are you kidding me?!” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.
An NHS Trust has apologised after an elderly woman remained on a ward for six months at a cost of more than £80,000 despite being fit for discharge.Iris Sibley, 89, and her family were left “distressed and let down” after multiple attempts to move her into a nursing home failed, leaving her in isolation at the Bristol Royal Infirmary.Her son, John Sibley, said her ordeal was “pretty scandalous” and had put a “huge strain” on their family.”It’s not until you get caught up in it that you realise how serious the situation is,” he told the Guardian. If we get the capacity wrong in social care, it’s the NHS that bears the consequencesRobert Woolley, University Hospitals Bristol NHS foundation trust Mrs Sibley was taken to hospital in June after a fall at a care home.When she was deemed well enough to be leave, she was assessed by Bristol Community Health on behalf of the South Gloucestershire Care Commissioning Group, an NHS body that is responsible for local health care services.They advised Mrs Sibley needed round-the-clock nursing care and it took until January 4 to find a place in a home suitable for her medical and personal needs. Robert Woolley, chief executive of University Hospitals Bristol NHS foundation trust, said a formal investigation was under way.”I’m very sorry for what happened to Mrs Sibley and apologise to her family for the massive frustration that all of us have caused,” he said.Mr Woolley said there is a “critical interdependency” between social care and the NHS.”If we get the capacity wrong in social care, it’s the NHS that bears the consequences. That is plain for all to see,” he said. The Department of Health said it had increased funding and published guidelines designed to improve co-ordination between the NHS and relevant bodies.Mrs Sibley’s case follows revelations that patients have faced discharge delays of more than year in Scotland.One patient in Dumfries and Galloway was kept in hospital for 508 days despite being well enough to be discharged, figures obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats showed. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.
He blamed it firmly on the constraints of BBC show Ground Force, claiming he had warned programme-makers it was impossible to transform gardens properly in just two days.As such, he disclosed, hosts were left reliant on quick fixes such as decking to make an on-screen impact.Speaking at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, he was asked whether he now “feels bad” about the decking craze, which left swathes of perfectly good grass covered in budget-friendly wood across the land.The influence of the programme, he disclosed, was such that annual sales of decking at B&Q went from £9,000-worth the year before Ground Force to £8 million in the aftermath.”Oh my Achilles heel!” said Titchmarsh.”Decking I do feel a bit bad about but you’ve got to remember we’re talking about the mid-90s.” “If you’ve only got two days, decking is economical and you can do it quite quickly.”And if you slip and fall over on it you only bruise yourself rather than break you hip, which you do on stone.”So those were my reasons. And on a modern house, decking works.”He added: “In that year before Ground Force went out, the gross total of sales for decking in B&Q throughout Britain was £9,000.”Then Ground Force came on, and the following year they sold £8million.”So I have no doubt that when I’m put in the ground eventually they will deck my grave.”I do feel a bit bad about it, yes.”But then Chanel didn’t apologise for her little black dress, did she?”He now has some decking at his home of the Isle of Wight because the modern build means “it’s suitable, it fits the surroundings”.But his second home, an old Georgian farmhouse, has “not an ounce” of it.First broadcast in 1997 on the BBC, Ground Force starred Titchmarsh, Charlie Dimmock and Tommy Walsh and became the must-watch gardening show for its formula of making over an ordinary garden with a water feature, decking and last-minute dash to get it finished before deadline.In its heyday, 12 million viewers tuned in. He told an audience he had learned about decking while at Kew by a “great landscape designer” called John Brookes , who taught him how it was used in the States in the late 60s.”When we started doing Ground Force we were given two days to makeover gardens,” Titchmarsh said.”And when I got asked to do Ground Force, I said ‘you can’t do it, you can’t make a garden in two days, it’s a lifetime’s work’.”Eventually, he said, he was won over by the challenge, conceding: “Oh go on then I’ll have a go.””The thing about doing a makeover programme is that it’s the reverse of painting a picture, because you have to do the frame and paint the picture in it rather than painting a picture and finding a frame for it,” he said. Alan Titchmarsh on Ground Force, putting in some deckingCredit:BBC It was the 1990s trend which took over the gardens of middle England before falling spectacularly out of fashion.Now the man behind the decking phenomenon, Alan Titchmarsh, has admitted he feels “a bit bad” over encouraging the trend, saying the notoriety would follow him to his grave.Titchmarsh, whose Ground Force television makeover programmes set the tone for British gardens for years, said decking had become his “Achilles heel”, as he confesses he does not even have it in his own Georgian farmhouse home. Decking I do feel a bit bad about but you’ve got to remember we’re talking about the mid-90sAlan Titchmarsh Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.
