Top stats to know: Giants romp in Game 1

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
The baseball postseason was due for a game like this, one that was basically over after the first time the San Francisco Giants came to bat and the first inning Madison Bumgarner threw a pitch.

This was the first game this postseason that was not within two runs or fewer at the end of any full inning.

With Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence hitting and Madison Bumgarner dominating on the mound, the Giants cruised to a 7-1 win in Game 1 of the World Series. The Giants have won four straight World Series openers.

The Kansas City Royals' 11-game postseason winning streak ends, one win shy of the all-time record, shared by the 1927 to 1932 Yankees and the 1998 to 1999 Yankees.

Bumgarner among the all-time best
Bumgarner took a shutout into the seventh inning and was in control once he escaped one Royals scoring threat.

His World Series scoreless streak ended at 21 innings. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that it’s tied for the seventh-longest in World Series history. Whitey Ford, who turned 86 on Tuesday, holds the record at 33 straight innings.

It’s also the second-longest by a pitcher to start his career. Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson set that mark with a 28-inning streak more than 100 years ago.

Bumgarner’s road scoreless streak in postseason games also ended at a record 32⅔ innings. The Giants are 5-0 in Bumgarner’s postseason starts that were on the road.

Turning point: Pence’s home run
Hunter Pence’s home run extended the Giants' lead from 1-0 to 3-0 in the first inning.

Pence entered that at-bat 0-for-11 against James Shields, his worst current oh-fer against any pitcher.

Turning point II: Bumgarner’s escape
The Royals threatened in the third inning, putting men on second and third with nobody out, but Bumgarner got Alcides Escobar, Norichika Aoki and hot-hitting Eric Hosmer out to end that threat without a run scoring.

Those three hitters were a combined 1-for-12 in the game.

Hosmer, the cleanup hitter, was 0-for-4 and 0-for-3 against Bumgarner. Cleanup hitters are now 1-for-15 against Bumgarner this postseason.

Pablo power
Sandoval was 2-for-5 with 2 RBIs. He’s now 10-for-24 with six RBIs in six career World Series games (a .417 career batting average).

Sandoval’s double gave him 17 career extra-base hits in postseason. That surpassed Barry Bonds for the most in Giants history.

Sandoval extended his streak of consecutive postseason games reaching base to 24. Only three players in postseason history have a longer streak of reaching base (Miguel Cabrera 31, Chase Utley 27 and Boog Powell 25).

The outlook
Game 1 has been a tone-setter of late. In the past 11 World Series, the team that won Game 1 won the series 10 times. The last team to win Game 1 and lose the series was the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies.


Defense, schedule cause Seattle's decline

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21

AP Photo/L.G. Patterson
Seattle’s Richard Sherman after the Seahawks' loss to St. Louis on Sunday.
After opening the season No. 1 in the weekly NFL Power Rankings, the Seahawks have dipped to 11th following back-to-back losses. It’s the first time the Seahawks have been outside the Top 10 since Week 14 of 2012.

Seattle’s defense has taken a step back from last season’s dominating performance, but can it bounce back?

The decline
Last season, the Seahawks allowed the fewest points and fewest yards in the league, and they also forced the most turnovers. They were the first team to do that since the 1985 Bears.

This season, the Seahawks' defense ranks 19th in points per game and ninth in yards per game, while forcing the fourth-fewest turnovers.

Diving deeper, the Seahawks' defensive efficiency has taken a major hit. Expected points added (EPA) is a measure of the impact every play has on a team’s potential points, factoring in down, distance, field position, game clock and other situational factors.

The Seahawks' defense added 7.2 expected points per game last season to the team's potential scoring, best in the NFL. This season, the Seahawks' defense has cost the team 4.7 points expected points per game, 23rd in the league -- all while the offense has performed better, contributing three more expected points per game.

The problems
The Seahawks' defensive problems start up front. Although their rush defense has improved, ranking second in yards per rush allowed, the front line has not been able to pressure the quarterback.

Last season, the Seahawks had the top pass rush in the NFL, generating pressure on a league-best 34 percent of dropbacks. This season that pressure percentage has been cut in half, leading to a league-worst rating.

The Seahawks lost defensive linemen Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Clinton McDonald in the offseason, breaking up one of the deeper defensive line rotations in the NFL.

The Seahawks had six defensive linemen playing at least half of the team’s defensive snaps in 2013, with none playing more than 57 percent of the snaps. This season only three linemen are playing half the snaps, and Michael Bennett (80 percent) and Cliff Avril (60 percent) have gotten the lion’s share.

Without good pressure, the secondary has struggled to create turnovers.

The Seahawks have two interceptions in six games this season. Last season, the Seahawks had multiple interceptions in 10 different games, leading to a league-best 28 interceptions overall.

The schedule’s impact
In defense of the defense, the Seahawks have played the season's second-hardest schedule, which has included the top four quarterbacks in the league, according to Total QBR.

