Jason Day Deserves An Ovation But Give The Field A Golf Clap

Heading into last weekend’s PGA Championship, Australia’s Jason Day had cracked the top five in nearly a third of the major championships he’d entered. He finished in the top 10 nearly half of the time. But he’d never hoisted one of those shiny trophies they give the tournament winner. That changed Sunday, when Day won the PGA Championship, breaking the record for lowest to-par score (-20) in a major.Yet Day’s record-shattering performance also highlights just how easy it was to go under par at the majors this season. While Day’s week at the PGA ranks No. 1 according to cumulative strokes below par, it’s nowhere near the best in modern history1Which, for the purposes of this article, began in 1958 — the first year the PGA Championship adopted a stroke-play format. if we examine it using our familiar z-score system, which measures each performance relative to the field (by how many standard deviations a player’s score was below the field average, for players who made the cut).Z-scores reward not only excellence relative to par, but also dominance in comparison to one’s peers on the same course at the same time. And Day’s competitors also shot very well when held up to Whistling Straits’ par-72 standard: The average of players who made the cut was 3.6 strokes under par, which ranks fifth-lowest of any major tournament since 1958. That number explains the big disconnect between Day’s amazing to-par score and his middling (by major-winning standards) z-score:Last weekend’s low-scoring PGA Championship also capped off a season of great performances by the field in majors. July’s British Open featured the lowest to-par scoring average (-5.6) of any major since 1958, and April’s Masters Tournament (-2.4) ranked 11th-lowest. Combined, this year’s quartet of majors saw the lowest scoring average (relative to par) of any season since 1958, and the only time in that span that the average cut-maker across all majors in a season was under par.The majors in 2014 ranked second-lowest, so we’re seeing an unprecedented spate of low-scoring performances in recent seasons, though it’s not clear what’s driving the trend. We can turn to the usual sources of speculation: technological improvements outstripping course designs, a (subconscious?) movement toward friendlier scoring conditions to improve golf as a television product, an incredible font of young talent emerging in the wake of Tiger Woods’s heyday, etc.Whatever the cause, it’s leading to players like Day going low on the game’s biggest stage, even if their performances aren’t historically great relative to their peers.He didn’t win the PGA Championship, but Jordan Spieth is still having one of golf’s greatest seasons. read more

The Faceless Men And Women Of The US Open

(And the slights aren’t limited to photos: At least one American’s photo was accompanied by an Italian flag for one of her doubles matches.)By the first Friday of the Open, the tournament had added photos for many players, including del Potro, Thiem and Almagro. It took a little longer for many women, including Konjuh and Sevastova, who finally got their photos added by that Sunday.Not all the players minded their missing photos. Sevastova, after upsetting Johanna Konta to reach the quarterfinals, said in response to my question at her postmatch news conference that she’d noticed her photo was finally added. “Now I have a photo,” she said. “Now I saw my photo.” Having no photo was better than if the U.S. Open had just used her “WTA picture with short hair,” she said. “I didn’t like it, actually, so it was OK without [a] picture.”The U.S. Open provides an unusual opportunity to check out what the faceless men and women of sport have in common because the tournament lists hundreds of players, all gathered on one website. On the first Friday of the tournament, I did an exhaustive survey of all 579 players on the page — the number shifts during the tournament as draws are finalized for events that start later in the tournament, such as juniors. More than one third of the players — 211 — were missing photos. That includes 44 players who were in the men’s or women’s singles draws, the most prominent events at the Open. In addition to Konjuh and Sevastova, that list included Naomi Osaka, who’d just lost a third-round thriller in Arthur Ashe Stadium to Madison Keys; Laura Siegemund, who was playing seven-time major champ Venus Williams in Ashe the next day; 2015 French Open quarterfinalist Alison Van Uytvanck; Laura Robson, who made the fourth round at the 2012 U.S. Open; and Americans Christian Harrison and Danielle Collins.It’s no coincidence that more women than men were missing: According to Widmaier, there was a lag in adding women’s photos even after the problem was identified. (He wasn’t sure why.)So what factors decided who got a photo by the fifth day of the tournament and who didn’t? I checked a wide range of factors,1By grabbing data off each player’s U.S. Open page and running a regression between whether the player had a photo on the night of the tournament’s first Friday and the player’s other characteristics. and the determinants of whether a player had a profile pic weren’t surprising: Americans, players active on tour and veterans were mostly likely to have a photo. Being from the U.S. increased a player’s chances of having a picture on the site by 30 percentage points. With every singles match a competitor played this year, his or her chances went up by 2 percentage points. A year of age added 3 percentage points.2The percentages assume a linear relationship, which wouldn’t apply at extremes. (We don’t think someone who has played 60 singles matches this year has a greater than 100 percent chance of having a photo.) The exact percentages depend on which variables we include. I also tested, for instance, peak singles ranking, career matches and matches won, but those all are closely linked to both singles matches played this year and to age. So perhaps the most surprisingly snubbed people were the American women’s doubles pair of Ashley Weinhold, 27, and Caitlin Whoriskey, 28. Their faces remained missing on the second Thursday of the tournament. (Then again, neither has ever been ranked in the top 100 in singles or doubles.)Konjuh, who is 18, said she understood why she didn’t have a photo. “Like probably most of the other players that are young or coming didn’t have pictures,” she said in her news conference.Widmaier promised a more completist approach to player photography at the 2017 Open: “It will be improved upon next year.” Anastasija Sevastova and Ana Konjuh defied expectations and their low rankings — both outside the top 40 — to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals. They have something else in common: For the first week of the tournament, where their photos were supposed to appear on the U.S. Open website and app, there instead appeared black rectangles with the flags of their countries and the words “NO BIO PHOTO.”“I saw on the live score, yeah, on the U.S. Open app, yeah, it says, like, ‘bio’ or something,” Konjuh said when I asked about her absent photo at her news conference after she upset Agnieszka Radwanska in the fourth round.Every sport has these faceless men and women, the ones who aren’t supposed to make the team or get off the bench, who are so new they haven’t been photographed, who may get rushed in front of a digital camera so media staff can get a snap worth posting.Tennis majors face a special challenge in filling those blank rectangles: Up to 128 players enter each of the men’s and women’s qualifying draws, and more than 100 others enter each of the men’s and women’s singles draws. There can be more than 100 players competing only in doubles, and an additional 100 or more might enter only the juniors or juniors qualifying draws. As of the two-week event’s middle Sunday, there were 698 players on the U.S. Open player page.But some of the snubbed U.S. Open players are hardly nobodies. Early in the tournament, 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, No. 10 Dominic Thiem and former No. 9 Nicolas Almagro were among those missing photos. Asked about them on the first Thursday of the tournament, Chris Widmaier, spokesman for the U.S. Tennis Association, which runs the U.S. Open, said, “It’s a disappointment.” I asked if it’s a priority to get photos for the players — all of whom have been professionally photographed at dozens if not hundreds of matches worldwide, and who have pictures that appear on the ATP and WTA websites and on their U.S. Open credentials. “It is now,” Widmaier said. read more

