Unless the NFL season gets completely wiped out, this should be the last monthly check-in post until next year. Even then I do have posts I want to get in before the election, and possibly after. That isn’t even to speak of the poll averages, where as promised, I made some substantial changes to the main landing page, though I’m no longer sure how measuring how prognosticators see each race is going to work. Right now, however, Steven Universe is the furthest thing from my mind, and under the circumstances I’m no longer sure if I’ll ever get back to it again. It hasn’t helped that I’ve gotten caught up in more pointless personal projects that won’t mean anything…
Even by my own recent low standards, I’m shocked by how little has changed since last month. I’m still working on the same project I’ve been working on the past two months, and none of the changes to the Poll Averages spreadsheet I hinted at last month came to fruition. I’d blame coronavirus but the reality is my lifestyle hasn’t changed much; indeed the bigger changes over the last month have been in the wider world, as the Black Lives Matter protests have faded from the news.
Beyond that, the major changes have been in what my plans are for future posts; at this point I’m likely to focus on how to fix what’s wrong with the country before ever getting back to Steven Universe, and I have an idea for a related post I might start working on this month but might not post until closer to the conventions, but who knows if I have the discipline for the amount of work that’s likely to require. I’ve added tabs for state-by-state presidential polls to the poll average spreadsheet and am likely to make significant changes to the main “landing” tab sometime in the next month to month-and-a-half as the general election season really gets going.
As I type this, I’ve just completed the second straight day where I ended up only being able to have one meal due to stores and restaurants being closed for curfew or even just as a precautionary measure, though in today’s case it didn’t help that there was a long line just to get into the local grocery store and I was trying to get there and back in the time it took laundry to finish. We had to stitch together whatever food we had on hand for me to have something resembling dinner.
To think, earlier this year I thought it would be the coronavirus forcing us to stock up on food.
I’ve spent the past month spending most of my free time on what I think is the same personal project I mentioned last month, which I knew going in was ambitious enough it could take an insanely long time to finish but am still plugging away at it. If the current situation continues to escalate, though, I may shift gears to look at what needs to be done to heal the country going forward. Otherwise it’s the same situation I described in last month’s post, and we’ll see how it evolves going forward.
I did make a few changes to the poll averages a while back, incorporating FiveThirtyEight’s updated pollster grades and introducing the Bias-Corrected Average, adjusting each poll by their FiveThirtyEight-measured mean-reverted bias before weighting and averaging them – this measure only applies to general election races between Democrats and Republicans. This provides an added dimension to my general-election presidential average and to other general-election averages going forward. Sometime this month I may also introduce a measure of how competitive the various prognosticators like Cook Political Report expect each race and presidential state to be, to add context to each race I end up having a page for, though I’m not likely to introduce averages for them until after the conventions.
You know, with the coronavirus pandemic threatening the NFL season, these could extend well into the fall this year?
Seems like what I have to say is something that’s been said a lot too: I had several ideas for posts percolating late in the month – maybe something about Justin Amash running a third party campaign, and I’d have liked to go back to Steven Universe last weekend, a month after it fully ended and a month before the launch of HBO Max – but I’ve been distracted by a complex personal project and obsession that’s not likely to lead to anything. Either of these ideas or more could come to fruition later in May, though, depending on how things develop.
As always, I’m considerably more active on Twitter, where I don’t have to sit down and face the pressure that comes with writing a full-fledged blog post. I also continue to update the poll averages (or, at this point, poll average) I introduced a while back.
I had a couple of different post ideas I was juggling and if I had stuck to one or the other I might have gotten either one in this month. It didn’t help that I got distracted after completing a key piece of one of those posts earlier tonight, or that the other one is that with the show ending this weekend I’m thinking of getting back to Steven Universe (again) but I’m kind of dreading it for a multitude of reasons. You should definitely expect either or both over the next week, but the whole freakout over coronavirus is starting to dash my hopes for my more lofty goals for the year.
For the record, the poll I launched last year seems to be fairly evenly split but “if you feel the need to” has the current plurality of votes, so I’m going to try to maintain my post-a-month record for the time being.
