One more plea for the newsletter: Sign up for it now and be the first to learn about the numbers behind the news. And, as always, if you see a significant digit in the wild, tweet it to me @WaltHickey. $921Many speculators use the Super Bowl as an opportunity to make a quick buck. In recent years, people who sold short tickets on secondary sites could profit from an average price fall of $921 in the two weeks prior to the delivery date to buyers. That did not happen this year, leading to substantial chaos on the secondary markets for tickets. [The Atlantic]$12 billionCounting all the booze, food, electronics and merchandise, the National Retail Federation estimates Americans spent more than $12 billion on the game. [The Week] You’re reading the special Super Bowl edition of Significant Digits, a daily digest of the telling numbers tucked inside the news. To receive this newsletter in your inbox, subscribe.4 cents per viewerWith an estimated cost of $4.5 million for a 30-second Super Bowl advertisement and more than 112 million people projected to watch the broadcast, advertisers with a 30-second spot paid about 4 cents per viewer — far more than the 2.5 cents per viewer that advertisers pay for a typical TV spot. [The Washington Post]$12Cost of a draft beer at University of Phoenix Stadium. Knowing that, I’m OK with Nate’s decision not to bring me along to the game. [SB Nation]37 completionsNew England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had a banner night (other than those two interceptions), completing 37 of 50 attempted passes and throwing for 328 yards, four touchdowns and the game’s MVP award. [The New York Times]44 percentOne of the most talked-about TV ads — besides the one in which Nationwide gamed out all the ways to accidentally kill a kid — was the one Budweiser used to distance itself from the namby-pamby world of craft beer and play up its roots as the crappy beer of the common man. This creative direction shouldn’t be shocking for a brewer that recently learned 44 percent of drinkers aged 21 to 27 have never tried Budweiser. [Business Insider]57.5 percentThe game effectively ended when the Seahawks — with a yard to go for a go-ahead touchdown — threw a pass that the Patriots intercepted. Many slightly-later-on-Sunday-evening quarterbacks second-guessed this play call, suggesting that a run would have been a safer option. During the regular season, 57.5 percent of rushing plays from the opponent’s 1-yard line resulted in a touchdown. [FiveThirtyEight]71 adsPerhaps you or someone you know was the person at the party who was there only to take in TV commercials. That’s cool: to each their own. NBC aired 71 unique national ads. [Business Insider]73-45Final score of the Puppy Bowl, the annual (sham) event aired by Animal Planet, which I really need to stop gambling on at this point. Cara, a Shih Tzu puppy, was named game MVP. Presumably many specialized vacuums were sold. [IGN]98 secondsRemember Ballghazi? As a person who dislikes the New England Patriots, I sure do. It turns out the attempts to reconstruct events are getting rather serious: Investigators are focusing on a 98-second window during which a worker took 24 game-day footballs into a restroom. Has this story gone on too long? Yes. Is the evidence conspiratorial and absurd? Of course. Is it funny, in a juvenile way, that grown adults are arguing over the size of balls? Probably. But is there a long offseason coming up? Damn right, and we’ll all need something to talk about. [NFL.com]
1994World Cup+9.5+37.8 2000Olympics+12.0+21.6 We’re on the ground in Rio covering the 2016 Summer Olympics. Check out all our coverage here.Despite trailing much of the first half, the U.S. men’s basketball team defeated Australia 98-88 on Wednesday, moving to 3-0 in Olympic pool play. Over those three games, the Americans have won by an average of 37 points, the third-best mark of any U.S. team through three games of a major international tournament1Including both the Olympics and FIBA world championships. since the Dream Team era began in 1992.The other two teams — the original ’92 wrecking squad and their ridiculously stacked 2012 heirs — dominated en route to Olympic gold. But if this year’s team ends up pulling the same trick, it might not be so much a testament to U.S. dominance as a signal that the rest of the world has gotten weaker in recent years after a long run of improvement.We can measure the progress of international competition over time using Team USA as a reference point. Since American Olympic and FIBA World Cup teams are made up entirely of NBA players (save for the U.S.’s 1998 FIBA Worlds squad, which featured zero stars due to that summer’s NBA lockout), we can estimate the total talent on those rosters using Box Plus/Minus (BPM).2Specifically, I built a multiyear projection model that estimates a player’s talent level in a given year using both the seasons leading up to and following the season in question, when available. Since these tournaments take place in the summer, I averaged a player’s talent estimate between the previous and next season; e.g., Michael Jordan’s rating for the 1992 Dream Team was an average of his 1992 and 1993 BPM talent ratings. In regular NBA competition, there’s a steady relationship between a team’s underlying talent, its per-game margin of victory and the strength of schedule it faced. Therefore, we can estimate the strength of Team USA’s opposition in international tournaments (such as the Olympics) by comparing its margin of victory to that which we’d expect based on the talent level of the U.S. roster. 