Seahawks units look ready for postseason

December, 22, 2014
Dec 22
The Seattle Seahawks look playoff-ready in every aspect.

The Seahawks routed the Arizona Cardinals 35-6 on Sunday night. They’ve outscored opponents 114-33 during a five-game winning streak that has put them in position to win the NFC West.

The Seahawks and Cardinals are tied for the division lead, but the Seahawks hold the tiebreaker, having beaten the Cardinals twice in the past five weeks.

The Seahawks set a franchise record with 596 total yards in the game.

The running game looks ready
Marshawn Lynch, playing with a stomach ailment, had 10 carries for 113 yards, including the longest touchdown run of his career, an amazing 79-yarder in which he bounced off multiple hits.

This was Lynch’s 24th game with at least 100 yards rushing, tied with Chris Warren for second-most in Seahawks history. Only Shaun Alexander (37) has more.

That was Lynch’s only run against a tackle box that had more defenders than available blockers. He is the only player with more than 400 rush yards against a loaded box this season.

Russell Wilson also had an impressive couple of runs, one of which was a 55-yarder, the other of which was a 5-yard run, including a nifty feint to get into the end zone. He’s now rushed for 842 yards this season.

Wilson scrambled three times for 81 yards, giving him 523 this season. He is the only quarterback with more than 500 scramble yards this season.

The passing game looks ready
Wilson was 20-of-31 for a career-high 339 passing yards, including an 80-yard touchdown throw to Luke Willson that matched the longest touchdown throw of Wilson’s career (he had an 80-yarder to Golden Tate last season).

Wilson excelled in a myriad of ways in this game.

He was 12-of-17 for 264 yards and two touchdowns when facing five-or-more pass rushers.

He was 7-of-11 for 150 yards and a touchdown throwing from outside the pocket.

He was 10-of-14 for 194 yards and a touchdown when using play action.

He finished 5-of-8 for 208 yards and two touchdowns on throws of 15 or more yards downfield.

The defense looks ready
In the Seahawks' past five games, they have held the Cardinals and the 49ers to their two lowest points totals of the season and the Eagles to their fewest points in a game this season.

The Cardinals were held to 29 yards on 15 carries. The Seahawks have held six of their past eight opponents to fewer than 65 yards on the ground.

The defense sacked Ryan Lindley four times. The Seahawks have recorded at least four sacks in four of the five games during this winning streak.

Targeting a title
The Seahawks will be trying to become the first team to win consecutive Super Bowl titles since the 2003 and 2004 New England Patriots, the first NFC team to do so since the 1993 and 1994 Dallas Cowboys.


Romo best of Cowboys, maybe best in NFL

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
Who says Tony Romo can’t play in December?

Romo had one of the best games of his career as a Dallas Cowboys quarterback, setting a couple of team records in an NFC-East clinching rout of the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

The Cowboys are division champs for the first time since 2009. They’ve scored 35 or more points in three straight games in the same regular season for the third time in team history. The other two instances were in 1983.

Romo is 3-0 this month. He entered this season 14-21 in his career in December and January, including playoffs.

Romo at his best
Romo broke Troy Aikman’s team record for career passing yardage and broke his own team mark for highest completion percentage by completing 18 of 20 passes (90 percent).

Romo had a stretch of 16 straight completions, which lasted more than 42 minutes of game time and 2 hours, 6 minutes, 50 seconds of real time.

This game marked the second time in Romo’s career that he opened each of his first three drives with a touchdown pass. The other was in 2011 against the Bills.

He was a perfect 6-of-6 on throws 10 or more yards downfield, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. That was far better than Andrew Luck, who had only one completion in five attempts that far downfield.

The Cowboys offensive line also had a nice game from a pass-protection standpoint.

Romo was under duress on only one of his pass attempts and was pressured (sack or duress) on just three of his 24 dropbacks (12.5 percent). That's the lowest pressure percentage against Romo this season.

Best in the league?
Romo now leads the NFL in completion percentage this season (70.3 percent), as his performance today pushed him ahead of Drew Brees. He also leads the league in touchdown percentage (touchdowns divided by pass attempts) and first-down percentage (first downs divided by pass attempts).

He has 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions, a 4-to-1 ratio that has been bettered only by Aaron Rodgers this season.

Romo moved to the top of the leaderboard in Total QBR.. He's at 82.3, just ahead of Rodgers (81.2) and Peyton Manning (80.8), who plays on Monday night.

Where Romo separates himself is in the fourth quarter when the score is close. He has an 84.4 Total QBR in those situations (due to a completion percentage of nearly 70 percent, six touchdowns and two interceptions). Rodgers' QBR in those situations is 69.5. Manning's is 60.2

How did Murray fare?
DeMarco Murray, playing less than a week after surgery on his broken left hand, had 22 carries for 58 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run.