The nerds have taken over the political space over the last decade-plus as the tools that started to revolutionize sports over the previous decade have been brought to bear on politics with wild success. Every major election sees a mind-numbing amount of numerical and mathematical analysis focused on it, and poll averages, forecasts, and other numerical analysis tools abound. For many, poring over polls has become as much if not more of a pastime than following what the candidates themselves are doing.
Perhaps surprisingly, there is no one single “poll average”, and indeed there seem to be as many different poll averages as there are outlets collating the polls. The two most prominent, widely cited poll averages are the ones from RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight, and as the race for the Democratic presidential nomination has progressed I find that neither of them quite fit what I want from them. RealClearPolitics publishes a straight average of whatever polls they record and deem worthy, usually from the most prominent outlets, over whatever period they choose to average them over. The only quality control, if any, is in what polls are included; among the polls included, there is no attempt to control for sample size, methodology, or overall quality, and polls simply age out of the average once they get too old (however “too old” is defined) or the next poll from that pollster comes along.
FiveThirtyEight, on the other hand, weights its poll average based on those factors, but the details of their methodology aren’t public, and it also includes their own model’s assumptions about how the race should develop, meaning in the days immediately after a contest the “average” tries to predict how much of a “bump” candidates will get based on their performance, and states with little recent polling will have their “average” extrapolated from larger national trends. Such extrapolations don’t always incorporate mitigating factors or common sense; for example, the current FiveThirtyEight “average” of South Carolina has Mike Bloomberg in fourth place at 9.5%, despite him not actually being on the ballot there. The copious polling conducted in South Carolina that doesn’t include Bloomberg is merely interpreted as failing to catch whatever bump Bloomberg might have received. The result is so complex with so many mitigating factors that it’s hard to accurately call it a “poll average” at all; it’s more an attempt to capture the state of the race based on local and national trends and past history, and FiveThirtyEight themselves readily admit that it’s not really intended to be much more than the backbone of their election forecasts. It’s useful in its own way, but not really the best way of capturing what the polls are actually saying right now like what RealClearPolitics and most other media outlets try to do. But is there a middle ground between a straight average of the topline numbers and FiveThirtyEight’s complex model?
Last week saw two momentous developments in the history of American democracy. First, there was the widely expected official acquittal of Donald Trump in the ongoing impeachment trial, ensuring that November’s general election will likely be the only chance for Trump to be held to account for everything he’s done. What was not quite widely expected was what happened after the acquittal, which might have given some Republicans pause about it: Trump firing two of the people who testified against him in the House. It put into stark relief how the vote effectively sent the message that Trump can act with impunity, that no matter what terrible things he does – including the numerous things he’d already done, in public, but not been impeached for – the Republican Party will never hold him to account, even when his own defense counsel argues that the President can do anything in his power to get re-elected.
But what else were the Republicans going to do? Anyone voting to even hear witnesses and documents, a mainstay of any previous impeachment trial in American history, let alone to outright convict him, would be tarred as a Republican In Name Only and effectively blackballed from the party establishment; had the Republicans moved in larger numbers to shun and convict him, his supporters would have revolted, declaring that the GOP was doing the bidding of the “deep state” and demanding every last Republican who voted to convict be thrown out and replaced with a true believer actually willing to make America great again. The Trump movement, after all, put Republicans back in control of the White House and helped them retain the Senate in 2016, against the expectations of literally everyone in Washington (arguably even Trump himself) and despite the efforts of those within the party itself to avert it. As much distaste as those in power may have for it, the GOP owes its relevance and power to the Trump movement, and arguably need Trump and his supporters more than Trump needs the rest of the GOP. To attempt to cut their ties with Trump would more likely spell the end of the GOP than of the Trump movement.