Still, even the lower-ranked quarterbacks found success against Seattle. Kirk Cousins has thrown an interception in all but two games this season (Jaguars and Seahawks), and Austin Davis (along with punter Johnny Hekker) completed the highest percentage of passes (86.4 percent) against any Seahawks defense ever.

College football: Midyear disappointments

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Stanford leads a trio of disappointing teams heading into the second half of the season.
The Stanford Cardinal and South Carolina Gamecocks have fallen out of the AP Poll after starting the season in the top 15. The Michigan Wolverines did not start the season in the AP Poll, but they are 1-4 against Power Five opponents and are 17 point underdogs against instate rivals, the Michigan State Spartans.

Why I have these teams not lived up to expectations?

Stanford: running game/protecting QB

Stanford is allowing the second-fewest points per game (12.3) in the FBS this season. Yet, it has lost three games, tied for its most in four seasons under David Shaw.

One reason has been the running game. The Cardinal rank 92nd in the FBS in rushing yards per game and have not rushed for 200 or more yards in a game this season. Last season, they had six such games. Their efficiency on running plays (-2.5), which measures how many net points per game their running game contributes to their final scoring margin, ranks 109th in the FBS. They were 31st last season.

Stanford has struggled protecting Kevin Hogan. He has been sacked 14 times in seven games, matching his total from 14 games last season. All but three of the sacks have come when opponents have sent five or more pass rushers on a play. That is one more sack against the blitz than Hogan suffered in his first two seasons combined.

Michigan: offense

Michigan has been solid on defense. It ranks 14th in the FBS in yards per play and fifth in yards per rush. Yet, in five games against other Power Five teams, Michigan has been outscored by an average of 12 points per game.

The offense has been the main reason. According to ESPN’s efficiency rankings, the Wolverines offense has contributed -2.7 points per game toward their scoring margin, 92nd-best in the FBS.

Turnovers have been the main culprit. Michigan has 16 turnovers, tied for fourth-most in the FBS. The Wolverines have allowed at least three points off turnovers in every game and only Illinois (7.9) has allowed more per game (7.3) in the Big Ten.

Another issue has been production in the passing game. Michigan has thrown the most interceptions in the Big Ten and has the second-fewest touchdown passes. Three of its six passing touchdowns came in the season-opener against Appalachian State. The Wolverines rank 112th in the FBS in efficiency on passing plays. Meaning, given the same circumstances (down, distance, yard line) that Michigan passed on, the average FBS team would have scored about five more points per game than Michigan scored on its passes this season.

South Carolina: defense

Entering the season, ESPN’s Football Power Index projected that South Carolina had the best chance to win the SEC East and the second-best chance to win the SEC. These projections were partly based on a defense that was historically efficient and had recruited to replace stars such as Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles.

Replacing those players, however, has not come easy. South Carolina ranks last in the SEC in defensive efficiency, which measures the points a defense contributes to the team’s scoring margin and adjusts for the offenses faced.

South Carolina has struggled getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Gamecocks have recorded a sack on 3.3 percent of their opponents’ passing plays, almost two percentage points lower than any other SEC team. They are on pace to record their fewest sacks in a season since 2004, when they recorded 12 sacks in 11 games.

Big plays have also been an issue for South Carolina. The Gamecocks have allowed the most plays of 20 yards or longer (37) in the SEC and are the only team in the conference that has allowed 20 such passes and 10 such runs.

Top stats to know: World Series Game 1

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
USA Today Sports, Getty ImagesMadison Bumgarner faces James Shields in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night.
The World Series begins tonight in Kansas City, as the Royals play their first World Series game in 29 years, hosting the Giants, who are in their third World Series in five years. Here's what you need to know:

Importance of Game 1
In the previous 108 World Series, 63 percent of Game 1 winners went on to win the title. But in the past 17 World Series, 15 Game 1 winners won the series; the exceptions are the 2002 Giants and 2009 Phillies.

The overall percentage is similar for home teams that win Game 1, as 43-of-63 (68 percent) proceeded to lift the trophy. However, 13 straight home teams to win Game 1 have won the World Series; the 1992 Braves are the last home Game 1 winner to lose the series.

If the Giants win, they'll look to join the 56 percent of road teams to win Game 1 and also win the series (25-of-45). But since 1982, only 5 of 12 road teams to win Game 1 also won the series.

Best or worst World Series ever?
On one hand, this World Series matches two of the worst regular-season teams to reach the Fall Classic. The Royals (89 wins) and Giants (88) combined for 177 regular-season victories, the second-fewest ever by two World Series teams in a non-strike season, behind the 176 wins in the 1973 Series between the Athletics (94 wins) and Mets (82).

On the other hand, the Royals (8-0) and Giants (8-2) are a combined 16-2 this postseason. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that's the best combined playoff record in the wild-card era entering the World Series.

The Royals are the first team to win their first eight games in a single postseason, and their 11 straight playoff wins since 1985 comprise the third-longest streak in MLB history, behind two 12-game runs by the Yankees, from 1998 to 1999 and 1927 to 1932.

