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. 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.


Top stats to know: 2014 Orioles win AL East

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
The Baltimore Orioles clinched their first American League East title since the 1997 season by beating the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night.

The Orioles are in the postseason for the second time in three years following a run of losing seasons that stretched from 1998 to 2011.

Story of the Season
The Orioles have won with a combination of power (they lead the major leagues in home runs) and pitching depth (they entered the day with the third-best ERA in the American League). Though none of their starters has an ERA below 3.00, each pitcher in their current rotation has an ERA below 4.00.

Most Valuable Player
Amazingly, the Orioles' leader in wins above replacement is 31-year-old first baseman and outfielder Steve Pearce (5.5), who hit his 18th home run in Tuesday’s clinching win. Pearce had 17 home runs in 290 games entering this season. He’s excelled both offensively and defensively (18 defensive runs saved) this season.

Baltimore’s big boppers have been Nelson Cruz, who leads the majors with 39 home runs, and Adam Jones, who is having a year typical for him with 25 homers.

The Orioles got unexpected contributions in a number of areas. Zach Britton stepped into the closer role and excelled when Tommy Hunter was ineffective. Caleb Joseph has been a capable replacement for injured catcher Matt Wieters.

Circle These Games
What were the most memorable Orioles wins of the season?

May 26 -- With the Orioles trailing by two with two outs and nobody on in the ninth inning against the Brewers' Francisco Rodriguez, this game looked like a sure defeat. But Baltimore would tie on a home run by Jonathan Schoop and a double by Nick Markakis. After escaping a situation in which the Brewers had a man on third with one out in the bottom of the ninth, the Orioles won in the 10th on Nick Hundley’s RBI single.

June 25-- The Orioles come back from four runs down to tie the White Sox in the eighth on a Cruz grand slam andwin in extra innings on a walk-off wild pitch.

July 7 -- The Orioles exploded for six runs in the 11th inning to beat the Nationals 8-2 in what could be a World Series preview. Chris Davis hit the go-ahead home run in the 11th inning.

September 7 -- Cruz beat the Tampa Bay Rays by himself with a four-hit, seven-RBI game that accounted for all of the team's runs. He hit a three-run go-ahead triple in the ninth inning and then delivered a two-run go-ahead homer in the 11th.

September 12/14 -- The Orioles bookended a series in which they took three of four from the Yankees by winning in walk-off fashion. They rallied from 1-0 down in the 11th inning to win on a two-run single by pinch hitter Jimmy Paredes. In the series finale, they strung together three doubles in a four-batter span to score twice to win against Yankees closer David Robertson.

Key stat
The Orioles have had their share of ‘Orioles Magic’ with 10 walk-off wins this season. They’ve also prevented their opponents from magical victories. They have only 21 losses in which they blew a lead, the fewest blown leads in the majors.


Panthers not regressing

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16

Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsCarolina's defense is one of the best in the NFL since Week 6 of last season.
The winner of the Super Bowl XLVIII rematch between the Broncos and Seahawks on Sunday will likely determine the No. 1 spot in next week's NFL Power Rankings.

Lost in the shuffle though has been one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

Off to a 2-0 start and winners of 13 of their last 14 regular season games, the Carolina Panthers have jumped from 15th to sixth in the rankings, and it’s possible they are even better than last year.

Picking up where they left off
After starting the 2013 season 1-3, the Panthers came back from a bye week and started rattling off wins.

Since Week 6 of last season, no team has been better protecting the ball. The Panthers committed 10 turnovers over their last 12 games last season and have yet to commit a turnover this season.

Meanwhile, the defense has forced a league-best 27 turnovers during that span and allowed the fewest points per game (14.6).

The Panthers had some big changes in the offseason, but those moves appear to be paying off.

Wide receivers
Much was made of the Panthers overhauled wide receiver corps this offseason, as no wide out on the 2014 roster had ever caught a pass from Cam Newton. But were the old receivers even that good?

The 35-year-old Steve Smith Sr. has gotten off to a hot start in Baltimore but Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. have combined to catch two passes this season (both by Ginn).