All this happened against the backdrop of the Iowa caucuses, and while the mess of the vote count dominated the headlines, what seems clear at the moment is the presence of a virtual dead heat between Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg for the lead in the traditional state delegate count. While Buttigieg is becoming the favorite of the moderate wing of the party, able to tout his success in most of the counties that swung Iowa for Trump in 2016, and now seems likely to finish a strong second in today’s New Hampshire primary if not upset Sanders for the win, he still doesn’t quite have the level of across-the-board support to unify it, especially given his weakness with minorities, and the likes of Joe Biden and even Michael Bloomberg remain more popular nationally and have plenty of reason to stay in the race and try to battle him down the stretch; indeed Biden is probably still in better position than Buttigieg, even with the prospect of another disappointing finish in New Hampshire ahead (Bloomberg is weakened by his decision not to contest the early primaries and caucuses and effectively start his run on Super Tuesday, meaning he’s mostly pinning his hopes on a contested convention).
Realistically, Sanders is the only candidate that can truly be called the front-runner at the moment; FiveThirtyEight gives him a better than 50/50 shot at winning a majority of pledged delegates, and none of the other candidates even has a better chance of doing the same than that no one wins a majority of pledged delegates, likely leading to a contested convention that would fracture the Democratic Party and potentially doom the Democrats’ chances against Trump in November. It’s quite possible, nay likely, that Sanders takes New Hampshire and Nevada, winning two or even three of the four early contests, and finishes a strong second in South Carolina to Biden, which could give his campaign an air of inevitability – especially if Sen. Elizabeth Warren finishes no better than third in any of those states, trailing Sanders by significant margins in all of them and badly trailing him, Biden, and maybe even Buttigieg in the delegate count, decides she won’t be able to sufficiently rebound on Super Tuesday, and drops out and endorses Sanders, unifying the “progressive” wing of the party while the moderate camp remains very much fractured, much as Trump took advantage of a fractured Republican establishment in 2016. Even with Democratic primaries all allocating delegates proportionally without the winner-take-all contests Trump took advantage of on the Republican side, Democratic moderates are looking at the very real possibility that the best case for the party is that it nominates a self-proclaimed socialist who isn’t even normally a Democrat outside of his presidential campaigns, alienating the unaffiliated moderate voters that Democrats need to win and all but giving the election to Trump in its own way.
You know, like how Sanders would have tipped the 2016 election to Trump and Democrats needed to run the safe, moderate candidate in Hillary Clinton, and how Trump’s policies and rhetoric would alienate moderates, discredit the Republican Party, and allow Hillary to coast to victory.
Back in September, I created a post sizing up players’ chances to make the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 2010s and what it might mean for their Hall of Fame chances. With the last regular season of the decade in the books and the Super Bowl matchup set, I would expect the team to be named sometime in the next couple of weeks (assuming they’re doing it at all in the face of all the 100th Anniversary celebrations and not saving it for later in the summer and fall for the actual 100th Anniversary; last decade’s team was announced at the Pro Bowl), so it’s a good time to take one last look at the class and make final predictions for who’s likely to make the team in light of my previous post, and who might muscle their way in that I might not expect. Semicolons separate the first team from the second team, and names in italics are considered locks to me.
As the NFL playoffs continue this weekend, the league hopes to complete a new CBA and new television contracts by the end of the year, and there could be big changes on the horizon. As part of the CBA, the league wants to introduce a 17th game to the schedule, potentially accompanied by a second bye week, in hopes of carving out an additional package to sell to media or streaming companies. As it is there should be plenty of interest in the existing packages, with Disney hoping to get ABC back into the Super Bowl rotation, as well as the prospect of ending the conference-specific tie-ins of the Sunday afternoon packages.
In my view, the former is more likely than the latter. I’m not sure I’ve seen any actually solid reporting that the conference tie-ins would completely end, and even if they did it would depend on Fox’s willingness to give CBS (or whoever wins the other Sunday afternoon package) equal rights to the top Sunday afternoon games in exchange for a lower rights fee. If Fox isn’t up for that, CBS isn’t going to accept taking the dregs of the schedule left over after the other networks take their picks, as I said before the season when I looked at what a fully unconferenced schedule might look like, and would rather simply keep its AFC tie-in that ensures fans of teams in markets like Boston, Houston, and New York are tuning in to CBS in a majority of weeks, with expanded crossflexing allowing them to air more NFC games, perhaps with more flexibility in the balance of crossflexes. (The Titans may have benefitted from the Chiefs winning in the early slot Week 17 giving the Texans nothing to play for, a set of games that may have been scheduled the way they were in part because the NFL owed Fox a crossflexed CBS game and so didn’t want to overcomplicate things by giving CBS another Fox game to anchor their early slot, even if the Patriots could still have played early, or punish both networks by giving Fox an actually meaningful AFC game that would have diluted the audience for the NFC East race Fox wanted to focus on. While many of my commenters, which I even agree with, would solve this problem by playing all games in each conference at the same time Week 17 with each broadcast network getting two games from each, there’s no evidence that’s actually under consideration.)
