The NFL playoffs begin Saturday, and if recent reports are any indication, this season could mark the end of the 12-team postseason era. In March, the league will vote on whether to expand its tournament field to 14 teams for the 2015 season — after which the floodgates may open for further expansion in subsequent seasons.This is not necessarily a bad thing. The NFL playoffs are a TV ratings bonanza, and it doesn’t seem as though our appetite for football is waning (despite a trying year off the field). Plus, teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans — all of which missed the playoffs this season despite winning records — make a case for creating more playoff spots. (And the 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers hosting a home playoff game makes the case for re-seeding the field.)But which expanded format is best? As I’ve done in the past, I’ll take the perspective that the best format is the one that sees the most deserving team win the most often, using a Monte Carlo simulation to test playoff fields of various sizes.More specifically, I generated random preseason Elo ratings for every team (based on the historical distribution of real-life preseason Elo ratings) and simulated the real-life 2014 regular season schedule 1,000 times — an exercise similar to that performed by Doug Drinen in this classic post at the Pro-Football-Reference.com blog. For each of those simulations, I tracked the regular season standings, seeding the teams within each conference using simulated point differential as the tiebreaker.The preseason ratings represent the starting talent levels for every team, but they can go up or down depending on the simulated game outcomes, in accordance with the Elo formula. For instance, a team assigned an initial Elo below the league-average mark of 1500 could tear off an improbably great regular season and finish above 1700. That would be used as the team’s strength rating going into the postseason.For potential expanded fields of 14, 16, 20, and 32 teams, I tracked how often the most talented preseason and end-of-regular-season Elo team won the Super Bowl, as well as the average preseason and pre-playoff Elo ratings (and rankings) of the simulated Super Bowl champs. For comparison, I also ran this test for contracted fields of 2, 4, and 8 teams, as well as the current 12-team setup.Here’s a little more to help decipher that chart. When the playoffs contained just 2 teams, the average simulated Super Bowl winner had an Elo of 1565.3 before the season, which gave it an average ranking of 9.2 among the NFL’s 32 teams. Also, 12.8 percent of those Super Bowl winners were ranked No. 1 in the preseason. After the regular season was simulated, those teams averaged an Elo rating of 1690.1, with an average ranking of 2.5 within the league, and they led the league in post-regular season Elo 44.7 percent of the time. Finally, following the Super Bowl the average winner from our two-team-playoff universe had an Elo rating of 1711.6.Comparing those categories across all formats, the irony is that a BCS-style two-team playoff produces the most talented champion from the perspective of both preseason and end-of-regular-season Elo ratings. But since that’s clearly neither realistic nor desirable, it appears the 14-team bracket is the superior option. On average, it yields the most talented team of any expanded format, and enables that team to win the Super Bowl with quite a bit more frequency — perhaps due to first-round byes only being given to the top seed in each conference.Interestingly, a 14-team bracket also yields the best average post-Super Bowl rating for the champ among any format tested, expanded or not. (Granting that the current 12-team setup sees the better regular-season team win more often.) Based on this research, then, a 14-team playoff seems to strike the best balance between letting teams settle things on the field and putting the most deserving teams in a position to succeed.
