Damn, We Wish We’d Written These 17 Stories

Long ago, Bloomberg News started publishing a “Jealousy List” at the end of the year — the stories Bloomberg staffers wish they had published. It’s an idea so good it made us — what’s that word? — envious.

So we decided imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Here are the stories other folks published in 2019 that made the FiveThirtyEight staff turn a bit green.


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“Quiz: Let Us Predict Whether You’re a Democrat or a Republican”

By Sahil Chinoy, The New York Times

Chinoy’s visual and interactive exploration of the characteristics that can predict someone’s political party affiliation is not only engaging and visually striking, but also insightful about the factors driving divisions in American politics. Users can answer yes-or-no questions about themselves to see how strongly these characteristics change their predicted party affiliation, then explore how the country as a whole answered the same questions. This approach visualizes how identity-driven politics have widened our political divides.

— Ryan Best, visual journalist

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“How Unpredictable Is Your Subway Commute? We’ll Show You”

By Josh Katz and Kevin Quealy, The New York Times

One thing we at FiveThirtyEight love to think about — and sometimes struggle to do — is how to show uncertainty in our data. This subway variability calculator is fun to play with, but it also does a great job showing how and why the variability of an estimate (in this case, your commute time) matters.

— Laura Bronner, quantitative editor

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“The Plague Years: How the rise of right-wing nationalism is jeopardizing the world’s health”

By Maryn McKenna, The New Republic

This piece tying together politics and public health is a masterful exploration of how nationalist movements, suspicion of expertise, and anti-immigrant fervor can impact things like vaccination campaigns and efforts to stop ebola outbreaks.

— Maggie Koerth, senior science writer

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“Pedro Martinez Pitched the Greatest Season Ever. Then He Did It Again.”

By Foolish Baseball

One of my favorite baseball storytellers of the year is a YouTuber who goes by Foolish Baseball. In 2019 he began to regularly post videos about a bunch of different sabermetric topics: Larry Walker’s Hall of Fame case, the theory that Ichiro could hit home runs if he wanted to, Albert Pujols’s incredible slowness and Juan Soto’s ridiculous early-career numbers. But I think my favorite might be this one, about Pedro Martínez’s 1999 and 2000 seasons, which each might be the best in MLB history. It’s been fun to watch someone merge data and analysis with the medium of YouTube, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does — in his distinctive 8-bit style — in 2020.

— Neil Paine, senior sportswriter

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“Journey to power: The history of black voters, 1976 to 2020”

By Steve Kornacki, NBC News

With a little over a month to go before the Iowa caucuses and the primary race still very much in flux, here’s an important stat to keep in mind: Since 1992, no Democratic candidate has won the presidential nomination without also winning a majority of the black vote. In July, Steve Kornacki and NBC News dug deep into the archives to assemble the first publicly available data set of how black Americans have voted in each of the nine competitive national Democratic campaigns since 1976, and as you can read for yourself in the 10-part series, the importance of African Americans in the Democratic primary cannot be overestimated. In 2016, black voters made up nearly a quarter of the Democratic primary electorate and they could make up an even larger percentage in 2020, so chances are they’ll be crucial once again in deciding the party’s nominee.

— Sarah Frostenson, politics editor

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“The Border Between Red and Blue America”

By Robert Gebeloff, The New York Times

Urban vs. suburban vs. rural has become one of the most important divides in politics, yet it’s surprisingly hard to measure a place’s density. Robert Gebeloff at the New York Times’ The Upshot made a big contribution to this in October by assigning individual census tracts a neighborhood density score from 1 to 10. It’s a great complement to CityLab’s Congressional Density Index from 2018 — less comprehensive, but more granular.

— Nathaniel Rakich, elections analyst

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Black Voters to Black Candidates: Representation Is Not Enough”

By Astead W. Herndon, The New York Times

This is not a data story. But it clearly showed a knowledge of the data on black voting patterns. And it showed a real depth in writing about black voters (note that Herndon refers to Biden being supported by more moderate and older black people, not just black people) and racial issues (he captured why being black was not enough to voters who were looking for more).