In his 2014 debut, Newton completed 9 of 11 attempts to veteran additions Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery.

Newton went only 2-for-8 to first round pick Kelvin Benjamin, but Benjamin showed big play ability in Week 1 with six receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown.

Panthers wide receivers have caught 69.7 percent of their targets so far this season, tied for third best in the NFL. Last season Panthers wide receivers ranked 22nd in catch rate (57.6 percent).

The secondary
The Panthers brought in two new safeties (Thomas DeCoud and Roman Harper) after losing last year’s starters (Mike Mitchell and Quintin Mikell). These changes have led to an improved pass defense so far.

The Panthers allowed 66.6 percent of passes to be completed last season, third worst in the NFL. This season that number is down to 59.0 percent, good for ninth best through two weeks.

The Panthers biggest weakness in the secondary was defending deeper passes, and this year they’ve shown improvement in that area as well.

In Week 2 the Panthers limited Matthew Stafford to 1-of-6 passing with an interception on passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield to Calvin Johnson.

In Week 1, the duo completed 5-of-8 with two touchdowns against the Giants.

Big tests to come
The Panthers bye week doesn't come until Week 12 and they will be tested every step of the way until then. Of their next nine opponents, only one (Falcons) finished with a losing record last season.

During that stretch (and barring injury) the defense will have to face five of the last six Super Bowl winning quarterbacks (Russell Wilson, Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger) as well as Matt Ryan, Nick Foles, Jay Cutler and Andy Dalton.

Top stats to know: Brewers at Cardinals

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16

Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsMatt Holliday has seen a decline in his power production over the past four years.
The Brewers and Cardinals begin a three-game series Tuesday night at Busch Stadium (8 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN), where St. Louis has won eight straight games. The Cards lead the NL Central by 3½ games over the Pirates and five games over the Brewers.

Here are some stats to know for Tuesday night’s game.

Going in opposite directions
After play on June 28, the Brewers were an NL-best 51-32 and held a 6½ game lead over the Cardinals in the division.

However, from June 29 to Aug. 25, the Brewers went 22-26 and saw their lead shrink to a game and a half. But things got worse from there.

Since Aug. 26, Milwaukee has won only five of 19 games, while the Cardinals (who have made postseason play each of the past three seasons, including two World Series appearances) have surged forward, winning 12 of 20 games to move into first place in the division.

Peralta struggling lately, but strong vs. Cardinals
Wily Peralta started off the season 15-7 with a 3.27 ERA in his first 25 starts. But he’s 1-3 with a 7.40 ERA over his past four starts.

However, he likes facing the Cardinals this season. Before losing to them Sept. 4, Peralta won his first three starts against St. Louis in 2014, pitching into the seventh inning every start.

What has been different against the Cardinals in 2014 from 2013?

• The Cardinals hit .524 (11-for-21) off Peralta with runners in scoring position last season; they are hitting .222 (4-for-18) this season.

• He has been much better at getting ground balls -- 60 percent ground ball rate in four starts against the Cardinals this season, 42 percent last season.

• Left-handed batters hit .286 with a 7-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season; they are hitting .184 with an 11-2 ratio this season.

Power outage
Matt Holliday's power production has been in a steady decline since 2010, with his slugging percentage dropping each year (from .532 in 2010 to his current .439 this season).

One reason for this lack of power could be his inability to hit pitches on the outer half of the plate.

He’s hitting almost 100 points lower on such pitches this season compared to 2013.

Quick hitters
• No player to play at least half of his games at catcher in the modern era (since 1900) has produced as many doubles in a season as Jonathan Lucroy this year (51).

• The Cardinals have hit 99 home runs this season, 29th in the majors. The last time St. Louis finished last in MLB in home runs was 1991.

• St. Louis ranked 22nd last season in defensive runs saved (minus-39). This season, they lead all of baseball (plus-59).

Top stats to know: Eagles 30, Colts 27

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
The Philadelphia Eagles look like they’ve picked up where they left off at the end of the 2013 regular season.

They’ve now rallied late in each of their first two wins this season and got a last-second field goal to edge the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night.