Streaking managers
In his first postseason, Kansas City's Ned Yost is the first manager to win his first eight playoff games. He broke the record of Colorado's Clint Hurdle, who won his first seven games in 2007 before getting swept by the Red Sox in the World Series.

Yost's counterpart, Bruce Bochy, has won nine straight postseason rounds since 2010, the second-longest streak ever by a manager, trailing only Joe Torre's 11 straight with the Yankees from 1998 to 2001.

Aces up in Game 1
Madison Bumgarner
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco's Game 1 starter, hasn't allowed a run in 15 innings over his first two career World Series starts. Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson is the only pitcher in MLB history to not allow a run in his first three World Series starts.

Kansas City beat Madison Bumgarner 4-2 at Kauffman Stadium on Aug. 8, though Bumgarner did throw an eight-inning complete game, allowing seven hits and three earned runs. Kansas City scored twice on Billy Butler's home run and twice after an error in the sixth inning.

James Shields
Royals Game 1 starter James Shields threw one complete game and one shutout this season: against the Giants on Aug. 9.

But Shields has struggled this postseason, with a 5.63 ERA in his three starts. Perhaps his problem was the kidney stone he passed last week during the ALCS. Despite his difficulties, the Royals have won all three of his postseason starts, though two of them went to extra innings.

By The Numbers: College Football Playoff

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21

Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesThe quest for the College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy is well underway.
Using ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) to project the rest of the season, let’s take the College Football Playoff by the numbers:

1. There is a 61 percent chance that every Power 5 team will have at least ONE loss entering bowls.

2. There cannot be more than TWO undefeated teams from a Power 5 conference prior to the playoff selection (Ole Miss plays Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl on Nov. 29).

3. The Pac-12 is the most likely conference (34 percent) to have a champion with THREE or more losses.

4. There are FOUR remaining undefeated teams -- Florida State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Conference USA's Marshall. FPI projects that Marshall is the most likely team to win out (57 percent chance) and Mississippi State is the least likely (4.4 percent chance).

5. The SEC currently has FIVE teams with one loss or fewer, the most of any conference. There is a 26 percent chance that every team in the SEC will have at least two losses entering bowls.

6. Right now there are SIX teams -- the four undefeated teams, Ohio State and TCU -- with at least a 24 percent chance to finish with one loss or fewer this season.

7. The SEVEN teams in the SEC West have been the most dominant in the country -- going 28-1 against anyone not in the SEC West. The division is about to beat up on each other, however, resulting in a 36 percent chance that all seven teams finish with two or more losses.

Bonus: The most likely outcome (30 percent) is that there will be three Power 5 teams that finish with one or fewer losses. Assuming that Marshall is left out of the playoff, that means a two-loss team will make it. Let the debate begin.

Top stats to know: Steelers 30, Texans 23

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
The Houston Texans jumped out to an early 13-0 lead on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night. The Steelers then rode a late first-half surge to a 24-13 lead at halftime. After the Texans held that early lead, they were outscored 30-10 for the rest of the game.

The Steelers are now 8-2 on "Monday Night Football" under Mike Tomlin, and the Texans have lost three straight after a 3-1 start to the season.

The difference in the game was the quick 24 points the Steelers posted late in the second quarter, leading to their 16th straight "Monday Night Football" victory, the longest streak in the history of the franchise.

Steelers strike quickly
Pittsburgh scored 24 points in a span of 2:54 to completely change the momentum of the game. They had scored 27 points over their previous two games combined.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time an NFL team scored 24 or more points in less than three minutes was in Week 4 of 2002, when the Seattle Seahawks posted 28 points in 1:47 against the Minnesota Vikings.

The Steelers are the first team to score 21 points in the final two minutes of a half since the Texans in 2012 Week 1 (21 in first half versus Miami Dolphins). Furthermore, they are the only team in the past decade to score three touchdowns in the final 90 seconds of a half.

Killer B's attack for Steelers
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown was a jack-of-all-trades, catching nine passes for 90 yards and adding his first career touchdown pass for good measure during that 24-point surge at the end of the first half.

According to Elias, Brown is the third player in NFL history with at least nine receptions and a touchdown pass in a game, joining James Wilder (1984) and Jerry Rice (1995). He also extended his NFL-record streak of at least five receptions and 50 yards to 23 straight games.

With two touchdown passes, Ben Roethlisberger has at least 10 in each of his first 11 seasons. That ties Jim Kelly for the fourth most such seasons to start a career in NFL history.

Roethlisberger completed 23 passes, and 17 of them were either to Le'Veon Bell or Brown. He was 8-for-8 for 88 yards and a touchdown targeting Bell, who eclipsed 100 scrimmage yards for the seventh consecutive game this season. Bell joins DeMarco Murray as the only players with at least 100 yards from scrimmage in each of their team's games this season.

Other notable tidbits
Not to be forgotten was another outstanding effort from J.J. Watt. Watt had a sack and a fumble recovery on Monday, marking his third such game this season. No other player had more than one such game. Additionally, his fumble recovery was his NFL-leading third of the season.