— Perry Bacon Jr., senior politics writer

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“Where Boeing’s 737 Max Planes Go When They’re Grounded”

By Dean Halford, Lauren Leatherby, David Ingold and Justin Bachman, Bloomberg

The Bloomberg Graphics team used sharp visual animation to show where all Boeing 737 Max jets across the United States went after they were grounded back in March. This piece also offers insight into how airlines dealt with the grounding of these jets, which Boeing will stop producing in January.

— Ryan Best, visual journalist

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“Trump relies on acting Cabinet officials more than most presidents. It’s not an accident.”

By Philip Bump, The Washington Post

We’ve written a few times about how President Trump has had more Cabinet turnover than any modern president — and in so doing, I noticed that Trump has had an awful lot of “acting” Cabinet members. But before I could do the historical research to write about it, Philip Bump of The Washington Post had already done so. As of April, Trump was employing acting Cabinet members at a much faster rate than any of his recent predecessors.

— Nathaniel Rakich, elections analyst

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“108 Women’s World Cup Players on Their Jobs, Money and Sacrificing Everything”

By Allison McCann, The New York Times

The Women’s World Cup happened last summer and the U.S. Women’s National Team dominated, breaking all kinds of records. Near the start of the tournament, former FiveThirtyEighter Allison McCann had this piece in The New York Times that made me very jealous. The Times had sent a survey to the teams participating in this year’s World Cup and had given players cameras to document their lives. The end product was wonderful and poignant.

— Meena Ganesan, social editor

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“A tactical breakdown of the Democratic Presidential candidate soccer team”

By Kim McCauley, SBNation

Back in early October, this tweet took over soccer Twitter for half a day:

We couldn’t stop thinking about Elizabeth Warren as a striker, Joe Biden as a fullback or how this particular field fits in a 4-3-3 formation. This is the kind of debate FiveThirtyEight should be a part of, in my humble opinion, which is why I was so jealous when Kim McCauley was able to jump on this topic so quickly and publish a breakdown of the formation and how each candidate would perform in his/her position. It was perfect.

— Tony Chow, video producer

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“How New York’s Elite Public Schools Lost Their Black and Hispanic Students”

By Eliza Shapiro and K.K. Rebecca Lai, The New York Times

This deep dive into the changing racial composition in New York’s specialized public high schools is fascinating and thorough; one thing that struck me in particular is how well it contextualizes the changes in specialized schools by comparing them to the share of all students in the city’s school system.

— Laura Bronner, quantitative editorarrow-4

“A Nobel-Winning Economist Goes to Burning Man”

By Emily Badger, The New York Times

What’s not to love about this playful story from Emily Badger of The New York Times, which explores the challenges and opportunities of urban planning in the developing world through the eyes of Paul Romer, an economist looking for lessons in the “instant city” that emerges every year at the famous festival in the Nevada desert? It’s a fresh and compelling exploration of a knotty (and nerdy) policy topic — something that’s certainly not easy to pull off.

— Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, politics writer

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“Yes, the baseball is different — again. An astrophysicist examines this year’s baseballs and breaks down the changes”

By Meredith Wills, The Athletic

Astrophysicist and baseball enthusiast Meredith Wills deconstructed baseballs down to their cores to try to understand what role the ball was playing in the game’s home run surge. What she found was something of a smoking gun: The ball is much different, from the smoothness of the leather to the length of material used in seams.

— Travis Sawchik, sportswriter

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How the New Primary Calendar Changes the Contest for Democrats”

By Nate Cohn, The New York Times

I wish I’d written this piece because it synthesizes some points I’ve made in a couple articles so far this year, such as how representative the Super Tuesday states are of the Democratic primary electorate as a whole. It also digs into the shifts in the delegate calendar compared to 2016 and has some nice charts!

— Geoffrey Skelley, elections analyst

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“Methane Is a Vast, Invisible Climate Menace. We Made It Visible.”