What a comeback
The Elias Sports Bureau notes the Eagles are the first team in NFL history to start 2-0 after trailing by 14 or more points in the second half of each game.

They are only the fourth team over the past 30 years to win consecutive games in which it trailed by 14 or more points in the second half.

Difference-maker: Darren Sproles
The 5-foot-6 Sproles made a big impact in his second game with the Eagles. He finished with a career-high 152 receiving yards, 148 of which came after the catch.

It was the third most receiving yards by any player in a game this season and the fifth most by a running back in a single game in the past 15 seasons.

Elias noted Sproles had the second most receiving yards in a game in NFL history by a player 5-foot-6 or shorter. Lionel James (5-foot-6) had 168 receiving yards for the Chargers on Nov. 10, 1985, against the Raiders.

A change of plans
Nick Foles averaged 7.8 completions per game to running backs and tight ends this past season. He has 31 such completions in two games in 2014.

Foles was 15-for-19 when throwing to a running back or tight end on Monday and 6-for-18 when throwing to a running back or wide receiver.

Foles was also 5-of-5 for 115 yards against added pressure, including 2-of-2 for 41 yards on the game-winning drive.

The Colts defense was vulnerable
The Colts allowed 458 yards to the Eagles, the most they've allowed in a home game since Week 10 of 2009 against the New England Patriots. It's the most they've allowed in a home loss since the 2003 season (a 31-17 loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 16).

The Colts allowed 231 yards after the catch, the most they have allowed in a game in the nine seasons in which ESPN has video-tracking data.

A tough one for Luck
Andrew Luck lost back-to-back regular-season games for the first time in his career. Luck was tied with Dan Marino for the longest streak without consecutive losses (33) to start a career since the AFL and NFL merged in 1970.

Luck threw all three of his touchdowns on passes of 5 yards or fewer downfield. Luck was limited to only two completions on six attempts of more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

Royals run their way to a big win

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
Teams fighting to make the postseason have to steal every win they can get at this time of year.

The Kansas City Royals did that and then some in coming from three runs down to beat the Chicago White Sox on Monday night.

It was an epic comeback, one that will be circled to be remembered should the Royals make the postseason.

Run, run, run
The Royals tied the game on a play in which Jarrod Dyson stole third, then scampered home on Jake Petricka’s wild pitch. They won it when Terrance Gore went from second to home on an infield hit by Lorenzo Cain, whose second career walk-off hit was his first since the 2010 season.

Talk from baseball fans on Twitter was that this was a very Royals kind of win. What did they mean by that?

The Royals rank second in the “Ultimate Baserunning” stat (UBR) tracked by, trailing only the Washington Nationals. This stat combines elements of baserunning; its components include base-stealing efficiency, the success rate taking extra bases on hits and outs, and the avoidance of baserunning mistakes.

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that:

• Dyson improved to 21-of-24 on steal attempts of third base for his career. He atoned for getting caught stealing by Joe Nathan in a key moment in a game against the Tigers last week.

• Gore was someone brought up from the minors for situations just like this one. He’d stolen 47 bases in 54 attempts in his time in the minor leagues this season. His first steal on Sept. 3 led to a run when he scored on a throwing error.

Moustakas beats the shift
The comeback was set up by Mike Moustakas’ one-out opposite-field double in the ninth inning. Moustakas has struggled for much of the season against shifted defenses but has shown more of a willingness to hit the ball the other way lately.

In Moustakas’ first 350 at-bats, he had only nine opposite-field hits. He has had eight in 69 at-bats since Aug. 24.

Aoki’s four-hit day
Norichika Aoki kept things going for the Royals with his fourth hit of the game after the tying run had scored.

Aoki’s offensive contributions have been minimal this season, but he’s now hitting .333 (21-for-63) in his past 17 games.

And let’s not forget the bullpen
Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis each pitched a scoreless inning in relief of James Shields.

Davis has now thrown 31 2/3 straight innings without allowing an earned run. Herrera has a similar streak, only one inning behind him.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Davis and Herrera have the third- and fourth-longest streaks in the majors this season, trailing a 41-inning streak by Clayton Kershaw and a 32 1/3 innings streak by Boston Red Sox reliever Burke Badenhop.