With 77 receiving yards, Andre Johnson moved passed Hall of Famer Steve Largent for 14th on the career receiving yards list.

Top stats to know: Texans-Steelers on MNF

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
The Houston Texans have lost two straight games after starting the season 3-1, and tonight they visit the 3-3 Pittsburgh Steelers, who lost to Cleveland last week and have alternated wins and losses through six games. Here's what you need to know for "Monday Night Football" (8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).

Steelers strong on Monday night
Since 1992, Pittsburgh has won a record 15 consecutive Monday night home games, last losing to the Giants in 1991.

Coach Mike Tomlin is in his eighth season with the Steelers, and he is 7-2 on Monday night. Only Jim Harbaugh (6-0) has a higher win percentage on Monday night among active coaches.

The Texans are 3-4 on "Monday Night Football," winning their most recent appearance in Week 1 last season at San Diego.

Watt is the problem
To borrow a baseball phrase, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is filling up the box score this season with eight tackles for loss, a league-high five batted passes, four sacks, two fumbles recovered, an interception and even a blocked extra point.

Watt had three batted passes last week, tying a single-game career high. His 31 batted passes since he entered the NFL in 2011 are seven more than any other player.

And oh yeah, Watt has three touchdowns this season, tied for second on the team behind Arian Foster with five. Watt is the only player in the past 50 years to score a touchdown via a fumble return (45 yards), an interception return (80 yards) and a reception (one yard) in a single season.

Rampant running backs
Both lead running backs are having strong seasons, as Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell ranks second in the league with 542 rushing yards, just ahead of third-place Foster (513 yards).

Arian Foster
Le’Veon Bell
Bell trails only DeMarco Murray in rushing yards and is behind only Murray and Matt Forte in yards from scrimmage. Bell has recorded at least 100 scrimmage yards in his first six games this season, joining Murray as the only players to accomplish that.

For Houston, Foster has rebounded from an injury-plagued 2013 season to rush for 100 yards in four of his five games this season, scoring a pair of touchdowns in each of his last two games.

Through six weeks, Foster has carried the ball more than 21 times per game, ranking second in the league behind Murray (26.7).

Record-setting receivers
Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown has at least five catches and 50 receiving yards in an NFL-record 22 straight games. The previous best streak was 19, held by Laveranues Coles, and the second-longest current streak is T.Y. Hilton at five.

Andre Johnson
Antonio Brown
Houston's Andre Johnson is coming off season highs in receptions (seven) and yards (99) last week against Indianapolis.

That game made Johnson the 15th NFL player with over 13,000 career receiving yards. With 13,080 yards, he is nine behind Steve Largent for 14th on the NFL's career list. Johnson is 118 yards behind Andre Reed for 13th place (and most among players named Andre).

How do you pitch to Pablo Sandoval?

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
Pablo Sandoval is in a pretty good place these days. He has hit .326 this postseason, has reached base in each of his past 23 postseason games, and he's about to play in his third World Series in five years.

Two years ago in the Fall Classic, Sandoval hit .421 with eight hits in a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers and joined Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols as the only players to hit three homers in a World Series game.

What might Royals manager Ned Yost take into account when pitching to and defending against Sandoval?

Use your lefties
The switch-hitting Sandoval hit .317 with 11 homers versus right-handed pitching and .199 with five home runs against left-handed pitching in the regular season.

This postseason, Sandoval has mostly avoided left-handed pitchers; he has had only three of his 48 plate appearances against them in 10 games.

But Yost has a few options he can throw at Sandoval, such as starting pitcher Jason Vargas and relievers Brandon Finnegan, Danny Duffy and Tim Collins (if he decides to again carry three lefty relievers).

What's mystifying about Sandoval's struggles against lefties this season is that he has missed a lot of hittable pitches.

Sandoval has three hits against the 96 pitches he saw within the middle third of the strike zone (as opposed to the outer third or inner third).

In 2013, he had 11 hits against the 79 pitches he saw in that area.

Right-handed pitchers don't have many options

Sandoval can cover the entire plate and then some against right-handed pitchers. There's a window to get him out at the bottom of the strike zone, but the margin for error is small.

The best hope for a right-hander is to throw a pitch far enough away that it can't be touched. Sandoval swung at 19 percent of what our pitch-tracking system labeled "noncompetitive" pitches (he had one hit on a ball that was almost in the dirt and another that was basically in the right-handed batter's box).

That was the third-highest rate among those hitters who qualified for the batting title this season (the two players ahead of him are Royals catcher Salvador Perez and Orioles outfielder Adam Jones).

But even that may not be enough. Sandoval had two hits in the NLCS against curveballs from St. Louis' Adam Wainwright that were termed "noncompetitive." One was on a pitch at his toes, the other was almost in the right-handed batter's box.

Handling the heat
As Buster Olney noted in his blog, Sandoval is very capable of turning around a 95 mph fastball from Yordano Ventura, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera or Greg Holland.

His batting average against pitches that fast from righties this season is .315.