2002World Cup+10.0+16.9 Team USA’s greatest basketball rosters (on paper) 1992Olympics+23.1+43.8 2010World Cup+9.4+24.6 2016Olympics+13.1— 2004Olympics+12.7+4.6 2014World Cup+11.4+33.0 1996Olympics+20.8+32.5 YEARTOURNAMENTROSTER TALENTPPG MARGIN 2008Olympics+19.0+27.9 No matter whether we look at the Olympics or the World Cup, the level of competition faced by the U.S. peaked with the surprise upsets of 2004 and 2006, and has been zooming back down ever since — even after controlling for changes in talent on America’s rosters. Yes, USA Basketball improved its team selections after its mid-2000s wake-up call, but the U.S. is also winning by wider margins than we’d expect from its talent improvements alone.And in many ways, the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will put this trend to the ultimate test. This year’s American roster is, according to BPM, the weakest U.S. Olympic squad since 2004, and the third-weakest since ’92. On the spectrum between America’s strongest Olympic teams (1992) and its weakest World Cup teams (2010), the 2016 version sits near the middle, but it also bears more resemblance to the average U.S. World Cup squad than the average Olympics entry. Without Steph Curry, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul (and so forth), this is just the kind of depleted roster that could have been poised to disappoint in years past.Instead, the U.S. is 3-0 — albeit shakily so after Wednesday’s unconvincing victory over the 11th-best team in the world. If the Americans can iron out the shooting woes of the Australia game and keep winning, it might mean this roster is better than the numbers thought. But it could also be further evidence that the U.S.’s competition is less of a threat than in years past. Based on multiyear Box Plus/Minus talent ratings, weighted by each player’s minutes played in the tournament.Source: Basketball-Reference.com, RealGM.com 2012Olympics+19.8+32.1 Unsurprisingly, the 1992 Dream Team was the most talented group the U.S. ever sent to a major international tournament. Weighting by each player’s minutes played — and putting aside the complicated relationship between projection and reality for superteams — that ’92 squad had +23.1 points per 100 possessions of BPM talent on its hands. (By comparison, the most talented NBA team ever, the 1995-96 Bulls, boasted a +10.8 mark; the 2015-16 Warriors were +8.5.) Against average NBA competition, we’d have expected them to win by a margin of 25.9 points per game, so the fact that they won by 43.8 instead implies they were playing competition about 17.8 points per game worse than the NBA average. (As another point of comparison, the Denver Nuggets were the NBA’s worst team during the 1991-92 season, and they were “only” 7.6 points per game worse than average after adjusting for schedule, earning a 24-58 record.) Yes, the Dream Team was really good, but the competition was also pretty weak.That wouldn’t stay the case for long. Although the U.S. won the 1994 World Championship by an average of 38 points per game despite fielding a far weaker roster than they’d sent to Barcelona in ’92, the landslide victory margins would quickly taper off. In 1996, the second iteration of the Dream Team carried an impressive +20.8 BPM talent rating (10 points/100 possessions better than any team in NBA history), yet it won by 32.5 points per game — only 9 more than would be expected vs. average NBA competition. In just four years, America’s international competition had begun closing the gap.The U.S. advantage would be steadily chipped away every few years, in concert with USA Basketball assembling its own squads of ever-decreasing talent. The two trends came to a head at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, when America was stunned with a bronze-medal finish. Despite its disappointing performance, that team wasn’t exactly barren — it starred the already legendary Tim Duncan, plus a still-in-his-prime Allen Iverson, the perpetually underrated Shawn Marion and Lamar Odom, and even young versions of budding superstars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. On the other hand, it also prominently featured Stephon Marbury, whose reputation for killing NBA teams might be overstated, but was definitely not at his best in Athens.American fans quickly attributed the loss to toxic chemistry and poor fit — a fair criticism, if you peruse this wacky roster — but it was also apparent the world had improved greatly since the Dream Team’s debut. According to the numbers, Team USA’s competition at the 2004 Olympics played to a level about 9.8 points per game better than