By Jonah M. Kessel and Hiroko Tabuchi

I love this recent New York Times story that used a specialized camera to spot otherwise-invisible methane leaks at oil refineries. Such a cool use of technology in the service of exposing a hidden side of the climate problem.

— Maggie Koerth, senior science writer

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“The Great Flood of 2019: A Complete Picture of a Slow-Motion Disaster”

By Sarah Almukhtar, Blacki Migliozzi, John Schwartz and Josh Williams, The New York Times

I’m not just jealous of this composite look at flooding in the U.S. in 2019 because of its blend of mapping, reporting and imagery, though all that compellingly reveals the scope of an environmental disaster that, since it takes place in many locations at different times, might otherwise be difficult to demonstrate. I’m also jealous of the sheer ambition and amount of work that must have gone into it — to take on a complex issue and find the best possible way to show a full picture of it regardless of the challenge is what great visual journalism should aspire to be.

— Ella Koeze, visual journalist

What The Final Week Of The NFL Season Tells Us About The Playoffs

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): The NFL’s regular season finally came to a close on Sunday, with the playoff spots filled and the on-their-way-out coaches ready to be fired. But before we jump fully into the postseason, let’s talk about the games that mattered in Week 17.

The AFC had more drama for its last playoff spot, but in the end, the best team (by FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings) made it. The Tennessee Titans beat the Deshaun Watson-less Texans and grabbed that No. 6 seed. Were you guys surprised by how that all played out?

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): I was SO hoping the Raider parlay would work out.

It was in decent shape for a while, thanks to the Ravens’ backups.

Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): The Raiders making the playoffs was like the old gambling tickets when you had to go 10-for-10 to win $100.

joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): Ryan Tannehill led the league in a metric near and dear to my heart, completion percentage over expected (CPOE), so I’m thrilled and also unsurprised. There’s also no way he continues this performance much longer. Such an outlier year for him.

neil: Josh, who are you taking right now: Tannehill or Tom Brady? The battle of track record vs. recency!

joshua.hermsmeyer: WHEW, give me Brady.

Salfino: The Texans weren’t competing, so I would have been shocked if Tennessee had lost. The Titans are suddenly a very fun team with two of the most explosive offensive players in football: rushing champ Derrick Henry and, in my mind, the best offensive rookie in football, A.J. Brown, who had the most catches of 50-plus yards for a rookie WR since Randy Moss.

sara.ziegler: Can the Titans beat New England, though?

neil: Certainly the more pertinent real-world question, haha.

The Pats had the best QB Elo defense in the league this year; Tennessee was 22nd. But this has to be one of the few playoff games ever where Brady went in with an inferior QB rating beforehand.

(Especially since the opposing QB is Tannehill — not, like, Peyton Manning.)

Salfino: The danger lurking for Tannehill is that sack rate: 9.8 percent after Sunday (over 10 percent prior). That’s tied for the 30th worst this century, adjusting for league rate.

neil: And the New England D had the sixth-best sack rate of any team this season.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I do think that Tennessee is not a great team for New England to have to play after just losing to the Dolphins and dropping out of a first-round bye for the first time since 2009. The Titans have had the second-best offense in the league since Week 7, when Tannehill took over starting duties.

sara.ziegler: Seems less than ideal.

And that Miami game wasn’t just some fluke result — the Dolphins were the better team.

neil: It’s particularly disturbing for Patriots fans that they lost at home, in a Week 17 game where they weren’t resting starters. Vegas had that game at Pats -17, and it ended up being the biggest upset of the season.

Salfino: Miami could not get its offense going until the fourth quarter, and then Ryan Fitzpatrick somehow beat the Patriots’ defense with a touchdown drive that actually seemed kind of easy. Not going for a score at the end of the first half says a lot about how the team views its offense now.

neil: And getting quick end-of-half scores has always kinda been the Pats’ thing.

(Well, one of their things.)

Salfino: Dolphins receiver Devante Parker just slaughtered putative Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. That was the story of the game, defensively, for New England.