No 6 Overall Draft Pick Barkevious Mingo Hospitalized With

No. 6 overall draft pick Cleveland Browns rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo has been hospitalized after suffering a bruised lung.Mingo, who was drafted from Louisiana State University in the first round in April, was injured in the first half of Cleveland’s 24-6 victory over Detroit on Thursday.The initial diagnosis was that Mingo had a rib injury, but following the game he was taken to the hospital for further examination. Coach Rob Chudzinski said Mingo would be kept overnight.The details on how Mingo was hurt are unclear. The 6-foot-4-inch, 240-pound player jogged to the tunnel with a trainer for treatment after he was injured.And more bad news hit the Browns when running back Dion Lewis broke his leg and is likely done for the season. Cleveland also lost offensive guard Jason Pinkston, who suffered a severely sprained ankle. He left the stadium in a walking boot and on crutches. read more

The Blind Side Era is Over At The NFL Draft

Quenton Nelson looks exactly like a franchise-cornerstone left tackle: Standing 6 foot 5, 325 pounds, Nelson is “built like a bank safe” and blessed with the athleticism and aggressiveness to be a perennial All-Pro. The quarterback’s protector is often called the second-most-important offensive position, so it’s no wonder that Nelson’s in the mix to be the first non-quarterback to be picked in this year’s draft.But one thing does separate Nelson from other highly coveted tackles on draft day: He isn’t a tackle. He’s a guard.How players at one position in the NFL’s otherwise-anonymous quintet of trench warriors became some of American sports’ most-prized athletes is a story so well-known it was turned into a best-selling book, and even a movie: The uniquely gifted protectors of “The Blind Side” emerged in the 1990s to stop the pass-rushing outside linebackers of the 1980s, like eight-time All-Pro Lawrence Taylor.For years afterward, teams trying to land the next Orlando Pace or Walter Jones had no qualms about throwing high draft picks at top tackles. Even less-than-perfect tackle prospects like Michigan’s Jake Long and Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher were deemed “safe” picks at No. 1 overall — because unlike quarterbacks, who are unlikely to play another position well, if those tackles fail to establish themselves as quality starters, teams have the option of kicking them inside to guard.As recently as 2012, guards were still afterthoughts, not worthy of the draft-value (and contract) investment that comes with a high first-round selection. Outstanding guard prospect David DeCastro, whom many evaluators deemed worthy of at least a top-10 pick, didn’t come off the board until No. 24 that year.In the 32-team era,1Since 2002. 62 tackles have been drafted in the first round compared to just 14 guards. On average, those tackles were taken with the 14th pick, while the average guard went between 23 and 24. In fact, after “The Blind Side” was released in September 2006, NFL teams went on a four-year tackle binge, drafting 19 first-round tackles compared to just three centers and two guards.Last season, though, the market for elite tackles seemed to dry up. Only two — Garett Bolles and Ryan Ramczyk — went in the first round, and both were picked in the back end of the round (20 and 32 respectively). After Alabama’s Cam Robinson was taken with the second pick of the second round, which was lower than most expected, no tackles were taken until pick No. 85. To get a sense of how high in the draft tackles have tended to go over time, we can quantify pick position using Jimmy Johnson’s draft-pick value chart, which assigns a point value to every pick in the draft based solely on how early the pick is, not on which player is taken. Last year, the picks used on tackles in rounds one and two were worth a total of 2000 points, the lowest sum since at least 1994. By comparison, the picks used on the six tackles taken in the first two rounds in 2013 were worth more than 10,000 points. The trend of devaluing tackles seems certain to continue in the 2018 NFL draft. After Nelson, tackle Mike McGlinchey (average mock draft position: 22.2) is the next offensive lineman projected to go. But then it’s a run of interior linemen: Center James Daniels (28.5) and guards Isaiah Wynn (28.8) and Will Hernandez (28.9) are all set to be drafted ahead of the only other tackle who’s projected to be taken on the draft’s first night, Kolton Miller (31.2).If Miller doesn’t make it into the first round, it’ll be the first time that fewer than two tackles have been drafted in any first round since “The Blind Side” was released, and it would match the 2005-2006 nadir for high-pick tackles — only three tackles were taken in the first round in each of those two back-to-back draft classes.It’s not like NFL teams suddenly decided that the offensive line isn’t important, it’s more that the value pendulum is shifting away from left tackle. If Nelson goes as high as he’s expected to, he’ll be the third guard picked in the top 10 in the last six seasons (the fourth if you count Washington’s Brandon Scherff, who was drafted as a tackle but has since become a Pro Bowl guard2Washington initially tried Scherff at tackle before switching him to guard in his first training camp.). Before Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper went in the top 10 in 2013, no guard had been picked that high in a dozen years.3Leonard Davis went No. 2 overall in 2001 as a guard, though he went on to play both tackle and guard in the NFL.But it’s not just draft capital that teams are investing in a previously neglected position.This spring, All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell signed a five-year, $66.5 million unrestricted free-agency deal that briefly made him the NFL’s highest-paid offensive lineman. Though former New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder’s four-year, $62 million contract with the New York Giants topped Norwell’s $13.3 million average annual value, Norwell remains No. 2.In 2016, the five biggest free-agency deals4In terms of contracts’ average annual value. given to offensive linemen went to left tackles. In 2017, half of the eight offensive-line contracts worth at least $10 million per year went to left tackles — but the other half went to three guards and a center. In 2018, Solder’s was the only one of the top six offensive-line deals that did not go to a guard or center.So why the sudden change? For starters, the evolution of the left tackle was a response to a defensive revolution that’s been over for a long time; Taylor’s 10-season Pro Bowl streak ended 27 years ago. From Dick LeBeau’s zone blitzes to Jim Johnson’s and Jim Schwartz’s aggressive 4-3s, Wade Phillips’s one-gap 3-4 schemes to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia’s hybrid/multiple fronts attack, defensive coordinators have as many different ways to send pass rushers at quarterbacks as there are gaps between offensive linemen.According to ESPN Stats & Information Group, 36 percent of the 1,082.5 sacks by front-seven players in 2017 were registered by a player lined up at right defensive end or right outside linebacker. That means even a Hall of Fame left tackle can’t possibly help with at least two-thirds of the pressure that defenses are generating.Then there’s the fact that quarterbacks don’t really have a “blind side” anymore. The heavy use of shotgun formation in today’s NFL allows quarterbacks to keep the whole defense in front of them. According to ESPN Stats & Info, just 13,319 of 32,436 offensive plays (41 percent) were run from under center in 2017– and of those, a quarterback dropped back to pass on just 4,201 plays (13 percent of all offensive plays).The average left tackle, then, will only be called upon to keep his quarterback clean during a traditional dropback about 1/8th of the time he’s on the field.But don’t tell Nelson, Wynn, Hernandez or any of the other guards set to be drafted this weekend that the value of offensive linemen has crashed. They’re about to prove that the NFL has finally figured out that anyone who can get keep a pass-rusher from getting to a quarterback is worth an awful lot — regardless of where he’s positioned on the line. read more

