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The 2010 NFL Draft comes full circle for the Buccaneers with the Ndamukong Suh signing
The Buccaneers’ draft strategy in 2010 was to take whichever elite defensive tackle the Lions didn’t want. Many things have changed for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the last nine years. They’re on a fifth head coach since then, and their entire 2010 draft class is gone now after the decision to release Gerald McCoy. McCoy, 31, made six Pro Bowls in his time with the team and lived up to his status as the No. 3 overall pick in his draft class. But he was eager to join a playoff contender and avoid living through another rebuild of the Buccaneers defense. So the defensive tackle and the Buccaneers “mutually agreed” that it was time for the team to part ways with McCoy and his $13 million cap hit. The Bucs’ replacement is the player who was taken one pick ahead of McCoy in the 2010 NFL Draft: Ndamukong Suh. Once upon a time, Suh and McCoy were the clear-cut top defensive prospects in the NFL Draft. The St. Louis Rams were locked in on using the No. 1 pick to take Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford, leaving the Detroit Lions the option to take Suh or McCoy at No. 2 — one pick ahead of the Buccaneers. “You could flip a coin on these two based on how they played and how they transitioned character-wise,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said of the two defensive tackles in an April 2010 conference call. “Everyone raves about Suh and McCoy ... the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will just sit there and take which one is left.” The Lions picked Suh, the player most considered the better of the two. That left McCoy for the Buccaneers, who swore they were hoping the dominoes would fall the way they did. “This is exactly who we wanted,” then-Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris said of McCoy. “This is exactly who we went out to get and we got him. He’s a perfect fit for what we do.” Only those in the Buccaneers’ war room nine years ago know if that was the truth. But nearly a decade later, Tampa Bay is filling McCoy’s shoes with the player they almost certainly would’ve picked if the Lions made a different choice. A player who has had a remarkably similar career — at least, statistically — as McCoy. Ndamukong Suh & Gerald McCoyCareerSuh McCoySacks 56.0 54.5QB Hits 166 140TFL 107 79Pro Bowls 5 6— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) May 21, 2019 If every team had a do-over of the 2010 NFL Draft, the Rams would probably take back their decision to select a quarterback who only played 49 games for them. The Lions might not want to take Suh, considering he left for a record-breaking contract with the Dolphins after five years in Detroit. Tampa Bay’s strategy of happily picking whichever elite defensive tackle prospect fell into its lap aged well, though. Suh isn’t the same player he was when he signed his blockbuster deal with Miami as the most prized free agent of 2015. He turned 32 in January and had to wait until May to find a team, despite sitting No. 21 on our list of the top free agents of 2019. But the Bucs will still get a glimpse of what could’ve been if the Lions made a different choice way back in 2010.
3 h
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The Blazers have no cap space and will lose free agents. Here’s how they get better
Portland can’t add a max free agent, or anything close. But they can explore several routes to upgrade key positions on the roster. After the Trail Blazers were swept out of the Western Conference Finals, a disappointing ending to an otherwise fantastic season, Damian Lillard offered this offseason approach to Yahoo!’s Chris Haynes: “We just have to continue to improve with the guys we have,” Lillard said. “And then if it presents itself where we can get some guys in that can maybe take us to the next level, then look at that. I think that’s all we can do.” The Trail Blazers aren’t in the market to sign a max free agent, but they are in the market to improve on their most successful season since 2000. With Lillard and the Trail Blazers in talks to agree to a supermax contract extension, according to Haynes, Portland doesn’t plan on going anywhere any time soon. The West projects to get stronger overnight. You can bet LeBron James will be back in the playoffs, and the Clippers might land two max free agents. The Warriors have proven they’re just as good with Kevin Durant as they are without him, and several other West teams project to make leaps forward next season. The Trail Blazers may have been swept out of the Western Conference Finals, but their success lies in arriving there in the first place. How does Portland give itself the best chance to return, while also improving its roster get over the hump next time? It’s not easy, but the Trail Blazers have some options. Upgrade via trade Portland has one of the best backcourts in the NBA, but it desperately needs to upgrade at the forward spots. At times in the playoffs, Terry Stotts went to the bench instead of relying on starters Al-Farouq Aminu and Mo Harkless in critical stretches. Evan Turner is a facilitator, but he only shot only 21 percent from deep this season and attempted and made just one three in the playoffs. Aminu becomes a free agent this summer, and Portland may not be able to retain him even if it wanted. The Trail Blazers will also find it difficult to keep playoff savior and free-agent-to-be Rodney Hood, and if a team makes a hefty enough offer on restricted free agent Jake Layman, it’ll be tough for Portland to match that, too. That means the Trail Blazers will need to explore trade opportunities with other teams if they want to improve on the wing. Portland could explore trading one position to upgrade another. Jusuf Nurkic isn’t expected to start running or jumping his surgically-repaired leg until October, but he will return, and when he does, Portland will automatically be a better team. Zach Collins is a young, floor-spacing, two-way big man gives the Trail Blazers a different look off the bench. Meyers Leonard is sandwiched between the two, and his 30-point Game 4 with five threes made may have been enough to win some rival executives over. Can the Trail Blazers find a deal, pairing Leonard and a first-rounder to upgrade at the forward spot? A blockbuster (or Netflix?) idea could be packaging Leonard, Turner and protected picks in a deal for Kevin Love, who has won a championship and provides offensive firepower Portland could use in its front court. Portland’s front office will have to be creative if they want to upgrade without cap space, and trading a player like Leonard, as beloved as he is, could be an option on the table. To dump or not to dump? Another factor in Portland’s ability to upgrade is which mid-level exception they’ll have at their disposal. The mid-level exception is valuable because it allows teams to exceed the salary cap to sign one or multiple free agents. Last summer, the Clippers split theirs between Luc Mbah a Moute and Mike Scott, and the Bucks used their mid-level to sign two valuable playoff contributors in Ersan Ilyasova and Pat Connaughton. Other notable uses of the mid-level last summer were the Wizards signing Dwight Howard, the Hornets signing Tony Parker, the Pelicans inking Julius Randle and, of course, the Warriors landing DeMarcus Cousins. It would be beneficial to the Trail Blazers if they are able to use the non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception. That would enable them to sign a player to a first-year salary of $9.25 million (or to a four-year, $39.7 million deal). If the Blazes project to be over the luxury tax, they will only receive the taxpayer’s mid-level exception of one-year, $5.7 million (or three years, $17.9 million). The problem is that Portland already has $126 million on the payroll next season, and teams only have the full mid-level accessible if it doesn’t take them over the projected $138 million apron (about $6 million above the projected luxury tax). Thus, it will be impossible for the Trail Blazers to use the full mid-level if they don’t find a way to dump one of their larger contracts. The obvious way to do so, if they choose to explore this route, is attaching an asset to Turner’s $18.6 million salary and trading him to a team with cap space to absorb it, like Atlanta or Sacramento. Lillard and McCollum enjoy playing with Turner because he takes the pressure of initiating the offense off their shoulders. But Turner doesn’t shoot threes, and threes are the name of the game in this era’s NBA. If Portland creates space via trade, they can be in the market to sign a player like Marcus Morris, a versatile defender who can both create his own shot and hit spot-up threes. He’s the ideal complementary role player to a Lillard-McCollum back court who just so happens to play both ends of the floor. Another option could be using the full mid-level to go after Thaddeus Young, who made $13.7 million last season but might take a slight pay cut to join a contender. Portland could also use its mid-level to re-sign its own free agents, like retaining Seth Curry, who posted the NBA’s third-best three-point percentage and will triple or quadruple his $2.8 million salary this summer. Portland will not have Bird Rights on Curry, so this is the only mechanism it’ll have to give him a raise. (The same applies to Hood and Enes Kanter should Portland want to keep them). If they don’t create the space necessary to be eligible for the full mid-level, they will have the $5.7 million taxpayer’s mid-level exception available. That would allow them to enter the luxury tax to re-sign Aminu, but it would also limit the help they can get on the open market. Develop their own players Lillard said it best: Portland has to continue to improve with the players they have on the roster. Luckily for them, the Trail Blazers have several players who have yet to scratch the surface of their full potential. Zach Collins showed flashes of becoming a legitimate 3-and-D big man in the postseason and should be a player to watch in the future. Portland selected Anfernee Simons with their first-round pick in 2018, and he was good enough to go from being a fifth-year high school senior straight to the pros. Skal Labissiere once had promise as a young player whom the Kings traded for on 2016 draft night, and he lit them up for 29 points in the regular season finale. Harkless has taken strides in his game becoming a reliable two-way wing, but he still can get better on both ends of the floor. Portland also has the 25th pick in this year’s NBA Draft. In his latest mock draft, SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell has the Trail Blazers adding depth to the back court with Iowa State’s Talen Horton-Tucker. The Trail Blazers will get Nurkic back at some point next season, and they were able to make the Western Conference Finals without him. If Portland can keep developing from within — and there’s no evidence to the contrary — their younger players should be able to step up and have a bigger impact next season. It won’t be easy. Portland has a payroll stacked to the heavens and will more than likely lose key role players without finding adequate replacements. But that’s the name of the game, and champions find ways to improve with limited resources. The Trail Blazers will have to do just that, banking on Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum powering this team to another deep postseason run. Portland got this far with small tweaks last summer. It’ll have to do so again this year.