Top stats to know: Eagles at Colts

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15

Getty ImagesMcCoy has 303 combined rush yards his last 2 MNF games; Luck making only 2nd MNF start of career.
The Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts are meeting for the 19th time ever tonight, but the first time on Monday Night Football (8:30 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN). Here are the best statistical angles for the game tonight.

Great late
Both teams fell behind by 17 points in Week 1, but only the Eagles came back to win.

Philadelphia trailed 17-0 at halftime in its season opener against the Jaguars, but outscored Jacksonville 34-0 in the second half.

Prior to that game, the Eagles were 1-39 since the merger in games they trailed by at least 17 points at the half.

Like the Eagles, the Colts also trailed by 17 points at halftime in their season opener. Indianapolis rallied, but still lost at the Broncos 31-24.

The Broncos thwarted the Colts’ comeback attempt in the fourth quarter thanks to some stellar pass defense.

They intercepted or defended seven passes by players in coverage in the final 10 minutes of the game, more than any other team since 2006 (when ESPN began video tracking).

Quarterbacks with something to prove
Nick Foles had four turnovers all of last season, but had three in the first half against the Jaguars in the season opener.

Foles’ improvement in the second half was the biggest reason the Eagles scored 34 straight points and came away victorious.

As mentioned above, Andrew Luck and the Colts fell behind by 17 at halftime against the Broncos, but rallied in the second half.

Although Luck's completion percentage was lower in the second half (63.2) than the first (73.3), he did throw for 134 more yards after the break (252) than he did in the first two quarters (118).

Coming back is nothing new to Luck during his brief NFL career. Although he didn't get it done in Week 1, since he entered the league in 2012, Luck leads the NFL in game-winning drives (10). Tony Romo is second on the list with nine such drives.

Quick hitters
• Reggie Wayne will be appearing in his 198th game with the Colts. That’ll tie him with Eugene Daniel for third on the team’s all-time list, behind only Peyton Manning (208) and Johnny Unitas (206).

• Luck has gone 33 straight starts without losing back-to-back games to begin his career, tied with Dan Marino for the longest such streak since the merger.

• The Eagles have won each of their last five road openers, including last year on Monday Night Football in Washington. That’s one behind the Texans (who won at Oakland on Sunday) for the longest active streak of its kind.

• LeSean McCoy has rushed for 119 (2012 at Saints) and 184 yards (2013 at Redskins), respectively, in his last two games on Monday Night Football.

• Trent Richardson is averaging just 2.9 yards a rush since being traded to the Colts prior to Week 3 of the 2013 season. That ranks 44th out of the 45 qualified rushers in that time span.

SEC extends lead in conference rankings

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
It is beginning to sounds like a broken record, but for a third-straight week the SEC rose in the conference power rankings as other major conferences stumbled.

The SEC went 8-1 in non-conference games in Week 3 with it only loss being Tennessee at at No. 4 Oklahoma. The SEC is now 27-2 in non-conference games with an average margin of victory of 27.6 points per game.

Even more amazing is that the SEC West is 18-0 against every other team not in the SEC West.

The SEC now has 10 of the top 25 teams in the Football Power Index; the Big 12, ACC and Big Ten have a combined seven teams in the FPI top 25.

The ACC had an up-and-down week, but ultimately losses by Virginia Tech and Louisville hurt the conference in the power rankings. The issue for the ACC is that it has one or two top teams, but there is a big drop off after that.

After Virginia Tech upset Ohio State in Week 2 and Louisville looked strong in its first two wins, there was a perception that the middle of the conference was catching up to the top. But losses by those two teams on Saturday dropped them out of the AP Top 25, leaving just two ACC teams ranked in the poll.

The Big Ten’s struggles continued in Week 3, as its teams lost all five of its games against Power Five opponents. The Big Ten has lost its last 10 games against non-Big Ten Power Five teams, including losses to West Virginia (by Maryland), Iowa State (by Iowa), TCU (by Minnesota), Washington (by Illinois) and Notre Dame (by Purdue) on Saturday.