Murray is 6-of-6 in scoring on runs from his opponents’ 1 this season.

Murray didn’t do much when trying to run to his left, managing 11 carries for only 22 yards. He had 36 rushing yards on his 11 other carries.


Top stats to know: Chargers 38, 49ers 35

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21

Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesPhilip Rivers threw four touchdown passes, three of them after halftime.
Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers turned things around dramatically after halftime in their comeback victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

In Saturday night’s game, the Chargers overcame a 21-point deficit for the second time in franchise history, the first time since a 49-41 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10 of 2006. A big reason behind the rally was Rivers’ performance in the second half.

Rivers finished with four touchdown passes, tying his career high. It was his sixth career game with four passing touchdowns, his first since 2013 Week 1. Three of those touchdown passes came after halftime.

In the first half, Rivers had as many interceptions as completions (two) on throws more than five yards downfield. In the second half and overtime, Rivers completed seven passes at least 15 yards downfield, matching his most in a game this season. He was 5-of-5 after halftime when targeting Antonio Gates.

The Chargers converted two fourth-down plays – a fourth-and-8 and a fourth-and-10 – on their game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter. Across the NFL this season, teams have converted 17 percent (about 1 in 6) of fourth-quarter fourth downs when they have faced eight or more yards to go for a first down. Those two conversions made the Chargers 3-for-3 on fourth down in the game; they were 1-for-5 on fourth down this season before Saturday.

49ers rely on the run
The rushing game carried the 49ers’ offense. They totaled 355 yards on the ground, the most by the team since 1948 and third-most in franchise history. The 49ers became the first team to rush for 300 yards and lose since the Kansas City Chiefs lost to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16 of 2012 despite rushing for 352 yards.

The highlight play of the 49ers’ rush game was Colin Kaepernick’s 90-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, which helped restore the 49ers to a 14-point lead, 35-21, after the Chargers had closed to seven by outscoring the 49ers 14-0 coming out of halftime.

Kaepernick’s run was noteworthy on a couple of fronts. It was the second-longest run by a quarterback since 2001. Only Terrelle Pryor’s 93-yard run in Week 8 of 2013 against the Steelers – on the first snap of the game – is longer than Kaepernick’s in that time. In 49ers history, Kaepernick’s run was the second-longest rush touchdown, behind a 96-yard scoring run by running back Garrison Hearst in 1998.

Two 100-yard rushers a rarity
The 49ers’ Frank Gore totaled 158 yards on the ground, including 93 after contact – his most after contact since 2008. Gore and Kaepernick became the first 49ers duo to each top 100 rushing yards in a game since Nov. 13, 1977 (Wilbur Jackson and Delvin Williams).

The 49ers were especially effective between the tackles. Their 243 yards inside the tackles were their most since 2008.

The Chargers allowed more than 300 rush yards in one game for the first time since they allowed 378 against the Vikings in Week 9 of 2007. That game was memorable because Adrian Peterson set the NFL single-game rushing record with 296 yards.

As rare as the Chargers’ rally was, the 49ers’ collapse was more so. They had lost only one game when leading by 21 or more points: 42-41 to the Vikings on Oct. 24, 1961. San Francisco led 35-14 at halftime of that game.

Eagles pay price for mistakes

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
Not to take anything away from Washington, but the Philadelphia Eagles will have plenty to kick themselves about after they lost 27-24 on Saturday.

The Eagles committed 13 penalties. That is their most in a game since Week 9 of 2010 (14 penalties).

Cody Parkey missed two field goals. He had missed two all season entering the game. Parkey’s first miss was from 34 yards. He had been 17-of-17 on field goals of 35 yards or shorter this season. Entering the game, the Eagles’ special teams were the most efficient in the NFL and were averaging 4.0 expected points per game.

Turnovers lead to scores
The Eagles entered the week with the most turnovers and the second most points allowed off turnovers in the NFL. Both of the Eagles’ turnovers resulted in points for Washington.

Mark Sanchez was sacked and fumbled on Philadelphia’s first drive, and Washington capitalized for a 3-0 Washington lead.

The Eagles’ second turnover came with the score tied and 1:36 remaining in the fourth quarter. Sanchez’s pass was intercepted, and Washington drove to the winning field goal, helped by -- you guessed it -- two Eagles penalties.

Combined, Sanchez and Nick Foles have 26 turnovers, two more than league-leader Jay Cutler. Sanchez wasn’t helped by four drops, which tied the Eagles’ high this season.

Among the other challenges the Eagles encountered was Washington’s DeSean Jackson. Released by the Eagles in the offseason, he had two receptions of more than 50 yards Saturday. He has seven this season -- three of them against the Eagles.

Offensive stalwarts
The game featured other positive performances of note.

The Eagles got a big game from Zach Ertz. The second-year tight end out of Stanford set the franchise record with 15 receptions.