I wonder how much of this was Fitz just not caring about throwing at Gilmore, as most QBs are seemingly afraid to. I don’t really believe in the shutdown corner — they’re a very rare breed. There have only been two in the last 25 years, IMO: Deion Sanders and Darrelle Revis.

sara.ziegler: I enjoyed the shots of Chiefs fans hearing the final score from the New England game — when they knew they would get the No. 2 slot. And that game was touch-and-go for a while, too!

joshua.hermsmeyer: Kevin Harlan called two games at once!

sara.ziegler: LOLOL

Salfino: The Chiefs are peaking at the right time, if that’s a thing. For New England, Bill Belichick historically has ramped things up in December as a way to build postseason momentum. If that’s a model for playoff success, the Chiefs are right there with the Ravens. Their defense has suddenly emerged as a real force. But maybe it’s just a function of facing worse offenses. It seems weird that a team could transform itself so much — within a season — on one side of the ball.

neil: To that point about peaking, we have them as the second-most-likely Super Bowl winner now, at 14 percent.

(Of course, Baltimore at 46 percent remains just a massive favorite, probably more than anyone is giving them credit for.)

joshua.hermsmeyer: What were the Patriots’ chances to win the SB prior to losing to Miami, Neil?

neil: 10 percent. Now just 3 percent.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Amazing.

Salfino: Baltimore has 12 Pro Bowlers and just took out the Steelers with their backups. So I buy that 46 percent. I would not want to see the Chiefs, though, if I were the Ravens.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think Elo has it right. Kansas City is going to be a lot to handle. And the Chiefs beat the mighty Ravens back in Week 3.

sara.ziegler: I’m so excited for that matchup. (If it happens.)

neil: K.C. also played a pretty difficult schedule this year. Second-hardest in terms of average opposing Elo (adjusted for location). Only team whose slate was tougher? Houston.

Salfino: Does Elo think the Chiefs’ defense is legit?

neil: Yeah, they also had the third-best pass defense in terms of limiting opposing QBs below their usual Elo. Pats and Steelers were 1-2.

Salfino: What a turnaround for them. So this is saying the Chiefs defense has a bigger impact on QB performance than the Ravens D. I’m shocked by that.

neil: The Ravens were sixth, so they’re elite as well, but their number dropped a bit in the last few weeks as Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield had solid games. (Obviously Duck Hodges is a different story.)

sara.ziegler: What about the rest of the AFC? Can the Bills or Texans make any noise?

joshua.hermsmeyer: Elo has it spot on, in my view. Basically no shot for the Bills or the Texans to make the Super Bowl.

neil: I’m probably higher mentally on the Texans than I should be because of Watson. But they really weren’t anything special for most of this year — 13th in SRS, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com, and 11th in Elo.

Salfino: I do think the Bills could beat the Texans. What chance do we give Buffalo in that game?

neil: We have Houston at 65 percent, obviously in large part because they’re at home.

And it’s not like they’ve ever come out totally flat at home in a playoff game where they were favored.

Salfino: Watson has six games over 9.0 yards per attempt and five games under 6.0. I don’t think many QBs ever have been that volatile. And that doesn’t even factor in his on-again, off-again sack woes.

neil: You nailed it on Watson, Mike.

The NFL’s most inconsistent QBs of 2019

Highest standard deviation of game-to-game QB Elo performance among 2019 quarterbacks with at least five starts during the regular season

Quarterback Starts QB Elo (vs. Avg)/Game Std. Dev.
Deshaun Watson 15 +48.0 179.4
Drew Brees 11 +110.1 175.0
Marcus Mariota 6 -87.5 170.9
Russell Wilson 16 +43.2 166.6
Jameis Winston 16 -27.5 161.6
Sam Darnold 13 -43.1 148.6
Daniel Jones 12 -3.2 147.8
Ryan Fitzpatrick 13 -13.3 146.9
Matt Ryan 15 +20.6 144.6
Mason Rudolph 8 -92.6 138.3

He had the highest game-to-game standard deviation of Elo performance of any QB with at least five starts this year.

sara.ziegler: Let’s move on to the NFC, where there was less drama this weekend (looking at you, Vikings) but still some jockeying for position. Philly had its fans on pins and needles before pulling out the game against the Giants and securing a playoff spot.

