Top Stats to Know: Kershaw wins 20th

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19

Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesKershaw's day ended early, but he still picked up his 20th win

Clayton Kershaw earned his second career 20-win season in a 14-5 Los Angeles Dodgers win on against the Chicago Cubs on Friday, becoming the first MLB pitcher with 20 wins this season. Kershaw threw five innings, allowing three earned runs (all in the first inning) and striking out nine batters. It was his shortest start since June 8, when he threw five innings in a rain-shortened win over the Colorado Rockies. Here’s what you need to know about Kershaw’s dominant season and some exclusive clubs he’s joined with this win.

Kershaw wins 20 again
Clayton Kershaw’s second career 20-win season makes him the fourth Dodgers pitcher with multiple 20-win seasons since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1958. Sandy Koufax leads all L.A. Dodger pitchers with three 20-win seasons while Claude Osteen and Don Drysdale each have two.

Kershaw gets to 20 quickly
Kershaw got his 20th win in his 26th start of the season, becoming just the sixth pitcher in the expansion era to accomplish that feat according to Elias. Four of the previous five pitchers to do so won the Cy Young Award that season, with Juan Marichal as the lone exception in 1968.

Kershaw limits scoring
Friday marked the 25th time in his 26 starts this year that Kershaw allowed three runs or fewer. Kershaw currently is on pace to finish the season with the highest percentage of starts where he allows three runs or fewer in the last 100 years according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Entering this season, Dwight Gooden’s 94.3 percent of starts in 1985 was the highest percentage, but Kershaw currently sits at 96.1 percent.

Kershaw has big strikeout numbers
Kershaw struck out at least nine batters in a game for the 15th time this season, snapping a tie with David Price for the MLB lead. Kershaw’s 15 games of at least nine strikeouts is the most in a season by a Dodgers pitcher since Koufax had 21 in 1966.


FPI-based must-see TV for Week 4

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Gainesville native Blake Sims leads Alabama into Saturday’s game against Florida.
Matchup quality is a metric that ranks games (on a 0-100 scale) based on how good each team is and how close the game is expected to be.

The games ranked highest in matchup quality will be competitive games between two highly ranked teams in ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI). Based on this metric, here are the top four games for Week 4.

Florida at Alabama: 91.6 pregame matchup quality
In a meeting of schools that have won four of the past seven SEC titles, third-ranked Alabama is a 73 percent favorite to beat Florida, according to FPI.

These teams will again play a big role in the conference race, as the Gators have the best chance to win the SEC East at 37 percent.

Alabama has a with a 25 percent chance to win the division and a 16 percent chance to win the conference, both best in the SEC.

This game is the only meeting of units ranked in the top 10 of ESPN's efficiency rankings this week, as Florida's ninth-ranked defense will try to slow Alabama's seventh-ranked offense.

Clemson at Florida State: 90.5 pregame matchup quality
This is the only remaining game between ranked teams this week, and the top-ranked Seminoles are a 77 percent favorite over No. 22 Clemson, according to FPI, even without QB Jameis Winston for the first half.

It's only Week 4, but the ACC title may be on the line, as Florida State (61 percent) and Clemson (14 percent) are FPI's favorites to win the conference.

Strength will battle strength, as Clemson ranks fifth in defensive efficiency and will try to slow a Seminoles offense that gained 565 yards of total offense against the Tigers last year.

Florida State won that game 51-14 after leading 27-7 at halftime, with a 93 percent win probability at the break.

Mississippi State at LSU: 90.1 pregame matchup quality
LSU has dominated the series, winning 14 straight and 21 of the last 22 meetings. Mississippi State last beat the Tigers in 1999, a one-point home win.

LSU's pass defense has been its strength this year. The Tigers have allowed the lowest Total QBR in the nation (11.2) and are one of three teams yet to concede a completion on a pass thrown at least 15 yards downfield.

FPI gives the Tigers a 61 percent chance to beat the Bulldogs.

Oklahoma at West Virginia: 87.2 pregame matchup quality
West Virginia has been one of the biggest surprises in the FBS this season. The Mountaineers have jumped 24 spots from their preseason rankings, the third-largest increase of any Power Five school.

FPI gives Oklahoma 77 percent odds to win, and this is one of three remaining games in which the Sooners have a predicted win percentage below 80 (at TCU and vs. Baylor are the others).

That relatively easy schedule means the Sooners have 18 percent odds to win all their remaining games, behind only BYU's 21 percent chances.

Buy or sell: Is Miami-Nebraska relevant?

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
Is Miami (FL) vs Nebraska still relevant?

Miami (FL) heads to Lincoln to take on No. 24 Nebraska (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2). The two teams have met in five January bowl games, but their most recent meeting was the Hurricanes’ 23-point win in the 2002 Rose Bowl. Are you buying that this game is still relevant?

The winner usually wins it all. In four out of the last five matchups between these teams, the winner won the national championship. The one game in which the winner did not win the national championship was the 1989 Orange Bowl when Miami (FL) finished second to Notre Dame.