But the temptation may still be there to throw those pitches. He put only 22 percent of his swings against those pitches in play (which ranked in the bottom 5 percent of major league hitters).

How do you defend vs. Lorenzo Cain?

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20

Kansas City Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain knows how to get you out.

But how does a pitcher get Cain out?

Cain is hitting .353 this postseason, with 12 hits in eight games. He won ALCS MVP honors partly by notching eight hits in the first three games against the Baltimore Orioles.

What does a pitcher need to know with regards to pitching to Cain?

He covers the entire strike zone well
The heat map atop this story shows Cain’s hot and cold spots during the regular season.

Cain hit .353 in at-bats ending with a pitch in the strike zone this season, the same batting average as Colorado Rockies star Troy Tulowitzki and 64 points above the major league average for a position player.

If you’re going to miss anywhere in the strike zone to Cain, don’t miss high.

Cain missed on about one of every 15 swings on pitches in the upper half of the strike zone. His miss rate in the lower half of the strike zone was about once every 6.5 swings.

But Cain has beaten teams in the area in which he is weakest. Ten of his 12 hits this postseason have come against pitches in the lower half of the zone.

Check out the playoff heat map below.

In terms of pitch types, Cain hits fastballs very well. His .376 batting average in at-bats ending with a fastball or a sinker trailed only Tulowitzki among the 330 hitters who saw at least 500 of those pitches this season.

He makes you pay when he hits it on the ground
The San Francisco Giants' infield will need to be alert when it comes to facing Cain.

When he puts the ball in play, Cain hits ground balls 52 percent of the time, third-highest on the team, trailing Jarrod Dyson and Norichika Aoki.

During the regular season, Cain hit .328 when hitting a ground ball or bunting. That ranked 12th in the majors.

Cain is 7-for-13 on his grounders and bunts in the playoffs, with four infield hits.

He’s aggressive at the plate and on the basepaths
When we say Cain is an aggressive player, that applies on several fronts.

Cain was the most likely player among the Royals' regulars to swing at the first pitch this season. He’s taken that aggressiveness up a notch in the postseason, swinging at the first pitch 17 times in 38 plate appearances and netting three hits in the process.

Cain is also likely to take shots at extending singles into doubles. Take a look at his spray chart of doubles and triples this season. He can get multiple bases without hitting the ball that far.

Lastly, Cain's aggression applies to stealing bases, and he's 30-of-35 in stolen-base attempts this season.

Weaknesses: Changeups from lefties, curves from righties
A lefty with a good changeup or slider (the latter of which Madison Bumgarner has) can use it to get Cain out. Cain missed on swings he took against changeups from lefties about 40 percent of the time during the regular season.

Of the 60 changeups that were on the outer third of the plate or off the corner that Cain saw from lefties, he managed only one hit against them. Of the 41 sliders he saw on the inner third or off the inside corner, he had only two hits against them.

Similarly, a righty with a good curveball can get Cain out. He ranks among the hitters most likely to swing at a curveball from a righty in the majors, and he's hitting only .213 in at-bats ending with curves this season.

The matchup to watch in that regard is against Giants reliever Yusmeiro Petit.

Petit's curveball is very tempting. Hitters swung at it more often than any other curveball thrown by a righty this season (62 percent of the time). They missed on nearly half their swings. His 48 percent miss rate was fourth-best among the 70 right-handers who threw the most curves.

Top stats to know: Manning passes Favre

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20

AP Photo/Jack DempseyPeyton Manning set the NFL career passing TD record on Sunday night.

Not to underestimate the importance of the Denver Broncos improving their record to 5-1, Sunday’s 42-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers will be most remembered for Peyton Manning’s record for touchdown passes.

The Record
With 3:09 remaining in the first half, Manning connected with Demaryius Thomas on an 8-yard scoring pass, increasing his career total to 509. That broke a tie with Brett Favre. Manning didn’t stop there, throwing another scoring pass to Thomas after halftime, his fourth of the game, to make the record 510 – and counting.

Manning reached the record territory for touchdown passes more efficiently than Favre. The former Green Bay Packers quarterback got his 508 touchdowns in 10,164 passes (one touchdown every 20 passes). Manning reached 509 in 8,659 passes, which is one touchdown every 17 passes.

Manning throws 4 TDs … again
Sunday’s game was the 33rd of Manning’s 16-year career with four touchdown passes. He’s No. 1 on that list, eight ahead of Drew Brees. In the 22 games since the start of last season, Manning has had four touchdown passes in half of them. No other quarterback has five four-touchdown games in that span.

Harbaugh has seen this before
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, whose team gave up 42 points, the most they have allowed in four seasons under Harbaugh, is connected to the touchdown-passes record beyond being on the opposing sideline Sunday.

Before Manning joined the Colts in 1998, the most recent quarterback to throw a touchdown for the team was Harbaugh. (Marvin Harrison caught both of them -- Harbaugh’s last and Manning’s first.) And in the 1995 game that Dan Marino (who held the record before Favre broke it in 2007) set the record, Harbaugh was playing in that game for the Colts.