And the Cowboys go home…

Salfino: I think Carson Wentz is a Russell Wilson-level magician this year. Throwing for 4,000 yards without any wide receiver getting 500 is unreal.

joshua.hermsmeyer: The Eagles are fun to root for. So many injuries all over the team.

Salfino: I joked that there was a waiting list for their blue tent yesterday, and then there actually was, according to Fox.

neil: And for the Cowboys, you had to love seeing them pile up 47 meaningless points against Washington a week after they couldn’t even muster a TD in a potential playoff clincher.

It was the most Cowboys way this Cowboys season (slash-Jason Garrett Era?) could have ended.

Salfino: I love that Wentz and Wilson, who are completely carrying their teams, are matching up in Week 18.

joshua.hermsmeyer: In a sane world with rational coaching, Seattle would be favored in that game. Perhaps heavily.

Instead we get Philly favored by 5.5.

Salfino: But Seattle is hardly impressive when you look at the more predictive stats, beyond their win-loss record. Their defense is garbage, I don’t trust their line, and they refuse to unleash Wilson right from the start of games.

joshua.hermsmeyer: All true! But I put most of that on the coaches. Did you see some of the throws Russ made last night?

sara.ziegler: And yet Wilson had only 233 yards passing on Sunday.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Criminally underutilized.

sara.ziegler: Jimmy Garoppolo had 285!

Salfino: Imagine having Wilson and giving Marshawn Lynch 12 carries off the couch.

sara.ziegler: 🤣

neil: Hey, at least Marshawn got the goal-line TD he should have been allowed to score five seasons ago.

sara.ziegler: Oooooh

🔥

neil: (He also got bottled up on a big fourth down at the end of the first half, and he averaged 2.8 yards per carry. As you might expect from a guy who hasn’t played in forever.)

joshua.hermsmeyer: Was he the proximate cause for that delay of game at the end? Trying to get a play called for him?

neil: Oh, man.

Salfino: I think he was. But the weird thing about the delay is that the Seahawks were still in the huddle. They were not close to getting a play off. That is just horrible coaching.

sara.ziegler: It was really the perfect ending to that game, LOL.

Salfino: I wonder what the win probability was on first and goal from the 1 with 25 seconds left vs. second and goal from the 7. I bet a team has never bled that much win probability away without running a legitimate play (they had the spike).

Even on the spike, they should have just sneaked. Everyone was right at the line.

joshua.hermsmeyer: They lost almost 15 points of win probability on the penalty, right after gaining 56 points on the fourth-down conversion.

Salfino: The sneak is about 85 to 90 percent successful. So two sneaks beats a spike and three passes.

sara.ziegler: Ooof

Salfino: Kyle Shanahan was really let off the hook. He should have gone for it on fourth and 1 from his own 29. That defense was not stopping Wilson. And then he burns a timeout in getting a look at their formation? Like the Seahawks have plays — they just have Wilson do stuff. He needed that timeout to counter for the winning or tying field goal.

But then, enter Pete Carroll.

sara.ziegler: LOL

Salfino: Would you guys have gone on fourth and 1 inside your own 30? Seattle did not want that to happen, I guarantee it. They just wanted the ball.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think the additional win probability was small, but it makes sense to try to keep Wilson off the field AND leave time on the clock for your own late drive if you do fail and the Seahawks score.

Salfino: You win the game on offense. You hope the other team doesn’t win the game on defense.

neil: OK, OK, enough about the Seahawks. Sara, I know you’re avoiding it, but we at least have to acknowledge the upcoming Vikings-Saints game. So much recent history between those two teams…

joshua.hermsmeyer: lol

Salfino: Are we still counting the bounty game?

neil: I am!

I know for a fact Sara still does.