The only conference with a worse record in non-conference games against Power Five opponents than the Big Ten is Conference USA, who is 0-16 in such games.

The Big 12 is gaining ground on the Pac-12 for the second-best conference in the FBS. This season the Big 12 is winning with defense, with four of the top eight teams in ESPN’s defensive efficiency metric. Baylor and Oklahoma are looking like national title contenders, and the middle-tier teams of the conference – Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia – are all off to strong starts.

Six Big 12 teams have byes in Week 4, but the conference will have a chance to make a statement on a national stage as Kansas State hosts Auburn on Thursday (7:30 ET, ESPN). Other enticing non-conference Week 4 games include: Utah at Michigan (3:30 ET, ABC/ESPN2), Indiana at Missouri (4 ET, SEC Network) and Miami (FL) at Nebraska (8 ET, ESPN 2).

The conference power rankings are a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, click here and here.

Jonathan McDonald and Jason Starrett also contributed to this post

Bears' victory comes after steep climb

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
AP Photo/Tony Avelar
Brandon Marshall caught three touchdown passes to help the Bears catch the 49ers.
In Week 1 it was the Philadelphia Eagles. In Week 2, on Sunday night, it was the Chicago Bears.

For the second time in two weeks, a team that trailed 17-0 in the first half mounted a rally and pulled out a highly improbable victory.

On Sunday night, on the possession after the San Francisco 49ers took a 20-7 lead in the third quarter, the Bears’ win probability dipped to 5.2 percent. The Bears finished that drive with the second of Brandon Marshall’s three touchdown catches, making the score 20-14 and improving their probability of winning to 20.3 percent.

The first snap after the ensuing kickoff was the game’s biggest play in terms of win-probability swing. Kyle Fuller’s interception of Colin Kaepernick’s pass boosted the Bears’ chances of winning by more than 25 percentage points.

The Bears’ win probability surpassed 50 percent on Jay Cutler’s touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett on the next play, and the Bears never had less than a 45 percent likelihood of winning in the final 13 minutes.

Less is more
Whether it’s because the Dallas Cowboys win more often when Tony Romo passes less, or it’s that Romo passes less when the Cowboys are winning, there’s no denying Romo has performed better when he throws fewer passes. In his career, his win-loss record, touchdown-to-interception ratio and Total QBR are much better when he attempts fewer than 30 passes in a game.

Romo threw 29 passes Sunday in the Cowboys' 26-10 win over the Tennessee Titans. He completed 66 percent of his passes, but he was sacked four times and averaged 6.1 air yards per pass. His Total QBR was 63.

Total QBR is a metric on a 0-to-100 scale, with 50 being average. Even when Romo throws 30 or more passes, he performs at a level above the NFL average.

Don’t blame Saints’ offense
The New Orleans Saints have posted an NFL-high plus-30.3 offensive efficiency this season. But their defense and special teams have combined for a minus-34 efficiency, the worst in the NFL. Efficiency accounts for the impact of each play on a team’s potential point margin.

Five other teams since 2006 have posted a worse defense/special teams efficiency in their first two games, and four of them finished under .500. But there might be some hope for New Orleans -- the 2007 New York Giants finished 10-6 and won the Super Bowl.

Top stats to know - Kershaw's 19th win

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
After allowing two earned runs over eight innings on Sunday, Clayton Kershaw’s ERA took a big hit, jumping from 1.67 to 1.70.

This was the first time in five starts that he hadn’t lowered that already paper-thin number. Here's some more perspective on yet another dominant performance.

Shrinking the Giants
With his fifth-straight win Kershaw improved to 19-3 on the season and 13-5 all-time against the Giants.

His career ERA against San Francisco rose to 1.44, dropping him to a tie for first with fellow Dodgers southpaw Sandy Koufax for a pitcher with at least 20 starts against any one opponent since ERA has been tracked (1912).

Kershaw’s numbers against the Giants are boosted by an incredible 0.84 ERA at AT&T Park.

Inside the numbers
Kershaw's success on Sunday continued a trend for him in September -- keeping opposing teams hitless on ground balls. All 10 ground balls he induced out of the Giants turned into outs, bringing opponents' totals on grounders to 0-for-29 on the month.