Washington’s Alfred Morris rushed for 83 yards and has 1,031 this season. He reached 1,000 rush yards for the third season in a row and is the first player to start his career with such a streak since Chris Johnson from 2008-10.

Transition, inside defense fuel Kentucky

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
Between them, UCLA and Kentucky have combined for 19 NCAA men’s basketball championships. In their meeting Saturday, which the Wildcats dominated en route to an easy win, only one of the teams looked capable of adding to that total this season.

Kentucky, also No. 1 in ESPN's BPI, came into Saturday’s game allowing opponents to shoot 30 percent in the half court, the best in Division I. The Wildcats continued their defensive dominance, holding UCLA to 25 percent shooting in the half court.

Kentucky had the upper hand from the jump. The Wildcats took a 24-0 lead, exploiting the Bruins’ 0-for-17 shooting from the field in the first 7˝ minutes.

The Wildcats held the Bruins to 3-of-36 shooting in the half court in the first half. UCLA got off one shot in transition, a 3-pointer by Norman Powell 40 seconds before intermission. Powell’s shot was blocked.

The first half ended with Kentucky leading 41-7. It was the fewest points UCLA has scored in any half in the past 15 seasons. The next-lowest first-half output was 17 points, also against Kentucky, in the 2003-04 season.

Kentucky totaled 28 transition points on 11-of-15 shooting (73 percent) from the field. The transition advantage in the first half was 21-0 in favor of Kentucky. It was Kentucky’s second most transition points in a game this season (31 against Montana State on Nov. 23).

No inside game for Bruins
UCLA tried to attack Kentucky’s size, with 49 paint touches and 29 paint field goal attempts. Despite the Bruins scoring 40 percent of their points in the paint (season average: 38 percent), Kentucky was largely able to swarm the Bruins inside.

Kentucky had more blocked shots (eight) than UCLA had points (seven) in the first half. The Wildcats finished with more combined blocks and steals (21) than UCLA had made field goals (19).

Top stats to know - Lillard dominates late

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20

D.Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty ImagesDamian Lillard scored 26 of his season-high 43 in the fourth quarter and OT

Damian Lillard saved his best for last on Friday night.

Lillard scored a season-high 43 points on Friday night, with 26 of those points coming in the fourth quarter and OT, as the Blazers beat the Spurs in three overtimes, 129-119.

The Spurs did something in this game that had never happened in NBA history while Lillard carried the Blazers when it mattered most.

Lillard excels after three
Lillard had scored at least 20 points in his first eight games against the Spurs. He had 17 points at the end of three quarters as his Blazers trailed by five points. Lillard then scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, including a game-tying layup with 1.4 seconds to play before blocking Danny Green’s potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. He has scored 165 points in the fourth quarter this season, tops in the NBA.

Lillard was just getting started, however, as he scored 16 points in overtime, including nine points in the third overtime period as the Blazers pulled away for the win.

Lillard is clutch
Lillard hit the game-tying layup in regulation and then in the first overtime, he would hit a game-tying 3 with 13.6 seconds on the clock.

Over the last three seasons, Lillard has 11 game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final 15 seconds of regulation or OT, more than any other player in the league.

Spurs with dubious honor
After battling the Grizzlies in three overtimes on Wednesday night and losing, the Spurs lost their second straight three-overtime game. They are the third team in NBA history to play consecutive three overtime games and the first since the 1951 Baltimore Bullets. However, the Spurs became the first team to ever lose two straight three-overtime games.

The Spurs are now 0-4 in overtime games this season. They were 9-4 in overtime games in the last three seasons combined.

Luck's deep touch brings more success

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19

Michael Conroy/AP PhotoAndrew Luck has atoned for early mistakes and has led the Colts to the AFC South title.
Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts did it again, earning their second straight AFC South division title last week.

Despite his fifth consecutive game with a turnover, Luck joined Russell Wilson in an exclusive club of two: They are the only quarterbacks in NFL history to lead their teams to 10 or more wins in each of their first three seasons. While Luck and the Colts ride a four-game winning streak into Arlington to face the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Luck has averaged two turnovers per game during that streak. Can he limit the turnovers in time to lead the Colts on a postseason run?

Overcoming turnovers
Luck enters Week 16 leading the league in passing yards (4,492) and touchdowns (38), but he also is not far off the lead in a more dubious category: turnovers.

Jay Cutler is the only player with more turnovers than Luck this season, and Luck’s turnovers have been costly. Luck has thrown three interceptions that have been returned for touchdowns and lost two fumbles that have been returned for touchdowns. Only Austin Davis (six) has more turnovers leading to defensive touchdowns this season.

Better after break
Luck has played better after halftime this season, in large part due to erasing the negative plays. Luck has fewer interceptions and fumbles in the second half, and his sacks taken are also way down.