Lewis Schaffel1989Miami1300-726 Bernie Bickerstaff1991Denver1479-2335 Michael Jordan2001Washington1436-150146 Chris Wallace2008Memphis1416-9296 Pat Williams1990Orlando1300-9252 Rod Thorn2001New Jersey1446-109234 Walter Brown1947Boston1300-82100 Harry Weltman1988New Jersey1412-80-49 GMs inheriting rebuilding teams Stu Jackson1996Vancouver1300-7540 Ernie Grunfeld2004Washington1444-119114 Sam Presti2008Seattle1440-137119 John Paxson2004Chicago1420-109112 Jack McCloskey1993Minnesota1325-60-59 Billy King2011New Jersey1352-5197 Grizzlies1996-75-62+35 The average GM in that situation saw a 62-point Elo improvement from the beginning of Year Two through 27 games of his third season, and 24 of 32 GMs oversaw some kind of improvement. Hinkie, by contrast, saw a loss of 84 Elo points over the same span — by far the steepest drop on a list littered with some of the most glaring managerial failures in league history. Adding insult to embarrassment: yes, that’s Colangelo up at the top, albeit navigating a very different NBA in 1969.You’ll notice that a few of the GMs on the above list took the reins of an expansion club. Certainly, the 2013-14 76ers featured a roster that could pass for a brand-new NBA franchise. This raises the question: How might the Sixers fare if we arbitrarily (but, let’s be honest, justifiably) assigned them an expansion-level Elo of 1300 before the 2013-14 season and compared their progress to those of the NBA’s other modern expansion teams, going back to the 1976 ABA-NBA merger? Now that Jerry Colangelo is Skyping in to the Wells Fargo Center for what The New York Times calls a “father figure” role in the 76ers front office — which, suuure — it seems like an opportune time to take inventory of just how big a mess Sam Hinkie and his Process have made.We know, we know: The Sixers want to be this bad; these are planned grotesqueries; the trades have been fine and the picks are still coming and never you mind the reported dozen-odd team owners banging down Adam Silver’s door demanding a good waterboarding for ol’ Sam. Silver, of course, denies intervening (which you can hear for yourself on a special episode of Hot Takedown), and that’s practically a co-sign from the man in charge, isn’t it now? A full-on prosecution of Hinkie’s process is justified and overdue. For now, however, we’ll confine ourselves to discussing the shape of Philadelphia’s evolution in the broadest possible sense, comparing its progress during Hinkie’s reign with that of other teams also undergoing such radical, um, rebirths.We looked at this a few ways. First, we used our Elo ratings to find all GMs who took over a below-average team that got worse in the GM’s first year in control — specifically, overseeing an Elo decline of at least 50 points,1The equivalent of a 2-point drop in point spread each game. enough of a drop to pick up teams that needed more than one offseason’s worth of work. We then looked for the Elo gains or losses each made between the start of his second season and the 27-game mark of his third — i.e., where Hinkie is with the Sixers right now.We’re trying to isolate full-on rebuilding jobs: teams that were already bad and were still in demolition mode during Year One but were presumably trying (or at least should have been trying) to lay down some semblance of a foundation after that. We can then judge Philadelphia’s progress against this historical standard. Turns out, Hinkie has ruled over the biggest Elo decline of any GM under those circumstances, ever: Hornets1989-24+5+41 Kiki Vandeweghe2002Denver1469-9065 Carl Bennett1949Fort Wayne1495-11388 Nick Mileti1971Cleveland1300-10354 Danny Ainge2004Boston1481-6834 David Kahn2010Minnesota1371-129137 What if the Sixers were an expansion team? Edwin Coil1966Detroit1428-11075 John Nash1991Washington1416-63-31 Mavericks1981-31+78+134 Pepper Wilson1959Cincinnati1481-174-16 Jerry Colangelo1969Phoenix1300-133243 Magic1990-92+137+34 Check out our 2015-16 NBA Predictions. Jim Paxson2000Cleveland1468-57-30 Rich Cho2012Charlotte1422-271168 ELO CHANGE FROM 1300 THROUGH SEASON Bobcats2005-5+80+65 Elo change for season three is through the first 27 gamesSource: Basketball-REFERENCE.com Garry St. Jean1998Golden State1406-11038 Glen Grunwald1998Toronto1445-202185 Rob Hennigan2013Orlando1478-22980 EXPANSION TEAM1ST YEARONETWOTHREE (1ST 27G) Elgin Baylor1987L.A. Clippers1424-21749 Sixers2014-137-68-88 EXECUTIVE1ST YEARTEAMINITIAL ELOYEAR 1YEAR 2 TO YEAR 3 Again, the Sixers are way behind schedule. Not only would their Elo change since “expansion” rank last among modern expansion franchises, they’re also the only team to be in worse shape after 27 games of Year Three than they were when the franchise “began.” Being a team with no past at all is better than being these Sixers.Now, the standard procession of Hinkie Stan counter-arguments. Argument the first: Expansion teams are generally trying to make incremental progress in their first few seasons, which