How UABs Upset Of Iowa State Changed Our March Madness Predictions

Check out FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions. The 2015 NCAA tournament is only a few hours old, and we’ve already seen what’s likely to be one of its bigger upsets: 14th-seeded UAB’s 60-59 victory over No. 3 seed Iowa State on Thursday afternoon. Before the game, we pegged Iowa State’s chances of winning at 90.8 percent, so the Blazers’ surprise victory certainly counts as a huge upset. It’s currently the third-most unlikely result in the tournament since we started publishing the FiveThirtyEight model in 2011, trailing only No. 15 seed Norfolk State’s upset of No. 2 seed Missouri in 2012 (which had a 2.8 percent probability of happening) and 14th-seeded Mercer’s victory over No. 3 seed Duke a year ago (7.1 percent).So what are the implications for the rest of the bracket, particularly the South Regional? According to the changes to our model, the biggest beneficiary (other than UAB themselves) might be Southern Methodist University; SMU’s chances of cracking the Sweet 16 rose by 26.7 percentage points now that Iowa State isn’t standing in its way. A similar story goes for UCLA, SMU’s round-of-64 opponents; UCLA’s chances of making the Sweet 16 increased by 14.9 percentage points.Looking further down the bracket, Gonzaga saw its chances of landing in the Elite Eight improve by 11.5 percentage points and its odds of making the Final Four improve by 5.5 percentage points. And even Duke, relatively distant from Iowa State in the bracket as a No. 1 seed in the other half of the region, saw its odds of a Final Four berth improve incrementally (by 1.9 percentage points).It’s all proof that big upsets in the round of 64 can have ripple effects that extend beyond it. In particular, the absence of a potential threat down the road can make things easier for the other strong teams in the region along their path to the Final Four. read more

A Radical Proposal To Destroy The NHLs Loser Point

The NHL’s “loser point” is the stupidest rule in sports. For the non-puckheads among you, here’s how it works: The NHL awards one point in the standings to a team that loses a game in overtime or a shootout. But teams get two points for winning a game, whether in regulation or beyond. You don’t need a degree in #fancystats to recognize the problem: There are a total of three points to distribute when a game goes to overtime but just two otherwise. So it really pays off to play for OT. As FiveThirtyEight contributors Noah Davis and Michael Lopez documented Wednesday, this encourages dull, passive hockey. Goal scoring falls dramatically in the third period of tied games, right when a game should be coming to its climax.This is more than a minor annoyance; the loser point has already changed the identity of at least one NHL champion. In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings finished with 40 wins and 42 losses; they made the playoffs ahead of the 42-40 Dallas Stars because they accumulated 15 loser points to the Stars’ five. Then the Kings went on to win the Stanley Cup.Fortunately, having a rule as dumb as the loser point means that almost anything would be an improvement. For instance, the NHL could award three points for a win in regulation. An overtime or shootout winner would still get two points. That would at least make each game worth the same amount in the standings.Or you could eliminate the shootout and go back to having ties. The NHL claims that 70 percent to 80 percent of its fans like the shootout but has never made any detailed data on this available to the public. As regular readers of FiveThirtyEight will know, there are lots of ways to manipulate survey questions to produce a desired outcome. Maybe the same consultants telling Donald Trump that he’d make a great presidential candidate are advising Gary Bettman on the loser point.But I have something more radical in mind. Here’s the idea: You keep playing hockey until someone wins. You know, like in the NBA and Major League Baseball and pretty much every other sport but soccer — and like the NHL itself during the playoffs.The usual objection is that this could lead to some extraordinarily long games for two measly points in the standings. What if the Flyers and Penguins play a five-overtime game and the Penguins need to catch a flight to Calgary? Why add even more ice time to a grueling, 82-game regular season?But these cases are rarer than you might think. If you played every NHL regular-season game under playoff rules — 5-on-5 overtime, indefinitely, until someone scores — it would increase ice time by only about 3 percent. In the chart below, I’ve tracked what percentage of overtime playoff games (since 1995) were resolved within a given number of minutes. In the majority of games — 56 percent — someone scored within the first 10 minutes. Only 7 percent of games, meanwhile, required two or more overtimes.Overall, the average overtime game required 13.6 minutes before someone scored. Since 23 percent of playoff games went to OT, that makes the average length of a playoff game about 63 minutes, as compared to around 61 minutes during the regular season.That’s not much of an increase, and if the NHL were concerned about it, it could counteract it by reducing the regular season to 80 games from 82. Then you’d have no shootouts, no ties, no loser point and no overall increase in ice time.Still, maybe we’re concerned about those cases when one team has played a multiple-overtime game and faces off against another on fresh skates. Equivalent cases come up all the time in other sports — baseball, basketball, tennis — and they deal with it. But you could argue that it’s a bigger problem in hockey given the punishing nature of the sport.The solution is to take players off the ice, which will increase scoring. This isn’t a new idea at all — during the regular season, the NHL plays 4-on-4 hockey in overtime, and there have been proposals to go to 3-on-3.But here’s my insight: Goals are scored so quickly during 3-on-3 play that you could play every game to sudden death and pretty much never inconvenience anyone. The players, the referees, the 13-year-old in Winnipeg who refuses to do his algebra homework until the Jets game is finished — they’d all be OK.You may have noticed, in the graphic above, that I drew a smooth curve (labeled “model”) alongside the historical data. The curve is formed by assuming that there’s a 7.4 percent chance of scoring a goal per minute of overtime play, which is the historical rate in the playoffs since 1995. As you can see, the curve “fits” the historical data extremely well. That means the length of overtime games is easy to model.1It also implies that the rate of scoring is fairly constant throughout overtime. If you know the overall rate of scoring, you can accurately guess how many games will require at least two overtimes, for instance.In 4-on-4 play, there’s a 9.1 percent chance of a goal being scored each minute (according to research by Stephen Pettigrew), about 20 percent higher than under 5-on-5 conditions. It’s 3-on-3 action that sees a really radical shift, however, with a 16.8 percent chance of a goal each minute.So what if overtime was played 3-on-3? About 60 percent of games would be resolved within the first five minutes, and 84 percent within the first 10 minutes. Only about 3 percent of overtime games would require double overtime, and fewer than 1 in 1000 would go to triple-OT. The average overtime game would require just six minutes to complete, barely longer than under the current rules.2And you’d reduce the number of overtime games since the loser point would be eliminated — teams would no longer have an incentive to play for OT. And with just three skaters on the ice at a time, teams could give their bench plenty of rest between shifts.The NHL could also adopt some compromise or another. It could play five minutes of 4-on-4 overtime immediately at the end of regulation, as it does now, then clean the ice3During the regular season, the NHL doesn’t bring the Zamboni out and clean the ice after regulation, something you’d probably need to do if you’re going to play more than a few minutes worth of extra hockey. As a fan, I don’t get why the NHL seems to be in a rush to finish overtime games during the regular season — I love the tension that builds up during the pre-overtime intermission in the playoffs. and play an indefinite amount of 3-on-3 overtime if needed. It could declare a tie if no one had scored after a full 20-minute period of 3-on-3 overtime. (Ties would be a rarity, almost like they are now in the NFL.) It could keep removing players from the ice until it was just goalie versus goalie.4The NHL would need to relax the rule that prohibits goalies from advancing past the red line. Would you not stop whatever you were doing to watch Henrik Lundqvist versus Tuukka Rask, one-on-one?Or insert your own proposal: Overtime decided by rock-paper-scissors? Nearly anything would be better than the loser point. read more