Among quarterbacks to start at least 10 games this season, Luck’s 1.8 sack percentage in the second half is the lowest in the league.

Development on deep ball has been key
In their second year together with the Colts, Luck and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton have taken more chances downfield.

During his rookie season, Luck attempted the most deep passes (throws at least 15 yards downfield) in the league despite negative results. No quarterback threw more interceptions on deep balls than Luck that season.

Understandably, the Colts cut down on the deep passes in 2013, but it didn’t lead to more efficient numbers for Luck. His completion percentage and yards per attempt dropped after his rookie season.

But this year, Luck and the Colts have found the right mix of quality and quantity in the deep passing game.

Luck again leads the league in deep attempts this season, but he also is completing 50 percent of those passes, with the second-best touchdown-to-interception ratio (behind Aaron Rodgers).

Padres' outfield upgrade continues

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesJustin Upton is reportedly joining the Padres' new-look outfield for 2015.
With the reported acquisition of Justin Upton, the San Diego Padres are set to have a completely different outfield for the 2015 season, after previously trading for Matt Kemp and Wil Myers.

That trio will likely replace San Diego's 2014-ending outfield of Will Venable, Seth Smith and Carlos Quentin, providing much-needed power in the process.

Power upgrade
The Padres' potential new outfield hit a combined 60 home runs with an OPS of .791 last season, compared to the 29 homers and .654 OPS of the entire Padres outfield, which also ranked last in MLB with a .347 slugging percentage.

Justin Upton alone equaled that long ball total with 29 home runs, the second most of his career, though he may be sacrificing strikeouts for those home runs.

Upton's average fly ball distance has trended up the previous three years, peaking at 287 feet in 2014. But his strikeout rate has also climbed steadily, maxing out at 26.7 percent last season, 11th highest in the majors and his highest since 2008.

Despite already playing eight seasons, Upton may be entering his prime at age 27, and his 29 homers in 2014 were fourth most by any player in his age-26 season or younger (Upton turned 27 on Aug. 25).

One possible mitigating factor to San Diego's offensive upgrade: Petco Park is a notorious pitchers' park. According to ESPN's MLB Park Factors, Petco ranked 22nd or worse for hitters in home runs, hits and doubles in 2014.

Defensive issues?
Defensively, the question remains as to who plays center field for the Padres, and there does not appear to be a natural fit.

Kemp has the most experience playing there, but he has minus-72 defensive runs saved in 6,927 career innings in center field, including minus-12 in 41 games and 326 innings last season. Overall, Kemp ranked last among outfielders last season with minus-23 defensive runs saved.

Myers has been mentioned as an option, but he's played only 53 innings in center field, and his career total of minus-10 defensive runs saved, primarily in right field, doesn't bode well for a possible transition.

Upton isn't likely to fill the void, because none of his nearly 9,000 career outfield innings have been played in center field.

Football Power Index bowl projections

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
It is the most wonderful time of the year -- college football bowl season.

Seventy-six FBS teams will play in 38 pre-national championship bowl games with school and conference pride on the line.

Who will win these bowl games? ESPN’s Football Power Index has the inside scoop.

As a reminder, FPI is a predictive measure of team strength that can be used to project season and game outcomes.

It orders teams by which is most likely to beat an average FBS team on a neutral field. Using each team’s FPI and the site of the game (all bowl games are neutral-site), the system can predict the expected point differential and chance of each team winning in a matchup.

In the 2014 regular season, the team that FPI favored won 77 percent of FBS-only games, which is better than the win percentage of the Vegas closing line favorite. Bowl season is a little more difficult to forecast because there are far fewer mismatches than in the regular season. However, since 2005, FPI has correctly identified the winner in 64 percent of bowl games.

Last year was one of the toughest years to predict bowl games; there were 10 games in which the FPI favorite had at least a 75 percent chance to win, and four of them -- including Alabama and Baylor -- lost.

This year is expected to be a closer bowl season. There are three games in which the FPI favorite has at least a 75 percent chance to win and 12 games in which the favorite has less than a 55 percent chance.

Unlike last season, none of the New Year’s Six bowls have a team favored by more than 66 percent.

The projections for all 38 bowl games this season are below.

Here are a few notes that stand out:

• Marshall, Stanford and Georgia are the most likely teams to win their bowl games.

• FPI favors the SEC in 11 of 12 bowls. The only game it does not give the SEC more than a 50 percent chance to win is the Duck Commander Independence Bowl (South Carolina vs. Miami).

• Much like the lines in Vegas, FPI gives the Big Ten less than a 50 percent chance to win each of its 10 bowl games.

• Navy, Texas A&M, UCLA and Ole Miss are the four teams that are currently favored by FPI and are underdogs according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

Rondo adds new look to Mavs offense

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18

Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsDallas no longer has to worry about stopping Rajon Rondo, the NBA's assist leader this season.