is not necessarily what Hinkie’s Sixers are pursuing. Argument the second: The draft is an imperfect science with bad luck lurking behind every lottery pick, and the lottery itself is based on probabilities as well. When your entire team-building concept relies heavily on risk tolerance, it’s no surprise that busts are likely when the boom doesn’t come. Argument the third: The Only Goal Is Winning A Championship (And Building A Dynasty), and the Sixers remain well-positioned to draft or develop a superstar.We’ll leave those arguments to be settled another day. What this research suggests is that the Sixers have made significantly less progress than their historical analogs (to the extent those exist), and NBA fans looking to watch a decent game of basketball in Philadelphia these last three years would have been better served if the league had dissolved the 76ers and held tryouts. Eddie Donovan1971Buffalo1300-89-35 Timberwolves1990+41+108+33 Raptors1996-37+125+25 Heat1989-72-55+3 Sam Hinkie2014Philadelphia1460-206-84 Source: basketball-reference.com Mike Dunleavy1993Milwaukee1412-54-37 ELO CHANGE
Blake Bortles25.41411+3 WINS Matthew Stafford21.71927-8 Cam Newton23.02726+1 All newsletters Derek Carr25.82322+1 Carson Palmer20.72625+1 Ben Roethlisberger21.03028+2 Alex Smith18.82730-3 Philip Rivers24.42218+4 Eli Manning23.52523+2 Andrew Luck24.22821+7 Matt Ryan24.32925+4 The Saints offense does occasionally sputter, and for those games, the team’s chances of winning are solely reliant on the defense — in other words, virtually hopeless. In games when the Saints scored less than the league average, they went 2-14. Brady’s Patriots went 5-6 when they failed to best the league average.The Saints head into their season opener in Minnesota tonight determined to finally turn around their defense. Head coach Sean Payton said he’s “optimistic” about the unit. Players are even hoping a preseason stretch of eight consecutive quarters without allowing a touchdown will prove meaningful now that the games actually count. We’re launching a sports newsletter. 🏆 Join the squad. Subscribe It’s not Brees’s faultThe difference in win total for quarterbacks if their actual defense was replaced by a league-average defense in each game, 2014-16. Among the 47 games Brees started in the past three seasons, the Saints would have won 10 more games (technically, they would have won 12 games they actually lost and lost two they had actually won, for a net increase of 10). In both 2014 and 2016, Brees’s record would have been 11-5, and New Orleans would have made the playoffs. To be sure, this is just a back-of-the-napkin calculation, and several variables can distort this expected-win statistic — for instance, Brees and the Saints probably wouldn’t have scored as much if they hadn’t been constantly losing.But when you look at all the non-Brees starting quarterbacks who also started from 2014 to 2016, the connection between clearing the league-average point total and winning games is quite strong: The quarterbacks in our sample average 0.97 wins for every one time they clear that bar. Brees, on the other hand, registered 0.68 wins for his better-than-average offensive days. Matthew Stafford is the anti-Brees in this regard: The Detroit Lions’ QB has 27 wins since 2014 despite leading an offense that beat the league-average point total just 19 times. QUARTERBACKAVG. OPP. PTS/GAMEEXPECTEDACTUALDIFF. Joe Flacco20.32321+2 Drew Brees is in a league of his own statistically. He has led the NFL in passing yards three years in a row and seven times as a Saint (no other player in history has hit that mark more than five times). He has topped 5,000 yards five times — all other quarterbacks in history have combined for only four such seasons. Brees’s New Orleans offenses have finished in the top 10 in scoring in six straight years, and his nine consecutive seasons of 30 or more TD passes are nearly twice as many as the next closest QBs (Brett Favre 1994-98 and Peyton Manning 2009-14). Brees’s passing résumé would force the office printer to run out of paper.But there is one reasonably important statistic that Brees struggles in: winning football games. The Saints last had a winning season in 2013, finishing 7-9 for three straight years. And in the 16-game era, no quarterback has started every game and missed the playoffs more often than Brees, who has done this seven times. Even some Saints fans are asking whether Brees is merely a compiler of gaudy passing numbers who can’t deliver in the clutch.But Brees isn’t the reason the Saints have lost 27 games in three seasons — the defense is. Among all 32 teams from 2014 to 2016, the Saints ranked 28th, 32nd and 31st in points allowed per game, respectively. Over those three seasons, the Saints gave up 28.2 points on average in Brees’s starts — that’s practically a touchdown more than the league average during that time (22.7). No other current starting quarterback in this