Two great running backs. Since the start of last season, Ameer Abdullah ranks second in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game (130.4), while Duke Johnson ranks second in the ACC (108.8). Johnson has eight runs of 50 yards or longer since his freshman season, tied for the most in the FBS.

The teams cannot even win their conferences. Since Miami (FL) moved to the ACC in 2004 and Nebraska moved to the Big Ten in 2011, neither school has won its conference.

No longer top-tier programs. The last time Miami (FL) finished in the top 10 of the AP poll was the 2003 season. Nebraska has not finished in the top 10 since the 2001 season.

Is Kenny Hill the best QB in the SEC?

Texas A&M's Kenny Hill is 3-0 as a starter and became the first player in school history to throw for 1,000 yards in the first three games of a season. Is Hill already the best quarterback in the SEC?

Total QBR sees all. Total QBR accounts for all of a quarterback’s contributions, and Hill ranks third in the FBS and first in the SEC with a 92.9 Total QBR.

Hill is a TD machine. Hill has thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in 117 passes. Every other SEC quarterback with at least 50 passes has thrown at least one interception. Hill’s plus-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio leads the FBS.

Three games is a small sample. Hill may lead the SEC in Total QBR through three games, but dating back to last October, Nick Marshall leads the nation in Total QBR.

His receivers deserve some credit. Texas A&M has gained 585 yards after the catch, the most of any team in the SEC. On three of Hill’s touchdown passes, Texas A&M’s receiver gained at least 20 yards after the catch.

Will the Big Ten rebound this weekend?

The Big Ten has won 63 percent of its games this season, the lowest winning percentage for any Power Five conference. With one weekend left before we get into the heart of the Big Ten schedule, are you buying that this is the weekend the Big Ten rebounds?

There is a chance. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Big Ten has more than a 50 percent chance to win in three of its five matchups against other Power Five schools this weekend.

Did you see the Big Ten last week?. The Big Ten lost all five of its games against other Power Five schools last week. In fact, since Rutgers defeated Washington State on Thursday, Aug. 28, the Big Ten has lost 10 straight games to other Power Five schools.

They still have not beaten anyone good. The Big Ten is 0-9 against non-conference opponents currently ranked in the top 50 of the Football Power Index.

The only conference with a worse record in non-conference games against Power Five opponents is Conference USA, which is 0-16 in such games.

Should Oklahoma be on upset alert in West Virginia?

Oklahoma is 3-0 and is winning by an average margin of 33.7 points. The Sooners are facing a West Virginia team that put up a good fight against Alabama. Are you buying that West Virginia has a good chance to upset the Sooners?

West Virginia’s done it before. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Sooners have a 77 percent chance to win at West Virginia, its third-lowest likelihood of winning of the season. Last season the Mountaineers pulled a similar upset by defeating No. 11 Oklahoma State at home.

Clint Trickett is a different QB. Clint Trickett may be the most improved quarterback in the nation. He ranks third in the FBS with 1,224 passing yards and has raised his Total QBR rank from 85th in 2013 to 15th in 2014.

Oklahoma has been dominant. The Sooners have had the fifth-highest average in-game win probability in the FBS. They have led by an average of 24 points by halftime.

The Sooners’ defense is for real. Oklahoma ranks third in ESPN’s defensive efficiency ratings and has allowed the third-lowest Total QBR in the nation. The Sooners have been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks, leading the Big 12 with 40 total pressures (hurries + knockdowns + sacks).

Who will be next to 500 after Manning?

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19

Getty ImagesAre 500 touchdowns in each of their futures?
Peyton Manning is three touchdown passes from joining Brett Favre (508) as the only players in NFL history with 500 in their careers.

However, the club may not be so exceedingly exclusive for long.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that there were 804 total touchdown passes last season, the most in a season in NFL history.

And that was without the newly implemented "points of emphasis." There have been nearly double (120 to 66) the rate of such penalties (defensive holding, illegal use of hands, illegal contact) through three weeks this season, compared with the same span last season.

So who could be next?

Drew Brees (age 35) -- 366 career passing TDs
Brees appears to be a lock to hit 500, barring any major injuries.

In five seasons since turning 30 (age 30 to 34 seasons), he has thrown 195 touchdowns (39 per season). If Brees averages just 35 per season from here on out, he would be at 500 by the end of 2017, at 38 years old.

The Saints also have his favorite target, Jimmy Graham, signed through 2017.

Tom Brady (37) -- 361 career passing TDs
Brady faces more of an uphill climb. He's currently five touchdowns behind Brees, but he’s two years older and fighting history. The most touchdown passes a quarterback has thrown from his age-37 season on was 116 by Warren Moon, closely followed by Favre (112). Even if Brady matched Moon’s total the rest of his career, he still would be short of 500.