If the league does dissolve the conference tie-ins on the Sunday afternoon packages, it will need to reinvent its playoff schedule – and this is an area where ABC entering the Super Bowl rotation in addition to the existing partners, as opposed to replacing one of them, could help the league (or hinder it, depending on your point of view), and something I suspect the league’s move this year to put the Sunday divisional games at the same start times as the conference championship games may be in preparation for. The NFL playoff schedule has historically been highly tied to the networks’ conference tie-ins, and while having NBC trade in the weakest wild-card game for a divisional-round game in the last contract has gone some distance to allow the league some flexibility in scheduling playoff games, nonetheless the need for CBS to air only AFC games and Fox only NFC games is an overriding consideration on the playoff schedule. NBC and ABC effectively need to air wild-card games in opposite conferences, and the conference NBC’s divisional game comes from is set before the season, alternating between the two conferences so CBS and Fox know whether they’re airing one or two divisional games. Finally, the conference championships – annually the most-watched programming of the year outside the Super Bowl – always air on the networks of each conference’s respective Sunday afternoon package, alternating between the 3 PM ET and 6:30 PM ET timeslots. Dissolving the conference tie-ins means eliminating the underlying reason for this structure, and NBC and ABC would love to get conference championship games in years they don’t have the Super Bowl.
What structure might replace it? Here’s how I, at least, would structure things to keep all of the league’s partners happy:
- The conference championship games go to two networks that are not airing the Super Bowl. The network airing neither a conference championship nor the Super Bowl gets two divisional-round games, one from each conference, to compensate, including the late Sunday divisional game with first pick of the available games, with the conference championship networks getting the other two. Among other things, this allows a network to know that they will have the late Sunday divisional game ahead of time and schedule lead-out programming accordingly (something Fox wasn’t able to do this year). (If the Super Bowl rotation remains at three networks, the Super Bowl network gets two divisional games but the network airing the early conference championship game gets the late Sunday spot and first pick of available games.)
- The network airing the early conference championship game gets the Sunday 4:30 ET wild-card game and first pick of games on the weekend. Thus, all four networks get an NFL playoff game as a lead-in to primetime programming. To compensate the early conference championship network for not actually having their Sunday late game in primetime, that network also gets second choice of divisional games and timeslots; if the top two picks go to the same conference, the two-divisionals network gets the worse of the two games from the remaining conference. (This does not apply if the Super Bowl rotation remains at three networks; in that case NBC may keep the Sunday late wild-card game on lockdown as a lead-in to the Golden Globes, unless they end up shut out. I don’t know how the league would handle it if one network gets completely shut out of the NFL.)
- To compensate the Super Bowl network for only airing one playoff game before the Super Bowl, that network gets second choice of games and time slots on Wild Card weekend with the opportunity to leapfrog the early conference championship network for the best game (but only on Saturday night), depending on stadium availability and time zones, as well as the league’s preference that each conference get a game wrapping up at least one round of the playoffs each year, and that each non-Super Bowl network air at least one game from each conference. In both cases I would expect the second-choice time slot to be on Saturday nights (except, potentially, for NBC, to avoid pissing off Lorne Michaels) once out-of-home data is fully baked into Nielsen numbers, but for divisional weekend especially the Sunday early slot may remain strong.
- If there is no clear distinction between the two remaining networks based on the above criteria (or maintaining a balance of games from each conference for the late conference championship network), the two-divisionals network gets the remaining choice of wild-card games, as they would likely still be doing worse in gross playoff ratings points compared to the conference championship networks. On the other hand, the late conference championship network hasn’t really gotten to “choose” anything, so they may get to pick ahead of the two-divisionals network under certain circumstances, especially if they’re stuck with the AFC championship game.