time period has nearly this high a hurdle to clear to get a win.1For this, we looked at the 18 quarterbacks who are currently starters and also started for any team in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The three quarterbacks with the most wins during that time — Tom Brady (35), Aaron Rodgers (32) and Russell Wilson (32) — have defenses that have allowed an average of 18.6, 22.1 and 17.1 points per game, respectively.2Only counting games in which they started.Let’s pretend for a second that New Orleans had an average defense — not even a good one — over the past three seasons. If the actual points surrendered by the Saints in each of the 47 games that Brees started in 2014-16 were replaced with the league average for the season, how many more games would Brees have won? Andy Dalton19.72526-1 Aaron Rodgers22.13532+3 For current starting quarterbacks who also started in the 2014 through 2016 seasons. Expected wins are based on whether the opposition team scored the NFL average points per game for a given season.Source: pro-football-reference.com Russell Wilson17.13032-2 Jay Cutler26.11112-1 Drew Brees28.23121+10 Tom Brady18.63335-2 The Saints need a defensive awakening to happen soon. Although Brees plays as though he’s ageless, he’ll turn 39 in January. He doesn’t even need his defense to be good for the team to be successful. The Saints have finished 20th or better in points allowed just five times in his 11 seasons in New Orleans, and Brees has led his team to the playoffs in each of these seasons — averaging 12 wins. Alas, those are his only winning seasons for Payton and his rotating cast of defensive coordinators.Check out our latest NFL predictions.
Let’s flashback to 2008. USC trounces Virginia, 52-7, and Ohio State escapes embarrassment with a fourth quarter rally to top Ohio University, 26-14. The following week, the Trojans pounded the Buckeyes 35-3, further eroding the Big Ten’s waning credibility.Hop out of your time machine and skim through the results from Week 1 in 2009. DéjÃ vu. OSU narrowly avoids an upset at home to the Naval Academy, while USC smokes San Jose State, 56-3. Which team feels more confident heading into the rematch at The Shoe? That might not be as important of a question as one would think. If asked which team’s fans feel more certain about Saturday’s meeting, then the answer would clearly point toward Hollywood’s enthusiasts.When Navy had a chance to tie the game with two minutes left, it wasn’t about potentially losing to the 22-point underdog at home to kick off the season. No, it was more about the clear lack of confidence that the Buckeye faithful now have heading into a must-win match against Southern Cal.But, while history points to Navy’s near-upset as a precursor to another OSU letdown, I’m here to tell you it means next to nothing. USC might beat Ohio State by 30, but it will have little to do with how both teams fared in their openers.Pete Carroll’s gameplan against lowly San Jose State was to get true freshman Matt Barkley as comfortable as possible. But how much experience does a quarterback get under his belt in just one game? And in that one game, he played just three quarters, and played them against a team that was shutout at home last year by Louisiana Tech. Barkley finished just 2-4 for 20 yards in the first quarter. The Spartans led, 3-0, after those first 15 minutes.The rookie finished 15-19 for 233 yards and a touchdown. So, Barkley got acclimated to the college game, but it took a quarter to find a rhythm against a far inferior opponent in front of 84,325 Trojan warriors at The Coliseum.Barkley won’t have as smooth of a transition in front of 105,000 in scarlet and gray under the bright lights at The Shoe.It’s up to the Buckeyes’ defense to make his life miserable, though.Navy had its way with the OSU defense for much of Saturday afternoon. But how much can really be drawn from defending a style of offense the Buckeyes won’t see again for years?The triple option attack that the Midshipmen employ demands a defensive scheme that OSU won’t use against USC. The Buckeyes lined up in many 5-0 and 3-4 sets, with linebackers and defensive ends gearing up to stop the run, and only the run.Against a much more balanced Trojan attack, the Bucks can implement whatever defense they’ve been working on throughout the summer. By opening with Navy, Jim Tressel was allowed to hide every one of his defensive ploys up his sleeve. Unfortunately for him, his team obviously was looking ahead to the USC contest as well.When getting down to the basics, the Buckeyes still played very poorly in the final quarter against Navy. Repeating many of the mistakes they committed against Navy in this weekend’s bonanza will result in an outcome similar to the 35-3 thrashing that still burns in the minds of Buckeye backers.But no matter the result in Saturday’s rematch, draw fewer conclusions about Week 1 when predicting what will happen in Week 2.
“Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.” That obscure “Men in Black” quote illustrates the past month or so of Buckeye football. Constant breaking news has surrounded Columbus’ favorite sons: Tattoo-gate, player apologies, players pledging to return for senior year, an assistant coach leaving, an assistant coach almost leaving and, of course, all kinds of reaction from the outside world. Thus, there’s no flying under the radar for the Vest and his boys. The stakes are lofty for OSU. Arguably no other team in college football is under more pressure to win its bowl game. Some people are infuriated that the Shameful Six are allowed to participate in the Sugar Bowl. Others aren’t. I’m apathetic, mostly because the NCAA is making up rules as it goes along. So, I’m not going to waste my time judging players who may or may not have broken those rules. Tattoo-gate has overshadowed the game and OSU’s opponent come tonight: Arkansas. And in case anyone’s forgotten, the Bucks are 0-for-9 against the SEC in bowl games. That said, for OSU to get a victory against the Razorbacks, it’ll have to come together as a team. Only those associated with the program know if Tattoo-gate divided the team. The players will never come out and say it, but some must be wondering if some of those suspended are getting preferential treatment. Speaking of the players, there couldn’t be more weight on their shoulders. They’ve already experienced trials and tribulations in past bowl games. Although not many of them experienced the two BCS title game losses, the impact of the two colossal flops still weighs on the program. Plenty of them were there for the heartbreaking loss to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl. And nearly all of them were feeling rosy after beating Oregon last January. Meanwhile, Arkansas has been marginalized, which is, I’m sure, just how Head Hog Bobby Petrino wants it. The Razorbacks only lost to Alabama and Auburn this year. There’s no shame in losing to the Cam Newton-led Tigers and a Crimson Tide team that dominated and embarrassed co-Big Ten champion Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl. Petrino has the Arkansas program on the rise. Two vastly different teams will enter the Superdome tonight with different mindsets: One will be trying to salvage its season; one will be trying to vault itself into the national spotlight. Imagine what could happen tonight.