The Boston Celtics have reportedly agreed to trade Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks for Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder and draft picks. Rondo is currently leads the NBA in assists per game at 10.8 while no Mavericks player is averaging more than five.

What are the Mavericks getting in Rondo and just who is Brandan Wright?

Rondo the Creator
The Mavericks are getting one of the league’s best facilitators, as no player in the NBA over the last four seasons has a higher assist percentage than Rondo’s 49.9. The only two players in the NBA with a percentage over 40 in that time are Chris Paul (46.3) and John Wall (40.8).

Rondo has also ranked either first or second among all players in the NBA in assists per game in each of the last five seasons, including this season. Rondo has averaged 11 assists per game over the last five seasons, the only player in the league to average over 10.

Rondo Rates with Celtics Legends
The Celtics have dealt a player who has had a major impact on the franchise on both ends of the court. Rondo leaves as the franchise’s all-time leader in both assists per game (8.5) and steals per game (1.9) and the only players with more total assists than Rondo's 4,474 in Celtics history are hall-of-famers Bob Cousy, John Havlicek and Larry Bird.

Mavericks Point Guards Lacking
The Mavericks' starting point guard trio of Nelson, Devin Harris and J.J. Barea rank last in the league in points per game and field-goal percentage and 28th in assists per game. None of these players has a 10-assist game this season while Rondo has 13 such games.

Who is Brandan Wright?
Wright, the focal point of the return for the Celtics, is ranked fifth in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating at 26.2 despite averaging fewer than 20 minutes a game. Wright has finished ranked in the top 25 in PER in each of the last four seasons.

Wright is also shooting 74.8 percent from the floor this season, a mark that leads the NBA and is on pace to break Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA record of 72.7 set in 1972-73.

ESPN's Football Power Index: A look back

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18

Wire service photosAmari Cooper, left, and Marcus Mariota helped their teams meet preseason FPI projections.
With the regular season complete and bowl matchups set, it’s time to look back at the 2014 college football season. Just as teams reflect on their seasons to evaluate their performance, ESPN Stats & Information will do the same for its Football Power Index.

Below is a breakdown of how FPI performed throughout the year. Which preseason projections were correct? How accurate was FPI at predicting games? This is designed to be unfiltered and informative, so if you have questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section below and we will do our best to answer.

As a quick reminder, ESPN’s Football Power Index is a forward-looking system designed to order each FBS team by which is most likely to beat an average team on a neutral field. FPI is intended to measure team strength, not evaluate a team’s résumé for the playoff, to best predict future performance. Once team strength is captured, FPI can be used to go through each team’s remaining schedule to produce game and season projections (expected W-L, chance to win conference, chance to win out, etc.).

Preseason information
FPI was improved this season to allow for preseason projections. Factored into the preseason ratings were prior years’ efficiencies (offensive, defensive and special teams), recruiting data, coaching tenure and information on returning starters.

Where FPI was correct in the preseason
• Preseason top 3: The top three teams in preseason FPI -- Florida State, Oregon and Alabama -- performed as expected. Ohio State was ranked sixth until days before the season when Braxton Miller injured his shoulder and returning starter information was adjusted. The Buckeyes dropped to 12th.

• Preseason W-L projections: Team strength must be weighed with the difficulty of a team’s schedule to accurately predict win totals. The teams ranked fourth through sixth in preseason FPI -- UCLA, Auburn and Stanford -- had some of the toughest schedules in the nation. Therefore, FPI predicted that they would lose more than three games on average (and they did). The five teams that FPI projected for the highest win totals were the only five teams in the nation with 12 or more wins. Similarly, the top five teams from Power 5 conferences in projected win total finished the season as the top five teams in the final CFP rankings.

Along those same lines, FPI projected that Florida State had a 38 percent chance to enter bowls undefeated and no other FBS team had more than a 10 percent chance to win out. The Seminoles are the only undefeated FBS team. The second-most likely team to go unbeaten in the preseason -- Marshall -- had a great chance to accomplish that feat through 11 games.

• Conference projections: Seven of the 10 preseason FPI favorites to win a conference went on to do so, including four of the six that were given the highest chances. The three FPI favorites that didn’t win were in the Big 12 (Oklahoma), Sun Belt (Louisiana-Lafayette) and American (Houston). In the case of the Big 12, Oklahoma (35 percent) and Baylor (33 percent) were very close in the preseason. The Big Ten is an interesting case. FPI favored Ohio State to win the conference without Miller, despite most of the public picking Michigan State.

Where FPI was incorrect in the preseason
• Teams FPI underestimated: Georgia Southern, TCU and Georgia Tech

Sun Belt champion Georgia Southern was transitioning to the FBS, and FPI underestimated the explosiveness of its offense, which finished 23rd in offensive efficiency. FPI projected that the Eagles would finish about 4-8, but they ended the year with a 9-3 record.