8 h
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Getting lucky in the NBA draft goes beyond the lottery. Look at the Bucks
The ping pong balls can do but so much. With the 2019 NBA draft lottery changing the landscape of the league on multiple fronts this past Tuesday, it’s worth considering the impact luck has on building any team around amateur players. We talk about luck in the context of the lottery so frequently and, frankly, rather exclusively. But luck in the draft isn’t just all about ping pong balls. It’s about fortunate timing. It’s about avoiding other teams falling in love with your chosen prospect. It’s about taking a dice roll on an international prospect for whom there is no blueprint, and a razor’s edge of chance him becoming an infamous bust and a future superstar. Consider the Milwaukee Bucks. In 2013, the Bucks made the playoffs by the skin of their teeth with a 38-44 record. This was at the height of the tanking debate, as Sam Hinkie was prepared to impose The Process on Philadelphia. The story went that mid-tier NBA franchises couldn’t pull off an institutional tank job over multiple years without alienating the tenuous fandom that funds the operation. Tanking, then, was a net drain in the end, even if the on-court results eventually penciled out. The Bucks were supposedly one of these teams who couldn’t take the gamble. Instead of selling off the team’s best players to boost their odds at adding high draft picks, they’d fight for the No. 8 seed, even if that meant ritual basketball dismemberment by, say, the LeBron-Wade-Bosh Heat, as it did mean for Milwaukee in 2013. Because they were the worst playoff team that season, the Bucks ended up with the No. 15 selection. They eventually selected Giannis Antetokounmpo with that pick. The following season, the Bucks attempted to make the playoffs again, but Larry Sanders got hurt early and the tank came for Milwaukee, as I wrote in November 2013. The team didn’t need to go deeper in the tank by trading veterans, because the roster as assembled was bad enough on its own. Giannis, meanwhile, was not a very good rookie. He made second team All-Rookie ... but this was a hideous year for rookies overall. The five players on first team All-Rookie — players who were better than Giannis their rookie years, mind you — were Victor Oladipo, Michael Carter-Williams, Mason Plumlee, Trey Burke, and Tim Hardaway Jr. Needless to say, the Bucks were awful: 15-67, worst record in the NBA, four games worse than even Hinkie’s 76ers, who were explicitly trying to be the worst team in the league. By the grace of the NBA draft lottery, Milwaukee ended up with the No. 2 pick in what appeared to be a two-player draft, due to Joel Embiid’s highly concerning injuries. Lucky, right? The Bucks took Jabari Parker, the almost consensus No. 2 choice behind almost consensus No. 1 Andrew Wiggins. In 2013, the Bucks’ draft fortunes were considered unlucky: they foolishly aimed for the No. 8 seed and ended up out of the lottery, relegated to the No. 15 pick. In 2014, the Bucks’ draft fortunes were considered lucky: with the league’s worst record, Milwaukee fell just one spot to No. 2 and got a chance to take a 19-year-old future star. Except they ended up with a future MVP with the 2013 No. 15 pick and a totally unfortunate twice-injured wash-out now on his third team with the 2014 No. 2 pick. Which is to say that being lucky in the NBA draft goes beyond the lottery. Luck is imbued throughout the draft. Timing is everything. Having a very high pick in 2014 didn’t work out for Milwaukee (or many other teams, honestly). The 2013 draft was pretty awful at the very top as well, beyond Oladipo. But 2012, the year before the Bucks nabbed Giannis at No. 15, had multiple future stars go high, including Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, and Damian Lillard. And 2015, the year after the Bucks picked up Parker at No. 2, had Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis at the top. It’s not just about being so atrocious you boost your odds for a top pick, and then being lucky and getting that top pick in the lottery. It’s about doing it all in the right season so you get the right player. There are a lot of moving parts, all subject to the whims of fortune. Doing the work to be prepared for all draft circumstances is massively important, of course. That’s why you can give the Bucks credit for plucking the rarely seen and quite raw Giannis in 2013. But since he was drafted all the way down at No. 15, poor luck could have meant that Antetokounmpo wasn’t around for the Bucks to take. Other teams (Hawks, Raptors) were rumored to be interested as well. All it would have taken is for one of those teams to slip into the late lottery and yank him for Milwaukee’s past half-decade to have gone very, very differently. Heck, Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson wanted to take Giannis No. 13, but Mark Cuban overruled him to make a minor cap space move to make a free agent chase at ... Dwight Howard! That’s pretty lucky for the Bucks. Picking Giannis at No. 15 means you had to avoid 14 other teams missing what you saw in him (and realistically, the other 15 teams either missing it or being unable to trade up into the top 14 to grab him). That requires just as much luck as a series of ping-pong balls landing you the No. 2 pick. These playoffs are littered with cases like this. The Warriors stunk for the better part of two decades with a brief intermission of joy led by Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson, but they never tanked, and were rarely among the very worst teams in the league. In 2009, Golden State picked up Stephen Curry at No. 7 and almost traded him to the Suns for Amare Stoudemire. Lucky they didn’t. Two years later, the still-mediocre Warriors picked up Klay Thompson at No. 11. The team actually tanked toward the end of that following season because they owed the Jazz their pick if it wasn’t in the top seven — the Warriors really wanted to keep their pick. They did. The effort paid off when they ended up with Harrison Barnes at No. 7. Oh, and Draymond Green, who other teams had lots of interest in but couldn’t move up to nab him, at No. 35. The Blazers picked up Lillard at No. 6 in 2012, but not with their own pick: Portland’s own selection was No. 11 (Meyers Leonard). The Blazers got that No. 6 pick by trading Gerald Wallace (on an expiring deal and, frankly, an expiring career) to the desperate Brooklyn Nets for an unprotected first. Moving Wallace was intended to help the Blazers get worse for draft benefits; Portland was rebuilding, had no intention of re-signing Wallace, and could use all the picks it could grab. Brooklyn ended up remaining awful that season, leading to that No. 6 pick for the Blazers. The Kings, picking No. 5 that year and in desperate need of a point guard, took Thomas Robinson. How lucky for Portland. Look at the Raptors. Only four of Toronto’s nine core players are homegrown. Of them, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam were picked Nos. 23 and 27 respectively, Norman Powell was a second-round pick, and Fred VanVleet was undrafted. Any other team could have had them. And look where the other major Raptors were drafted. Kawhi Leonard? No. 15, after many forward-needy teams passed on him. Kyle Lowry? No. 24. Serge Ibaka? No. 24. Marc Gasol? No. 48. Danny Green? No. 46. There’s not a single lottery pick in that rotation. Credit to Toronto for finding these players, but fortune isn’t just about the ping pong balls. This is not to say that luck in the lottery doesn’t matter. There are occasionally surefire future NBA stars who crop up in the draft, like LeBron, Anthony Davis, and Zion Williamson. The only way to get them is to get really lucky in the NBA draft lottery. But most of the time, for most of the picks, it’s not as much of a sure thing as you’d think. Luck isn’t confined to the hopper on a Tuesday in the middle of May. Luck is about timing, luck is about other teams making errors, luck is intertwined with skill in analysis and evaluation. Luck goes all of the way through the process and beyond. Keep that in mind as we peer into the future at what teams like the Pelicans, Grizzlies, and Knicks will do with their fresh fortune.
9 h
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5 NFL teams with the best chance to sign new free agent Gerald McCoy
McCoy’s availability replenishes a picked-over market — so who’s in? Nearly two full months after the 2019 free agent season officially began, Gerald McCoy threw his hat into the ring. The six-time Pro Bowler barged into the marketplace after reaching a mutual agreement with the Buccaneers that led to his release. At 31 years old, the veteran defensive tackle is no longer interested in anchoring a rebuild like the one he would have faced under Bruce Arians in Tampa. Instead, he’s looking to make it to the postseason for the first time in his long career by signing with a contender that has not only a need in the middle of its defensive line but the cap space to sign a man who gave up $13 million to earn his freedom. So who fits the bill? Seventeen teams have at least an estimated $15 million in cap space left this season, and a handful who may have had their eye on Ndamukong Suh are suddenly rethinking their strategy. Here are five teams that have likely reached out to McCoy’s agent after he hit free agency. Indianapolis Colts With Margus Hunt and Denico Autry up the middle, the Colts have a useful, but unspectacular pairing in the middle of their defensive line. Throwing McCoy into the mix would add another level of blocker-bruising power and athleticism and give the 31-year-old the opportunity to rotate to the sideline for a breather without leaving too big a crater behind. Indianapolis was great at stopping big plays last season but middling-to-bad otherwise. A defensive line bedrock like McCoy would go a long way toward increasing stability on standard downs. Dallas Cowboys Dallas has a quickly closing window to spend thanks to hefty extensions due to Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, but Jerry Jones could make a one-year deal with the former Buccaneer work. McCoy would slide to the top of an interior defender depth chart currently headed by Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Christian Covington. He’d be a boon to a passing defense that ranked just 24th in the league in sack rate last fall. McCoy grew up rooting for the Cowboys, and he’s already got some connections to the club — at least on social media. Soooooo @rjochoa normally hits y’all with this kinda stuff, but loooky what I found on Dak’s latest IG post. @Geraldini93 to Dallas confirmed... pic.twitter.com/9o0uzbw1g0— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) March 1, 2019 Cleveland Browns With Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson holding down the starting roles inside Cleveland’s 4-3 defense, the club doesn’t have a glaring need for McCoy. Even so, he’d be an impact player on a rising team that’s made no shortage of statements this offseason — and Odell Beckham Jr. is on board. It looks as if former Bucs’ DT Gerald McCoy already is wanted in Cleveland..... pic.twitter.com/tpZWEPcWuW— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 21, 2019 General manager John Dorsey has no problem signing discarded stars who play relatively redundant positions of strength, as proven by his decision to snap up Kareem Hunt this winter. McCoy could be next — only at a much steeper cost and with way, way less baggage. Seattle Seahawks Seattle has been aggressive in its rebuild this spring, working the phones throughout draft week to infuse both sides of its roster with young talent. Trading away Frank Clark and his franchise tag contract freed up a big chunk of cap space, but it also left the Seahawks in need of a passer rusher — especially after losing more than 30 percent of their sack output with Clark’s departure. McCoy would make his presence felt next to Jarran Reed (10.5 sacks in 2018) and plant his flag atop a rotation that also includes young players like Nazair Jones and Poona Ford. He wouldn’t help much with Seattle’s need at edge rusher, but having Reed and McCoy flush pockets from the inside out could lead to a renaissance year from the newly signed Ezekiel Ansah. Los Angeles Chargers Los Angeles only has around $13 million in cap space to spend this season, but it has a need at tackle with Brandon Mebane now 34 years old, Darius Philon now with the Arizona Cardinals, and Corey Liuget’s future uncertain as a free agent. First-round pick Jerry Tillery has been the team’s answer to that problem so far, and assuming his shoulder is completely healed he’ll be a boost up front. Still, finding a way to fit McCoy onto the roster would be a further statement about the Chargers’ commitment to winning as Philip Rivers’ career inches toward its sunset.