It took the Ohio State field hockey team seven games to score nine goals. Against Kent State, the Buckeyes almost matched their season total for goals. OSU (5-3) beat Kent State (4-6) on Wednesday, 8-2, at Buckeye Varsity Field. After back-to-back road wins at Ohio University and Bucknell, OSU returned home and extended its win streak to three games. Senior forward Danica Deckard helped lead OSU to the win, tallying a hat trick and an assist. Deckard now has eight of the team’s 17 goals this season. By game’s end, six different OSU players had scored and four had posted an assist. OSU coach Anne Wilkinson said her team now has the look of a “hungry” squad. “I like the way we are playing together, our timing is a lot better,” Wilkinson said. “We’re distributing the ball and off second effort we are able to finish our opportunities.” Deckard agreed. “We were just really connecting passes and making stuff happen. So, it was really good to get a game like this where we made each other look good,” Deckard said. Kent State struck first 10 minutes into the game and held onto the lead until the 23rd minute when Deckard scored two unassisted goals in less than three minutes to give the Buckeyes their first lead. OSU wouldn’t look back. A goal from senior forward Berta Queralt, assisted by junior back Nora Murer, brought the score to 3-1 with five minutes left in the first half. OSU struck first in the second half with the first career goal from sophomore midfielder Mona Frommhold and an assist from Deckard nine minutes in. The Golden Flashes countered with a goal of their own less than a minute later making the score 4-2. After giving up a second goal, junior goalkeeper Emma Voelker turned away three shots and OSU held Kent State scoreless in the last 25 minutes of the match. “Emma played great, Emma made some great touches on it,” Wilkinson said. “All the support players in that corner defense played really smart, really proud of them.” OSU continued to pull away from the Golden Flashes with consecutive goals from veteran players in the span of almost five minutes. First, it was junior midfielder Paula Pastor-Pitarque who won possession of the ball in front the net and put it past the goalie for her second goal of the season. Next, Deckard completed the hat trick with a goal off an assist from sophomore forward/midfielder Carly Mackessy. The Buckeyes kept the pedal to the metal despite their 6-2 lead and scored two more goals in the last five minutes of the game. OSU’s seventh tally came from freshman forward Peanut Johnson with an assist from fellow freshman forward/midfielder Annie VonderBrink. It was Johnson’s first career goal and VonderBrink’s first career point. “It was exciting because I’ve been working hard but it was a complete team effort,” Johnson said about her first goal. The scoring barrage ended with a second goal from Frommhold with 3:17 left in the game. The Buckeyes will continue their home stand and start Big Ten play Friday versus No. 10 Northwestern. “It’s going to be a great game, like every team in the Big Ten you can’t take any of them lightly,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a really tough, we just have to fight for all 70 minutes.”
Shelby Lum / Photo editorRedshirt senior running back Jordan Hall pushes through the line with the ball in a game against Buffalo on Aug. 31. OSU won, 40-20Coming into Ohio State’s season opener against Buffalo, the question was, “Who was going to step up as running back?”After OSU’s 40-20 victory, though, the question is, “Who can stop Jordan Hall?”The redshirt senior running back was named the starter in the week leading up to his team’s season opener, but there were some doubts about his ability to perform as the main running back.Hall quelled any doubts that the fans had by halftime, tallying 126 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground in the first half. He finished with 159 yards on the day, a career high.Both of his touchdowns came on big runs in the first half, one of which was a career-long at 49 yards. The other, a 37-yard sprint, came one play after Buffalo had cut the lead to 10 points and all but dashed any hope the Bulls had for a comeback.Junior quarterback Braxton Miller said that Hall’s second touchdown helped to keep the momentum in Ohio State’s favor as the game was starting to slip away from the Buckeyes.“It slipped a little bit. But Dontre (Wilson) came back with a nice kickoff return, we got up a little bit and then Jordan scored a nice little run,” said Miller.Hall credits his touchdown runs to the holes that were created for him by the offensive line.“I just was like wow, I don’t know if they messed up or the O-line just did what they do and I just (saw) it and I took it,” Hall said.It was a long journey back for Hall, who, despite being named a captain in 2012, missed 9 of 12 games because of two separate injuries.“It was tough, it wasn’t as tough because we won every game, so I feel like if we had lost a couple of games it would have been even tougher because I would have felt like I could’ve helped,” Hall said when asked about his time spent on the bench last season. “But we won every game so I was happy for my teammates.”During the offseason, it was believed that Hall would fill the H-back role in Meyer’s offense, but senior wide receiver Chris Fields started at the position Saturday, due to his ability to both run and catch the ball.Hall said he spent time preparing to be the H-back, but was also ready if he was needed as a traditional running back.