NBA average. Even granting that our method is only a proxy (and should have some give built in to it to allow for things like badly constructed rosters and questionable coaching), that’s still a quantum leap forward for U.S. opponents, compared with Barcelona 12 years earlier.Athens was a high point for international parity, but it may also have been a bit of a mirage. In response to the debacle of 2004, the U.S. assembled a more talented roster for the 2006 FIBA Worlds, and although America was held to the bronze again, it did post an average scoring margin 15.8 points per game greater than in Athens. Two years later, the Redeem Team won gold with a +27.9 PPG margin; then America easily won the 2010 World Championship with the least talent the U.S. had sent to a major tournament in the post-’92 era. Tack on two more golds after that (at the 2012 Olympics and 2014 FIBA Worlds) with growing victory margins, and the U.S.’s international foes are trending in the wrong direction: 2006World Cup+15.4+20.4
Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose is officially back. After missing 17 months of basketball because of knee surgery, the superstar player returned to the court Saturday night. In the Bulls’ preseason opener, he scored 13 points in 20 minutes in an 82-76 win over the Indiana Pacers.Rose looked good in his return and appeared to be enjoying the moment. He exhibited his speed and quickness thoughout his 20 mins of play. He also had a breakaway jam in the third quarter.The former MVP, Rose did turn the ball over four times, but showed no hesitation while attacking the rim. He went to the basket as if he never was injured, even taking it to Pacers center Roy Hibbert at times.Back in April of 2012, Rose injured his left knee by tearing his ACL in the first game of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
9Paul | Redick | Crawford | Griffin | JordanLAC+0.21 8Curry | Livingston | Barnes | Thompson | GreenGSW+0.22 As you may have heard, the NBA’s most unstoppable units reside in the Bay Area, in the form of Golden State’s small-ball “Lineups of Death.” Assuming those lineups are intact for the Western Conference finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder will have an interesting matchup on their hands in a series being billed as a battle of big versus small. In contrast to the Warriors’ small-ball lineups, OKC’s two most common postseason units have contained the hulking frontcourt pairing of 6-foot-10 Serge Ibaka and 7-foot Steven Adams.When on the court together for the Warriors this season, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green scored the most points per offensive chance (1.26) of any five-man unit in the NBA,1Minimum 200 chances, averaged between offense and defense. allowed the 13th-fewest points (0.83), and had the best per-chance scoring margin (+0.43).And that’s only the deadliest variation of the Death Lineup. Golden State also owned five of the next 10 best lineups by per-chance point differential, all of which contained a variation of Curry, Green and either Thompson or Iguodala or both. Four of those additional lineups featured one of Golden State’s traditional centers, Andrew Bogut or Festus Ezeli, as the lone conventional big; the other was a small lineup that swaps out Iguodala for guard Shaun Livingston. 2Lowry | Ross | Patterson | DeRozan | ValanciunasTOR+0.37 11Curry | Thompson | Green | Rush | BogutGSW+0.21 With Curry injured for most of the first two rounds, those Lineups of Death haven’t spent much time fully assembled in the postseason. The Warriors’ most crucial three-man combos — Curry, Green and Thompson, and Curry, Green and Iguodala — have logged only 94 total minutes together in 10 playoff games thus far. (They still outscored opponents by 61 points in that limited playing time!) But after Curry returned for the closing two games of Golden State’s series against Portland, at least one of those trios was on the floor for 62 minutes — a total in line with the 27.7 minutes per game they spent on-court together during the regular season.All this is bad news for the Thunder because the Warriors have a history of going small to combat good teams with lumbering big men: According to the Lineup of Death’s origin story, the tactic was only fully realized last year when head coach Steve Kerr had an epiphany during the NBA Finals and moved Iguodala into the starting lineup. That’s when the record-setting Warriors really took off, first against Cleveland and then against the rest of the league. An inability to match up with the same strategy could end up being Oklahoma City’s undoing as well.But we shouldn’t assume the Thunder’s big lineup won’t be able to hold its own. During the regular season, only 19 five-man units2With a minimum of 20 chances, averaged between offense and defense. broke even against Warrior lineups containing both Curry and Green. OKC had two of them — No. 7 and No. 13 — and both were of the big variety that the team has been using extensively during the playoffs: Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Ibaka and Adams, with either Andre Roberson or Dion Waiters on the wing. So in the matchup of preferred lineups, the Thunder might not be quite as outgunned as it seems at first glance.Of course, there are a bunch of caveats to tack on here. We’re talking about only 60 to 70 chances of track record from the regular season, and lineup data is notoriously noisy anyway. Plus, even though the Thunder’s big lineup did stick with the Warriors, the Dubs swept the regular-season series anyway.But as an exercise in figuring out how a 31 percent underdog could fight those odds, things might begin with Oklahoma City’s ability to slow down Golden State’s Lineups of Death. And what extremely limited data we have right now suggests that they could fare better than most.Check out our latest NBA predictions. 