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Steve Sarkisian will try to fix Bama’s unbroken passing game
The Tide are going to lean less on RPOs and more on traditional pro-style passing concepts. While the ending was shockingly bad, Alabama’s 2018 season was impressive, especially on offense. Afterward, the Tide had yet another exodus of coaches and players to new opportunities, including five assistants and about half their starters. Amid the transition, Bama brought back former offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who’d coached the team for one game (2017’s National Championship against Clemson) before leaving to become the Falcons’ OC. Sarkisian is inheriting a pretty friendly situation. He has the Heisman runner-up QB hungry for redemption, four receivers who cleared 600 yards in 2018, a starting RB who averaged 6.7 yards on over 100 carries, and three returning starters on the line, all from an offense that finished No. 2 in overall S&P+ and No. 1 in passing S&P+. The 2018 offense was historically explosive. The Tua Tagovailoa-led RPO spread system forced defenses to pick their poison between the run and pass, and most took their chances against the pass and got burned. Mississippi State and Clemson had success by taking away easy pass options and keeping deep defenders over the vertical bombs. In 2019, Bama’s changing things a bit. The challenge for Sarkisian is getting the Tide back to their 2018 level and then beyond, so they can expect to keep pace with a Clemson, Ohio State, or Oklahoma in the Playoff. Under Sarkisian, expect a more pro-style passing game. It’s possible that regardless of the situation Sarkisian had found back in Tuscaloosa, he’d have wanted to introduce more pro-style passing into the offense. That is the system that has propelled Sarkisian throughout his career. It’s what he knows best. At Bama’s spring game, Sark’s emphasis on “full-field progression reads,” as Tagovailoa called them, was a storyline. The QB said implementing them along with RPOs would be important. The RPO was designed primarily to boost spread rushing attacks by preventing opponents from moving DBs into the box late to stop the run. It gives QBs quick pass options to the receivers those DBs are covering, and it also puts linebackers and safeties into run/pass conflicts. The endgame of the RPO spread era will either be defenses learning to disguise who’s in run/pass conflict until after the snap or playing the pass first and “forcing” the run on every RPO. Clemson did the latter in 2018’s title game. The Tide’s preferred outcome, running against lighter boxes, might still be there in 2019 and might yield the best results. However, they also have a highly experienced and talented QB and WR corps. If they were going to rely more on drop-back passing, this would be the year. Tagovailoa’s already used to making quick reads on Bama’s RPOs. Now he’ll have to make different kinds of reads more often. As it happens, the RPO spread can make a pro-style passing game much more dangerous. If your formations force defenses to either yield easy reads and leverage in the passing game or default to man coverage, then it can be a paradise for a team that has the skill to be effective in progression-based passing. If the offense can dictate coverages or matchups, it can then start dialing up route combinations to attack them. Sarkisian’s background in the West Coast offense and previous dabbling in the spread will have him equipped with a full arsenal of passing schemes. All are designed to attack man coverage or two-deep conservative zones of the sort that Alabama saw from Mississippi State and Clemson. The Tide showed a little of that in the spring game, with dual passing concepts on either side of the field for Tagovailoa to choose from. In particular, they ran a ton of true TE sets, using trips formations with a TE to the same side as the two receivers. That would give Tagovailoa a different kind of choice than an RPO: If both safeties stay deep, throw to the “trips” side, with a numbers advantage. If one safety spins down to help over the TE, throw to the single-receiver side. The Tide had their TEs running a lot of stick routes, a quick option route designed to beat up on middle linebackers: In this example, they’re in a double-TE set with Cameron Latu, a 6’5 converted OLB, running the stick route. Fellow TE Miller Forristal runs a flat route to open up space for the stick. A powerful, smart, and quick-moving TE with good hands can be pretty tough to handle running seam routes like the stick, potentially commanding safety attention and opening up the other side of the formation for the WR there. The timing here is pretty good, although the placement is a bit off. But these sorts of quick reads and throws are similar to the RPO games Tagovailoa has already mastered. The only concern is Tagovailoa’s comfort level reading defenses this way. This style of passing game isn’t easy and usually requires some time to master. There’s a lot the QB has to get right in order for the quick rhythm passing to become an indefensible machine rather than an error- and turnover-prone approach. Even in the spring game, the Alabama QBs were struggling to get it right against Nick Saban’s defense, with back-ups Mac Jones and Tagovailoa both throwing picks and Tagovailoa having some of his own issues with the wideouts on route adjustments. On this snap, Tagovailoa read a two-high coverage and tried to throw a corner route to the slot. But Jerry Jeudy ran up the seam rather than breaking outside, facing a nickel who had outside leverage. In this next example, Tagovailoa gets the wrong pre-snap read thanks to a disguised drop by the strong safety and can’t get through his progression with the right rhythm. Even though his field slot WR is wide open on the crossing route, Tagovailoa’s footwork and timing don’t allow him to deliver the ball, because he started by looking to the other side of the field: How that looks on a whiteboard: There’s time for a lot of these route adjustments and reads to get cleaned up for the season but this style is more complicated than what Alabama ran in 2018. Tagovailoa hasn’t always shown the best decision-making when he’s had to scan through several progressions. The quick rhythm game Sarkisian prefers may not offer Alabama the extra firepower, if needed, to beat a Clemson or Oklahoma in a hypothetical shootout. Combining West Coast passing concepts with spread sets in this fashion is old hat in college football. The Bama RPO game can boost the effectiveness of these concepts, but it won’t put the Tide at the cutting edge of tactical innovation. Nevertheless, if the Tide can continue to mix runs and passes from their RPO game and add an improved drop-back passing attack with a veteran QB and ultra-talented WR corps, they could get back on top anyway.
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Pat Narduzzi’s Pitt is harder to figure out than usual, which is saying a lot
The Panthers took another step back in 2018 ... but won the ACC Coastal anyway. Bill C’s annual preview series of every FBS team in college football continues. Catch up here! Any decent high school prospect can put together a highlight film that makes him look like a star. Any major football program can put together a year-in-review highlight film that makes it seem like they went undefeated. And any head coach can put together a pretty strong achievements list after a while. Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi can do better than most after his four years in charge. Here they are in 2015, beating three bowl teams to improve from six to eight wins in his first season. In 2016, beating eventual national champion Clemson in Death Valley, on Chris Blewitt’s last-second field goal. In 2016, riding comeback kid James Conner and quarterback Nathan Peterman to a No. 4 ranking in Off. S&P+. In 2017, beating No. 2 Miami in freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett’s first career start. In 2018, coming back from 11 points down to beat Duke, then riding that momentum to four straight wins and a first-ever ACC Coastal title. Top-five wins ... division title ... that’s a hell of a coaching job right there! Narduzzi is building something ferocious in the Steel City! About that: Per S&P+, Pitt has actually regressed in three of its four seasons under Narduzzi. The 2016 team took a decent step to 23rd overall, but the Panthers fell to 47th and 61st in the next two seasons. They were 4-7 when Miami came to town in 2017, and 2018 comes with a “Well, somebody had to win this horrid division” asterisk. To be sure, Pitt’s good fortune has changed of late. For years, the Panthers were an “almost” program. They were oh, so close to a breakthrough in Dave Wannstedt’s final seasons, but they lost three games by a total of 11 points in 2009, then went 1-3 in one-possession games in 2010. Then, in three years under Paul Chryst, they went 5-10 in such games, 1-5 in what should have been an excellent 2014. Under Narduzzi, the close-game gods have been a hair kinder: Pitt’s 12-13 in one-possession finishes. And they perfectly timed a month’s worth of solid play in 2018, which allowed them to scoop up the Coastal crown that no one else wanted. But outside of that month, they went 3-7 last fall. Pitt continues to rack up achievements while watching its foundation crumble. Four years in, I can’t even give a decent answer to the question, “Is Narduzzi doing a good job?” I can’t really tell what is in store. I also can’t really figure out what to think about Pitt in 2019, as the Panthers’ strengths and weaknesses could completely flip. In 2018, Pitt rode a dominant run game (11th in Rushing S&P+) to compensate for a bad passing game (103rd in Passing S&P+). The defense benefited from an aggressive, occasionally play-making front while giving up too many gashes in the back. In 2019, the Panthers return Pickett for a second full season of starting and bring back just about every wide receiver, too. Their secondary is loaded with experience as well. They also lose just about all of their best players. Running backs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall combined for 2,357 yards and 21 touchdowns. They’re gone, as are four starters on the offensive line, two of last year’s top three defensive linemen, and three of last year’s top four linebackers. So the strengths get weaker, the weaknesses get stronger, and the Panthers become even blurrier than normal. I am rather confident, however, in saying another Coastal crown is going to be difficult. Per S&P+, Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and UNC are projected to improve, Tech by quite a bit. On paper, Miami and Virginia were already better than the Panthers last year, and they could take further steps forward while Pitt is projected to stand still. Granted, they both have to come to Heinz Field this fall, but the road to a repeat is going to be tricky. Offense Pickett has most certainly made his moments count. He was 18-for-29 and steady enough to guide the Panthers ahead of imploding Miami in the last game of 2017, and he was brilliant in three of the four games during Pitt’s title-clinching streak last fall. Against Duke, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest, he completed 64 percent of his passes at 16.5 yards per completion, with six touchdowns, no picks, and a passer rating of 187.4. That’s between Kyler Murray-ish and Will Grier-ish. Receivers Taysir Mack and Maurice Ffrench combined for 26 yards per catch and five touchdowns in these three games. In last year’s other 11 games, he completed 57 percent of his passes at just 9.4 yards per completion, with six touchdowns, six interceptions, and a ghastly 104.6 passer rating, worse than that of Miami’s N’Kosi Perry. Mack and Ffrench: 15 yards per catch, two touchdowns. Pickett, Mack, and Ffrench return, and that’s good. But how good are they? The upside is obvious, but there’s been no semblance of consistency. Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports Kenny Pickett In an attempt to coax a bit more out of the offense in general, Narduzzi brought in a wise old hand: former UMass head coach Mark Whipple, who replaces Shawn Watson as offensive coordinator. Once regarded as a pro-style innovator as head coach at Brown and UMass in the 1990s, Whip served as quarterbacks coach for the Steelers and Browns, coaxing a 3,300-yard season out of Miami’s Jacory Harris in 2009 as well. In his second stint as UMass’ head man, he never got the defense or run game where he wanted it, but the Minutemen could pass. Despite dealing with QB injuries, UMass produced 3,577 passing yards and a 153.9 passer rating (16th in FBS) last fall. Whipple might not have a lot left in the tank as a head coach, but until proven otherwise, he’s still a QB whisperer. I like this move, and considering what star WR Andy Isabella did for UMass last year, Ffrench and Mack should like it, too. This was basically a three-man receiving corps last year, and one of the three (Rafael Araujo-Lopes) is gone, so it would really help if someone like senior Tre Tipton, sophomore Shocky Jacques-Louis, or sophomore Dontavius Butler-Jenkins stepped up. Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports Taysir Mack UMass ran the ball just 51 percent of the time on standard downs (112th in FBS) and 30 percent on passing downs (95th), each well below the national average and miles away from Pitt’s own tendencies (70 percent and 43 percent, respectively). But considering the run personnel Pitt loses, this might be the time for a drastic stylistic change. Ollison and Hall were really good. Despite an unreliable passing game and run-heavy tendencies, they each made the most of the running lanes they found, combining for a 47 percent success rate and 26 carries of 20-plus yards. Granted, their replacements produced similar numbers on a smaller scale — over 61 carries, A.J. Davis, V’Lique Carter, and Mychale Salahuddin combined for a 56 percent success rate and three carries of 20-plus yards. Throw in four-star sophomore Todd Sibley Jr., and you’ve perhaps got more than enough talent in the backfield. But the experience level drops significantly, both at RB and on the line. Center Jimmy Morrissey has started 23 games for the Panthers; all other returnees have combined for nine starts, and five of those were at another school (Michigan transfer Nolan Ulizio was a part-timer for the Wolverines in 2017). Defense Just because you fielded good defenses as a coordinator doesn’t mean that’ll carry over when you become a head coach. Plenty of former defensive coordinators have become known more for offense as head coaches (Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, for instance). It’s still jarring, though, to see Pitt’s defensive numbers. In Narduzzi’s last four seasons as Michigan State’s coordinator, he and boss Mark Dantonio fielded defenses that ranked ninth, second, third, and 14th in Def. S&P+. In his first four seasons at Pitt, the Panthers have ranked 35th, 75th, 48th, and 53rd. That’s not horrible, but instead of growing stronger as Narduzzi’s recruits have filled the two deep, Pitt’s defense has basically stayed the same, even after Randy Bates took over as coordinator last season. Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports Rashad Weaver Attrition could mean sketchy depth in 2019. Pitt could theoretically field a starting lineup of all juniors and seniors with almost nothing but unproven freshmen and sophomores as backups. A run of injury, especially in the front seven, could lead to total collapse. That starting 11 could still be pretty good, though. End Rashad Weaver (14 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, four pass breakups) returns, and while Dewayne Hendrix is gone, junior Patrick Jones II could be ready for more responsibility. Three of last year’s top four tackles are also back, led by senior Amir Watts. The linebacking corps is pretty unproven, but the line should do the LBs some favors. Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports Dane Jackson Last year’s secondary was all-or-nothing — 32nd in completion rate allowed, 90th in passing marginal explosiveness — which is certainly more exciting than simply being average. And in cornerback Dane Jackson (four TFLs, 14 breakups, four forced fumbles), the most all-or-nothing piece returns. So do safeties Damar Hamlin and Jazzee Stocker. If any youngster breaks into the starting lineup, though, it’ll probably be sophomore Paris Ford, a local and former blue-chipper whose career started slowly but still has plenty of time to pick up. Special Teams Pitt’s been consistent, if nothing else, in special teams: the Panthers have ranked between 60th and 82nd in all of Narduzzi’s seasons. Place-kicker Alex Kessman improved by quite a bit as a sophomore and ranked 10th in field goal efficiency, but the rest of the unit lagged. Punting was a disaster with freshman Kirk Christodoulou (112th in punt efficiency), and the return game was even more all-or-nothing than the secondary — Araujo-Lopes (gone) and Ffrench (back) combined for three return scores but each ranked outside of the top 70 in punt and kick return efficiency. If Christodoulou improves like Kessman did as a sophomore, this unit will improve, too. 2019 outlook 2019 Schedule & Projection Factors Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability 31-Aug Virginia 41 -1.6 46% 7-Sep Ohio 82 8.2 68% 14-Sep at Penn State 14 -17.1 16% 21-Sep UCF 27 -5.4 38% 28-Sep Delaware NR 25.9 93% 5-Oct at Duke 65 -1.6 46% 18-Oct at Syracuse 56 -3.3 42% 26-Oct Miami 19 -7.6 33% 2-Nov at Georgia Tech 89 4.7 61% 14-Nov North Carolina 61 3.1 57% 23-Nov at Virginia Tech 30 -9.3 30% 30-Nov Boston College 72 5.6 63% Projected S&P+ Rk 59 Proj. Off. / Def. Rk 65 / 53 Projected wins 5.9 Five-Year S&P+ Rk 9.4 (36) 2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 51 2018 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 2 / 7.6 2018 TO Luck/Game -2.0 Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 64% (64%, 64%) 2018 Second-order wins (difference) 6.8 (0.2) From the Whipple-led passing game, to the young running backs, to Weaver and Jones in the pass rush, to Jackson and company in the secondary, Pitt has about as much upside as it’s had under Narduzzi. But having a high ceiling hasn’t been the issue in recent years — consistency has been. And at first glance, there’s no reason to assume that will be suddenly fixed. Just a little bit of extra efficiency could go a long way, though. While Pitt is projected 6-6 and just 59th in S&P+, eight games are projected within a touchdown or less. That Miami, UCF, and Virginia come to Heinz Field puts those games within winning range, but games at Georgia Tech and Duke are extremely losable. A Pitt that finds more consistency in the passing game and avoids too many front-seven injuries could make a run at eight or nine wins. Of course, a Pitt that doesn’t could lose eight or nine. Team preview stats All 2019 preview data to date.