Brady managed 25 touchdown passes in 2013, and he’s not working with the best weapons since Randy Moss and Wes Welker left. Brandon LaFell (13 career receiving touchdowns) was the only receiver New England signed in free agency this offseason, and the receivers they’ve selected in the past two drafts (Jeremy Gallon, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce) have yet to produce substantially.

Aaron Rodgers (30) -- 192 career passing TDs
Since his first career start in Week 1 of 2008, Rodgers has exactly the same number of touchdown passes (191) as Peyton Manning. However, Rodgers is already 30, and his three seasons spent behind Favre could cost him a spot in the 500-club.

Rodgers leads the NFL in passes outside the pocket in the past six seasons. His propensity to scramble and subject himself to more hits (such as the one that caused him to miss seven games with a broken collarbone in 2013) make 500 a reach.

Matthew Stafford (26) -- career passing TDs
If anyone can channel his inner Brett Favre, it’s Stafford. He has more pass attempts than any player in the league in the past four seasons, including an NFL-record 727 attempts in 2012.

Stafford can put up big numbers (41 touchdown passes in 2011), and he had only two passing touchdowns fewer than Peyton Manning through his age-25 season, despite missing 13 games in his first two years.

Stafford also gets to throw to Calvin Johnson, one of the most dominant receivers in league history, along with the luxury of playing half his games indoor.

Russell Wilson (25) -- 56 career passing TDs or Andrew Luck (25) -- 51 career passing TDs
Predicting the future for players with only two seasons in the league is dicey, of course, but consider that Wilson had the same number of touchdown passes as Peyton Manning through two seasons (52) with 308 fewer passing attempts. Luck wasn't far behind, with 46 touchdowns through his first two years.


Top Stats to Know: MLB roundup

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
The St. Louis Cardinals walked off against the Milwaukee Brewers to strengthen their grip on the NL Central lead while the dog days of August continue to reach into September for the Oakland Athletics. We take a look at those games and The Captain snapping a long skid in the Bronx on Thursday night.

Marathon in the Midwest
The Cardinals beat the Brewers 3-2 in 13 innings on Thursday night, the longest game between the two teams since 2012. The hero for the Cardinals was Tony Cruz, who got his second career walk-off hit and his first since 2011. St. Louis won the season series over Milwaukee 12-7 and they have 26 wins against the Brewers over the past two seasons, most against any team in the majors. These are two teams that continue to head in opposite directions, as Milwaukee is a majors-worst 8-19 since Aug. 20, while the Cardinals are a league-best 14-5 over their past 19 games.

Oakland loses again
Oakland’s nightmare skid since the trade deadline continued on Thursday with a 7-2 loss to the Texas Rangers to complete a three-game sweep. Oakland is 17-28 since the trade deadline, tied for third-worst record in the majors in that time, and has not posted a winning streak longer than three games during the stretch. The Athletics offense has been abysmal since the start of August, down nearly 1.5 runs per game with a batting average and OPS that is worst in the American League. Where the Athletics have really struggled is through the heart of the order. The Athletics' 3-4-5 hitters have posted a batting average, slugging percentage and OPS that is among the worst in baseball since the trade deadline and have combined for only 11 HRs. The Athletics' 3-4-5 hitters hit 65 HRs ahead of the trade deadline, second-most in the majors.

Jeter snaps skid
Derek Jeter hit his first home run at Yankee Stadium this season on Thursday night, snapping a career-high 75-game streak without hitting one at home. Jeter’s last home run at home prior to Thursday night was July 28, 2013, off Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore, his only home run last season. The home run also snapped a 39-game homerless streak overall, the fourth-longest streak of his career and the longest since a 46-game stretch in 2006.


Top Stats to Know: Big win for the Falcons

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19

AP Photo/David GoldmanKemal Ishmael's interception return TD was one of eight Atlanta TDs Thursday night.

The Atlanta Falcons defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 56-14 on Thursday night, one of the Falcons' biggest wins in team history and the Bucs' third-biggest loss in their history. Here’s what you need to know about the NFC South rout in Atlanta.

Atlanta’s big win, by the numbers
The Falcons' 56 points were the second-most in a single game in team history, just six shy of the team record set against the New Orleans Saints in 1973. It was also the second-largest margin of victory in team history, behind the 55-point win versus the Saints in that same game. As for the Buccaneers, the 56 points allowed are tied for second-most allowed in team history, while the 42-point loss is tied for third-most in team history.

Devin Hester passes Prime Time
Devin Hester’s punt-return touchdown in the second quarter was his 20th return for a touchdown in his career, which passed Deion Sanders for most in NFL history. Hester has 14 punt-return touchdowns, five kickoff-return touchdowns and a missed field goal return touchdown. Hester also matched another NFL mark when he got his first career rushing touchdown earlier in the second quarter. He became the second player in NFL history to score a rushing, receiving, kickoff return, punt return and missed field goal return touchdown in his career. He joined Timmy Brown, who played 10 seasons in the NFL, eight with the Philadelphia Eagles. Brown still has one up on Hester though, as Brown also has a passing touchdown to his credit.