3Curry | Thompson | Green | Iguodala | BogutGSW+0.34 Minimum 200 average chances between offense and defense.Source: NBA Player-Tracking Data 6Curry | Green | Livingston | Iguodala | EzeliGSW+0.27 1Curry | Thompson | Barnes | Iguodala | GreenGSW+0.43 LINEUPTEAMPTS/CHANCE DIFF 10Lin | Lamb | Kaminsky | Williams | HawesCHA+0.21 7Paul | Redick | Griffin | Stephenson | JordanLAC+0.22 5Curry | Thompson | Green | Iguodala | EzeliGSW+0.30 4Lin | Walker | Williams | Batum | JeffersonCHA+0.31 The NBA’s best regular-season lineups in 2015-16
OSU sophomore wide receiver Noah Brown (80) celebrates his first half touchdown with OSU fifth-year wide receiver Corey Smith (5) during the first game of the 2016 season against Bowling Green on Sept. 3 at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes won 77-10. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorFollowing Ohio State’s 77-10 victory over Bowling Green at Ohio Stadium on Saturday, coach Urban Meyer surpassed his ideal 250-250 rushing and passing yard game and was more than pleased when looking over the numbers for the first time at the postgame press conference. But before he made any judgments on the offense, he said he and his staff would go back to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and analyze the offensive production. During Monday’s media session, Meyer delivered his overall takeaways.“I think it was good, it wasn’t great,” Meyer said regarding the performance of the offense. “There were some disappointments.”Against the Falcons, the Buckeyes broke an 86-year-old program record with 776 total yards of offense, tied a team school record of seven touchdown passes in a single game, had nine players catch a pass and accumulated 11 touchdowns from six different players. Despite all that, Meyer revealed an opinion on his offense that didn’t reflect the final score.According to Meyer, the technique of the wideouts has to improve despite making “some very good plays.” He said sixth-year senior Corey Smith should be better than he played even though he’s still coming back from last season’s season-ending leg injury. Redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett echoed Meyer’s sentiment about the high standards the wide receivers need to play at for an even more efficient offense.“There was some times where we had some missed assignments out there, which we could’ve scored,” Barrett said. “I guess it was bad timing.”OSU’s offense accounted for six penalties for 40 yards, three of which came from redshirt junior right guard Billy Price. Redshirt senior center Pat Elflein was the only member of the offensive line that was named a champion on offense — a weekly honor from the coaching staff given to those who performed beyond expectations. Price, being the other returning starter on the unit known as “The Slobs” from a season ago, said that he and the rest of the offensive line have to fine-tune some fundamentals.“I think we’re going to be a little more calm,” Price said about OSU’s upcoming game versus Tulsa. “We all have things to improve on. Maybe we missed a route or a block, but those are some things that we can fix in the next couple of weeks and clean up.”Junior H-back Curtis Samuel and Barrett were obvious standouts to Meyer, who named them co-offensive players of the week. Other than the pick-six at the beginning of the game, Barrett played an almost flawless game throwing 21-for-31, 349 yards and six touchdowns through the air. However, a couple newcomers also stood above the rest on the receiving core.Redshirt freshman wide receiver K.J. Hill and redshirt sophomore wideout Terry McLaurin were named two of the five offensive champions against Bowling Green. Hill opened up the scoring for OSU with a 47-yard touchdown reception from Barrett, and McLaurin — who Meyer said will play more moving forward — had just one catch for 12 yards, but made an impact in the blocking game.Meyer and Co. are looking for more performances like Hill’s and McLaurin’s to become the normal on OSU’s offense.“We always try to critique ourselves and make sure we try to get better. So the positives, you kind of flip through those rather quickly, and look at the plays that need work on still,” Barrett said. “I think that’s how any team should look at it. Especially we had a good day, but there was still things we could improve on.”