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Eli Manning and Daniel Jones are the New York Giants’ own Spider-Man meme
What the ... The Giants have been slammed for their draft decision to select Daniel Jones to become their next Eli Manning, but little did we know they were actually drafting him to literally become Eli Manning. A shocking photo from OTAs revealed that the Giants now have identical twin quarterbacks. Eli Manning and Daniel Jones practice together for the first #Giants OTA @northjersey @art_stapleton More photos here: https://t.co/JNMPmwdBu6 pic.twitter.com/z2B6i1EDc3— Danielle Parhizkaran (@DanielleParhiz) May 20, 2019 At first glance you might say “James, these are just two quarterbacks. I don’t get it.” My response is simple: Look at this. There’s no other answer than Daniel Jones was drafted because he is Eli Manning’s doppelganger. Think about it: Dave Gettleman is an old man who likes familiarity. Nobody in the NFL world can understand why the Giants took Jones with the No. 6 pick except Gettleman, who says there’s a grand plan behind this. The Giants’ GM has gone so far as to say that Jones could start right now — or he could sit three years behind Eli and take over. There’s a clear reason for this: To Gettleman he has two quarterbacks who are the exact same person. You know when you meet an old person and they keep calling you the wrong name, but you let it go because it’s not worth it to you to correct them, and/or you don’t want to embarrass the elderly? That’s what the Giants have going on. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jones has been called “Eli” at least 30 times already by Dave Gettleman, and he doesn’t have the heart to tell him he’s not Eli. People have been wondering why it’s taken the Giants so long to move on from Manning, and it’s simply because until 2019 they haven’t found someone who is identical to Eli Manning. Until now.
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The most improved position group in each NFL division 
Zeroing in on one position has paid off for teams. Devoting resources to one position group can pay off in a big way for NFL teams. We got an example of that just last year when the Colts built a formidable offensive line by adding Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith in the draft. The Colts ended up allowing the least amount of sacks in the league and won a playoff game where they thoroughly handled J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. The year before, the Jaguars built a championship-caliber secondary by signing A.J. Bouye, Tashaun Gipson, and Barry Church. That passing defense finished first in passer rating, interception percentage, and passing yards per game, and Jacksonville came up just short of a Super Bowl appearance. Significantly improving a single position group can propel a team into the playoffs. Both the Jaguars and the Colts went from last in their division to contenders the following season. This year, each division has a team that bolstered one position enough to help them challenge for a playoff spot. Here are the teams that helped themselves the most in the offseason. AFC East: Bills offensive line Notable Additions: Mitch Morse, Ty Nsekhe, Cody Ford The Bills have quietly had a productive offseason designed to get Josh Allen more help. John Brown, Cole Beasley, Frank Gore, and Devin Singletary should inject some life into an offense that only averaged 4.7 yards per play last year. But the biggest improvement they made was along the offensive line. Buffalo needed to upgrade a unit that finished 21st in sack percentage and 30th in adjusted line yards. To address the problem, the Bills signed center Mitch Morse and tackle Ty Nsekhe in free agency and took tackle/guard Cody Ford in the second round of the draft. They also had a couple quality depth signings in center Spencer Long and guard Quinton Spain. The first three could immediately slide into the Bills’ starting lineup. Nsekhe is the most intriguing player they added. He was mainly a backup in Washington, but whenever Trent Williams and Morgan Moses went down with injury, he performed well with little to no dropoff. It’s unlikely that the Bills will get past the Patriots to win the AFC East, but they’ve brought in just enough pieces to field a competent offense. That, paired with an already good defense, could have Buffalo challenging for a playoff spot late in the season. AFC South: Texans secondary Notable Additions: Bradley Roby, Tashaun Gipson, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Lonnie Johnson Houston was forced to hit the reset button on its secondary this offseason. The team lost Kareem Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu to free agency, released former first-round cornerback Kevin Johnson, and needed to add a player to compete with cornerback Aaron Colvin. During free agency, Texans signed a quartet of defensive backs: Bradley Roby, Tashaun Gipson, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, and Jahleel Addae. The Roby signing, in particular, has a ton of upside. He looked like he was going to be one of the better corners in the league after playing a pivotal role on the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 defense, but his play has been a bit inconsistent since then. Roby signed for just one year, so he has motivation to get back on track to cash in next offseason. The Texans weren’t done there, though. They also drafted Kentucky cornerback Lonnie Johnson in the second round. In 2019, the Texans play Andrew Luck twice, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Patrick Mahomes, and Tom Brady. That’s a gauntlet of passing attacks; revamping their secondary was a must to defend their division crown. AFC North: Browns defensive line Notable Additions: Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson Trading for Odell Beckham Jr. was obviously the peak of the Browns’ offseason, but they made other key moves as well — particularly along the defensive line. Cleveland already had skilled players on the defensive line with Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi. To help take the unit to a new level, general manager John Dorsey went out and acquired Olivier Vernon from the Giants in a trade and then signed Sheldon Richardson at the start of free agency. When you look at the raw numbers for both Vernon and Richardson, they might appear to be a little underwhelming. They had a combined 11.5 sacks in 2018, but sack numbers don’t tell the whole story. According to Sports Info Solutions, Vernon ranked 26th in pressure rate out of 115 edge defenders with at least 200 pass rush snaps last season. Richardson ranked 13th in pressure rate out of 59 defensive tackles with at least 200 pass rush snaps. That’s two significant additions to a defense that finished 28th in sack percentage. Cleveland is breaking in new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and has a young secondary. An elite defensive line won’t just make for a smoother transition. It’ll also give the Browns a better chance to win their first-ever AFC North title. AFC West: Raiders wide receivers Notable Additions: Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow After the Raiders traded away Amari Cooper last season, Derek Carr didn’t really have any threats at receiver. That has changed since. In one offseason, Oakland went from having a bottom-tier group of receivers to one of the strongest in the league. The Raiders’ first move was to trade third- and fifth-round picks to the Steelers for future Hall of Famer Antonio Brown. They gave Brown a new contract, keeping him on the roster for years to come. Then they signed former Chargers receiver Tyrell Williams to a four-year deal in free agency. Williams has been a big-play machine for the Chargers over the last few years — he’s had a reception of at least 80 yards in three of his four seasons in the NFL. In the draft, Oakland selected Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow, who should immediately compete for reps out of the slot with J.J. Nelson and Ryan Grant. Renfrow wasn’t the most productive receiver in college, but he always came up big when Clemson needed him, including his game-winning touchdown in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship. Now, Carr has more than enough pieces around him to have a successful season. If he doesn’t perform well, we’ll probably see the Raiders look for a new quarterback as they head to Las Vegas in 2020. NFC East: Eagles running backs Notable Additions: Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders Philadelphia struggled to find a groove at running back last year. The team never figured out a rotation that worked after Jay Ajayi tore his ACL in Week 5. Despite having an offensive line featuring Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson, the Eagles averaged just 3.9 yards per carry — 30th in the NFL. To fix the issue, they made a trade for Jordan Howard with the Chicago Bears and drafted Penn State running back Miles Sanders in the second round. Unlike his first two years in the league, Howard failed to reach 1,000 yards in 2018, but he’s still better than the running backs the Eagles had last year. Howard should be able to get up to speed rather quickly, too. Both his former coach (Matt Nagy) and his new one (Doug Pederson) worked under Andy Reid in Kansas City and run similar offensive schemes. Sanders is an athletic running back who can do a bit of everything. He can generate explosive plays on the ground and through the air — he chipped in 24 catches to go along with 1,274 rushing yards in 2018. Now that the Eagles have retooled their running backs, they have one of the most complete offenses in the NFL: an all-star offensive line, two studs at tight end, and a talented, diverse group of receivers. Their season hinges on Carson Wentz staying healthy, but this offense is poised for a playoff run. NFC South: Falcons offensive line Notable Additions: James Carpenter, Jamon Brown, Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary The only real hole the Falcons had on offense going into the season was their offensive line, and they were aggressive as hell to get it fixed. In free agency, they signed guards James Carpenter and Jamon Brown to multi-year deals. It looked like Carpenter was going to start at left guard and Brown was going to start a right guard until the NFL Draft changed things. Atlanta surprised everyone by picking Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom with the 14th pick in the draft. It made another splash by trading back into the first round to grab Washington offensive tackle Kaleb McGary. It’s unclear whether Brown or Carpenter will be a backup, but both rookies are projected to start. For what it’s worth, Brown has never played left guard during his time in the NFL. If Carpenter ends up in the starting lineup, that will give Atlanta five first-round picks along the offensive line. The Falcons found depth and long-term starters to protect franchise quarterback Matt Ryan, who probably won’t get sacked 42 times again like he did last season. Head coach Dan Quinn felt like they needed to improve their offensive line to get back into the playoffs after a year off. Now they have the players to be more consistent in the trenches. NFC North: Packers defensive line Notable Additions: Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, Rashan Gary The Packers needed to revitalize their defensive line. After releasing former first-round pick Nick Perry and losing Clay Matthews to free agency, they had holes to fill on the front line of their defense. The Packers already had two notable names returning to their defensive line — Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark — but their front office clearly felt like they needed a major infusion of talent. As a result, Green Bay gave out two big contracts on the defensive line, signing edge rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. The Packers didn't stop there. With the 12th pick in the draft, they made a bit of a surprise pick with Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary. He’s a raw player, but he’s ridiculously athletic. Gary ran a 4.58 40-yard dash despite weighing 277 pounds. Those three players give defensive coordinator Mike Pettine a ton of flexibility to get creative with his fronts. Pettine’s scheme heavily relies on man coverage — adding defenders who can defeat blocks will force more errant throws for Green Bay’s young secondary. In theory, that should create more turnover opportunities for the Packers’ defense, giving the ball back to Aaron Rodgers. Chaos in the backfield and turnovers can be what gets this defense, and this team, back to being playoff caliber. NFC West: 49ers defensive line Notable Additions: Nick Bosa, Dee Ford This offseason, San Francisco needed to upgrade its pass rush, which hasn’t finished better than 23rd in sack percentage in each of the last two seasons. DeForest Buckner has turned into a legitimate star at defensive tackle, but the 49ers have been lacking an edge rush since Jim Harbaugh was their head coach. They made two big moves to boost their defensive end spots for 2019 and beyond. First, they traded a 2020 second-round pick to the Chiefs for pass rusher Dee Ford — and immediately gave him a five-year deal. The next move was to take Ohio State defensive Nick Bosa, who very well might be the best player out of the 2019 NFL Draft, with the second overall pick. With Ford and Bosa joining Buckner, the 49ers finally have a defensive line capable of taking over games. The additions should also help them defend against Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray, the two mobile quarterbacks in their division. With a disruptive defensive line and Jimmy Garoppolo returning back from injury, the 49ers have a chance to put together their first winning season since 2013.