2015 NFL Preview The Ravens Bengals Steelers And Yes Even The Browns

Cleveland Browns2014 Record: 7-9 | 2015 Proj. W: 6.2 | Playoff Odds: 9.7%Off. Rank: 31st | Def. Rank: 11th | S.T. Rank: 14thAs usual, the Browns’ quarterback situation is dismal. Backup Johnny Manziel gets most of the headlines despite (or, perhaps, because of) a spectacularly trying rookie campaign, but new starter Josh McCown isn’t much better. The 36-year-old journeyman showed unexpected flashes of brilliance in eight games as a Bear in 2013, but he returned to form — ranking second-worst in the NFL in QBR — with the Buccaneers last season. Judging from the rest of his career, it would be unrealistic to expect much more from McCown in 2015.We all know that the NFL is a passing league, so Cleveland’s QB predicament puts them at a disadvantage. But if there’s any good news for the Browns, it’s that you don’t necessarily need a great passing attack to build a winning team. And with McCown and Manziel unlikely to lead the Browns out of the quarterback wilderness, it falls upon the team’s defense to provide an edge instead.The Browns return nine starters from what was an effective, and unusual, defense in 2014. Typically, defenses that limit opponents’ passing also have an edge against the running game, and Cleveland was excellent versus the pass — it was third-best in EPA allowed on passing plays, trailing only the Texans and Bills. But the Browns had trouble slowing down opposing runners. Against rushing plays, they ranked 31st in EPA allowed, ahead of only the Saints.Again, the NFL is a passing league, so Cleveland had a top-10 defense despite its weakness against the run. But given the Browns’ lack of offensive playmakers,12Their most important offensive player might be a center. In the five starts Alex Mack made in 2014 before suffering a season-ending injury, the Browns averaged 26 points and a 75 QBR; over the remainder of the season, they averaged 16 points and a 25 QBR. their defense can’t afford to have any vulnerabilities if they hope to win games. That’s why Cleveland drafted nose tackle Danny Shelton 12th overall and added defensive lineman Randy Starks in free agency, with an eye on getting tougher against the run and building an elite all-around defense.It’s an unconventional formula for team-building, but a roster engineered to keep the score low and close can make for upsets. Just last year, the Buffalo Bills used a similar blueprint to win nine games despite having the league’s fifth-worst offense. So if the Browns defense is better than their offense is bad, and they get a few lucky bounces of the ball on special teams, Cleveland might have a winner for just the third time since the franchise was reborn in 1999. Baltimore Ravens2014 Record: 10-6 | 2015 Projected Wins: 9.0 | Playoff Odds: 54.7%Offensive Rank: 15th | Defensive Rank: 5th | Special Teams Rank: 2ndA slight favorite in the AFC North according to ESPN’s preseason Football Power Index (FPI) ratings, Baltimore is more likely than not to make its seventh playoff appearance since 2008. In part, that’s because general manager Ozzie Newsome is playing his own brand of Moneyball. One of his favorite strategies: using free agency to build depth and plug roster holes, rather than trying to sign big-name players at a premium. It’s an approach that keeps the Ravens out of boom-and-bust rebuilding cycles, and keeps generating tickets to the Plinko game that is the NFL playoffs.For instance, Baltimore needed to address its weakness at secondary this offseason. Although the Ravens were tough against the run1They allowed the NFL’s third-fewest rushing expected points. and consistently put pressure on opposing QBs, they also allowed the league’s 10th-most expected points added (EPA) through the air because injuries forced them to field a handful of scrap-heap defensive backs. So Newsome added cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Kendrick Lewis in free agency to bolster the secondary — moves he could afford to make because of cap room freed up by trading defensive tackle Haloti Ngata for draft picks. The deft deal-making2Along with the return of cornerback Jimmy Smith from injury. is a big reason experts think Baltimore will reclaim elite-defense status this season.Another signature Newsome move was to let free-agent wide receiver Torrey Smith walk, rather than paying the $22 million sticker price he was eventually guaranteed by San Francisco. While other teams shell out for expensive free-agent receivers such as Smith, Vincent Jackson and Mike Wallace, Newsome has had success with cheaper options. Take Steve Smith, whom the Ravens were able to sign on the cheap3Paying only an average of $3.5 million per season. a year ago because of his advancing age (he was 35 last season). All Smith did in his Baltimore debut was produce one of the top receiving seasons in Ravens history — and help quarterback Joe Flacco post the best Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) of his career.Even running back Justin Forsett, whose breakout season lifted Baltimore’s yards per carry from last in the league in 2013 to a tie for sixth last season, was paid only $730,000 a year ago — a pittance by RB standards. Forsett got a raise for 2015 but should benefit from another secret weapon smart teams often use: continuity. All five starters on the Ravens’ offensive line are also returning, and incoming offensive coordinator Marc Trestman is expected to keep predecessor Gary Kubiak’s running scheme.Newsome appears to recognize a few fundamental truths about the NFL: namely, that bank-breaking offseason pickups are rarely worth the trouble and that teams are better off using their money to build depth and bolster multiple positions. It’s a formula that has served the Ravens well over the years and should continue to pay off in 2015. Read more: 2015 NFL Previews FiveThirtyEight is previewing the 2015 NFL season ahead of the first game of the year. Check out our coverage of every division » Cincinnati Bengals2014 Record: 10-5-1 | 2015 Proj. W: 8.4 | Playoff Odds: 42.1%Off. Rank: 14th | Def. Rank: 12th | S.T. Rank: 8thFPI predicts that the Bengals will be solid again in 2015, and one of