Salfino: I don’t want to sound like Sara here, but the Vikings do not seem to have a chance.

neil: LOL

sara.ziegler: How quickly your tune changes, Mike.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I have also come around to Sara’s way of thinking.

Salfino: I know. I’m ashamed of my prior pro-Vikings stance.

sara.ziegler: Hahahahaha

Salfino: I hate narratives, but Kirk Cousins really does not seem to like the spotlight.

I think playing on the road actually helps Cousins.

sara.ziegler: This is actually the kind of game that the Vikings might end up winning, since no one is giving them a chance.

(And no one should be giving them a chance, to be clear.)

neil: They should change their name to the Minnesota Contrarians.

Salfino: Look at Sara going contrarian here with a Pro-Vikings take. Love it!

sara.ziegler: That’s just how I roll.

Also, I want acknowledgement that I called the Vikings losing their last two games! (Though I did not foresee them benching everyone against the Bears, LOL.)

Salfino: While the focus is on Cousins, the big story of this game I predict is just how suspect the Minnesota secondary is. Drew Brees should eat them alive.

sara.ziegler: Yeah, it’s gonna be ugly.

We need to talk for just a second about the Packers, though. This isn’t just my pro-Vikings perspective, but they have no chance, right?

joshua.hermsmeyer: They have a chance, but only because they somehow secured that bye.

neil: Only if New Orleans wins. 😉

sara.ziegler: Wow, Neil.

neil: Lol.

sara.ziegler: Rude.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I’m not even gonna trot out a stat. Aaron Rodgers just looks horrible.

So my eye test says close-to-no chance for the Pack.

neil: I’ll do it because I can’t help myself: He’s been below average in QB Elo in four straight games and seven of his last eight. No QB fell off more down the stretch of the season than Rodgers:

Rodgers fizzled down the stretch

Biggest dropoffs in per-game QB Elo vs. average between the first and second halves of the 2019 regular season among quarterbacks with at least four starts in each half

1st Half of Season 2nd Half of Season
Quarterback Starts QB Elo (vs. Avg)/G Starts QB Elo (vs. Avg)/G Diff
Aaron Rodgers 8 +82.9 8 -33.9 -116.9
Tom Brady 8 57.9 8 -45.2 -103.2
Russell Wilson 8 93.1 8 -6.7 -99.7
Matt Ryan 7 72.2 8 -24.5 -96.6
Deshaun Watson 8 92.7 7 -3.1 -95.7
Jacoby Brissett 8 20.1 7 -68.1 -88.1
Philip Rivers 8 33.3 8 -37.4 -70.7
Gardner Minshew 7 10.4 5 -47.1 -57.5
Derek Carr 8 55.6 8 15.4 -40.2
Patrick Mahomes 7 125.8 7 93.7 -32.1

Salfino: The Packers were life and death against David Blough. Think about that.

Look at Rodgers’s yards per attempt by season since 2014. He’s been right around average or below (below this year) for five straight seasons. He’s gone from being inner-circle Hall of Fame Rodgers through 2014 to being … Alex Smith since.

sara.ziegler: So, to wrap things up, I want to get you guys on the record with your predictions — so we can rip each other later when our predictions all look terrible.

Who do you all like this weekend?

Salfino: Buffalo (my one upset if we get the bad Watson), New England, New Orleans, Philadelphia.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Houston, New England, New Orleans, Seattle for me.

neil: Houston, New England, New Orleans, Philly.

Salfino: Neil going chalk. Smart!

neil: Chalk!

sara.ziegler: And I’m taking Buffalo, Tennessee, New Orleans and Seattle.

joshua.hermsmeyer: And my hot fire take is the Philly-Seattle game will be close.

Because Seattle.

neil: That’s why Seattle will win, I guess?

sara.ziegler: No one took the Vikings. 😔

Salfino: Not even you!

If they had Case Keenum, maybe…

sara.ziegler: LOL

Hey, I’m a fan, but I’m realistic.