Matt Ryan nearly perfect
Matt Ryan was 21-for-24 with three passing touchdowns Thursday night, the 21st game of his career in which he has had at least three passing touchdowns. Ryan was 6-of-8 for 139 yards and a touchdown on passes thrown at least 15 yards downfield Thursday. Ryan has excelled on deep passes in the Falcons' two wins this season while struggling on such throws in their Week 2 loss to Cincinnati. His 19 deep completions this season are nine more than the next closest quarterback (Alex Smith, 10).

Julio Jones at it again
Julio Jones had 161 receiving yards, the second-most in a regular season game in his career. He also had two receiving touchdowns, the sixth multi-touchdown game of his career and the first time he has done that since Week 15 in 2012 against the New York Giants. Jones now has eight straight games with at least six receptions and 75 yards, the longest active streak in the NFL.


Nick Marshall makes the right read

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18

AP Photo/Butch DillQB Nick Marshall is the key to Auburn's potent running game.
Since the start of the 2013 season, Auburn ranks in the top three in the FBS in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and yards per rush.

The Tigers have had an FBS-high four players with at least 800 rushing yards during that time, including three players currently on their roster (Nick Marshall, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant).

Quarterback Nick Marshall has been the key to Auburn’s rushing success. With him under center, the Tigers are averaging 6.2 yards per rush and scoring a rushing touchdown once every 15 carries. The FBS averages are 4.5 yards per rush and a touchdown every 20 carries.

It took head coach Gus Malzahn a few games to adjust to Marshall’s strengths.

The Tigers passed on at least 40 percent of their plays in two of their first four games last season, including their 14-point loss at LSU on Sept. 21.

Since that game, Auburn has passed on 28 percent of its plays and has not had a game above 36 percent. During that time, Marshall has had the highest Total QBR in the FBS.

Marshall and the zone read
What sets Marshall apart is his ability to implement Auburn’s zone read. The Tigers have run zone read on 41 percent of their rushing plays since the start of last season. On such plays, they are averaging 7.1 yards per rush and have a Power Five-high 28 rushing touchdowns.

When Marshall keeps the ball on the zone read, he is averaging 8.0 yards per rush and leads all active Power Five players since the start of last season with 948 rushing yards.

His ability to make the right read has also translated to success for his teammates. Running backs Cameron Artis-Payne (7.8) Corey Grant (8.5) and Tre Mason (5.4) all have averaged more than five yards per carry on zone-read plays with Marshall at quarterback.

Why K-State might be able to slow Auburn’s run game
Auburn’s run game is predicated on its ability to find space, both when running the zone read and in standard run plays.

The Tigers are averaging 210.5 rushing yards per game before first contact this season, which is on par with their numbers from last season.

To put that into perspective, since the start of last season 99 FBS teams do not average 212 total rushing yards per game.

However, in a small sample size, Kansas State has been among the nation’s best at limiting opponents’ yards before contact.

On designed runs, only Alabama (20.3) is allowing fewer yards before contact per game than the Wildcats (22.5) this season.

Kansas State has also been able to stop the zone read the past two seasons, allowing 3.7 yards per rush on such plays, which ranks second among Big 12 defenses behind TCU.

The number to watch on Thursday night is 200. Kansas State is 21-2 when it allows fewer than 200 rushing yards in the last three seasons and 0-5 when it does not.

Alabama offense more efficient with Sims

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18

Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsBlake Sims (left) and Jake Coker (right) are still competing to be named Alabama's starting QB.
Alabama is off to a 3-0 start for the eighth time in eight seasons under Nick Saban. The offense is a big reason. The Tide are averaging 42 points per game and rank seventh in offensive efficiency.

Blake Sims has started all three games for the Tide and has the sixth-best Total QBR (86.6) in the FBS, ahead of players such as Jameis Winston and Everett Golson.

Sims is one of 12 quarterbacks who are averaging more than 10 yards per attempt. Yet, he has not been officially named Alabama’s starting quarterback.

"Jake (Coker) needs to play and he needs to develop confidence. I think we're going to have to make a decision on a week-to-week basis on what gives us the best opportunity to win.” Saban said in his postgame news conference on Saturday. “Right now, Blake probably is a little more confident. If that remains that way, he's probably going to start the game.”

Sims should be confident as the offense has been more efficient with him at quarterback.

The Tide have scored a touchdown on 11-of-22 drives with Sims under center compared with 3-of-9 with Coker.

They have lost yards on six of Sims’ 151 snaps (four percent), the second-lowest percentage for any Power Five quarterback with at least 150 plays (behind Duke’s Anthony Boone, three percent).

Why has the offense been successful with Sims?

Sims has been extremely accurate. He has thrown 64 passes this season: 48 were caught, one was thrown away, three were dropped, four were broken up by the defense and eight were off-target.