Who’s next?
Although Manning will continue playing and padding his record, does he have a challenger in the NFL today? If he does have a contemporary who could pass him, the only apparent candidate is Drew Brees.

Brees has averaged 35 TD passes a season since joining the Saints, and his attempts per touchdown over that time is in line with Manning’s career average. Brees is three years younger than Manning, and although his numbers were slightly behind Manning’s entering his age-35 season, he could reach 400 TD this year. Manning, remember, spent his age-35 season on the bench after neck surgery.

Top stats to know: Rams' tricky win

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19

AP Photo/Tom GannamStedman Bailey's 90-yard punt-return TD was just one of the Rams' key special-teams plays.

Three statistical takeaways from the trickery the St. Louis Rams used in their win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

How unlikely was that punt return?
It’s not easy to return a punt 90 yards for a touchdown against the Seahawks. In fact, Stedman Bailey’s punt-return touchdown was the second longest for a score against the Seahawks in their history.

Jo-Jo Townsell of the New York Jets had a 91-yard punt-return touchdown against them in Week 8 of the 1987 season.

This was actually the second straight season that the Rams had a punt return of 90 yards or more for a score. They had a 98-yarder against the Colts in 2013.

What to make of the fake punt?
What are the mathematics behind the fake punt choice by Jeff Fisher?

If punter Johnny Hekker had thrown an incomplete pass, the Rams would have given the ball back to the Seahawks in prime scoring position (the Rams’ 18) and St. Louis’ win probability would have dropped to 34.9 percent.

By converting, the Rams’ win probability rose to 85.8 percent.

Had the Rams punted, netted 40 yards and taken 13 seconds off the clock, the Seahawks would have had the ball on their own 42. The Rams' win probability would have been 54 percent.

Seattle allows multiple long returns
The Rams also got a 71-yard kickoff return from Benny Cunningham that set up their first touchdown of the day in the first quarter. Seattle allowed just one special-teams return of 70 yards or more all of last season and hadn’t allowed a team to have multiple 70-yard special-teams returns in the same game since Week 3 of 2010 against the San Diego Chargers.

As for the Rams? Cunningham’s kick return was the longest by a Rams player since Week 16 of 2010, when Danny Amendola had an 84-yard kick return against the 49ers.

Giants infield 'd' has been pretty good too

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19

USA TODAY Sports/Getty ImagesPablo Sandoval and Brandon Crawford have been valuable for their defense this postseason.
The Kansas City Royals outfield defense has gotten a lot of press, and rightfully so, for its outstanding work this postseason.

But let’s not forget about the infield defense of the San Francisco Giants.

There may not be any Gold Glove candidates among the quartet of Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford and Pablo Sandoval, but the Giants infield has been among the best in the majors this season.

The Giants were one of only four teams this season to get positive Defensive Runs Saved contributions from each position in the infield, along with the Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies.

During the regular season, the Giants turned 76 percent of ground balls and bunts hit against them into outs, the second-highest rate in the league (three percentage points above the major-league average)

In the playoffs, they’ve upped that to a 78 percent out rate. Here's how each of their infield defenders has excelled.

3B Pablo Sandoval
Forget Sandoval's girth, as it's not pertinent to his play on the defensive side this season. Sandoval improved from -5 Defensive Runs Saved in each of the last two seasons to a positive contribution of four Defensive Runs Saved.

What's notable about Sandoval is how often he makes plays compared to how often he errs.

Baseball Info Solutions tracks every batted ball and categorizes them as Good Fielding Plays (about 30 different types of Web Gem-caliber plays) and Defensive Misplays & Errors (60 categories, which we'll simply refer to as "Bad Plays").

Sandoval's ratio of Good Plays to Bad Plays was 2 to 1 in 2014 (60 to 30). That was second-best among all third basemen, trailing only Josh Harrison. He's made his share of good ones this postseason.

SS Brandon Crawford
Crawford may not be Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, but he rates as one of the sharpest shortstops in the majors.

Crawford ranked seventh among shortstops during the regular season with eight Defensive Runs Saved. He also had the third-most “Out of Zone” plays(plays outside areas in which a shortstop turns at least 50 percent of balls into outs) with 83, one more than Simmons.

That’s probably why no one was surprised that Crawford stuck with the ground ball that deflected off Pablo Sandoval and was able to get an inning-ending forceout in a key spot in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the NLCS.

2B Joe Panik
Panik’s strength is the double play. He converted 79 percent of double play opportunities (man on first, less than two outs) in which he was either the fielder or pivot man, the highest rate among major-league second basemen.

In the playoffs, he’s been an out-getter, looking better than his numbers. He's played 99 innings and handled 39 chances without making an error (and converted six double plays).

In fact, the Giants have done a terrific job at gobbling up balls hit to the right side. They've turned 54 out of 61 grounders and bunts hit to the right side (defined as right of the second base bag) into outs (89 percent). The Royals, by comparison, have converted 43 of 53 into outs (81 percent).