- In the event the league expands the playoffs to 14 teams, the additional wild-card games go to ESPN and whoever picks up the remaining, “new” package. If the league wishes to stick entirely to broadcast television, one game goes to ABC (assuming ABC and ESPN pick up separate regular-season packages) with the other going to the Super Bowl network except in years that’s ABC. In those cases, over the course of an eight-year contract the extra game would go to CBS one year and Fox the other, in recognition of their having to produce many more games in the regular season and having more ability to bring in a second broadcast team seamlessly.
- Over the course of an eight-year contract, each network gets each conference championship game in each timeslot once. As a result, the conference championships mostly stick with their current pattern of alteration, but “skip” a year at one point so that each network gets a conference championship in the same timeslot they did four years ago, but from the opposite conference. Alternately, each network’s timeslot varies from the first rotation to the second, though my inclination is that timeslot is more important. In total, the league will try to give each network ten playoff games from each conference over the life of the contract, though some imbalances may be inevitable.
- Optional: Exclusive rights to the NFL Draft go to the network furthest from the Super Bowl, so the network that just completed their second season without it.
Here’s one idea for how the rotation might look. I’m assuming once the Super Bowl rotation goes to four networks NBC would want all their Super Bowl years to fall in Winter Olympic years, as in 2018 and 2022 (if the changes to the schedule result in the Super Bowl overlapping with the Winter Olympics on a regular basis, at least NBC is stopping any other network from stealing their Olympic thunder). With Fox reportedly selling national Super Bowl ad space to Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg the day before the Iowa caucuses, I suspect the league would be accused of trying to tip the political scales if they gave Fox the Super Bowl in presidential election years on a regular basis, so I gave Fox the Super Bowl in the year after NBC, followed by CBS and finally ABC. For this first rotation, each network gets conference championship games in alternating years. “2D” refers to the two-divisional network, “SB” to the Super Bowl network, and the conference championship networks are referred to with the conference each network is slated to air followed by an “early” or “late” designation.
- 2023: 2D ABC, AFC early CBS, NFC late NBC, SB Fox
- 2024: 2D NBC, NFC early Fox, AFC late ABC, SB CBS
- 2025: 2D Fox, AFC early NBC, NFC late CBS, SB ABC
- 2026: 2D CBS, NFC early ABC, AFC late Fox, SB NBC
- 2027: 2D ABC, NFC early CBS, AFC late NBC, SB Fox
- 2028: 2D NBC, AFC early Fox, NFC late ABC, SB CBS
- 2029: 2D Fox, NFC early NBC, AFC late CBS, SB ABC
- 2030: 2D CBS, AFC early ABC, NFC late Fox, SB NBC
To help you understand how this works, here’s what the 2023 playoff schedule might look like under this system:
- Wild card: Saturday 4:30 PM ET NBC (or ABC), Saturday 8 PM ET Fox or ABC, Sunday 1 PM ET ABC or Fox (or NBC), Sunday 4:30 PM ET CBS
- Divisional: Saturday 4:30 PM ET ABC, Saturday 8 PM ET CBS or NBC, Sunday 3 PM ET NBC or CBS, Sunday 6:30 PM ET ABC
- Conference championships: AFC 3 PM ET CBS, NFC 6:30 PM ET NBC
- Super Bowl: 6:30 PM ET, Fox
- Optional: 2023 Draft on ABC and/or ESPN
Here’s an alternative where each network’s two-divisional year comes the year after the Super Bowl and “works their way up” to the Super Bowl the next time, with CBS and ABC switched.