Salfino: Fatalistic.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Some Of Our Best Work From 2019

For a newsroom like FiveThirtyEight’s, 2019 may as well been part of 2020. Such is the peril of covering electoral politics. But before 2020 actually arrives, we wanted to take a moment and remember some of our favorite features from the past year that the news cycle hasn’t rendered obsolete. There was a lot of good stuff! This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it’s a good place to start.

Politics

  • “Just because Republicans aren’t winning in cities doesn’t mean that no Republicans live there,” Rachael Dottle wrote earlier this year. Using historical vote data, she showed where every city’s Republican enclaves were, and which cities were the most politically segregated.
  • We’re told over and over again that politicians need to appeal to centrist moderates if they hope to win nationally. But Lee Drutman’s analysis suggests that narrative isn’t true. The moderate middle is a myth.
  • Clare Malone spent weeks tailing former Vice President Joe Biden to understand a contradiction at the center of his presidential campaign: black voters provide a lot of his support, but one of his biggest vulnerabilities is his record on race.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Sports

  • “Space Jam 2” is coming, and we’re hoping to be LeBron James’s casting director. We used our NBA metrics to cast the true successors to the cast of the original “Space Jam” movie.
  • It’s always tough to measure how good a defender is in the NFL. But Michael Chiang figured out a clever new way: look at where opposing offenses aren’t throwing.

JEAN WEI

EMILY SCHERER / GETTY IMAGES

Other gems

SONNIE KOZLOVER

The 56 Best — And Weirdest — Charts We Made In 2019

Over the past year, FiveThirtyEight visual journalists have created hundreds of original charts and graphics. To mark the close of the year, we are continuing our tradition of collecting together a few dozen of our most creative (and most unusual) creations. There’s no particular order here, so don’t go looking for any deeper meaning. Click through any graphic to read the story that went with it.

Politics


























Sports



























Everything else




You made it all the way here? We admire your commitment to great visual journalism! Check out our lists from 2018, 2016, 2015, and 2014.

Google Analytics And Adwords In Data Studio

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The Cowboys Collapsed, The Seahawks Stumbled, And The Playoff Landscape Shifted In Week 16

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): We’re two days before Christmas and one week (and one game) away from the end of the regular season. There are precious few playoff spots still up for grabs but plenty to talk about.

Let’s start with the game that could have secured Dallas a playoff spot, the game before which Dak Prescott learned to “defer.” How did the Cowboys lay such an egg?

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Because they’re the Cowboys … ?

sara.ziegler: LOL

We can just end the chat here. 😬

Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): The QB couldn’t practice all week because of injury and then threw 44 passes.

They did try to run on first down and got stuffed more than half the time. But if you’re trying to protect your injured QB, you need to throw more on first downs to get ahead of the down and distance — and then run. There were way too many third and longs for a guy with shoulder issues that seemed to really degrade his accuracy.

joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): Dak somehow had a worse QBR than Jameis Winston and his four picks, and the Cowboys ran just three rushing plays against a light box, leaving Ezekiel Elliott with 47 rushing yards. They had nothing working and no real plan.

sara.ziegler: Dak’s injury was pretty apparent, but the decision-making also, again, seemed suspect.

neil: Injury or not, Dak had his worst game of the season at the worst possible time.

Dak played his worst when it mattered most

2019 game log for Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys, with FiveThirtyEight quarterback Elo ratings (relative to an average NFL starting QB)

Passing Stats
Game No. Opp. Won? Net Yds Per Att. TD Int QB Elo vs. Avg
1 NYG 405 12.7 4 0 +340
2 WSH 261 8.4 3 1 +265
3 MIA 241 7.3 2 1 +32
4 NO 212 6.2 0 1 -23
5 GB 441 9.4 2 3 +59
6 NYJ 270 6.6 0 0 +89
7 PHI 213 7.1 1 1 +44
8 NYG 257 7.3 3 1 +87
9 MIN 393 8.4 3 1 +168
10 DET 434 9.2 3 0 +224
11 NE 212 6.4 0 1 -2
12 BUF 323 6.1 2 1 +121
13 CHI 326 6.4 1 0 +29
14 LAR 212 9.2 2 0 +87
15 PHI 257 5.6 0 0 -47

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Salfino: He did. But in fairness, there were three drops. I don’t want to defend Dak just for being hurt because he played and most guys are hurt now. But Amari Cooper did not show up. Elliott did not take over the game like you would expect a franchise RB to do. And the defense could not stop an injury-riddled Eagles offense.