The No. 16-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes (3-0) will close out their non-conference schedule this Saturday, Sept. 22, when they host the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Coach Urban Meyer discussed his team’s upcoming opponent and Big Ten conference woes during the Big Ten coaches weekly teleconference Tuesday. Blazing Downfield Through two games, UAB (0-2) has been anything but prolific on offense. The Blazers rank 110th of 124 teams nationally in points scored, and failed to find the end zone last weekend against South Carolina. Nonetheless, Meyer said UAB poses concerns for his defense, particularly in the passing game. “They just throw it down the field a lot,” Meyer said. The Buckeyes have struggled defending aerial attacks so far this season, allowing an average of more than 283 passing yards per game. “We’ve seen enough big plays for a season, yet alone just three games,” Meyer said. “And this team is willing to launch it down the field. That’s an issue.” Big Problem for the Big Ten? In recent years Big Ten teams have struggled to compete nationally, consistently losing high-profile non-conference games and struggling during bowl season. The trend has continued this season. Only three teams in the conference remain undefeated, and at No. 16, Ohio State is the conference’s highest ranked team in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll. Meyer said there is only one way for Big Ten teams to silence the criticism and prove that they are among the nation’s elite conferences. “There’s one answer, go win those non-conference games,” Meyer said. “It’s not because of a lack of players or lack of coaching, they just have to find a way to close the deal. And I think they will.” Meyer said he hasn’t had a chance to watch much Big Ten football yet this season, but believes that there is still plenty of talent in the conference. “It’s a long season,” Meyer said. “There are a lot of things that will happen. I think there are a lot of great football teams in the Big Ten conference and I’m sure they will start to surface here real soon.”
Ohio State improved to 10-0 Saturday with a convincing win against Illinois, 52-22. While the result shouldn’t shock anyone – Illinois is likely the worst team in the Big Ten – this is an OSU team that has struggled against the likes of Indiana and Purdue. But everything was clicking for the Scarlet-and-Gray on Saturday, and OSU is now just two wins away from a perfect season. More than just Miller Sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller will continue to receive Heisman hype, but it was a collective effort on the ground for the Buckeyes, who piled up 330 yards rushing against the Illini. Carlos Hyde has been a revelation this season. The junior running back rushed for 137 yards and three scores, while averaging 7.6 yards per carry. It’s fairly easy to move the chains when your running back averages nearly a first down, and thanks to Hyde, the Buckeyes had no problem doing so against Illinois. All told OSU converted 32 first downs, a team best for the season. Defenses have to respect Hyde, and they occasionally over-commit when it looks like the physical running back is about to tote the rock through the middle. When the defense does, Miller is able to keep the ball on read-option plays, and scamper toward the undefended outside for big gains. Hyde’s power complements Miller’s speed and elusiveness and the duo have become one of the nation’s most lethal combinations on the ground. It should be comforting for Buckeye fans to know that each has eligibility to return next season, though Hyde potentially could flirt with an early departure for the NFL. Meanwhile, redshirt sophomore running back Rod Smith is piecing together a respectable season in his own right. Smith was ranked by ESPN as the seventh best running back prospect in 2010 coming out of Paul Harding High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., but it’s taken some time for him to live up to that billing. After redshirting in 2010, Smith opened the 2011 season as a potential breakout star. Instead he struggled with ball security, and was eventually buried on the depth chart. This year, Smith has quietly emerged as a solid backup option, and the coaching staff seems intent on getting him more touches. Smith caught his first career touchdown reception against Illinois, a 51-yard strike off a wheel route. The play featured a formation that the Buckeyes used a lot on Saturday, lining both Hyde and Smith in the backfield on either side of Miller. “It’s a great look,” coach Urban Meyer said. “That has always been in the playbook, but we never had enough confidence. Now we do. I think it was a productive set and I think you’ll see more of that.” Looking past the bye week OSU is off with a bye next weekend, and will return to action on Nov. 17 against Wisconsin in the team’s final road test. Wisconsin was a preseason favorite to win the Big Ten, but has been an up-and-down team all season. They will likely be on the down turn against the Buckeyes, playing without starting freshman quarterback Joel Stave, who was injured for the season last weekend. Wisconsin is a run-first football team, and without its starting quarterback it will rely even more on its ground attack. This plays right into OSU’s strength – though the Silver Bullets have struggled against spread offenses, power-run teams haven’t fared well against the Buckeye’s defense. The most comparable opponent to Wisconsin is Michigan State, and OSU held its run game in check earlier this year. OSU will have to overcome one of the Big Ten’s most ruthless road environments in Camp Randall Stadium, but it fared well in a similar test at Penn State on Oct. 27. With an extra week to prepare, OSU will be favored to do the same at Wisconsin. Then there is The Game, the finale against Michigan. With a potentially perfect record on the line, in Meyer’s first game against the Wolverines, expect to see a fired-up ball club on Nov. 24 in Ohio Stadium. Both games will likely be close contests, and OSU could very well be facing its two most talented opponents in the coming weeks. But the bottom line is, with two games remaining, OSU is in a favorable position to complete a perfect season. Give an extra helmet sticker to … Sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier. Shazier led the team with 14 tackles, and he continues to assert himself as one of the team’s leaders on defense. Aside from Miller, there may not be a more valuable player on this team than Shazier. He has almost single-handedly legitimized the Buckeyes’ linebackers, which seemed to be the weak-link of the defense not too long ago. Because of a lack of depth and injuries, OSU features senior Zach Boren, a converted full back, next to Shazier at linebacker. Shazier has elevated his play the past three weeks, allowing Boren to settle within the defense. OSU’s defense as a whole has also looked improved the past three weeks, and that, by no means, is a coincidence.