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That Blazers-Warriors series was drunk
What the hell did we just watch? The 2019 Western Conference Finals were a ruse. The back-to-back champion Warriors trailed by 17 points or more in three different games against the Portland Trail Blazers and won them all. Even without two All-Stars (Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins) for two of those games and an additional legendary bench player (Andre Iguodala) in the final one, Golden State figured it out. None of those games really looked in doubt, either. This was supposed to be a final tune-up before the Finals. What a farce. At times, it felt like Steve Kerr was making a mockery out of the Portland Trail Blazers. Damian Jones, who tore his pectoral muscle in December and missed the rest of the regular- and post-season until this series, started in Game 3. Jacob Evans, a rookie who averaged seven minutes per game in 30 games during the regular season, got run in the first half of Game 4. Three of the four games in this series were close on the scoreboard, but Golden State never seemed to notice until the final minutes. It was all inevitable anyway. On the Warriors’ journey to five consecutive trips to the Finals, this was themost bizarre stop. Golden State was depleted, yet in firm control. They were getting blown out, yet had no chance of losing. They played the alleged second-best team in the west, but hardly worried. The Blazers were thoroughly embarrassed, yet earned praise around the league for getting this far — and deserved it. This entire week was confounding. The Warriors are making us think in another stratosphere. Steph Curry averaged 37 points over the four games on 47 percent shooting, including 43 percent from three-point range, where he sunk 26-of-61 tries. He dished eight rebounds with seven assists, too. Those are scorched-Earth numbers. But he was hardly the story. Instead, Draymond Green reclaimed his leadership throne with so much talent missing, and ran the club to perfection. He was the talk of every game. Green was the speed-boost off every opponent-made shot, and the catalyst behind every comeback. He looked nothing like the lackadaisical version of himself we saw during the regular season. That minor rebrand pales in comparison to the even stranger one in which Green went from the guy who called KD a “b-tch” at the end of a close game to the guy who became the poster boy of apologies after cameras caught him telling Jordan Bell it was ok to miss an open dunk. Draymond talking to Jordan Bell is good stuff pic.twitter.com/F3AGvm3MFW— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) May 19, 2019 On Portland’s side, things were just as off, too. Damian Lillard, who was the early-round hero of the playoffs, disappeared in this series after separating a rib in Game 2. C.J. McCollum lost his touch, too. With the the co-stars misfiring, Portland survived thanks to [checks notes] Meyers Leonard, who set a career-high (for both his college and NBA career) with 25 points in the first half of Game 4. The guy who didn’t play despite being fully healthy in Game 1 finished with 30 points. Steph Curry vs. Meyers Leonard: the three-point shooting duel we were promised in the Western Conference Finals pic.twitter.com/t6TCRVdK6K— Fitz (@FitzGSN_) May 21, 2019 This entire four-game series was drunk. But the ludicrousness of the Warriors-Blazers series wasn’t complete without one final stunt. That came with a tie score in Game 4 and mere seconds on the clock in regulation. After rebounding his own missed layup attempt, Curry recovered the ball and then DOUBLE step-backed to the three-point line — just like the way he mimicked James Harden in jest earlier this season -— and was whistled for a travel. Steph still doesn't know how to do the James Harden stepback correctly pic.twitter.com/rpMfNjq2iy— gifdsports (@gifdsports) May 21, 2019 The best shooter of all time really messed around in crunch time and got busted. And the Warriors still won. Sayonara, Western Conference Finals. You’ll go down as a weird one.
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Athletics underdogs at Indians on Tuesday MLB odds
The Oakland Athletics continue their three-game series against the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night with the sportsbooks setting them as road underdogs. The Oakland Athletics are 4-0 over their last four games including a 6-4 win over the Cleveland Indians on Monday afternoon. The Athletics will try to pick up another win over the Indians as the two teams meet for their second game of a three-game series on Tuesday night. Oakland is a +128 road underdog on the MLB odds in Cleveland at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. In what should be a good pitcher’s duel, Chris Bassitt is set to square off against Trevor Bauer and the Indians who are going off at -138 at home. Oakland Athletics at Cleveland Indians When: Tuesday, May 21, 6:10 p.m. ET Where: Progressive Field, Cleveland, Ohio Betting Line / Total: Cleveland -138 / 7.5 Runs Athletics at Indians OddsShark Matchup Report Oakland Athletics Betting Notes The Athletics snapped a three-game losing streak with a road sweep over the Detroit Tigers going 3-0 against the Tigers while outscoring them 28 to six over that stretch. Oakland was up 5-3 in a fourth game against Detroit that was suspended in the middle of the seventh inning on Sunday. Nevertheless, Oakland carried the momentum from that series into the start of this one with a 6-4 win on Monday, jumping out to an early 3-0 lead and never looking back. Chris Bassitt has been sensational for the Athletics through his first five starts of the season boasting a 1.93 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP and 38 strikeouts through 32.2 innings pitched. Despite his impressive stats, the A’s are just 2-3 over his five starts. Cleveland Indians Betting Notes Cleveland also took advantage of a weak opponent over the weekend picking up three wins in a four-game series at home against the Baltimore Orioles. The Indians rank fifth in the majors in team ERA at 3.52, but an offense that ranks 23rd in runs scored with 179 and 26th in home runs with 46 has the Indians sitting behind Minnesota in the standings with a record of 25-21. After Monday’s loss, the Indians are 1-5 in their last six games against Oakland per the OddsShark MLB Database. Athletics at Indians Betting Total Tuesday night’s total is set at 7.5 runs. The UNDER is 13-5 in Oakland’s last 18 games against American League opponents. If Minnesota and Houston don’t falter over the next few months, Cleveland and Oakland could find themselves in the middle of a crowded AL Wild Card race. This series wraps up on Wednesday with Frankie Montas and Jefry Rodriguez scheduled to take the mound. For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.
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Bucks small favorites at Raptors on Game 4 odds
The Milwaukee Bucks can take a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals with a road win over the Toronto Raptors as small betting favorites on Tuesday. The Milwaukee Bucks are 10-2 straight up and against the spread so far this postseason. After losing for just the second time in these playoffs on Sunday, the Bucks will try to take back a commanding series lead on Tuesday with a victory over the Toronto Raptors in Game 4. Milwaukee is a 2-point road favorite on the NBA odds at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The Bucks had gone 3-0 SU and ATS in their previous three games against Toronto before Sunday’s overtime loss. Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors When: Tuesday, May 21, 8:30 p.m. ET Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, Ontario Betting Line: Milwaukee -2 / 216 Points Bucks at Raptors OddsShark Matchup Report Milwaukee Bucks Betting Notes Giannis Antetokounmpo had his worst game of the postseason in Game 3, turning the ball over eight times and shooting just 5-for-16 from the field and 2-for-7 from the free-throw line before fouling out with only 12 points on the night. Kris Middleton also had a terrible game going just 3-for-16 from the floor for nine points. Despite the ugly performances from the team’s top two offensive stars, the Bucks still managed to force two overtimes before eventually falling short in a 118-112 loss. The Bucks only lost back-to-back games one time this season. Milwaukee is 22-1 SU and 19-4 ATS in 23 games off a loss. Toronto Raptors Betting Notes Kawhi Leonard has been at the center of most of Toronto’s big wins this postseason and Sunday was no exception. Leonard scored 36 points and added nine rebounds and five assists in the win. Pascal Siakam also had a nice game with 25 points and 11 rebounds. Toronto’s defense looked more like its old self at home allowing only 96 points in regulation to one of the league’s most explosive offenses. The Raptors are 1-4 ATS in their last five home games against Milwaukee per the OddsShark NBA Database. Bucks at Raptors Betting Total Tuesday night’s total is set at 216 points. The UNDER is 11-5 in Toronto’s last 16 games. Game 4 has the chance to define the series. If Milwaukee shakes off its rough offensive night and picks up a win in Toronto, it’s difficult to see the Raptors getting past Game 5 in Milwaukee, much less stealing three straight games to win the series. But if Toronto wins this one, the Raptors will have planted a legitimate seed of doubt and transformed the series into a best-of-three. This should be a good one. For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.
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Did Magic do more to destroy the Lakers before or after he quit?