The BMA said repeated real terms cuts to doctors’ pay had taken a “substantial toll” on incomes and did nothing to address the ongoing recruitment and retention difficulties for all grades of doctor, while a nurses’ leader said there had been a real terms fall in nursing pay of around 14 percent since 2010.Dr Peter Bennie, chairman of BMA Scotland, added: “The announcement that yet again the pay of doctors in Scotland will go up by just one per cent while the rate of inflation is at 2.3 per cent means that once again doctors pay will decline in real terms.”Repeated years of real terms cuts to doctors’ pay have taken a substantial toll on incomes and do nothing to address the significant recruitment and retention difficulties across all grades of doctor. “At a time when doctors’ workloads are increasing like never before, there will be widespread disappointment and anger at the decision to continue this approach.”Simon Barker, chairman of the association’s consultants’ committee, said it had learned with “great disappointment” that ministers had decided to “ignore the recommendation of its independent pay review body to recognise and value the hard work of NHS consultants for the second year running”.He said the announcement also came at a time when the most recent figures confirmed a worsening situation for consultants north of the border, with almost seven per cent of posts unfilled, and nearly half of those empty for more than six month.He warned: “We will never recruit and retain the specialists that our health service needs if we fail to recognise and reward their efforts.”Nurses also condemned the decision to cap pay rises at one per cent for those earning over pounds22,000.Norman Provan, associate director of the Royal College of Nursing, said the Scottish Government had missed an opportunity to close the gap between nurses’ pay and inflation and the sector would continue to “bear the brunt of austerity measures in the NHS in Scotland”.Meanwhile, it was reported that at least 14 GP practices have shut since the start of 2016. Five practices have closed in the NHS Lothian area, three in Ayrshire and Arran, three in Highland, two in Fife and one in Tayside.Claire Walker, a GP for 14 years at Strathesk Medical Practice in Bonnyrigg, Midlothian, said: “A lot of days we are only providing an emergency service because we do not have enough doctors. I am extremely concerned about the state of primary care in the NHS.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. On Tayside, The Courier reported that whistle-blowing nurses claimed it was a matter of time before staff shortages at Perth Royal Infirmary led to a death – a claim denied by management.Shona Robison, the health minister, said NHS employees were valued “enormously” and claimed pay restraint had to be seen in the context of cuts to Scotland’s budget in recent years.She added: “All directly employed NHS Scotland staff will receive at least a one per cent uplift in pay. We will also continue to guarantee a living wage for all NHS staff, and maintain our commitment to no compulsory redundancies.” Shona Robison said NHS staff are highly valuedCredit:PA Angry doctors have warned that Scotland’s already over-stretched and under-resourced NHS workforce will come under even more pressure after the Scottish Government capped pay increases at one per cent.Doctors and nurses said the announcement would do nothing to tackle recruitment problems and send the wrong message to staff who were being asked to deliver more every year from an “already inadequate budget”.With the latest figures showing inflation at 2.3 per cent, both groups raised concerns about the growing gap between wages and the cost of living.The pay cap was announced as it emerged that one GP surgery is closing every month due to staff shortages, and amid warnings from whistle blowers that it is only a matter of time before staff shortages at one busy infirmary result in a death.
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a bombing at a pop concert in Manchester which left 22 people dead.In a statement released by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s official Amaq news agency, they said it was revenge for attacks on “Muslim lands”.”One of the soldiers of the Caliphate was able to place an explosive device within a gathering of the Crusaders in the city of Manchester,” it said, appearing to challenge the Manchester police theory it had been a suicide attack.The jihadist group also claimed the attack, which killed at least 22 people – including children – and injured 59 more concertgoers leaving a packed Ariana Grande performance at Manchester Arena, was planned beforehand.They described the venue as a “shameless”Isil did not publish a name or picture of the assailant, which they have done for some major attacks in the past. If confirmed, it would be the deadliest militant assault on the UK since four British Muslims killed 52 people in suicide bombings on London’s transport system in July 2005.US officials drew parallels between the blast and the coordinated attacks in November 2015 by Islamist militants on the Bataclan concert hall and other sites in Paris, which claimed about 130 lives. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.