the primary reasons is continuity. Twenty-one of their 22 starters are back from a year ago, which ties for the second-most returning starters any NFL team has carried into a season since 2006. Plus, prodigal defensive end Michael Johnson returns after a season in Tampa Bay, and linebacker Vontaze Burfict might (eventually) come back from the knee injury that cost him most of 2014.While researching FPI,4I was on the production analytics team that developed FPI this summer. we found that consistency like this, especially when the team is already decent — as the Bengals were last year — is a small but reliable predictor of success. And in the absence of a first-class quarterback, Cincinnati needs all of these small things to go its way if the team wants to stay competitive.Bengals starting quarterback Andy Dalton has a lifetime QBR of 51, which pretty much makes him the definition of average. (QBR is scaled where the league-wide mean is 50.) Fans and observers have spent years wondering if Dalton can become a top passer, but four seasons of consistently middling numbers probably suggest that we’ve seen his best. He’s dependable, and even good enough to make a winner out of a team if it surrounds him with talent. But rarely do quarterbacks blossom into something new after four full seasons in the NFL.So instead of counting on Dalton to be great, Cincinnati has built a balanced roster that doesn’t need a star turn at QB. Wideout A.J. Green, for instance, picks up the slack by serving as Dalton’s target more than 30 percent of the time, one of the highest shares for any receiver in the league. Although Dalton played well enough to win two of the three games Green missed last season, it would be unwise to think the Bengals offense would prosper for long without Green’s ability to stretch defenses downfield.And defensively, FPI projects the Bengals to bounce back after a down year in 2014. Cincy’s defense had allowed the NFL’s second-fewest overall EPA and fifth-lowest rate of yards per attempt two years ago, but they fell to 16th and 20th, respectively, after the departure of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer a year ago. Losing a coordinator can be surprisingly traumatic for a defense (more on this later), so they should be better in Paul Guenther’s second season at the helm.Continuity, on both the roster and coaching staff, is one of several small factors Cincinnati will have to rely on this season. Because unless, by some miracle, Dalton turns into a top passer, the Bengals need all the advantages they can get. In preparation for the 2015 NFL season, FiveThirtyEight is running a series of eight division previews, each highlighting the numbers that may influence a team’s performance (including projections and rankings based on ESPN’s preseason Football Power Index). Today we focus on the AFC North, where Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have all taken the division title twice over the past six seasons. Will the defending-champ Steelers hand it off again this year? And can the Browns finally break into that group? Pittsburgh Steelers2014 Record: 11-5 | 2015 Proj. W: 8.3 | Playoff Odds: 41.4%Off. Rank: 9th | Def. Rank: 24th | S.T. Rank: 4thThe Steelers had a very un-Steeler-like team in 2014. The offense was white-hot: Antonio Brown led all NFL receivers in fantasy scoring5Using ESPN’s standard scoring system. by a wide margin, Le’Veon Bell finished second among running backs, and Ben Roethlisberger ranked fifth among quarterbacks.6Even Heath Miller ranked 11th among tight ends despite seeing the fourth-lowest target frequency of any qualifier at his position. The defense, on the other hand, was full of holes, as age7They were one of the oldest defenses in the league. and free agency8They lost a number of veterans, including Larry Foote, LaMarr Woodley and Ryan Clark. caused a unit once nicknamed the “Steel Curtain” to allow the league’s third-worst rate of yards per play.Pittsburgh still used that bizarro-world formula to squeak past its rivals for the division crown. But it doesn’t bode well as a blueprint for sustainable winning, because there are reasons to think the defense won’t rebound even as the offense falls back to earth.By virtue of regression to the mean, we usually expect defenses to bounce back from uncharacteristically bad seasons, but Pittsburgh’s situation is complicated by the departure of legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. When developing FPI, we found that defensive coordinators have a similar (albeit smaller) impact on defense as quarterbacks do on offense — namely, that when a team has a returning coordinator, its defensive performance tends to be better and more consistent between seasons. Conversely, when a new coordinator comes in, the defense usually declines a bit9Regardless of its previous quality. and generally is harder to project.10In statistical speak, the variance is higher in projections involving new defensive coordinators. So it’s difficult to say whether the 2015 Steelers will be any better defensively than the 2014 team.And Pittsburgh might not be able to afford another down defensive year. Although the Steeler offense was surprisingly strong in 2014, it’s probably not realistic to expect a repeat performance — most obviously because Bell will be suspended for the season’s first two games, but also because the team is unlikely to be as healthy as it was last season. Not only was Pittsburgh’s offensive “injury score”11A weighted total of players designated as “out,” “doubtful” or “questionable” by the NFL’s official weekly injury reports. the lowest of any team a year ago, but the team also lost less than half as much playing time to injury as the average NFL offense from the past nine years. It’s highly unlikely that they’ll be so fortunate again.This doesn’t necessarily mean Pittsburgh needs a complete rebirth of the Steel Curtain defense. (The FPI projections still point to the Steelers being a top-10 team, after all.) But with Baltimore and Cincinnati each boasting a slightly higher probability of winning the division, the defense probably has to improve if the Steelers want to repeat as AFC North champs. read more