We have that and more in Tuesday’s NBA newsletter. Good news for Lakers fans who root for the laundry regardless of who wears it: Magic Johnson found a pile of dirty laundry for you, and he’s apparently going to air out all of it. He took time away from his busy schedule tweeting draft ESPN crawl sentences to go on ESPN’s First Take and accuse his successor Rob Pelinka of high treason. Magic told Stephen A. Smith and, well, the world that he left the Lakers because Pelinka was telling outsiders how little Magic actually worked as the president of basketball operations. Also, Magic bemoaned the fact that being president of basketball operations for the Lakers restricted his ability to go to the movies on Sunday nights. So ... it seems like Sports Chris Traeger had a point. Magic says Pelinka backstabbed him after they came into power with the Lakers together because Pelinka wanted Magic’s job, even though the legend told Rob that he’d only be around for three years and wanted to groom the junior partner in this exercise for the leader role. That third year would have been this season. It didn’t last. Magic also claims agents warned him about Pelinka when they took over the Lakers together; that just seems mean and par for the course, given that Pelinka was also an agent. It seems like NBA agents fight among each other a lot. One favor Magic may have done the Lakers fandom is expose some serious concerns in how the team is being run now with regards to interference from the business side of the franchise, where Jeanie Buss cut her teeth. Oh, by the way, the Lakers also introduced new head coach Frank Vogel on Monday. That Magic unloaded on Pelinka hour before that really changed the tenor of questions for Pelinka at Vogel’s press conference! (Pelinka denied it all and seemed legitimately hurt by being humiliated by Magic on live TV.) The Lakers really are exceptional. How many teams can miss the playoffs yet still take Ls in May? I’m impressed. Scores Warriors 119, Blazers 117 (OT)Golden State wins series 4-0 Schedule Bucks at Raptors, 8:30 ET, TNTMilwaukee leads series 2-1 Links Warriors vs. Blazers was a tremendously stupid, funny series. Golden State finished off a sweep on Monday despite trailing by 17 late in the third quarter. Portland actually led by at least 17 in each of the past three games and still got swept, despite the Warriors being without Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins for the entire series and being without Andre Iguodala in Game 4. That’s not encouraging, folks. But hey, Meyers Leonard dropped 30 in the series finale. Small victories. Kudos to a fantastic season for Portland, despite the deflating finish. The Warriors are so, so good. Here’s SB Nation’s 2019 NBA Draft Guide! Kawhi Leonard carried the Raptors on one leg. It’s doubtful he can keep doing that. On what to believe about what we saw from Damian Lillard this postseason. Serge Ibaka is leading the charge inside the Raptors to BELIEVE they can come back, because he’s done it before. Ramona Shelburne on the Lakers’ ownership crisis. Corbin Smith on how Portland treated the so-called Jail Blazers. Ooh, Dwight Powell turned down a $10 million player option. All this cap space has dollar signs in players’ eyes ... The Wizards did not succeed in poaching Tim Connelly from the Nuggets’ front office. Jonathan Tjarks that the Warriors’ original Big Three still has no rival. Chris Bosh talks to Alex Wong about Raptors fans, emotions in sports, and more. Be excellent to each other.
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Tactically Naive: What Europe’s year of repeat league champions means for elite men’s soccer
For Europe’s repeat champions, being the best at home may no longer be enough. Hello, and welcome to another edition of Tactically Naive, SB Nation’s weekly soccer column. This week we’re walking along at just the right angle so a giant pair of pigeon wings appear behind our shoulders. Inherited titles Meet the new champions! Same as the old champions! For the first time in history, the champions of European men’s football’s five Big Leagues have all retained their titles. Barcelona, Juventus, and Paris Saint-Germain picked theirs up a few weeks ago, Manchester City took care of business last weekend, and now Bayern Munich have rounded out the set. Congratulations to anybody who had money on all five. Enjoy your twelve euros. (The five Big Leagues are England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The trick to identifying a Big League is to ask yourself the question: does this league contain a club rich enough to pay Neymar’s wages and famous enough that Neymar would play there? If the answer is yes, that’s a Big League.) This being the end of the season, it’s natural to want to look back and consider things in the round. What does all this mean? Does all this mean anything? What does it mean, that we ask if it means something? And can we keep these questions going all the way to the start of the World Cup? If we’re looking for common themes, then we have to start by noting that the paths to the titles weren’t all quite the same. Barcelona, for example, were given a pretty light race by their usual antagonists, Real Madrid, who were busy having one of those seasons where they tear themselves to pieces. Over in France, PSG should have picked up the trophy in early April but decided to have a nervous meltdown with the finish line in sight. Fortunately, the combined powers of Kylian Mbappe and A Huge Pile Of Money, No, Even Bigger Than That One You’re Imagining saw them over the line. Meanwhile, Juventus were given a strong assist by the rest of Italy, which doesn’t contain a single sensible football club. This is a good thing for the tenor and mood of Italian football generally, as beautiful men in beautiful kits lurch from farce to crisis and back again, but it doesn’t make for great title races. (Between the predictable victors and the constant dribble of institutionally-ignored racism, Serie A is so hard to love these days.) City and Bayern, however, were pushed closer toward the brink: City by an almost-as-perfect Liverpool, and Bayern by Borussia Dortmund, who led the early stages of the season, but couldn’t match the relentless pace of the eventual champions. Since December, after they fixed their mini-crisis, Bayern have dropped a mere nine points. That’s pretty tough to keep up with, even if the race did go to the final round of fixtures. But while the details differ, perhaps the unifying theme is a kind of ambient sense of incompleteness. As highlighted by Gab Marcotti here, winning a title doesn’t quite have the same resonance as it used to: Allegri has left. Kovac could yet leave. And many would not have been shocked if Valverde and Tuchel had been asked to leave. That's four title winners from the Big 5 leagues. Kinda extraordinary. Game has changed.— Gabriele Marcotti (@Marcotti) May 20, 2019 It’s possible, of course, that Allegri just fancies a bit of a rest before the Manchester United job comes up again, but the other three have all underwhelmed in one way or another, even as they picked up their trophies. Their league titles, lest we forget. Their official certificates of being the best in the country. Shankly’s bread and butter. The spectre of Europe looms large here, particularly for Tuchel and Valverde, who both oversaw hilarious/humiliating implosions in the Champions League. That made two in a row for Valverde, who now stands accused of one of football’s most egregious crimes: wasting Lionel Messi. Kovac’s Bayern were knocked out by Liverpool in more straightforward fashion, but they were still gone before the last 16: that’s not very FC Hollywood. Nor too that strange beginning to the league season, with back-to-back losses against Hertha and Borussia Mönchengladbach. And Kovac suffers generally from being having been a bit of a left field appointment, at a bit of an odd moment, and taking to the job … fine. Maybe OK? Well enough. All words which leave plenty of space for: could be better. Obviously City won’t be moving Guardiola on any time soon, not after modelling the entire club around his particular needs. They have a scouting department that exists only to deliver Guardiola players for the present and the future. Every seat in the Etihad stadium is molded to perfectly fit his saintly buttocks. And at some point this summer, club officials will take Mikel Arteta aside for a quiet word, and he’ll return to public life entirely bald. He will not be taking questions. Yet even Guardiola has been musing this week that his City, this 100 point-getting domestic treble-winning juggernaut, “will be judged at the end on whether we win the Champions League.” He may only be speaking for himself, but that is telling enough: he, after all, knows his performance review targets better than anybody else. There is, perhaps, a delicate irony here. These are the clubs that have best weaponised their huge piles of money, and they’re obsessed with the one trophy that is most vulnerable to football’s occasional eruptions of weirdness. City survived their 3-2 Premier League loss to Crystal Palace because they had 37 other games and they knew that most of them wouldn’t be even slightly weird. But a few moments of explosive oddity against Tottenham, and the Champions League was gone. On the other hand, the attitude of the super-rich towards delicate, inconvenient ironies is to throw more money at them and see if there’s any way to make them go away. Plans to spend millions of euros on new players are already in motion; plans to render the Champions League a closed shop are being discussed, if not universally welcomed. And of course, it seems likely that all five teams will be favourites to retain their titles next year, no matter who’s in the dugout, nor how little their victories please anybody. Save us, Real Madrid, Liverpool. You’re our only … wait, no. That doesn’t sound right at all.
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Tom Brady doesn’t want you darn millennials busting your face bones for him
Life is all about balance. Tom Brady joined Twitter on April Fool’s Day and now, he’s learning about life on social media, and being confused in the process. I’ve seen this a lot lately in my replies. Is it a millennial thing to want your face broken? Very confused. https://t.co/ePbWTQSZDr— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) May 19, 2019 Tom Brady is your dad, and it’s kind of delightful. I legitimately love that a man who eats avocado ice cream as his desert is here trying to understand the strange and confusing ways of millennials. For the uninitiated, this is a classic case of “please notice me.” Someone saying something utterly ludicrous in the hopes of a celebrity sharing your tweet. By now most celebs are inoculated to twitter speak, but Tom is new to all this, after all. Just in case you want to to notice you I’ve formulated a foolproof list of “dos” and “do not dos,” when it comes to tweeting at Tom Brady. DO compliment him on his football ability. DO NOT ask him to remove your spleen with a bullet pass. DO tell him how the TB12 method changed your life for the better. DO NOT tell him how the TB12 method gave you dysentery. DO share anecdotes about your favorite movies with him DO NOT tell him how you want him to torture you like Jigsaw from the Saw movies and slowly watch you bleed out on a bathroom floor over a closed circuit television. DO tell him if you saw him on TV and he looked great. DO NOT tell him that you saw him in his living room with binoculars, and he looked great. It’s all about boundaries, and Tom isn’t ready to cross some of those and smash your face into a million pieces just so you can say “Tom Brady smashed my face into a million pieces with a football.” Telling him to smash the Jets into a million pieces is still acceptable and he would enjoy it.
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Will Addazio’s BC ever win more than 7 games a year?