“I was going to be the H and coach told me I had to learn both positions, so wherever they put me, I’m going to do what I have to do to help the team win,” Hall said.Hall finished the game with three catches for 14 yards to go along with his rushing total, but also caught a pass for a two-point conversion from senior quarterback Kenny Guiton.The two-point conversion was the second in a row for OSU, with Guiton being in on both conversions.“The first one we had a guy over to the right…basically Drew called it for me. He was like ‘You want me to block ‘em?’ and I said ‘Go ahead.’ I ran it in. And then the next one they had about four guys there, and I’m like they don’t have enough to hold Jordan and the offensive line. So I just threw it out,” Guiton said.Hall was glad to see the team come out to a fast start, taking a 23-0 lead after the first quarter, but felt that after that the team got complacent and slowed their pace.“Coach (offensive coordinator Tom Herman) Herman challenged us to come out fast, get things going, and I think we did that,” Hall said. “In the second half we slowed down a little bit, but we’ll be better next week.”Senior running back Carlos Hyde, the expected starter heading into the season, will return from suspension on Sept. 21 against Florida A&M. With Hall’s performance in the opener, it will be interesting to see what Meyer decides to do in the backfield.Hall isn’t worried about the return of Hyde, saying it’s about the team, not his individual stats.“We’re all brothers on the team, whatever we’ve got to do to get a win and do what our goal is this year, that’s our main focus,” Hall said.OSU next plays host to San Diego State at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 7 at Ohio Stadium.
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman waves to the crowd during the Super Bowl Parade Feb. 5 in Seattle.Courtesy of MCTIn the two weeks between the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl XLVIII, every person who encountered any type of sports media likely learned the name of Richard Sherman.The third-year cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks stole headlines from many other worthy story lines heading into the biggest sporting event of the year.Denver Broncos Quarterback Peyton Manning breaking single-season passing records and leading the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl in his second season after returning from a career-threatening neck injury?The NFL’s best offense squaring off against the NFL’s best defense in a true test of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object?How would the Seahawks’ offense, with running back Marshawn Lynch arguably being the only player who would rank in the top 10 of NFL players at his position (Lynch finished with 1,257 yards on the ground, good for sixth in the league), keep up with the prolific scoring of the Broncos?All of these buzzworthy topics took a backseat to the controversy surrounding the 25-year-old defensive back’s on-camera reaction to a sideline reporter’s questions after the Seahawks’ Jan 19 victory.Sherman’s deflection of a pass intended for San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree into the waiting arms of linebacker Malcolm Smith sealed the NFC Championship victory and a Super Bowl berth for Seattle.With the attention of the football world on him, Sherman had set himself up for a potentially huge payday and possibly some new endorsement deals.After Sunday’s game, Sherman’s name did not make the front page of many newspapers after he turned in a quiet but efficient performance in Seattle’s 43-8 victory over Denver.He was credited with three tackles and one pass deflection in a game where his most noticeable effects on the game were the two times play was stopped while Sherman sprawled on the turf in pain.Sherman was carted off the field during the fourth quarter with a high ankle sprain, but returned to give a relatively subdued interview — a far cry from the outburst that garnered so much attention two weeks prior.He had practically forcibly grabbed the spotlight while enthusiastically proclaiming himself to be the “best corner in the game” in the postgame interview with Fox’s Erin Andrews after his team’s 23-17 win.Despite not making any spectacular individual plays or boasting an impressive stat line, Sherman played an integral role in a team effort that held Denver and its NFL MVP quarterback to one score in the entire game.Manning never looked comfortable in the pocket, and he often checked down to short-yardage passes. He threw two interceptions, lost a fumble, was sacked, was involved in a safety after his center snapped the ball over his head, and had eight of his passes batted down in a disappointing outing.Sherman might not have earned a spot on the Super Bowl highlight reel, but at least he did not turn in a dud like Manning.Most importantly, Sherman added “Super Bowl Champion” to a résumé that already includes being a two-time first-team All-Pro and Stanford graduate.Hopefully, his calmer postgame demeanor this time around will silence his critics, at least temporarily. Social media exploded with derision and racial slurs directed toward Sherman after his outspoken on-air rant in the Andrews interview.Despite being loud, Sherman does not have any obvious character flaws or negative history and would actually make a great role model for young athletes.He was salutatorian of his high school class of Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif., and attended a college known for academics instead of athletics, graduating after five years with a degree in communications and starting a master’s instead of leaving early for the NFL.