After finishing 4-8 last year, TCU’s improvement in 2014 was a surprise to many. FPI had the Horned Frogs 36th in its preseason rankings, which was higher than most but still significantly below their current fifth-place ranking. FPI was high on TCU’s defense (seventh in the preseason) but did not envision its offensive improvement after it ranked 99th in offensive efficiency in 2013. Overall, FPI projected that the Horned Frogs would enter bowls with around seven wins, and they have won 11 games.

Georgia Tech lost 11 starters, including its quarterback, from last year's seven-win team. In the preseason, FPI projected that the Yellow Jackets would win about six games and had a 5 percent chance to win the ACC Coastal Division. Instead, Georgia Tech reached 10 wins for the first time since 2009, and the Yellow Jackets seek their first Orange Bowl win since 1951.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Michael C. Johnson/USA TodayNo defense in the Power 5 had a lower efficiency than that of Texas Tech and coach Kliff Kingsbury.
• Teams FPI overestimated: Michigan, Texas Tech and South Carolina

Michigan was returning 15 starters, including quarterback Devin Gardner, to a team that had four of its six losses come by a combined 11 points last season. The Wolverines were ranked 18th in preseason FPI and were projected to have the 16th-best defense in the country. FPI projected that the Wolverines would have about four more wins than they actually did, marking its biggest miss this year.

Texas Tech was supposed to have a top-10 offense this year, but injuries and turnovers stymied the Red Raiders' air attack. And no Power 5 team finished the regular season with a lower defensive efficiency than Texas Tech. It’s safe to say that preseason FPI whiffed on four-win Texas Tech.

South Carolina was ninth in the preseason Associated Press poll, so FPI was not alone in its overestimation of the Gamecocks. Since South Carolina had a favorable divisional schedule, FPI projected that it had the best chance to win the SEC East and the second-best chance to win the SEC. The Gamecocks finished with three conference wins, four fewer than SEC East champion Missouri.

In-season projections
While the preseason ratings served as the basis for FPI, an important part of the system is that it learns from each game during the season and adjusts appropriately as teams play better or worse than expected. This mechanism allows FPI to be fluid as the season goes on, which improves prediction accuracy from week to week.

The team FPI favored won 77 percent of FBS-only games this season, which is better than the win percentage of the Vegas closing-line favorite. There were 50 games in which FPI and the Vegas line differed on the favorite; FPI went 28-22 (56 percent) in those games, including 17-10 in the final eight weeks.

Interestingly, FPI exceeded expectations in games involving teams that finished the season ranked in the CFP Top 25. Most systems would be expected to correctly predict about 66 percent of such games, but the FPI favorite was 34-12 (74 percent), including 18-2 in the final five weeks.

There were certain teams that FPI had a grasp on and others that baffled the system. There were 10 teams, including Michigan State, Clemson, Washington, Florida State and Texas Tech, for which FPI correctly predicted all of their FBS versus FBS games. Add in another 28 teams for which FPI correctly predicted all but one game and the system had a very good understanding of about a third of the FBS.

Texas Tech is a great example of how FPI adjusts as the season progresses. As noted above, FPI was high on the Red Raiders in the preseason but quickly learned of their flaws and adjusted its in-season projections accordingly. FPI correctly identified the favorite in all 11 of Texas Tech’s FBS games.

On the other end, there were five teams -- Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Akron, Utah and Air Force -- where the FPI favorite lost in more than half of the games. Missouri and Texas A&M also were tough to predict with their fluctuating performances.

We have been able to retroactively apply FPI to the past 10 seasons. Since 2005, FPI has correctly predicted 75 percent of FBS games. It is on pace to have its second-best pick percentage in a season but will finish the year far from its 79.5 correct-pick percentage in 2013.

For those looking for a little bowl advice, FPI projects that Marshall (79 percent), Stanford (79 percent) and Georgia (77 percent) are the most likely teams to win their bowl games, and Navy (60 percent) is the Vegas underdog most likely to win.

Stats to know: Grizzlies 117, Spurs 116

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
The Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs played a game Wednesday night that looked like neither wanted to end, and that neither could end. If it was a playoff game, it would have been an all-time classic. Instead, it’s just another in a line of impressive wins by the Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies blew a 23-point lead and needed a miraculous buzzer-beater just to get the game into overtime. But they finally managed to hold off a depleted Spurs team (playing without Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard) in the third extra session.

Elias Sports Bureau stats of the night
The Grizzlies are the first team to beat the team with the best record in the NBA and the defending NBA champ on consecutive days since the 2000-2001 Bucks beat the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz.

For the Spurs, this was their first triple-overtime game since a win over the Atlanta Hawks on March 20, 1984.

Shot of the night: take your pick
The game featured two buzzer-beating bank shots by seven-footers, with the Grizzlies' Marc Gasol hitting a 3-pointer to force overtime and the Spurs' Tim Duncan hitting a long jumper to send the game to a third overtime.