If the Eagles do stray from the seven-win script in 2018, bet the under. Bill C’s annual preview series of every FBS team in college football continues. Catch up here! I spend a lot of time, both in this preview series and on Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody, setting bars for different types of FBS programs. That’s strangely difficult for Boston College. On one hand, it’s hard to create a winner in the Northeast. The talent isn’t as deep as in other areas of the country, as evidenced by both recruiting rankings — per the 247Sports Composite, the Eagles haven’t signed a top-50 class since 2011 — and by BC being neighbors with some of the worst G5 (UConn, UMass) and P5 (Rutgers) programs. Plus, the Eagles were doomed by randomness and stuck in the ACC’s hard division. Nobody but Clemson or Florida State has won the Atlantic Division since BC did it in 2007-08. (BC fans should be among the nation’s biggest pods advocates.) On the other hand, BC bowls damn near every year. The Eagles have only been home for the postseason three times in the last 20 seasons. While they stumbled in Frank Spaziani’s final two seasons as head coach, Steve Addazio quickly engineered a rebound. He’s been to five bowls in six years, and it took horrible close-games luck and countless QB injuries in 2015 to miss going 6-for-6. You’d like to see improvement, though. While Addazio has established a physical identity and beaten plenty of blue bloods (USC, Florida State, Miami), his Eagles are what they are. They have finished between 53rd and 73rd in all six of his seasons on the Heights. They have flashed higher ceilings, spending parts of early-2015 and early-2018 in the top 30, but they haven’t sustained it. Typically, in fans’ eyes, if you’re not rising, you’re falling. But BC home attendance has risen 25 percent since 2015’s odd stumble. It improved dramatically in 2017, with a home schedule that included Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, and FSU, but in 2018, without this trio, it improved even further. So to summarize: BC should expect bowls every year but should never even dream of a division title. The Eagles are stagnating on paper but rising in attendance. None of that makes sense, and it makes it awfully hard to evaluate how Addazio is actually performing. He quickly dragged BC out of the post-Spaziani muck, and his teams at least slightly punch above their recruiting weight class. But he hasn’t improved recruiting, and while he’s bowled nearly every season, he still hasn’t cleared the bar set by Tom O’Brien (7.6 wins per year) or Jeff Jagodzinski (20 wins in two seasons). Chances are, then, that we know what BC is going to end up doing this fall. S&P+ projects six wins and another ranking in Addazio’s typical range, after all. The nature of BC’s returning production, however, is intriguing. The Eagles bring back quarterback Anthony Brown and maybe the most intriguing skill corps they’ve had in quite a while, one that includes 250-pound, 1,100-yard rusher AJ Dillion and a couple of true home run hitters in receiver Kobay White and utility man Ben Glines. At the same time, they have to replace two star defensive ends (Zach Allen and Wyatt Ray combined for 26.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks), their leading tackler (linebacker Connor Strachan), and almost all of last year’s starting secondary. The offense is projected to improve, but the defense is projected to regress considerably. Over the last four seasons, BC has averaged a 103.3 ranking in Off. S&P+ and a 21.0 ranking on defense. Returning production suggests this could be the Eagles’ best offense in a while, and if the floor for the defense is high enough despite the turnover, this could be a top-40 team. At the same time, if the ceiling for the offense remains low and the defense collapses, this could be a barely-top-80 team. So maybe there’s some change coming, one way or the other? Nah. I’m just going to assume BC ends up with seven wins until proven otherwise. Offense BC might end up in about the same place every year, but last year’s journey to Same Old, Same Old was circuitous. The offense spent much of the season hinting at something far greater before succumbing to BC-ness. First 3 games (3-0): 52.7 points per game, 7.6 yards per play, 79 percent offensive percentile performance Next 6 games (4-2): 29.5 points per game, 4.9 yards per play, 34 percent offensive percentile performance Last 3 games (0-3): 16.3 points per game, 4.2 yards per play, 24 percent offensive percentile performance Granted, the schedule had a role there. The first two games were against UMass (124th in Def. S&P+) and FCS Holy Cross, while Clemson (third in Def. S&P+) showed up in the last three. But the percentile performance figures above are opponent-adjusted — there was still a clear downward shift. Both run and pass struggled. Dillon went from averaging 7.5 yards per carry in the first three games, to 4.5 in the middle six (in which he missed two games with an ankle injury), to 3.2 in the final three. Brown’s passer rating went from a Heisman-level 240.2 in those first three games to a miserable 109.2 the rest of the way. (He battled a hand injury late in the year, but the slide began long before.) Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports Anthony Brown BC ended up 114th in marginal efficiency and 27th in marginal explosiveness. Being so all-or-nothing, so reliant on big plays, makes you volatile and gives you a high ceiling, a low floor, and little consistency. In theory, continuity at quarterback could create a bit more consistency. Brown is a two-year starter, and even if much of his 2018 success came against the Holy Crosses of the world, he still improved as a sophomore. Brown loses tight end Tommy Sweeney and a particularly all-or-nothing target in Jeff Smith, but White had emerged as BC’s best all-around receiver by the end of the year, and in Glines and Travis Levy, he’s got a pair of security-blanket options, when they’re in the backfield in place of Dillon. BC needs a new explosiveness option with Smith gone, but there are some exciting candidates between sophomore tight end Hunter Long (four catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns), sophomore wideout Noah Jordan-Williams (three catches for 74), and Penn State tight end transfer Danny Dalton. Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports Kobay White BC had two different offenses: one when Dillon was in the game and one when he wasn’t. The Eagles were extremely predictable with the bruiser in the backfield. His rushing success rate was only 39 percent (Glines: 52 percent), and he was in no way a receiving threat (41 yards in 12 targets). If you couldn’t stop Dillon, you had no chance of beating the Eagles (he averaged 5.9 yards per carry in wins), but if you could (3.2 per carry in losses), BC was reluctant to go to Plan B. When forced to change the script in Dillon’s absence, the Eagles averaged more than 30 points per game. With quite a bit of turnover up front — those responsible for 41 of last year’s 60 line starts are gone, and Miami grad transfer Hayden Mahoney will likely be asked to star immediately — there’s no guarantee that Plan A will work even as well as it did last year. When coordinator Scot Loeffler was somewhat inexplicably hired away as Bowling Green’s head coach, it gave Addazio a chance to modernize a hair. He chose against it, instead hiring Mike Bajakian, Butch Jones’ former OC at Cincinnati and Tennessee who spent the last four years as a Tampa Bay Bucs position coach. Don’t expect much change. That’s unfortunate because some more early-down passing, and some more chances for Glines and Levy, could work wonders. Defense Addazio made an interesting change atop his defensive coaching staff this offseason: coordinator Jim Reid, a nearly 50-year coaching veteran, took a demotion to defensive ends coach, and linebackers coach Bill Sheridan, a former NFL coordinator for the Giants and Bucs, got promoted to DC in his second year in town. BC’s defense had regressed since former DC Don Brown left for Michigan — the Eagles were fifth in Def. S&P+ in his final season and were between 24th and 32nd in three seasons with Reid. Still, 32nd ain’t bad, and I’m assuming this move was at least in part because of Reid’s advancing age. Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports Max Richardson Sheridan has some turnover issues to deal with in his first year in charge, and while turnover in the secondary tends to have an especially direct impact on your Def. S&P+ rating, I’m almost as concerned about BC’s front. By the Eagles’ standards, they were mediocre against the run last year, ranking just 48th in Rushing S&P+. Reid only felt comfortable playing his starters — only four linemen had more than 11 tackles, and only one of those four (tackle Tanner Karafa) now returns. Regressing, then losing most of your contributors, makes for a scary double-dip situation. The linebacking corps could pick up some slack, even without Strachan. Sheridan has to hope so, anyway. Juniors Isaiah McDuffie, Max Richardson, and John Lamot all return, and Richardson was even more of a play-maker than Strachan. Plus, redshirt freshman Vinny DePalma looked fantastic in run defense in a three-game audition, and incoming freshman Shitta Sillah was maybe the jewel of the 2019 signing class. Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports Brandon Sebastian If the front seven can at least hold steady, that’ll give BC a chance to address the OTHER concern. BC usually boasts an excellent DB or two, but corner Hamp Cheevers, now a Tennessee Titan, was particularly strong. He and another departing cornerback, Taj-Amir Torres, combined for 10 interceptions and 18 breakups, and safeties Will Harris and Lukas Denis are gone as well. Sophomore cornerback Brandon Sebastian is back, at least, and there’s still a veteran presence at safety with senior Mehdi El Attrach and junior Mike Palmer. But with any injury, BC will be dipping pretty heavily into a large pool of true and redshirt freshmen. Again, the floor for the BC defense might be high enough that the drop-off is manageable. But there will probably be a drop-off. Special Teams Addazio has done himself no favors with special teams. The Eagles were ninth in Special Teams S&P+ in his first season but fell to 69th in 2014, 90th to 91st each year from 2015-17, and a dismal 118th in 2018. And that was with an excellent return man in Michael Walker, now gone. Punter Grant Carlson was 102nd in punt efficiency, and he’s the most proven of BC’s returning ST personnel. 2019 outlook 2019 Schedule & Projection Factors Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability 31-Aug Virginia Tech 30 -7.4 33% 7-Sep Richmond NR 24.8 92% 14-Sep Kansas 107 15.3 81% 21-Sep at Rutgers 108 10.5 73% 28-Sep Wake Forest 62 0.1 50% 5-Oct at Louisville 87 0.9 52% 19-Oct N.C. State 47 -3.1 43% 26-Oct at Clemson 3 -31.7 3% 2-Nov at Syracuse 56 -6.4 36% 9-Nov Florida State 28 -7.7 33% 23-Nov at Notre Dame 12 -20.9 11% 30-Nov at Pittsburgh 59 -5.6 37% Projected S&P+ Rk 72 Proj. Off. / Def. Rk 81 / 63 Projected wins 5.5 Five-Year S&P+ Rk 3.0 (62) 2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 63 2018 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 7 / 4.8 2018 TO Luck/Game +0.9 Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 53% (69%, 38%) 2018 Second-order wins (difference) 6.2 (0.8) S&P+ sees BC’s defense regressing more than its offense improves, and the Eagles are projected to slip from 63rd to 72nd overall, and from seven wins to closer to six. To believe something more ambitious, you have to believe that either the defense is slip-proof or that the offense has a much higher ceiling than it’s shown over the last four years. The order of operations is interesting, though. After a season-opening visit from Virginia Tech, BC is a projected favorite in each of its next five games ... and then an underdog in the last six. There are some relative tossups in there, but the odds of a fast start and tough finish are solid. (The Eagles are used to this: they started 7-2 last year, hosted GameDay, and then collapsed, after all.) Team preview stats All 2019 preview data to date.