A fad that seems to be building momentum is teams' first-pitch swinging frequency when facing the ace. Over the past two games, batters have swung at Kershaw's intial offering 55 percent of the time, compared to 41 percent for the season.

This has helped pierce the armour slightly, as they are 4-for-12 (.333) with this approach compared to 6-for-45 (.133) on all subsequent pitches.

Other standout Kershaw nuggets
Kershaw is now 67-5 in his career when his team scores at least four runs.

The 26-year-old held his opponent to three runs or fewer for the 24th time in 25 starts this season.

He did this for the 21st straight outing, a streak bested by only two pitchers in the past 15 years -- 22 by Johan Santana in 2004 and Mat Latos in 2010.

Kershaw is the fifth pitcher in the divisional era (since 1969) to win 19 of his first 25 starts in a season, and he's the first since Pedro Martinez in 1999.



Kernels: The (base) hit parade

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
We could almost devote our entire weekly look at the interesting and unusual in MLB to Saturday's outburst by the Los Angeles Dodgers. But we'll make a few other stops first.

•  The Los Angeles Angels put together a 10-game win streak that was finally snapped Sunday. It tied for the longest in the majors this season and was one shy of the longest win streak in franchise history, done way back in June 1964. (Shortstop and future manager Jim Fregosi led that team in most offensive categories among qualified players.) Embedded in this week's wins was a streak of eight straight games where the Angels scored at least seven runs.

That was the longest such streak in the majors since the Rangers did it across July-August 2003, and it tied the franchise record set in June 1979 (the Angels lost three of those eight games!).

Albert Pujols went single-double-triple on Wednesday, just the third time in his career he's had all three of those hits in a game (last in 2007). On Thursday he struck out four times-- all swinging-- to record his first career "sombrero" in his 2,102nd game. That leaves only one active player to have appeared in 2,000 games without a four-strikeout outing: Ichiro Suzuki.

•  Cincinnati Reds pitcher Alfredo Simon helped his own cause with two doubles on Wednesday. The Reds have eight extra-base hits from their pitchers this season, all by Simon or Mike Leake.

The Dodgers' Josh Beckett is the only other pitcher this year with two doubles in a game (July 1). Simon's feat, however, hadn't been done by a Reds hurler in nearly two decades. Pete Schourek had a pair of doubles in a 7-4 win over the Expos on September 18, 1995.

•  Carl Crawford posted his 35th career four-hit game in the Dodgers' win over San Diego on Wednesday. He included three doubles, the first Dodger to have three doubles while batting sixth or lower since catcher Chad Kreuter did it batting eighth on June 30, 2001 (also against the Padres). And the last Dodger with three doubles and two RBIs from so low in the order was shortstop Alfredo Griffin on April 18, 1989.

•  Josh Donaldson of the Oakland Athletics posted his first career five-hit game on Tuesday. Donaldson had a double and four singles, drove in four runs, and thus became the first Oakland player with five hits and four RBIs since Mark Ellis did it on the same combination of hits on August 10, 2009.

•  Donaldson wasn't the only Bay Area hitter to lay down five hits on Tuesday. Giants rookie Joe Panik also did it in a win over Arizona. Panik's line featured five singles, and he neither scored a run nor drove one in.

The last player with five hits, zero scored, and zero driven in, was Oakland's Adam Kennedy on August 15, 2009 (8-1 loss to White Sox), and Panik was the first to do it in Giants history.

Now about that Dodgers game...

•  The 17 runs were the team's most since 2009, and their most scored against the Giants since a 19-3 win on May 26, 1970. The Giants had not allowed 17 runs since another 19-3 game, against Montreal in May 1997.

•  The 24 hits were an MLB season high for any team, and the most ever posted at AT&T Park. The Dodgers hadn't accumulated 24 hits against the Giants since August 13, 1932, in an 18-9 win at the Polo Grounds.