His eight off-target passes are the fewest for any Power Five quarterback with at least 50 attempts and as many as Jake Coker has had in 33 fewer attempts.

Sims’ accuracy has allowed him to hit receivers in stride and let them run after the catch.

Look no further than his 22-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper in the first quarter against Southern Miss, in which he hits Cooper on a short crossing route over the middle and Cooper gains 20 yards after the catch for a touchdown.

Great on 3rd down
Sims has been excellent on third down, leading all FBS quarterbacks in completion percentage (91.7 percent), conversion percentage (75 percent) and Total QBR (99.9). Amari Cooper has been his favorite target, catching six of Sims’ 11 third-down completions.

One reason for Sims’ success on third down is that he has been in manageable situations. The Tide’s average distance to go on third down has been 4.7 yards, shortest in the FBS. This has allowed Alabama to have the entire playbook available.

For instance, the Tide have run on almost half (49 percent) of their third-down plays, including six rushes by Sims, which have resulted in four first downs. Last season, Alabama passed on 65 percent of its third-down plays, which is on par with the FBS average (64 percent)

Where can Sims get better?
Sims has struggled throwing the ball downfield. He has completed 1-of-6 passes thrown 20 yards or longer, including his only interception of the season.

His completion occurred last week against Southern Miss on a 27-yard pass to Cooper in the third quarter with the Tide up 19 points. Coker, on the other hand, has the reputation of having a strong arm, but he has not fared much better on such passes, completing 2-of-7 attempts.

For now, Sims is expected to get the nod Saturday when Florida heads to Tuscaloosa. It will be a major step up in competition for Sims. The Gators rank fifth in the FBS in points per drive allowed (0.67) this season and lead all Power Five defenses with three interceptions on passes thrown 20 yards or longer. If Sims rises to the challenge, he just may end up being declared the full-time starter.

Top stats to know: Buccaneers at Falcons

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18

Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesMatt Ryan is 5-1 in his career at home against the Buccaneers.
Week 3 of the NFL season begins tonight when the Buccaneers travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons. Here are some numbers to know for the game.

Trending in the wrong direction
The Buccaneers are one of seven teams that are one loss from an 0-3 start to the season.

Under the current playoff format, only three of the 121 teams that started 0-3 have rallied to make the playoffs: the 1998 Bills, 1995 Lions and 1992 Chargers.

In fact, the Chargers are the only team under this format to start a season 0-4 and not only make it to the playoffs but win a playoff game.

This is the fifth time since winning the Super Bowl in 2002 that Tampa Bay has started a season 0-2. The Buccaneers lost at least four games before their first win in the previous four instances, including an 0-8 start last season.

Tampa Bay has started a season 0-3 12 times since the franchise entered the league in 1976. Only the Bengals (13) have more 0-3 starts over that time frame.

Tale of two receiving corps
Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans are the two leading wide receivers for the Buccaneers.

So far this season, Jackson is averaging 10.9 yards per reception (71st in the NFL). Jackson, who’s in his 10th year, has never averaged fewer than 15.2 yards per reception in a season.

Rookie Mike Evans has been targeted 12 times this season, but only one of those targets has been more than 6 yards past the line of scrimmage.

Evans led all AQ receivers last season at Texas A&M with 19 receptions 20-plus yards downfield.

On the other side, Atlanta’s leading receiver -- Julio Jones -- has caught at least six passes for at least 75 yards in each of his past seven games. The next longest active streak is Jordy Nelson, with three such games.

Matty ice
Matt Ryan has attempted 43.5 passes per game so far this season, tied for the second-highest rate in the NFL this season. Before this year, his career high for most pass attempts per game was 40.7, set last season.

But will all this passing turn into wins? In 12 career games against the Buccaneers, Ryan is 8-4 and has attempted 30 passes per game.

In the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome, Ryan is 5-1 against Tampa Bay while attempting only 23.5 passes per game (compared with 36.5 passes attempted per game in Tampa, where he’s 3-3).

Speaking of his home, Ryan is 37-10 in his career at home and 24-25 on the road.

Quick hitters
• Josh McCown has struggled early in games this season but has been good late. He has thrown three interceptions and been sacked four times in the first three quarters, but he has thrown both of his touchdown passes while avoiding being sacked in the fourth quarter.

• The Falcons are the only team in the NFL this season without a sack. The streak has spanned 96 dropbacks and 166 minutes and 49 seconds of game time.

• The Falcons have allowed 100-plus rush yards in 15 straight games, the longest active streak in the league (the Texans are next with six such games).

In their last previous meeting (Nov. 17, 2013), Buccaneers running back Bobby Rainey rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns.

From 0-2 to playoffs? Not without a fix

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18

Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsThe Saints have a better chance of making playoffs at 0-3 than either the Chiefs or Colts at 1-2.
“Winless” is never a good adjective for a team, but being winless through Week 2 doesn’t ruin a season. Since 1990, 12 percent of teams to start 0-2 have made the playoffs.