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The Bills and Jaguars are becoming the NFL’s silliest (and best) rivals
Duval and Bills Mafia were born to battle each other. The Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars are two of the most miserable franchises in the NFL. The Jaguars are one of four teams with zero Super Bowl appearances and the only team that has fewer than four division titles. The Bills went to four straight Super Bowls and lost them all. Cheering for either one is bad for your health, but the two fanbases wear suffering like a badge of honor. So it’s kind of perfect that they’ve spent the last couple years antagonizing each other. There’s a bubbling rivalry between the Bills and Jaguars that’s equal parts sad and hilarious. In January 2018, the two teams met in the postseason. For the Jaguars, it was the first trip to the playoffs in 10 years. For the Bills, it was 18 — ending the longest drought any NFL team has had in over 30 years. One season later, both teams were back to losing. The Jaguars’ win in that playoff game wasn’t the start of the newfound conflict, but it did serve as a launching point for an underrated and petty feud — one that’s hopefully just getting started. How the Bills and Jaguars became pseudo-rivals On New Year’s Eve 2014, Doug Marrone opted out of his contract as head coach of the Bills. He did that after leading them to a 9-7 record in 2014 — Buffalo’s first winning season since 2004. The coaching carousel chews ‘em up and spits ‘em out in the NFL. But a coach choosing to ditch a team with no other job in place was pretty unprecedented. And Bills fans still hold a bit of a grudge. Some Bills fans loudly informing Doug Marrone that he sucks on his way through the tunnel.— Matthew Fairburn (@MatthewFairburn) November 25, 2018 Marrone didn’t walk right into another job like he probably thought he would when he opted out. He even expressed regret over the decision in 2017. He ended up spending two seasons as Jacksonville’s offensive line coach before taking over as head coach in 2017. In his first season leading the Jaguars, he helped the team eliminate his old team in the playoffs. With less than a minute left in that wild card matchup and the Jaguars leading 10-3, Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman needed a touchdown to send the game to overtime. Instead, one of his passes to the right sideline was tipped into the air and intercepted by Jacksonville’s trash-talking cornerback Jalen Ramsey. It turned out to be the first chapter of a saga of Ramsey annoying the Bills and their fans. Jalen Ramsey has beef with everyone, but especially Josh Allen Ramsey has a knack for pissing off damn near everyone. Since he was drafted by Jacksonville in 2016, he’s started beef with Steve Smith, A.J. Green, Tyreek Hill, and about half of the NFL’s starting quarterbacks. So it makes sense that he’s at the middle of the Bills-Jaguars friction. No player has been on the receiving end of more disparaging remarks from Ramsey than Bills quarterback Josh Allen. It started with a taunting tweet from Ramsey in May, but things really heated up in August 2018 — just a few months after Allen was drafted by the Bills — in an interview with GQ: I think [Buffalo Bills draft pick Josh] Allen is trash. I don’t care what nobody say. He’s trash. And it’s gonna show too. That’s a stupid draft pick to me. We play them this year, and I’m excited as hell. I hope he’s their starting quarterback. He played at Wyoming. Every time they played a big school—like, they played Iowa State, which is not a big school in my opinion because I went to Florida State, and he threw five interceptions, and they lost by a couple touchdowns or something like that.✞ He never beat a big school. If you look at his games against big schools, it was always hella interceptions, hella turnovers. It’s like: Yo, if you’re this good, why couldn’t you do better? He fits that mold, he’s a big, tall quarterback. Big arm, supposedly. I don’t see it, personally. That matchup with the Bills that Ramsey was “excited as hell” about didn’t go as he planned. Allen completed only eight of his 19 passes, but he threw one touchdown pass with no interceptions and racked up 99 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. It was enough for a 24-21 Bills victory. Ramsey had an interception just before halftime, but it was nullified by a penalty. That didn’t stop him from immediately calling multiple players on the Buffalo sideline “trash.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯#GoBills pic.twitter.com/2ZXB6sIkIu— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) November 25, 2018 Ramsey heard it from Buffalo fans in the fourth quarter. A 'RAMSEY SUCKS' chant has broken out at New Era Field.— Matthew Fairburn (@MatthewFairburn) November 25, 2018 And after the game, the Bills’ Twitter account was quick to shove Ramsey’s tweet from May in his face. This tweet didn’t age well. pic.twitter.com/4liA2qJU1n— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) November 25, 2018 While Ramsey congratulated Allen after the game, the beef started back up in February. In an autograph for a Bills fan, Allen wrote “Hey Ramsey, am I still trash?” Ramsey took to Twitter to clarify that, yep, he still thinks so. So the feud between the two lives on. Oh, we got fighting too Ramsey calling players on the Bills sideline trash wasn’t even close to the most contentious moment of the budding rivalry. In the third quarter of the November matchup, Jaguars receiver Donte Moncrief and Bills defensive back Levi Wallace wrestled over a ball in the end zone. It set off a shoving match that devolved into a full-blown melee. Fournette boxing pic.twitter.com/yBp1m9YFzl— MadeByTim (@MadeByTim) November 25, 2018 That’s a lot of bad blood for two teams that weren’t close to playoff contention in 2018. Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette and Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson were each ejected. Fournette got a one-game suspension for the altercation. The battle didn’t stop there, though. Insert “The Good Josh Allen” to the mix With the No. 7 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Jaguars drafted Josh Allen. A year prior, the Bills drafted Josh Allen with the No. 7 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. They have the same name, but the two couldn’t be more different. The Bills’ Allen wasn’t a particularly impressive quarterback at Wyoming, while the Jaguars’ Allen finished his career as a Kentucky pass rusher with 31.5 sacks and 42 tackles for loss. Buffalo drafted their quarterback for his huge potential, but the Jaguars got the one who was the better player in college. Josh Allen, the quarterback, finished his rookie year with 10 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. That gave Jaguars fans plenty of ammunition to poke fun at that Josh Allen when they got a Josh Allen of their own. They wasted no time referring to their new draft pick as “The Good Josh Allen.” They’re even selling t-shirts. NEW in the shop and in Duval...The Good Josh Allen. https://t.co/xAcxz0Wput pic.twitter.com/A2C60GPduu— DTWD Originals (@DTWDoriginals) April 26, 2019 There’s no buyer’s remorse for the Bills, though. Say anything bad about the quarterback and you’ll find out pretty quickly from Buffalo fans that they’re very optimistic about the second-year player. His tremendous rushing stats and horrible supporting cast gave Bills fans plenty of reason to feel like they have the good one. The Bills spent the 2019 offseason surrounding Allen with talent, including receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley, as well as a completely rebuilt offensive line. In most cases, two players with the same name probably wouldn’t be pitted against each other. But the identical draft position combined with these two fanbases means “The Good Josh Allen” debate will live for a long time. Duval and Bills Mafia are perfect enemies Bills fans dive through tables and throw dildos at the Patriots. Jaguars fans bellyflop into pools of mayonnaise and do things like send a rival player trash cans for insulting their quarterback. The two groups are cut from the same cloth, although Buffalo fans might take grudges a little more seriously than the Jaguars faithful. “On Twitter at least, Jaguars fans are legitimately annoying,” Buffalo Rumblings’ Matt Warren said. “We are capable of ignoring arrogant Patriots fans because, what are you going to say to them? Jaguars fans are different. Jacksonville hasn’t done anything recently, but all last offseason they were gloating like they won the Super Bowl and were set up for years of success. “There’s a difference in climate, in the length of the franchise history, and seemingly in the people that root for the teams. ... And, we think the Duval chant is obnoxious all on its own.” For Jaguars fans — a group without much historical success to cling to — just annoying another fanbase can be a way to have fun. “It seemed to really flair up when they hired Doug Marrone as an OL coach when he rightfully dumped them,” Big Cat Country’s Alfie Crow said. “Then when he got hired as the head coach, there wasn’t a Bills fan who didn’t give you their unsolicited opinion on Marrone. So it kind of went from there, culminating in dumping them out of the playoffs in their first playoff game in like 20 years. “I’m not sure why Bills fans hate Jaguars fans, I think we think it’s weird and funny that they get so mad.” And ultimately, that’s why the young rivalry is so fantastic. The Jaguars won a grand total of 22 games over a six-season span between 2011 and 2016. The Bills just snapped a playoff drought that dated back to Bill Clinton’s presidency. There aren’t a whole lot of fanbases that are more used to dealing with disappointment. And the two handle that pain in awfully similar ways. Both are self-deprecating and find a way to have fun even when their team doesn’t provide much of a reason. Both are ready to grab torches and pitchforks when they or their favorite team gets disrespected. The Jaguars and Bills aren’t even scheduled to face each other in 2019 — and you definitely shouldn’t count on a playoff meeting — but there’s no reason to believe this rivalry is going anywhere. Marrone is still the Jaguars’ coach, Jalen Ramsey isn’t going to stop talking, and the fanbases will keep being their combative selves. Duval vs. Bills Mafia is going to live on, one way or another — and we should all enjoy it.
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Kawhi Leonard carried the Raptors on one leg. He can’t do it again
Kawhi Leonard pulled a hamstring. Or tweaked his ankle. Or strained his quad. Or something. The nature of Leonard’s injury will likely be disclosed some time on Monday, but he absolutely suffered a left leg injury when he landed from a lay-up in the first quarter of Game 3 on Sunday. Watching Leonard limp up the floor was a scary moment for Toronto fans. He only played nine games last season after a quadriceps injury in the preceding playoffs. The immediate fear was the worst had happened: an aggravation of that injury, one that could sideline Toronto’s star when the Raptors needed him most. Kawhi Leonard plays through Game 3 after an apparent leg injury. Then you got gasol lookin PETTY af w/ that “hit” just now ‍♀️ https://t.co/3YF7ptOcAi— Samm (@samantha_hight) May 20, 2019 But Leonard never went to the locker room for his injury. Instead, he labored and powered through, playing 52 minutes for a team that faced at worst a sweep, at best, an 0-3 deficit no team has overcome in NBA playoff history. A sweep is now off the table. The Raptors will live at least to see a Game 5. That’s because Leonard scored 36 one-legged points, along with nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block. Nineteen of those points came in the fourth quarter and both overtimes, combined. It was the performance of a lifetime for Leonard, who had scored 31 points in both Game 1 and 2, only for his supporting cast to fall short on the road. #WeTheNorth @kawhileonard scores 19 of his 36 PTS in the 4th/OT's, guiding the @Raptors (1-2) to the double OT win in Game 3! #NBAPlayoffs Game 4: Tuesday (5/21), 8:30pm/et, TNT pic.twitter.com/MqBvc3QT8S— NBA (@NBA) May 20, 2019 It wasn’t just The Klaw show, either. Marc Gasol, who had been awful through the first two games, hit four threes for 16 points. Pascal Siakam, who was worse than Gasol entering Game 3, had 25 on 50-percent shooting. Norman Powell built on Game 2 with 19 points off the bench in Game 3. It wasn’t a perfect night for Toronto’s reserves, but they gave just enough to live to fight another day. This won’t be enough to survive in Game 4. Kyle Lowry only scored 11 points. Danny Green, Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka combined to shoot 4-of-29 from the field. Giannis Antetokounpo played with foul trouble and fouled out 36 seconds into the second overtime. Toronto won by eight, but if there was a tolerable way for the Bucks to lose, this was it. We don’t know if this will be a lingering injury for Leonard. He looked just fine when he scored eight points in the second overtime alone, but injuries have a way of setting overnight. The only thing that’s certain is it’ll take an even better performance in Game 4 if Toronto wants to extend this series. These games will be the difference between Leonard staying a Raptor and potentially leaving elsewhere when his free agency arrives on July 1. Leonard just put the Raptors on his back, with one leg, to get a win in Game 3. It’s time for the rest of the team to give their star some more help, or else they could watch him leave this summer — even if it’s on crutches.
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What do the Raptors say to the god of death? NOT TODAY
We have that and more in Monday’s NBA newsletter. These Raptors are many things, and one of them is certainly resilient. Toronto, down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals to the Bucks, went to double overtime on Sunday to claim victory and stay alive in the series. Toronto won 118-112 in front of the home crowd. This might still be a series. It was a wild affair, as double overtime games in the NBA typically are. This is a great summary from Sean Woodley of everything that went wrong for Toronto in the win, none of which matters after the final buzzer. There will certainly be some discussion of officiating issues with Kyle Lowry fouling out midway through the fourth quarter, Giannis fouling out in the second overtime on a tight little charge vs. block call, and Kawhi Leonard getting away with a double dribble on a critical, highlight reel play. In the end, it came down to Kawhi, who scored 36 points on one leg, playing through an injury suffered early. He has saved this team so many times. You just wonder how long this lasts ... Scores Bucks 112, Raptors 118 (2OT)Milwaukee leads series 2-1 Schedule Warriors at Blazers, 9 ET, ESPNGolden State leads series 3-0 Links Be sure to check out Paul Flannery’s Sunday Shootaround on how Giannis Antetokounmpo is taking over the NBA, one playoff game at a time. Portland can secure the right to a gentlemen’s sweep or they can end their season in a sweep for the second straight year (albeit with vastly different feelings). We’ll see. CSKA Moscow wins the Euroleague Final Four. Cory Higgins played a prominent role. How Giannis is impacting Greek culture and identity in Toronto and everywhere. Mike D’Antoni doesn’t have a new contract yet, but he wants to coach for three more years. Lisa Leslie on why she’s coaching in the BIG3. The reason the Warriors haven’t needed Kevin Durant to dominate is named Draymond Green. Draymond has never been this good ... or this quiet. President Malcolm Brogdon on his life’s mission, which has very little to do with being an awesome basketball player. Trajan Langdon will work under David Griffin in New Orleans. There are mumurs that Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland has a promise in the top 10, given to him by either the Lakers or Suns. Promise season! And finally: Kyle Korver gave a commencement address at Creighton, and quoted Allen Iverson. Heroic. Be excellent to each other.
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