•  Dee Gordon became the first Dodgers hitter ever to have seven at-bats in a nine-inning game. Starting pitcher Zack Greinke not only hit his fourth career homer, he also doubled, walked, and scored twice. He's the first pitcher in the majors with a homer, a double, and a walk since fellow Dodger Chad Billingsley posted that line against the Reds on June 5, 2011.

•  Giants starter Tim Hudson faced 11 batters and got just three of them out; he was charged with eight hits and six runs. Tim Lincecum made a three-inning relief appearance and gave up five runs. Mike Kickham pitched parts of two innings and gave up four runs. They are the first trio of pitchers this season to each give up at least four runs in no more than three innings, and the first Giants to do it since the last time the team allowed 24 hits-- to Oakland on June 26, 2005.

•  Saturday's 17-0 score came on the heels of the Giants blanking the Dodgers 9-0 on Friday. That marked their largest home shutout of Los Angeles since June 25, 1968. And the 26-run swing in back-to-back shutouts? That was the most in the live-ball era, surpassing the 24-run swing done three times, most recently done on July 6-7, 1996, between the Blue Jays and Tigers (15-0 and 0-9). According to some number-crunching by SweetSpot contributor Diane Firstman, it's one shy of the all-time record... set in 1886!



Theme of the week: Injuries abundant

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
Significant injuries were aplenty on Sunday, with some teams in better position to adjust and deal with them than others.

Here’s a snapshot look at some of the most notable injuries, with notes worth keeping in mind for those players and their potential replacements moving forward.

Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins QB
Griffin’s dislocated ankle figures to sideline him for an extended period of time.

His replacement, Kirk Cousins completed his first 12 passes and threw for 250 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Griffin has had only two interception-free games with at least 250 yards and multiple touchdown passes in his career.

Cousins started three games last season after Griffin was shut down. He completed 53 percent of his passes (the lowest percentage among 34 qualified quarterbacks) and his 31.4 Total QBR ranked 28th.

DeSean Jackson, Redskins WR
Jackson suffered a shoulder injury and said after the game that he’s day to day.

With Jackson out, tight end Niles Paul came through in a big way for the second straight game, with eight catches for 99 yards and a touchdown. Paul had only 11 games with a reception prior to Sunday and had never had more than four catches in a game in his NFL career.

Jackson was signed to be a big-play threat for the Redskins. He hasn't been targeted on a pass of at least 15 yards downfield yet this season.

A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals WR
Green injured his toe last week and tried to play through the injury but could not. He told reporters after the game he hopes to play next week. Green entered this week with 2,907 receiving yards since the start of the 2012 season. Only Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Demaryius Thomas had more in that span.

Quarterback Andy Dalton was undaunted by Green’s absence, completing 15 of 23 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown.

Bengals receiver Mohamed Sanu had a 76-yard touchdown reception and completed a 50-yard pass.

Sanu became the first player with at least 50 yards passing and 50 yards receiving in the same game since Rod Smith (72-yards passing, 130 receiving) for the Broncos at the Chiefs on Oct 5, 2003.

Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs RB
Charles left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, another in a host of injuries that have hurt the Chiefs in the first two weeks. Knile Davis replaced Charles and ran for 79 yards and two scores in the Chiefs’ loss to the Broncos. Davis also managed six receptions, but gained only 26 yards on them. Charles averaged 9.9 yards per reception last season.

Knowshon Moreno, Miami Dolphins RB
Moreno injured his elbow 11 minutes into the Dolphins' loss to the Buffalo Bills. Moreno rushed for 134 yards in his Dolphins debut last week. The Dolphins were forced to play catch-up for most of the day against the Bills. Their 20 rushes by others netted 76 yards, but none for more than seven yards. Moreno averaged almost six yards per carry last week.

Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers RB
Mathews was carted off the field after hurting his right knee in the Chargers win over the Seattle Seahawks. Sources told Adam Schefter the injury could be a sprained MCL.

Mathews played a significant role in the Chargers playoff push last season, averaging 118 rushing yards in their past four regular-season games.

If Mathews is out for an extended period of time, the Chargers do have an experienced backup in Donald Brown.

Brown averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season for the Colts, the third highest yards per rush of anyone with at least 100 rushing attempts last season.