The NFL’s divisional round playoff games this weekend are likely to range from close fought slugging matches between evenly matched teams, to complete and utter blowouts as some of the best and most overrated teams take to the field. Ravens at Broncos Saturday 4:30 p.m. Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will square off Saturday as the Ravens travel to Mile High Stadium in Denver. There’s a long list of statistics that point to the Ravens having no shot whatsoever in this game. The Broncos have won 11 straight games. Manning has won nine in a row against the Ravens, including playoff games. Last week Baltimore gave up almost 300 passing yards Indianapolis Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck who was without his offensive coordinator, and the Ravens gave up those numbers at home. The Ravens are operating on a short week of rest against a Broncos team that has been off since late December, and when these two teams met less than a month ago the Broncos won 34-17. All these factors combined with an aging team could spell disaster for Baltimore, but there is some hope. Manning has never won a playoff game when the temperature at kickoff time was below 40 degrees. His numbers in those games are very un-Manning like, a combined 64 for 120 for 612 yards with one touchdown, seven interceptions and a record of 0-3. That being said, he’s still Peyton Manning and he’s had all season to get used to playing in Denver. The Broncos will probably roll over the Ravens and make it look fairly easy. Broncos win by 12. Packers at 49ers Saturday 8 p.m. This game contains some of the more interesting storylines of the weekend: two starting quarterbacks with roots in the opposing team’s area, and the classic matchup between explosive offense and hard-nosed defense. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is from the northern California city of Chico and grew up rooting for the San Francisco 49ers. Conversely, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is from Milwaukee, Wis., and grew up rooting for the Packers. Now the two will go to war against their childhood teams for a shot at the NFC Championship. Green Bay’s offense, which finished the regular season ranked fifth in the league in points scored, will face a San Francisco defense that was second in points allowed. The Packers’ offensive output is even more impressive considering the injury problems they have faced throughout the season. They lost their top wide receiver, Greg Jennings, for half the season due to an abdominal tear, and starting running back Cedric Benson went down earlier in the year with a sprained left foot that required surgery. With Jennings back in the offense, Green Bay is even better than their top five rank would indicate. If the Packers can grab an early lead they will win this game easily. They have the fourth-most sacks in the league, and the 49ers allow the ninth-most sacks. If Kaepernick has to drop back a lot, the 49ers are in trouble. It’s also worth noting this is his first-ever NFL playoff game. However, if the 49ers can jump out in front early and let their elite running game and defense take over, then the Packers could struggle since their rushing defense is ranked in the bottom half of the league and allows an average of 118.5 yards a game. It’s either going to be a close 49ers win, or a solid Green Bay victory. I’m picking the upset and going with Rodgers’ experience and the Packers’ offense for this one. Green Bay wins by nine. Seahawks at Falcons Sunday 1:00 p.m. This will almost certainly be the most competitive and exciting game to watch as the high-scoring Atlanta Falcons take a shot at the stingy Seattle Seahawks defense. Atlanta’s sixth-ranked passing offense will be hard-pressed to duplicate their regular season success against the Seahawks sixth-ranked passing defense. The two big questions in this game are, will the Falcons be able to get their passing game going and can Atlanta contain the Seattle running game? Seattle has two of the league’s biggest and most physical cornerbacks in Richard Sherman (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) and Brandon Browner (6-foot-4, 221 pounds). They will be a handful for the Falcons’ top receivers Julio Jones (6-foot-3, 220 lbs) and Roddy White (6 feet, 211 lbs). Add in Seattle’s Pro Bowl free safety Earl Thomas, and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan could have his hands full trying to find open receivers. Atlanta will need to find a way to get the ball downfield and get a lead early or the Seahawks third ranked running attack will chew up the weak Falcons’ rushing defense. If Atlanta can get out to a big early lead it’ll likely handle Seattle with no problem and win comfortably. However, in a close game look for the Falcons’ defense to get worn down against the run and give up big yardage in a Seahawk win. I don’t think the big plays will be there for Atlanta this week so getting an early advantage will be difficult. Seahawks win by six. Texans at Patriots Sunday 4:30 p.m. This game can be summed up in one word. Yawn. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has had weeks to prepare for this game, and will throw wrinkles at Houston that they’ve likely never seen before. New England has the league’s best tight end in Rob Gronkowski back after he missed the Patriots blowout win against the Texans in Week 14. That game, which was in Houston, saw the Patriots embarrass the Texans and win by 28. While Houston will probably respond with some pride and lose by less than four touchdowns this time around, they simply don’t have much of a chance to win. The only way the Texans can even make it competitive is to control the ball and eat up clock by handing the ball off to running back Arian Foster a lot. If Foster has a huge game then there is a glimmer of hope for the Texans. However, it’s far more likely that Houston will be so far behind that Foster will not get a chance to have much of an impact on the game. Patriots win a snoozer by 14 or more.
Jordan Whiting could be playing for an Ohio State football team that won all 12 of its games last season, or playing for a Louisville team that upset Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Formerly an OSU linebacker, Whiting transferred to Louisville prior to the 2012 season. He was not eligible to play for the Cardinals last season, due to NCAA rules requiring players who transfer between Football Bowl Subdivision schools to sit out one year before playing for their new school. His career at Louisville, however, ended before it even began because of a failed drug test. “When I first got here, I was hanging out with a buddy of mine, and unfortunately, hanging out with him, not really thinking too clearly, I decided to take a few hits of marijuana,” Whiting told The Lantern in January. “I failed my first drug test of my college career.” This wasn’t the first time Whiting made a mistake that affected his college football career. On Dec. 23, 2010, Whiting received a one-game ban as one of six OSU football players suspended for receiving improper benefits from Eddie Rife, owner of Fine Line Ink tattoo parlor. Those violations, dubbed “Tattoo-Gate” by many, eventually resulted in the Buckeyes vacating the results of their 2010 season, being banned from postseason play in 2012 and losing nine scholarships over a three-year period. Whiting said his violation came as a result of accepting a discount on a tattoo and said he did not realize he was receiving a discount at the time. “It’s a learning experience and unfortunately some rules, even though we don’t necessarily agree with them, they still are rules,” Whiting said. Whiting said the hardest part of the situation was dealing with the criticism he and his suspended teammates received. “I learned that some people can be very cruel,” Whiting said. “A lot of the guys, not necessarily me, but some guys were getting death wishes via email. “None of those athletes, including myself, ever would bring harm to any other person out here,” Whiting added. Whiting has tattoos on both of his arms, his chest and his back, which he said “mean everything” to him. “My tattoos are all religion and family,” Whiting said. “I don’t have one tattoo that you could look at and be like, ‘What does that mean?’ or ‘Why would you get that tatted on you?’ or anything like that. “I love tattoos,” Whiting added. “I guess you could say it’s somewhat of an addiction.” Whiting remained with the Buckeyes in 2011 after serving his suspension but transferred to Louisville that spring. His three-year career at OSU consisted of one redshirt year and two playing seasons, but only one career tackle. Whiting said he became more mature as a result of his experience at OSU. “It was a growing pain that I had to go through,” Whiting said. “I think me being at Ohio State, it wasn’t for me to shine as an athlete, it was for me to grow up as a man.” By blowing his opportunity to play at Louisville with his failed drug test, Whiting said he disappointed himself and his family. “I made a bad decision, and unfortunately that bad decision did lead to me not being a part of the team anymore,” Whiting said. “I don’t blame them for that decision, I don’t blame anybody else but myself, but you live and you learn and you move on, and that’s the only thing you can do.” Whiting hasn’t given up on his football dreams quite yet. He said he is continuing to pursue a career in professional football. He told The Lantern earlier this month that he had not yet received interest from NFL teams leading up to the 2013 NFL draft. “I’m not ready to tell the game goodbye, and not under these circumstances,” Whiting said. “I’d rather tell the game goodbye under circumstances that I cannot control. Whether it