Week 3 is critical for an 0-2 team. Of the 288 teams to make the playoffs since the Wild Card was introduced in 1990, only three started 0-3 (the 1992 Chargers, 1995 Lions and 1998 Bills). No team has made the playoffs after starting 0-3 in the last 15 years.

Three playoff teams from last season are a surprising 0-2, putting a repeat postseason trip in early jeopardy. The Chiefs, Colts and Saints are all winless this year, and simulations from show trouble for all three even with a Week 3 win.

But one team in the trio is given a much stronger chance to advance. Here’s the impact Week 3 has on playoff hopes, and one thing each team needs to do to get back to the playoffs.

Chiefs (make playoffs in 12.6 percent of simulations at 0-2)
Make playoffs at 1-2: 18.8 percent
Make playoffs at 0-3: 7.0 percent

What to do? Improve the pass coverage. A two-game sample that includes the Broncos will hurt any defensive measures, but Jake Locker went 22-of-33 for 266 yards and two touchdowns against the Chiefs in Week 1.

The Chiefs pass rush hasn’t had a chance to make an impact.

Kansas City has sacked and pressured quarterbacks on a higher percentage of dropbacks this year than last year, even though their opponents are getting rid of the ball at the second-fastest rate in the league.

Part of that is facing Peyton Manning, but Locker released the ball three-tenths of a second faster than what the Chiefs faced on average in 2013.

Colts (make playoffs in 14.4 percent of simulations at 0-2)
Make playoffs at 1-2: 17.0 percent
Make playoffs at 0-3: 8.4 percent

What to do? Reverse the turnover trend. The Colts have struggled with preventing and forcing turnovers this season, and Indianapolis’ minus three turnover margin is tied for the third worst in the league. The Colts’ defense forced 27 turnovers in 16 games last year, but has one this season.

Since the start of 2013, the Colts are 0-5 in games with a negative turnover margin, including both losses this year. Indianapolis is undefeated (13-0) when winning the turnover battle since drafting Andrew Luck in 2012. This season, Luck has thrown interceptions on 3.4 percent of passes, more than doubling his percentage from a year ago (1.6 percent).

Saints (make playoffs in 33.3 percent of simulations at 0-2)
Make playoffs at 1-2: 37.8 percent
Make playoffs at 0-3: 22.3 percent

What to do? Give the offense some help. The projections give New Orleans the best chance of the three to reach the playoffs.

In fact, has the Saints more likely to reach the playoffs at 0-3 than either the Chiefs or the Colts at 1-2.

The offense has been clicking, but there are problems everywhere else.

The Saints defense and special teams have combined for a league-worst -34.0 efficiency. Only the Jaguars (75) have allowed more points than the Saints (63) this season.

How did the Royals beat Chris Sale?

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
Chicago White Sox starter Chris Sale had allowed a total of seven runs in his previous six starts against the Kansas City Royals
before Wednesday.

But the Royals managed to get to the Cy Young candidate in a big way for a big win, slicing the Detroit Tigers lead to a half game in the AL Central.

How did they manage to do that?

Aoki again
Left-handed hitters were 17-for-115 against Sale this season, but that was of little consequence to red-hot Norichika Aoki.
Norichika Aoki
Aoki continued to torment the White Sox, netting three more hits against them, all against Sale. That raised his batting average against left-handed pitching this season to .376. That’s the highest for any left-handed hitter against left-handed pitchers this season (23 points better than Ben Revere and 49 points better than Brandon Crawford).

The Elias Sports Bureau noted that Aoki set the Royals' record for most hits in a three-game series with 11, one better than the previous mark shared by Royals legends George Brett and Willie Wilson.

What was surprising about this game was that Sale didn’t go after Aoki with his slider. Only one of the eight pitches Aoki saw from him was one. Aoki has seen 70 sliders from lefties this season. They’ve resulted in him making 16 outs without recording a hit.

Cain can do
Lorenzo Cain has 17 career home runs. The only pitcher against whom he has more than one is Sale, against whom he hit a three-run shot on Wednesday night.

Cain had three more hits on Wednesday, giving him 12 in 32 at-bats (a .375 batting average) in his past eight games.

Ventura sharp again
Rookie starter Yordano Ventura was sharp again, allowing only one run and three hits in seven innings.

This was Ventura’s 10th straight quality start (six innings or more, three earned runs or fewer), the longest streak by a Royals starter since Kevin Appier had an 11-game streak in 1993.

Ventura averaged 98 mph on the 74 fastballs he threw on Wednesday, the third time this season (and second this month) that his heater has averaged 98 in a game.

That set up his curveball (which averaged 83 mph) and changeup (which averaged 88) as his putaway pitch, against which White Sox hitters were 0-for-8 with six strikeouts (and one walk).

The six offspeed strikeouts tied for his second-most in a game this season, trailing only the nine he had versus the San Diego Padres on May 5.