It was Gasol’s first 3-pointer of the season and eighth in 50 attempts for his career. It marked the second time he has hit a game-tying or go-ahead basket in the final five seconds.

It was the second time in three games that the Grizzlies hit a 3-pointer as time expired in regulation to tie the game. Mike Conley made the other against the Philadelphia 76ers. Both Gasol’s and Conley’s shots were lunges taken off the wrong foot.

The Grizzlies were 4-for-4 on game-tying/go-ahead field goals in the final 10 seconds of the 4th quarter and overtime in this game.

To put the 4-for-4 in perspective -- the league average on game-tying and go-ahead field goals in the final 10 seconds of the 4th quarter and overtime over the last 15 seasons was 25 percent.

Randolph’s big night
Zach Randolph had 21 points and 21 rebounds for the Grizzlies. It was his 10th 20-20 game in the past six seasons.

Only Dwight Howard (20) and Kevin Love (16) have more in that span.

Vince Carter still has something left
If you weren’t a fan of the Grizzlies, you can be forgiven if you’d forgotten that Vince Carter was still in the NBA.

Carter scored in single digits in 20 of his first 21 games, was shooting only 30 percent from 3-point range for the season, and entered Tuesday having made only 6-of-24 shots in a four-game stretch. But he has scored 16 and 18 points in his past two games, with nine 3-pointers.


Padres adding power to their outfield

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
Wil Myers is reportedly headed to the San Diego Padres, with the Tampa Bay Rays agreeing to trade the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year winner. Myers played in nearly an identical number of games in 2014 as he did in 2013, missing time due to a wrist inury. His production went down considerably from a .293 batting average, 13 home runs and 1.9 WAR in 2013 to .222 with six home runs and -0.9 WAR in 2014.

This was the second time that Myers has been dealt. He was previously traded from the Royals to the Rays in the 2012-2013 offseason in a deal that netted the Royals James Shields and Wade Davis.

What are the statistical storylines behind a Myers deal?

This is an unusual kind of trade
The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Myers will be the first Rookie of the Year winner to switch teams within two years of winning the award since Butch Metzger and Pat Zachry won in 1976 and were traded a season later.

Zachry was traded from the Reds to the Mets as part of a deal that brought the Reds back future Hall-of-Famer Tom Seaver.

A notable drop-off
Exactly 200 players have had at least 300 plate appearances in each of the last two seasons. Only five of them experienced a larger drop-off in OPS from 2013 to 2014 than Myers did (.831 to .614).

Myers’ performance was down even before he suffered the injury at the end of May that sidelined him until late August.

He had a slashline of .227/.313/.354 before the injury. He came back a bit rusty, posting a .213/.263/.268 slashline and only one home run in 127 at-bats after returning.

Myers’ upside
The reason that the Padres would want Myers is because of his potential. He wowed at times in 2013 after being heralded as one of the game’s top prospects.

When Myers is going good, he crushes pitches at the top of the strike zone and up around the eyes.

He hit a major-league best .390 against pitches in the upper-half of the strike zone and above in 2013.

He saw a lower rate of pitches up there last season (the rate decreased from 36 percent to 30 percent and his performance dipped against them as well (he hit only .209 in at-bats ending in those pitches).

A revamped outfield
The Padres deal for Matt Kemp is not yet finalized, but if it is, the team will have done a significant overhaul of its outfield.

Padres outfielders ranked last in the majors in slugging percentage (.347) last season. Their 29 home runs ranked fourth-worst.

Myers had a .478 slugging percentage as a rookie. Kemp slugged .470 in 2013 and .508 in 2014. He slugged .606 after the All-Star Break last season.

One potential weakness: Defense
PETCO Park is spacious and a challenge to hit in. There’s also a lot of ground for outfielders to cover.

Kemp ranked last among outfielders last season with -23 Defensive Runs Saved. In 150 games in right field, Myers has compiled -11 Defensive Runs Saved.


Bears have issues with pass on both sides

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
Even though the Chicago Bears are eliminated from postseason contention, they got some national attention on Wednesday.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported that the team is planning a starting quarterback switch from Jay Cutler to Jimmy Clausen. The Bears have not made an announcement related to a potential move.

Cutler posted a 6.8 Total QBR and was sacked seven times in Monday night’s loss to the Saints. It was the second-worst quarterbacking performance of the week, better than only Johnny Manziel.

It was also the second time in six weeks that Cutler posted a Total QBR below 7.0 and the third time in that span in which he had a Total QBR lower than 25.

Cutler had a 59.0 Total QBR through Week 11, which ranked 15th-best in the NFL. His Total QBR since then is 43.6, which ranks 21st.

The cash value of Cutler’s contract this season is $22.5 million. That’s the highest in the NFL for a player who leads the league in both interceptions (18) and turnovers (24).