be because I got hurt, or whether it be because I got cut from a team, or retirement … I can accept that, but I cannot accept telling the game goodbye off of my bad decisions. I feel like I have a lot to bring to a team.” OSU assistant coach Luke Fickell said it is critical for Whiting to take advantage of any opportunity he gets if he is going to make it at the next level. “He’s a guy that’s got some physical tools and ability, and you know, anybody that finds the right place and the right situation and at the right time has a chance to be successful,” Fickell said. “You have a chance and you get an opportunity, the window is slight and you got to take advantage of all those opportunities.” Etienne Sabino, who is pursuing his own NFL dreams and could be selected in the 2013 NFL Draft as an outside linebacker, played with Whiting at OSU from 2009-2011. He said Whiting “looked good in drills,” although Whiting did not get much chance to play. “He definitely had a lot of ability,” Sabino said. “He has a lot of potential, and I know he’s a strong kid so I wish him the best of luck.” Whiting said it would mean “the world” to him if he gets a chance to play in the NFL, but he is also working on other pursuits. He is enrolled to resume classes at OSU this summer and work toward completing his degree in marketing. He is also a founder of a marketing consulting company (J. Infinity LLC) and is writing a book, which he said is titled “A Developing Man.” Whiting said he also wants to start a foundation to benefit and mentor low-income children. Whiting said he “would never make the same mistake twice,” has learned from his mistakes and hopes young athletes can also learn from his story. “I’ve played over 17 years of football and I’ve been a part of five different organizations,” Whiting said. “I’ve earned 12 championship rings, 10 in high school, 2 in college. I’ve been to three BCS bowl games and I was one season away from what I would like to see as my blowout season. But one thing that prevented all that from happening was one bad decision. And that’s all it takes.”
Ohio State freshman midfielder Sage Darling receives a pass in the offensive zone against Rutgers on March 25. Credit: Courtesy of OSUThe Ohio State women’s lacrosse team (6-8) have not had the easiest path to get where it is at this point in the season, and it is not going to get any easier. The Buckeyes have three games remaining against three of the best teams in the country: No. 17 Northwestern, No. 1 Maryland and Johns Hopkins, who sits just outside the 20th spot in the Inside Lacrosse Poll.While OSU began to get its offense back on track against No. 6 Penn State — scoring 12 goals for the first time since March 7 — they will need to summon even more production in the remainder of their games. “I thought we had some good chemistry on the attack,” coach Alexis Venechanos said of the team’s loss to the Nittany Lions. “I thought we limited our turnovers in the midfield, and when you’re playing these conference games, those little details are going to matter.”Northwestern has, historically, been dominant against the Buckeyes, winning 13 of the 16 previous matchups, with OSU’s most recent win coming in a 2014 overtime game. Venechanos spent three years on the Wildcats’ staff (2004 to 2006) as an assistant, so it means a lot to her for them to be one of the big rivals in their conference. “It was a great learning experience. I learned a lot on the field and off the field,” Venechanos said. “(Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller) is a great competitor. She taught me how to compete, and I’m glad we have an opportunity to play them every year.”Hiller has led the Wildcats to seven NCAA championships, with last season being the first year that they had not reached at least the NCAA quarterfinals in 14 years. While Northwestern’s record at first glance is similar to the Buckeyes at 6-6, the Wildcats’ schedule has been stacked with great competition. The Buckeyes will still be without freshman midfielder Liza Hernandez, but they can still be capable of generating offense. Junior attacker Molly Wood and sophomore midfielder Baley Parrott have both stepped up to lead their team in scoring.“We’re working on ourselves right now,” Wood said. “We’re working on the little things, the fundamentals and to see those getting better is huge for our team.”OSU will be looking to continue its development as the season winds down, but Venechanos said they are most excited for the present. “We’ve challenged our players to get a little bit better from the previous week, the previous day and even in the drill we are doing — let’s get better this time,” Venechanos said. “We’re moving some people around, they’re stepping up.”The game is set for a 7 p.m. start time on Thursday, in what will be OSU’s first game of the season at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.