Top stats to know: Mariners at Angels

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
The Mariners and Angels will square off in Game 3 of a four-game series tonight at Angel Stadium of Anaheim (10 p.m. ET on ESPN/WatchESPN).

After a blowout 13-2 victory Tuesday, Seattle enters the night one game behind the Tigers for the last AL wild-card spot while sporting an American League-best 43-29 record on the road.

Conversely, the Angels are an MLB-best 49-25 at home, and after already clinching a playoff spot Monday, they can officially lock up the AL West with a win.

M's masterful on the mound
The Mariners enter this series with a 3.02 team ERA, best in MLB. The last team to finish a season with a team ERA 3.00 or lower was the 1989 Dodgers (2.95). Barring a pitching collapse in the team’s last 12 games, the Mariners will finish with the lowest team ERA in team history.

Rookie under the radar
They have a good chance of maintaining that trend with rookie southpaw James Paxton taking the hill, who is 9-2 with a 1.73 earned run average in his 14 games to date. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that since 1913 (first season earned runs were tracked), only two other pitchers have won at least 10 of their first 15 career starts while recording an ERA below 2.00 -- Tiny Bonham for the Yankees in 1940-1941 and Cal Eldred for the Brewers in 1991-1992.

Paxton will look for continued success with his curveball, a pitch he throws 18 percent of the time, which opponents have hit just .163 off this season. This may come in handy considering the Angels are batting .220 all season against curveballs, compared with .279 off fastballs, which Paxton throws 67 percent of the time.

Halo history
With a win, Los Angeles would grab its ninth division title and sixth for Mike Scioscia. It's been a banner season, as the Angels' current winning percentage of .624 would be their highest in franchise history. The Halos are also poised to have one of their biggest positive turnarounds from one season to the next, already having won 16 more games than they did in 2013, which is good for the second-best swing in team history (excluding years following labor stoppages).

Trying to right the ship
Southpaw C.J. Wilson toes the rubber tonight featuring a 4.61 ERA, his highest since becoming a starting pitcher full-time in 2010. His highest line-drive and walk rates since 2010 have contributed to his struggles.

Quick Hitters
• Robinson Canó has 55 multihit games this season, second-most in the American League.

• Seattle’s OPS against lefties is .656, 22 points higher than it is against righties.

• Josh Hamilton is swinging at the first pitch at a lower rate than he had in any of the last five seasons, 39 percent of the time. He’s batting .346 on those pitches.

Ameer Abdullah sets pace for Cornhuskers

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17

AP Photo/Nati HarnikAmeer Abdullah has run for 41 percent of Nebraska's rushing yards this season.
Ameer Abdullah might have already had his “Heisman Moment.” With Nebraska tied with McNeese State late in the fourth quarter in their Week 2 game, Abdullah took a three-yard pass, broke three tackles and ran 55 yards for a 58-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

Not only did that reception give Nebraska the lead with 20 seconds remaining, but it also gave Abdullah more than 100 yards from scrimmage, something he has done in every game since the start the 2013 season.

Abdullah has a streak of 16 games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage, the longest active streak in the FBS and fourth-longest streak for a running back in the last 10 seasons.

Given Abdullah’s streak, it should not be surprising that he leads all FBS players with 2,423 yards from scrimmage since the start of last season.

During that time, he has had the second-most offensive touches (368) in the FBS and is averaging 6.6 yards per touch, the 12th-best average in the FBS (min. 200 plays).

What has made Abdullah successful?
Abdullah has been the catalyst for this offense.
Nebraska ranks eighth in the nation in rushing yards per game (324.3) this season and second in yards per rush (7.4).

He has been responsible for 43 percent of the team’s carries and 41 percent of the Cornhuskers' rushing yards.

Abdullah is one of the most versatile running backs in the nation.
He is the only Power Five running back with at least 900 rushing yards both inside and outside the tackles since the start of last season.

During that time, Abdullah has gained 1,135 rushing yards outside the tackles, fourth-most in the FBS.

Abdullah is productive and consistent.
Since the start of last season, Abdullah is averaging 130.4 rushing yards per game, seventh-most in the FBS.

He leads all FBS players with 13 100-yard rushing games.

Abdullah finds the correct running lane.
He has 83 rushes in which first contact was not made until 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, tied with Washington’s Bishop Sankey for the most by any Power Five player.

That said, this week could be a challenge for Abdullah with Miami (FL) coming to Lincoln. The Hurricanes have allowed 2.0 yards per carry this season, fourth-best in the FBS.

If Abdullah can have a big game against one of the best rushing defenses in the FBS on national TV, it could vault him up the Heisman Watch list.

Super Bowl rematch hinges on receivers

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17

Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesThe Seahawks shut down the Broncos ability to run after the catch in last year's Super Bowl.
Peyton Manning and the Broncos have a rare opportunity. Only five teams have had a chance to avenge a Super Bowl loss against the reigning champion the following season.