- 2023: 2D NBC, AFC early CBS, NFC late ABC, SB Fox
- 2024: 2D Fox, NFC early NBC, AFC late CBS, SB ABC
- 2025: 2D ABC, AFC early Fox, NFC late NBC, SB CBS
- 2026: 2D CBS, NFC early ABC, AFC late Fox, SB NBC
- 2027: 2D NBC, NFC early CBS, AFC late ABC, SB Fox
- 2028: 2D Fox, AFC early NBC, NFC late CBS, SB ABC
- 2029: 2D ABC, NFC early Fox, AFC late NBC, SB CBS
- 2030: 2D CBS, AFC early ABC, NFC late Fox, SB NBC
One caveat: when it was first reported that NBC would give up a wild-card game for a divisional game in the current contract, it wasn’t entirely clear what would happen to the other three divisional games, and I kind of expected NBC to take two divisional games as a way of approaching as close to parity with CBS and Fox as possible without having a conference championship. Not only did that not happen, NBC doesn’t seem to have consistently if at all picked divisional games ahead of CBS or Fox, and the somewhat random timeslots and fixed conference alignments of NBC’s divisional games have made them seem something of an afterthought. So there’s no guarantee that the league is thinking in any way close to what I lay out here, and at the very least NBC may end up never getting multiple games in any round given how few games they produce and how relatively difficult it would be for them to bring in a second commentary and production team. Still, this seems to me to be the most logical course for the league to take if it takes away the underlying justification for the conference championships to be fixed to CBS and Fox as they currently are.
One last note with implications for all of this: although Disney is reportedly targeting a piece of one of the existing Sunday packages for ABC, my prediction for what happens in the new contract is that Monday Night Football returns to ABC, while ESPN picks up a (relative to the expanded schedule, at least) pared-back Thursday night schedule with exclusively teams coming off a bye and the late Thanksgiving game on ABC. Whatever new contract the league carves out with London/Saturday/special-occasion games goes to NFL Network in the short term while being earmarked for sale to a streaming outlet in the long term (I think the creation of an extra package is more about divorcing Thursday Night Football from NFL Network than actually selling such a scattershot package to one of the other networks). Relevant to the above discussion, I also think the return of MNF to broadcast could be bad news for NBC. Before the move to ESPN and Sundays becoming the league’s main primetime night, MNF routinely beat the Sunday afternoon packages, which have turned the tables and routinely beat SNF since then; shortly after ESPN took over Mondays, they started routinely threatening and beating the all-time cable audience records until the BCS/College Football Playoff moved to cable, something that never happened on Sundays.
I could see the league giving ABC more marquee games in the early part of the season than NBC, while late in the season, giving ABC limited flexible scheduling modeled off of what the league has done on Saturday of Week 16 the past two years while also giving ABC tentative games whose ratings performance depend on player healthiness and overall team performance as little as possible (i.e., Cowboys games). NBC would want the best game of the week at least a quarter of the time, as well as at least some early-season weeks where they have a better game than ABC (including at least some Cowboys games), but the worst-case scenario could result in flexible scheduling being NBC’s only advantage over ABC, in which case NBC could push for severely weakening the protection system, potentially with no protections at all for networks in singleheader weeks. If Sunday nights are weakened enough by a resurgent Monday night, that could provide all the more reason for NBC to pick up two divisional or wild-card games in certain years, just so NBC isn’t that much more obviously the “fourth network” where the league is concerned. As it is Disney picking up two packages and decoupling Sunday afternoon packages from conferences is likely to result in NBC paying less than any of the other networks outside of whatever extra package the league creates.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s selections are performed by a panel of 46 leading NFL media members including representatives of all 32 NFL teams, a representative of the Pro Football Writers of America, and 13 at-large writers.
The panel has selected a list of 15 finalists from the modern era, defined as playing all or part of their careers within the last 25 years. A player must have spent 5 years out of the league before they can be considered for induction into the Hall of Fame. Players that last played in the 2014 season will be eligible for induction in 2020.
During Super Bowl Weekend, the panel will meet and narrow down the list of modern-era finalists down to five. This year, those five will be part of a special centennial class of 20, including ten senior candidates to be inducted in a special Centennial Celebration to honor the NFL’s 100th birthday in September, and three contributors and two coaches, to be inducted with the modern-era candidates in August. The senior candidates, contributors, and coaches will be chosen by a special blue-ribbon panel later this month, and will be voted on as a group by the full Hall of Fame panel during Super Bowl weekend, for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
My prediction for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020 (modern-era candidates and coaches only) is:
Hall of Fame Game: Rams v. Steelers