That's a credit both to him and to the guy playing first base, who we'll get to next.

Brandon Belt
Belt hasn't put up super numbers at first base, but he's been consistent. Over the past three seasons, he has 12 Defensive Runs Saved. He rates adeptly at covering ground both down the line and in the hole. And in the postseason, he's handled difficult throws without issue.

This is important because ...
The Giants infield will be tested against the Royals. Kansas City hitters ranked sixth in the majors this season in ground-ball frequency.

And the Royals have had a lot of success on ground balls this postseason. They've reached at the equivalent of a .320 batting average when hitting the ball on the ground. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that their 15 infield hits this postseason are one fewer than all the rest of the postseason teams combined. The Athletics, Angels and Orioles couldn't stop them. We'll see if the infield playing the best defense in the playoffs can do any better.


Top stats to know: FSU 31, Notre Dame 27

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
Jameis Winston remains unbeaten and has top billing on this list.
The Notre DameFlorida State matchup was billed as one of the best games this season.

It lived up to its billing in a big way, and once again, Florida State prevailed.

The teams were never separated by more than one score, and Florida State got the last and decisive score to win 31-27.

The history
Florida State won its school-record 23rd straight game and its sixth in eight meetings with Notre Dame.

Florida State has won three straight games versus AP top-five teams for the first time since 1999-2000.

This was the first time Notre Dame lost a game it entered unbeaten and was playing in the regular season against the defending national champ (4-1-2 in those games all time).

The loss snapped an eight-game Notre Dame winning streak in games decided by six points or fewer.

The Fighting Irish fell to 2-6 all time against Florida State, their worst record against any team they’ve played at least five times.

Winston does it again
After a rather unimpressive first half, Jameis Winston was fantastic in the second half, completing 15 of his 16 pass attempts for 181 yards and a touchdown.

Winston was 2-of-6 on throws of 10 or more yards downfield in the first half, 9-of-9 on those passes in the second half.

Winston improved to 20-0 as a starting quarterback with the win.

That’s the longest win streak to start a career for any FBS quarterback in the past 15 seasons, one better than Alabama’s Greg McElroy.

Lose the yardage battle, win the game
Notre Dame outgained Florida State by 147 yards, the worst yardage margin for Florida State in any game under Jimbo Fisher (since the start of the 2010 season). Losing the yardage game is generally not a recipe for success in college football, but the Seminoles are 3-2 under Fisher when getting outgained by at least 100 yards.

One of the reasons Notre Dame outgained Florida State by so much was the play of quarterback Everett Golson.

Golson had his third game this season with at least 300 passing yards (he’d had only one prior to this season). He threw two touchdowns to Corey Robinson, who’d never had a multi-touchdown game before Saturday.

The Irish offense was slowed in the second half, scoring only three points in the final 22 minutes. Notre Dame had the potential game-winning touchdown wiped out by a penalty in the final seconds.

Golson fell to 16-2 as a starting quarterback. This was the first regular-season loss of Golson’s career.


Who is projected to win at Talladega?

October, 18, 2014
Oct 18
Here are the projections for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Talladega. Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, pre-race on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a 2.66-mile tri-oval) and time of year

• This is the second elimination race of the 2014 Chase and three big-name drivers are in danger of being among the four eliminated.

Six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, 2012 champion Brad Keselowski and 11-time defending Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. are all at least 19 points behind eighth, sitting in the bottom three position in points.

All control their own destiny though, as they’d move on with a win.

All three are multiple-time Talladega winners but finished outside the top 20 here in the spring race.

• Jimmie Johnson is searching for his record-tying seventh NSCS championship but finds himself in a 16-race winless streak, tied for the third-longest of his career.

His 15.4 average finish so far is the worst he’s ever had in a single Chase.

• After winning the 2012 season championship Brad Keselowski missed the 2013 Chase and finished 14th in points, the worst points finish in a season following a championship among drivers to run the full schedule the following season.

2014 has been a bounce-back season, as Keselowski is tied for the series lead with five wins, but needs to make up ground to continue racing for a title.

• Talladega was a Wild Card in the Chase even before it became an elimination race. In four of the last six years, at least half of the Chase drivers were involved in a wreck, and in the 10 Chase races at the track, there have been 20 wrecks involving 105 cars in the last quarter of the race.

• Expect this race to come down to the final lap. Six of the last nine Talladega races since the start of 2010 have been decided by a last-lap pass.

In the same five-season span, all other NSCS tracks have combined for eight last-lap passes.


Story of the postseason: Last-AB wins

October, 18, 2014
Oct 18

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesThe first of many late-game celebrations this postseason.
Through the conclusion of the 2014 ALCS and NLCS, there have been 11 games that were decided in the winning team’s last at-bat.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that the 11 wins ties the wild-card era mark (and naturally the all-time record) for the most last at-bat wins in a single postseason, set previously in 1995 and tied in 1996 and 2004 (The definition of a last at-bat win is when the winning run is scored by a team in their final inning at the plate).