Cutler has averaged a turnover every 33.3 snaps. The average NFL quarterback averages a turnover for every 65.3 snaps.

The replacement
Clausen hasn’t started a game since the 2010 season and the reason is likely due to his ineffectiveness then. Clausen went 1-9 as a starter for the Panthers that season. In those 10 games, he threw three touchdowns and nine interceptions, posting a league-worst Total QBR of 11.0

In fact, that Total QBR is the lowest season-ending QBR for a quarterback for any of the nine seasons in which that stat has been tracked.

Far from the only thing wrong
The problems for the Bears have been magnified in recent weeks because of the team’s struggles.

The other big issue they’re currently dealing with is that they can’t stop anyone. They lead the NFL with 409 points allowed.

Their defense added a league-leading 7.6 expected points per game in 2012. Last year they fell all the way to 30th, costing the team about 6.6 expected points per game. They are again 30th this year, costing the team about 7.3 expected points per game.

Opposing quarterbacks have completed 67.6 percent of their passes against the Bears this season, the second-highest completion percentage in the NFL. Their 3,811 passing yards allowed are the second-most of any team. They’ve allowed 33 touchdown passes, most in the NFL.

Teams have exposed the Bears secondary with intermediate-length passes. The Bears have allowed 48 completions on throws 11 to 15 yards downfield, the most in the NFL. Opponents have completed 59 percent of passes thrown at least 11 yards downfield, the worst percentage for a defense this season.

Opponents are putting up big numbers outside the numbers. They've allowed 18 touchdowns on such throws, one fewer than the team with the most, the Steelers.

NFL, NFC North

Defensive rookie of the year candidates

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17

AP Photo/Ed ZurgaRams DT Aaron Donald leads an impressive group of Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates
As the NFL season closes in on the end of the regular season, ESPN Stats & Info looks at some of the leading candidates for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

DT Aaron Donald, Rams
Forget about Defensive Rookie of the Year for a minute. Donald has been one of the best defensive tackles in all of football this season.

Donald has 8.0 sacks while lined up as an interior pass rusher, trailing only Gerald McCoy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the most in the NFL this season (8.5) and Ndamukong Suh for the most by a rookie in the last seven seasons (10.0 in 2010).

Opponents have a Total QBR of 44 against the Rams in 388 dropbacks with Donald on the field. That would rank fourth in the NFL. The Rams have allowed a Total QBR of 74 in 147 dropbacks with Donald off the field, which would rank 31st.

Signature play: With just less than two minutes remaining in a Week 14 matchup against the Washington Redskins, Donald lined up as the left defensive tackle against right guard Chris Chester. Donald pushed Chester straight back eight yards as if the veteran weren’t even there and sacked Robert Griffin III.

ILB C.J. Mosley, Ravens
Mosley is another player whose numbers stack up against the best in the league, regardless of draft year.

Among all linebackers this season, Mosley ranks fifth in snaps (877), seventh in tackles (117), tied for second in interceptions (two) and 14th in disrupted dropbacks (10.0). All of those numbers are at least tied for first among rookie linebackers. The snaps and tackles lead all rookies.

Mosley has a knack for impact plays. He is one of three rookies with at least one sack, interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery this season. Bradley Roby of the Denver Broncos and Telvin Smith of the Jacksonville Jaguars are the other two.

Signature play: Mosley had a big fourth-quarter sack in Week 15 against the Jaguars, but his sack on "Monday Night Football" against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints might be the most impressive one to date. Mosley blitzed from his inside linebacker position, was held by center Jonathan Goodwin but still fought through for the sack. That knocked the Saints out of field goal range, and the Ravens eventually won the game.

OLB Khalil Mack, Raiders
Mack’s strong rookie season has flown under the radar during another rough year for the Oakland Raiders.

But the No. 5 overall pick, out of Buffalo, has led a Raiders defense that is above average in terms of defensive efficiency against the run and yards per rush. They lead the NFL in negative rushes allowed (69).

Mack alone has 27 tackles for a loss or no gain, the highest total among rookies and sixth among all defensive players. Mack trails J.J. Watt, Lavonte David, Justin Houston, Ryan Kerrigan and DeAndre Levy in tackles for loss or no gain. That is good company for a rookie to be in.

Signature play: Mack sacked San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick twice in a Week 14 win. On the second one, Mack lined up over the right guard, waited for left side of the line to collapse and showed great burst around the outside before he brought down Kaepernick to end the game.

Honorable Mentions
OLB Anthony Barr, Vikings: 70 tackles, 4.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and a rookie-high three fumble recoveries, including a scoop-and-score game-winner (on a fumble he forced) in overtime against the Buccaneers

ILB Chris Borland, 49ers: NFL-high 97 tackles since his first start in Week 7, when he took over for an injured Patrick Willis