The Super Bowl winners hold the slight 3-2 advantage in the rematches, but Manning & Co. will look to create more space for the offense to shine this Sunday in Seattle.

Breaking Free (After the Catch)
During Denver’s historic regular season in 2013, the Broncos led the league with 2,583 yards after the catch.

But as the Broncos short-passing game went to work during Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seahawks secondary shut down all running lanes after the catch.

Denver was limited to 3.6 yards after the catch on short throws (10 yards or fewer downfield), its lowest total of the season.

Seahawks Starvin’ for More Harvin
After Seattle gave a healthy Percy Harvin 11 touches on opening night (on which he averaged 9.1 yards per play), Harvin only saw three touches in Week 2, including his disputed 51-yard touchdown run.

In Super Bowl XLVIII, Harvin only needed four plays to terrorize the Broncos. His kick-return touchdown to open the second half stretched the score to 29-0. His other three touches in the half netted 50 yards.

Peyton Poise vs. Potential Pressure
Manning excels against the blitz. Since 2006, when ESPN began video tracking, only Aaron Rodgers has a higher Total QBR against the blitz than Manning (74.2).

The Seahawks, who are usually great at forcing pressure without the blitz, struggled to get to the quarterback in San Diego last week. Seattle pressured Philip Rivers on only 12 percent of his dropbacks, by far the Seahawks’ lowest pressure percentage since last season.

Since the start of 2013, no defense has pressured the quarterback more than the Seahawks (31 percent of opponents’ dropbacks).

Searching for a Running Game
Last February, neither team’s running backs found much success, as they combined for a measly 2.5 yards per rush in the Super Bowl (highlighted by 0.2 yards per rush for the recently-promoted Montee Ball).

Unfortunately for Ball, not much has changed this season as he's had little room to run. Among 48 qualified running backs, Ball’s 1.26 yards before contact per rush ranks 43rd this season.

The Seahawks stumbled upon similar rushing problems in San Diego. After Marshawn Lynch unleashed Beast Mode for 110 rushing yards and two scores in Week 1, the beast went into hibernation. He ran only six times in Week 2, despite a strong 6.0 yards per rush average.

Takeaways the Turning Point
Since the start of last season, the Seahawks lead the league in both takeaways (40) and turnover margin (+19). During that span, Seattle is 13-1 (including the playoffs) when winning the turnover battle.

Meanwhile, the Broncos are one of four teams yet to commit a turnover this season. Those teams are a combined 7-1 through two weeks.

In last year’s Super Bowl, the Seahawks dominated thanks to a plus-4 turnover margin as they intercepted Manning twice and recovered two fumbles.

Top stats to know: 2014 Nationals

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
The Washington Nationals are NL East champions for the second time in three seasons. They clinched the division title with a win over the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night.

The Nationals have been the best team in the National League for much of the second half of the season. The high expectations from last season that went unfulfilled were met under first-year manager Matt Williams.

Story of the season
The Nationals have won with consistent starting pitching. Five starters have combined to make all but 10 starts for the team this season. Three of their top five starters have ERAs below 3.00.

The Nationals survived injuries to Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman thanks to a very deep lineup. They entered the day ranked second in the National League in runs scored. Four regulars have hit at least 15 home runs.

Most valuable player
Second-year infielder Anthony Rendon has developed into a star. He entered the day ranked sixth among NL position players in wins above replacement. He also leads the league in runs scored.

Rendon has been consistent throughout the season, but he has excelled in the latter part, hitting .300 with 11 home runs and 12 stolen bases in his past 81 games.

He has made significant improvements to his defensive work from a year ago as well. He ranks sixth among third basemen this season with nine defensive runs saved.

Circle these games
What were the best wins for the Nationals this season?

April 2: The Nationals rallied from multiple deficits against the Mets, battling back to tie on Denard Span’s two-out hit, right after Danny Espinosa worked an eight-pitch walk. Washington would score four runs in the 10th to win on Opening Day.

June 8: Jordan Zimmermann pitched the best game of the season for the Nationals, a two-hit, 12-strikeout shutout against the Padres, in which he retired the first 16 hitters he faced.

June 24: The longest game for the Nationals since they moved to Washington, D.C., was won on Ryan Zimmerman’s 16th-inning home run.

Aug. 16-21: The Nationals had an amazing 10-game winning streak in which five of six wins (two against the Pirates, three against the Diamondbacks) were via walk-off. Rendon had the last two, on back-to-back days against the same pitcher, Evan Marshall.

Sept. 3: An epic game between the Nationals and Dodgers ended with Washington winning in 14 innings. The Nationals rallied from 2-0 down in the ninth to go up 3-2, but the Dodgers tied the game in the bottom of the inning. Each team would score twice in the 12th before the Nationals scored two in the 14th to win.

Key stat
After a loss on June 27, the Nationals were 41-38 and tied for first place in the NL East with the Braves. Since then, they are 46-25, the best record in the National League over the span.