The Strange Dynasty Of The San Francisco Giants Is Over Yes It

✗ +3 Dodgers1946196642772133.3 Yankees1976198621931127.3 ✓ Over the course of the past decade, the San Francisco Giants put together one of the strangest dynasties in baseball history. And now it is officially coming to an end.The Giants still have five players left over from their 2014 championship season, but the returns have diminished greatly since then. The team is in last place in the National League West; the FiveThirtyEight model currently predicts it to finish 70-92, which would be one of the worst records in franchise history.1Technically the 2017 version was even worse, although that team at least had injuries to blame (and a playoff appearance the year before to suggest a potential turnaround). And it could get worse by season’s end, with ace Madison Bumgarner (among others) on the trade block.The Giants got here in part by trying to extend the dynasty past its expiration date. But who can blame them? When a team’s initial successes defy the odds, it can be especially difficult to know when a downturn is permanent or just a detour along the road to another title. This is especially true of San Francisco, which sandwiched two mediocre nonplayoff seasons in between World Series titles. But we come here not to bury the Giants’ dynasty but to praise it — and imagine how Farhan Zaidi, the new president of baseball operations, might construct another one where the original once stood.So what makes the Giants’ dynasty of the 2010s — and yes, it was a bona fide dynasty — maybe the most interesting ever?Up and downThe simplest answer to that question lies with the team’s every-other-year pattern of success. In even-numbered years from 2010 through 2016, the Giants’ winning percentage was .557; in odd years, it was only .506. But plenty of teams have gone on wild championship roller-coaster rides. The Giants’ version was one of the most memorable because of how unexpectedly it materialized and how difficult it was to get a handle on, even while it was happening.Sabermetrics pioneer Bill James has a method of determining dynastic runs that involves giving out points for seasons of various accomplishments. He keeps a running tally of a team’s dynasty points after each season; whenever a team’s running total hits 10, it automatically becomes a dynasty — of which there have been only 38 in baseball history. ✓✓✓ ✗ Source: billjamesonline.com ✓✓ ✓✓ Cardinals196319712104944.4% ✓✓ +1 ✓✓+2 ✓✓+3 Phillies197619831142825.0 Seasons ✓✓✓✓✓+6 Giants201020163103742.9 ✓✓ ✓+1 Bill James’s dynasty accounting systemWhat an MLB team must do in a season to earn or lose dynasty points ✓✓+4 Yankees19201943106162425.0 +5 Made Playoffs?Won Division?Won Pennant?Won World Series?Losing record90+ Wins?100+ Wins?Dynasty points Keeping in mind that the majority of San Francisco’s dynasty took place in the double-wild-card era, where in theory it is easier to snag an occasional playoff berth to keep the run going, you could argue that a Giants-like run is even harder to pull off now than during the Cardinals’ era (most of which happened when the “playoffs” consisted only of the World Series).If all of this sounds like a knock on what San Francisco accomplished, it’s not. It actually just makes it more fascinating: Only nine teams in history ever won three World Series in a five-year period anyway, and none of those had anywhere near as many ups and downs — nor proved as many doubters wrong — as the 2010-16 Giants did.Growing a dynasty … on top of a dynasty?Surprisingly, that run actually began on the heels of another dynasty, at least according to James’s accounting system. The 2000-04 Giants hit a running total of 10 points as well, despite not winning any championships, because they won at least 90 games five years in a row with two division crowns, a pennant in 2002 and 100 victories in 2003. That team was powered by Barry Bonds at the peak of his historic hitting powers,4And with Bonds allegedly benefiting from performance-enhancing drugs. with help from second baseman Jeff Kent, pitcher Jason Schmidt and shortstop Rich Aurilia. But the club’s performance fell after much of Bonds’s supporting cast signed elsewhere (SB Nation recently made a great video about the bitter Bonds-Kent feud), and the Giants’ main attraction in the ensuing seasons was Bonds’s largely joyless pursuit of Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record.By 2008, Bonds was out of baseball and the Giants were terrible, winning just 72 games. They had just three players who had been ranked among Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects in the previous few seasons: pitchers Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Jonathan Sanchez. Their farm system ranked just 23rd in baseball. Practically nothing about the Giants’ situation suggested that another dynasty was around the corner.But as bleak as San Francisco’s outlook appeared to be, the ingredients were largely in place for the run that was to come. To go with Cain and Lincecum, fellow dynasty cornerstones Bumgarner, Posey, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt would all be drafted in 2007-09, while third baseman Pablo Sandoval and reliever Sergio Romo both made their MLB debuts in the summer of 2008. Nine players were on all three Giants championship squads — Posey, Bumgarner, Cain, Sandoval, Romo, Lincecum, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez — and of those, six were either acquired by or made their MLB debuts for San Francisco in the 18-month span between May 2007 and November 2008. The team had also hired manager Bruce Bochy away from the division-rival San Diego Padres prior to the 2007 season.The Giants’ penchant for acquiring and developing homegrown talent helps explain a good amount of their success earlier this decade. From 2010 through 2016, only two teams (the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays) got more total wins above replacement5Averaging together the WAR versions found at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs. from players who initially debuted with the team than San Francisco did. That group was headlined by Posey and Bumgarner, both of whom were top-10 draft picks, but it also included a fourth-rounder (Crawford), fifth-rounder (Belt) and 18th-rounder (Matt Duffy) who each peaked as 4-win players or better despite their lack of pedigree.Spare parts to the rescueThose Giants were made all the more interesting by the odd veteran pieces that filled in the gaps around the homegrown talent, particularly in the postseason. Journeyman castoffs Andres Torres and Aubrey Huff led the 2010 Giants in regular-season WAR, while that year’s NLCS MVP was Cody Ross (who had been claimed off waivers from the Marlins in August), and the World Series MVP was veteran shortstop Edgar Renteria, who had missed more than half the regular season with injuries.The trend continued in subsequent title runs. Outfielder Angel Pagan rebounded from a disappointing 2011 season with the Mets to produce 4.4 WAR for the Giants in their 2012 championship campaign. Melky Cabrera, on his fourth team in four years, was the All-Star Game’s MVP and hit an NL-best .346 that year before being suspended for performance-enhancing drugs (and recusing himself from the batting crown). Second baseman Marco Scutaro, picked up via trade in July, claimed NLCS MVP honors. After Posey and Bumgarner, frenetic outfielder Hunter Pence, acquired four days after Scutaro, was the Giants’ best player by WAR in 2013 and 2014, posting an 1.167 on-base plus slugging in the 2014 World Series. Even in 2016, obscure third baseman Conor Gillaspie provided playoff heroics when his ninth-inning home run won the NL wild-card game over the Mets.This quirky combination of young draftees and veteran reclamation projects helped each Giants championship team forge a different identity. The 2010 team was widely identified with Lincecum, Cain and eccentric, heavily bearded closer Brian Wilson. The 2012 version had evolved to become Posey’s team (he was named NL MVP) with Sandoval, the “Kung Fu Panda,” inheriting the role of postseason talisman from Wilson. And the 2014 season was all about the dominance of Bumgarner, who became virtually unhittable in October, winning the NLCS and World Series MVPs. Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean continually found ways to retool the roster on the fly, returning it to a championship level even after a 76-win season in 2013 suggested to many that San Francisco’s days of winning it all were probably over.An extraordinary timeThe Giants’ dynasty was also lucky to come along during an era of comparative parity in Major League Baseball. In 2015, my colleague Rob Arthur and I noted that MLB was getting tougher and tougher to predict during the decade of the 2010s, which happened to overlap with the entirety of San Francisco’s run to that point. In particular, the share of variance in team records explained by luck — which tracks with how compressed team records are across the league — had spiked upward to 64 percent that season, the highest mark since right after the 1994 strike.The Giants weren’t particularly dominant on paper during their dynastic years, never finishing higher than sixth in baseball in Sports-Reference.com’s Simple Rating System during any of their championship seasons, but it was the perfect moment to be a good team that gets hot at exactly the right time. Although it is unlikely that San Francisco’s World Series runs were wholly (or even mostly) the product of making the playoffs and having the postseason crapshoot fall in their favor three times, there’s no denying that the Giants’ path was made easier by the lack of super-teams across the rest of MLB.And now, those days are gone. (Not that it would help the current Giants much if they weren’t.) Starting in 2016, the league became very much top-heavy and thus much easier to predict than it had been earlier in the decade. The simultaneous emergence of juggernauts in the Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians over the past few seasons have left the next tier of teams feeling the squeeze. Yes, some of today’s reduced parity also owes to the surplus of tanking teams trying to emulate the championship runs of the Cubs and Astros, but the teams at the top are also just stacked with talent. That has made it much tougher to be a merely solid ballclub with World Series aspirations.The aftermathAfter falling short against the Cubs in the 2016 NL Division Series, the Giants hoped to return to contention with largely the same group plus ex-Nationals closer Mark Melancon (who’d been good the previous season). Instead, Bumgarner injured himself in an early season dirt bike accident, Melancon was terrible, and the team collapsed to 64 wins. Then San Francisco doubled down on reviving its even-year magic in 2018 by trading for 30-something stars Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria. It didn’t work: Longoria was a disappointment at 1.2 WAR, McCutchen was traded to the Yankees at midseason, and Bumgarner was injured again. After 73 wins last year and this season’s 20-26 start, and facing Bochy’s retirement at the end of 2019, the franchise has finally begun staring down the specter of a rebuild.It’s easy to look back with hindsight and criticize the moves San Francisco made to try to keep its window of contention open. Well after the 2014 championship, for instance, the Giants signed pitchers Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Melancon to long-term deals totaling $282 million, which looks like a terrible waste now — as well as a betrayal of the dynasty’s original homegrown roots.But this was also the same team that rode out a playoff absence in 2011 to win again in 2012, and a 76-win disappointment in 2013 to win again in 2014. As Bumgarner told the L.A. Times before this season, “Pretty much every year we’ve won, we were not expected to win.”The retool-on-the-fly mindset served the Giants well — until it didn’t.As much as the failure of recent big-name acquisitions to recapture their former glory has hurt the Giants, another big factor has been the failure of the team’s homegrown core to age gracefully — and the lack of anything in the pipeline behind it. Although Crawford can still make the occasional spectacular play, he is down from a 5-win player in 2016 to a subreplacement one now, and he’ll make $15.2 million each of the next two seasons after 2019. Belt was worth 4.2 WAR in 2016; now he’s on pace for a more middling 2.2 WAR in 2019 despite his $17.2 million salary, which also repeats in 2020 and 2021. Duffy fell off in 2016 and was traded for Matt Moore, who was miserable for the Giants in 2017 and was himself dealt for peanuts.Even with Bumgarner healthy, the Giants have the league’s worst starting rotation according to WAR. And recent drafts have produced little of note. The farm system ranked 26th in Keith Law’s preseason rankings. Things suddenly look dire again.Rebuilding the next dynastyWith Sabean’s successor, Bobby Evans, removed from his post as general manager last September, the man tasked with rebuilding the Giants now is former Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi, who has gained a reputation as an innovator and a genius since leaving his doctoral program at the University of California, Berkeley to join the Oakland A’s front office under billion-dollar Billy Beane in 2005.Zaidi began shaking up San Francisco’s usual methods with a seemingly endless stream of anonymous signings before the season, in the hopes that at least some of them turn into viable major leaguers. That dizzying roster carousel did not let up once the season got underway, either. The team has started to employ modern pitching tactics like using an opener (which went poorly) and having position players like Sandoval throw mop-up innings (which went well!).But Zaidi has also run into friction six months into his new job. Already a figure of suspicion among Giants fans for his Dodger background, Zaidi was booed by season-ticket holders (granted, at Zaidi’s own urging) during a preseason meet-and-greet after he mentioned potentially using the opener. More seriously, he was openly criticized by Derek Holland after the pitcher was demoted from the starting rotation.Maybe all the constant roster-shuffling and other analytics-minded front-office techniques will pay off for San Francisco in the long run. But for now, the Giants are a bad team that can only get worse. The players are noticing — and so are the fans. AT&T Park was home to baseball’s third-best attendance mark as recently as 2017, but no team has shed more fans per game this season than San Francisco, whose 2019 attendance is down by more than 6,000 as compared with last year.How long will the Giants’ rebuild last? It might take a while to clear the current roster’s worst financial obligations from the books. Even in a world without Bumgarner, the team has $124 million committed to just seven players next year, with a payroll that could balloon to $172 million after arbitration and options are picked up. But as San Francisco’s ill-fated late push to sign Bryce Harper showed, the team hasn’t ruled out shelling out money for talent despite starting a new chapter in franchise history. Zaidi’s tightrope walk between alienating one of baseball’s best fan bases and genuinely refreshing the roster should be interesting to watch over the next few seasons.But it does also mean that the Giants dynasty of the early teens is firmly in the rearview mirror. What San Francisco accomplished then still defies statistical explanation to a certain degree, even acknowledging that most dynasties need an unlikely string of good fortune to build a great roster with long-term staying power. Through a combination of strong starting pitching, an impressive homegrown core and unbelievably shrewd veteran pickups, the Giants put together one of baseball’s most improbable strings of championships ever — a run that will be better appreciated only as it recedes into the realm of history. Now we have to see what Zaidi can do as a follow-up act.Check out our latest MLB predictions. ✗-2 ✓ But every dynasty also has to end. When a team has a zero-point season, its rolling tally drops at least 2 points (it falls by 3 if the team also has a losing record). When the rolling tally dips to zero again, or the team has three straight pointless seasons, the dynasty is definitively over.2And the dynasty’s final season is retroactively set to the last year in which the team picked up any dynasty points.This decade’s Giants officially qualified as a dynasty by hitting 10 points after the 2014 World Series victory, ultimately extending the span of their run from 2010 to 2016 with one additional playoff appearance.3Technically the Giants haven’t had three straight zero-point seasons or a running total of zero yet (their running total was 3 through 2018, which was their second-straight zero-point season), but our model gives them next to no chance of picking up any dynasty points — and thereby extending the run — in 2019. But of those seven seasons, three contributed nothing to (and therefore actively detracted from) San Francisco’s running dynasty total. Among the 38 distinct teams that James’s system considers dynasties, only one — the 1963-71 St. Louis Cardinals — had a higher share of their “dynasty years” contribute nothing to the dynasty itself. +2 Cardinals1926193531731030.0 The weirdest dynasties ever?Among MLB dynasties (as defined by Bill James’s point system), largest share of seasons during a run that contributed zero points to the dynasty In general, a season contributes nothing to the dynasty if the team fails to make the playoffs or win 90 games.Source: Baseball Databank Angels200220091112825.0 -3 Red Sox2002201841851729.4 TeamStartEndTitlesMax Dynasty PtsZero-PtTotalZero-Pt Share Dodgers1973199121381942.1 read more