“I really wanted to make that known to people that you can go to Stanford from Compton,” Sherman said when he was drafted.After the deciding play in the NFC Championship Game, Sherman congratulated Crabtree by saying “helluva game” and extending a handshake. Crabtree reacted by shoving Sherman’s facemask, which presumably was the catalyst for Sherman’s now-infamous rant.The world should judge Sherman on his credentials and achievements instead of his volume in one interview. He’s proven himself to be one of the best corners in the league, if not the best, as he claimed. Or, if Sherman goes off on another rant, maybe he can rant about his support of academics, good sportsmanship and opposition of illicit drugs. It would be hard to call him a “thug” after a rant like that.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James heads to the bench with seconds remaining in the game against the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter in Game 6 of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on June 16, 2015. The Warriors won, 105-97, to clinch the championship. Credit: Courtesy of TNSThe Cleveland Cavaliers came up short.The curse lives on for another year (unless, of course, the Indians start living up to the lofty expectations of Sports Illustrated).The Cavs have still never won an NBA championship, and the good people of the City of Cleveland still haven’t been able to weep tears of joy since the winter of 1964.So as one of those (hopefully) good people, why do I feel an absence of dread the next day? In fact, I even feel pretty good about what just transpired in the NBA playoffs, even if it was the Golden State Warriors winning it all.The answer is simple: This is clearly not the end of the road for the Cavs. The window is still wide open, and I remain as confident as ever that LeBron James will bring a trophy to the city sooner rather than later.In 1995, after the Indians won 100 games and made their first playoff and World Series appearance in 41 years, a parade was held in their honor. Sure, there was no trophy to hoist — that was way down south in Atlanta — but their runner-up finish represented something new: hope and optimism. The Indians might’ve lost the series, but the city was sure that its time was coming.Of course, the Indians did not fulfill that destiny after all, but hey, that’s Cleveland sports for you.But the NBA is a lot more predictable than the MLB, and it’s hard to see the Cavs coming up short much longer, as long as LeBron is healthy.For one, the Eastern Conference has been, and will remain, absolutely horrible. The Cavs made an absolute mockery of the conference in the first three rounds, going 12-2, including two sweeps. And that was without Kevin Love for 10 and a half of those games and Kyrie Irving hobbled or absent for about half of them.Then in the Finals, against a far superior Warriors team, missing two Team USA players in Love and Irving, the Cavs very nearly stole the series. Their 2-1 lead after three games was the first time a Cleveland team had led a championship series at any point in 67 years.And that’s where my happiness behind the fresh pain of losing the series comes from. I know moral victories do not end a two-generation drought, but I can clearly see the light at the end of the tunnel.The Cavs will be better next season. They won’t need half the season to learn how to play with each other, they will be getting Irving, Love and Anderson Varejao back healthy and they will know for a fact that they have the ability to get it done.I know how things work in Cleveland sports too well to count my chickens before they hatch, but this just has a different feeling to it.“There’s always next year” has never felt so true.
Three-star 2018 running back prospect Master Teague committed to Ohio State Sunday afternoon, becoming the 13th player in his class to announce his intention to play for the Buckeyes.Teague becomes the lowest-rated player and the only three-star member of OSU’s 2018 recruiting class. The 247Sports composite rankings slot him as the No. 501 player in the class and 25th-best prospect at his position.pic.twitter.com/ihf8e2fwdD— Master W. Teague III (@33_blackman) June 11, 2017Teague is the third running back in his class to commit to OSU, following four-star prospects Brian Snead (No. 80) and Westerville, Ohio, native Jaelen Gill (No. 34). The Murfreesboro, Tennessee, native Teague is the second player from his state in the 2018 class to commit to play for the Buckeyes.