For those who don't remember them all, here's the full list. Share your thoughts in the comments section on which ones were the best.

Tuesday, September 30-- AL Wild Card Game: Royals 9, Athletics 8 (12)
The Royals trailed 7-3 entering the eighth inning, but scored three runs in the eighth and tied the game on Nori Aoki’s sacrifice fly in the ninth. After the A’s took the lead in the 12th, Christian Colon’s infield single brought home Eric Hosmer to tie the game and Salvador Perez won it with a walk-off single.

Elias Stat of the Day: The Royals became the first team to overcome a deficit of at least four runs in the eighth inning or later of a postseason winner-take-all game.

Thursday, Oct. 2-- ALDS Game 1: Royals 3, Angels 2 (11)
The game was tied at 2-2 after the fifth inning and stayed that way until the top of the 11th when Mike Moustakas drilled a pitch into the right-field stands for the go-ahead home run. The Royals would win 3-2.

Elias Stat of the Day: It’s the first time in major league history that a player who started in the ninth spot in the batting order hit a go-ahead home run in extra innings of a postseason game.

Friday, Oct. 3-- ALDS Game 2: Orioles 7, Tigers 6
The Tigers led 6-3 entering the bottom of the eighth inning, but their bullpen couldn’t hold the lead. First, Steve Pearce singled home a run and then pinch-hitter Delmon Young cleared the bases with a three-run double to cap a four-run bottom of the eighth. Orioles win 7-6.

Stat of the Day: Young became the first player to have a go-ahead pinch-hit RBI with the bases loaded, with his team trailing in a postseason game since Francisco Cabrera's walk-off single that won Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS for the Atlanta Braves against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Friday, Oct. 3-- ALDS Game 2: Royals 4, Angels 1 (11)
With the score tied, 1-1 entering the top of the 11th, Eric Hosmer gave the Royals more extra-inning magic with a two-run home run for the lead. Perez later added an infield single to score Alex Gordon. The Royals would go on to win 4-1.

Stat of the Day: The Royals became the first team to win three straight extra-inning games in a postseason.

Saturday, Oct. 4-- NLDS Game 2: Giants 2, Nationals 1 (18)
Brandon Belt hits a go-ahead HR in the top of the 18th for the Giants in a 2-1 win. This was in the longest game in playoff history in terms of time at 6 hours, 23 minutes.

Stat of the Day: Winning pitcher Yusmeiro Petit became the first pitcher to throw at least six scoreless innings of relief, allowing one hit or fewer in a postseason game since Pedro Martinez came out of the bullpen and threw six no-hit innings for the 1999 Red Sox against the Cleveland Indians.

Saturday, Oct. 4-- NLDS Game 2: Cardinals 4, Dodgers 2
Matt Kemp gave the Dodgers a 3-2 lead with a home run in the bottom of the eighth, helping Los Angeles tie the series.

Stat of the Day: Kirk Gibson hit two postseason go-ahead homers in the eighth inning or later for the 1988 Dodgers. The Dodgers have had two since then-- one by Juan Uribe in 2013 and this one by Kemp.

Friday, October 10-- ALCS Game 1: Royals 8, Orioles 6 (10)
Alex Gordon homers to lead off the top of the 10th inning and Mike Moustakas adds a two-run blast later in the frame to give the Royals an 8-5 lead. They would hang on for an 8-6 win.

Stat of the Day: The Royals' four postseason extra-inning wins are the most in a single postseason in major-league history.

Saturday, October 11-- ALCS Game 2: Royals 6, Orioles 4
With the game tied at 4-4 and in the top of the 9th, Alcides Escobar doubled home Terrance Gore to give the Royals the lead. Lorenzo Cain added to the lead and capped the scoring with a RBI single as the Royals won 6-4.

Stat of the Day: This was the ninth straight postseason win for the Royals dating back to 1985. They have now won 11 straight, one shy of the all-time record.

Sunday, October 12-- NLCS Game 2: Cardinals 5, Giants 4
Kolten Wong leads off the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off HR in a 5-4 Cardinals victory.

Elias Stat of the Day: The Cardinals are the first team in major-league history to hit a home run in each of the last three innings of a postseason game.

Tuesday, October 14-- NLCS Game 3: Giants 5, Cardinals 4 (10)
Cardinals reliever Randy Choate’s throwing error on a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the 10th allowed Brandon Crawford to score the winning run from second in a 5-4 Giants win.

Stat of the Day: This was the third time in postseason history that a game ended on a throwing error by the pitcher, the first instance since the Mets beat the Orioles in that manner in 1999.

Thursday, October 16-- NLCS Game 5: Giants 6, Cardinals 3
Travis Ishikawa sends the Giants to the World Series for the third time in five seasons in the bottom of the ninth, with his first career walk-off home run for a 6-3 victory.

Stat of the Day: Ishikawa is the fourth player whose first walk-off homer came in a postseason series clincher, joining Bill Mazeroski, Todd Pratt and Chris Burke.