Graham to arrive at OSU with lofty expectations

“Legacy” is an oft-used word in association with Ohio State football.   It is used to describe the honor and responsibility passed down from OSU teams to their present counterparts.For incoming recruit and quarterback prospect Taylor Graham, the word “legacy” carries a deeper meaning.Graham will be bringing more than just his personal belongings, a Kordell Stewart poster and a laptop to campus with him this fall. He has the exploits of his father, former OSU quarterback Kent Graham, as baggage.The elder Graham, the OSU signal-caller under John Cooper in the 1991 season, went on to a journeyman’s career in the NFL. He played for eight different teams, beginning with the New York Giants and then retiring from the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2002.His son, a 6-foot-4-inch, 211-pound prospect from dad’s alma mater, Wheaton North in Illinois, hopes to have a career that equals or surpasses that of his famous father.Kevin Noon, managing editor of BuckeyeGrove.com, thinks he may have the skills to do just that.“He has the tools to be successful at this level, having an Ohio State and NFL alum as a father to go along with his frame,” Noon said.While he is not the only quarterback recruited for OSU’s 2010 class, the other, Marion Franklin product Verlon Reed, is expected to switch to another position because of his versatile athleticism. That puts Graham in a position to eventually challenge for the same starting position his father once anchored.Graham may not possess the speed or agility of current Buckeye quarterback Terrelle Pryor, or even Reed for that matter, but he is more in the mold of a classic, drop-back passer like former OSU greats Bobby Hoying or, yes, Kent Graham.“He is mobile enough to move around in the pocket if need be, but will never be mistaken as a dual-threat quarterback,” Noon said. “He has a big arm and a great football mind but will still need to work on his touch and decision-making.”In addition to his accuracy and mechanics, he walks onto campus with durability concerns. He broke an ankle just five games into his junior season. Then, with a scholarship offer from OSU already in hand, Graham suffered a PCL tear in his knee and was once again limited to five games his senior year.During those 10 games he was able to compete in, however, he threw for 1,380 yards and eight touchdowns, against just one interception.Noon doesn’t appear overly concerned.“He hasn’t been able to escape the injury bug over the past two seasons, but neither of the past injuries could be classified as ‘chronic,’” Noon said.Graham, who was born at the OSU Medical Center in the literal and figurative shadow of The ‘Shoe, will have quite a tradition to live up to. If he can prove that he can overcome the ‘injury-prone’ label and the added pressure that comes with being a true legacy, someday he’ll get his chance. read more

Buckeye switch Former Buckeye Aaron Pettrey replaces Mike Nugent as kicker for

The Cincinnati Bengals signed former Buckeye kicker Aaron Pettrey on Tuesday afternoon. Pettrey will replace Mike Nugent, another former Buckeye kicker. On Monday, Pettrey was excited about trying out for the Bengals. On Tuesday, he made the roster of the team he grew up rooting for. “It’s pretty cool,” Pettrey said. “My dad is excited. My family is already looking for tickets.” Pettrey’s signing came on the heels of Nugent’s season-ending knee injury. Nugent won AFC Player of the Month for September but struggled in November, missing two of three field goal attempts in two games. “It’s bittersweet,” Pettrey said. “It’s nice being here, but I’d like to see Mike keep kicking this year. Under the circumstances, I wish it were a different route.” Nugent was upset about his injury but happy for Pettrey’s opportunity. “He’s a really good guy,” Nugent said, “works really hard and is the kind of person Coach (Jim) Tressel likes to bring in. He’s one of those people that makes you look at your character and how hardworking you can be.” Pettrey recovered from an MCL tear that kept him sidelined for three games in OSU’s 2009 season. Devin Barclay took over Pettrey’s kicking duties while he was injured. “I learned a lot from him,” Barclay said. “He’s a tough kid. Mentally strong, a great leg, kind of a guy who leads by example. Just a class act all-around.” Pettrey played multiple positions in high school but knew kicking is what would take him to the highest level. “That’s what I really wanted to do,” Pettrey said. “Kicking and eventually making it to the NFL, at the highest level.” read more