I do give Carson Wentz a ton of credit though. The guy is making all his spares — even if there are no strikes in this passing game now.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I enjoyed that Cooper was “not benched” at the end of the game for Tavon Austin. It was also interesting to hear Cooper complain about not getting enough go routes to run.

Salfino: What’s even more incredible about that fourth-down play is that Randall Cobb was benched, too. That’s two of your top three receivers. Cooper has seen a drop-off in production starting around Week 6 or so — he’s just a guy out there. I can’t see how you can give him franchise-level money.

When your plan is, “We needed to get Tavon Austin on the field,” you have no plan.

neil: Meanwhile, Zeke was basically a nonfactor and has worn down in the second half of the season. (He has only one game over 90 rushing yards since Week 9). But at least they’re not paying him a ton of guaranteed money for many years going forward. Oh, wait.

Salfino: Whenever a running back takes a serious step backward in production, you can reasonably wonder if he’s never coming back to the prior level. The Rams’ Todd Gurley is the same deal now. But at least we know that Gurley is chronically injured. I have no idea what’s wrong with Elliott. (The biggest indictment of the Pro Bowl is the Cowboys offensive line getting three on the team. Are you kidding me? Is this a lifetime achievement award? The Cowboys line is just fine, it’s not great.)

sara.ziegler: Though our piece last week about the Cowboys’ paths to the Super Bowl is looking a little stale, Dallas still has a 25 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to the FiveThirtyEight forecast.

Salfino: Danny Dimes!

sara.ziegler: Exactly.

Can’t you see Philly losing to the Giants next week and giving the Cowboys the opening???

This has been such a weird season.

Salfino: I felt that the Eagles could lose to anyone last week, and I guess I have to still feel that way. They were life and death with Eli Manning and Dwayne Haskins, right?

joshua.hermsmeyer: The only legitimate way for this to happen is for Danny Dimes to get injured in the second quarter and then for Eli to come in and lead the Giants to victory, ending his career one game above .500.

sara.ziegler: Yesssssss

neil: That sounds eminently possible.

Salfino: Could Case Keenum beat the Cowboys? What if both teams lose? I’m sort of rooting for that, though I am a big Wentz fan and hate how Eagles fans drag him.

neil: Well, it’s important to note that even if the Cowboys tie, the Eagles make the playoffs.

So that would also be a fitting/hilarious way for all of this to end.

sara.ziegler: The more absurd, the better!

joshua.hermsmeyer: Rich Eisen won the evening with his Jets tweet:

neil: LOL

Salfino:

neil: There were so many potential jokes around that Cowboy game.

Salfino: Planes, Trains & Automobiles” was the hardest I ever laughed in a movie theater.

You can see Jerry Jones as Steve Martin and Chris Christie as Candy.

neil: I love that the NFC playoff field could have four 12-win teams, an 11-win team … and whoever wins the NFC East, at maybe 8-8.

Salfino: Where are you guys on changing the playoff structure? I am totally against it. I like the division system taking priority in seeding, and kind of enjoy the chaos of this type of divisional asymmetry. But maybe I’m just old fashioned.

sara.ziegler: I guess it depends on what the point of it all is, right?

neil: I think the league could probably stand to drop the rule that division winners host playoff games, at the very least.

Salfino: My feeling is that if you have teams playing six games in their division, then division has to rule.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I haven’t heard any firm proposals for a change, so unsure.

Salfino: Well, Josh, I guess you could just seed all the teams by record regardless of division. That would be the only viable alternative, I think. But then we’re a small step to having 12 playoff teams regardless of conference, too.

joshua.hermsmeyer: That sounds like most fantasy leagues. I bet there would be a lot of folks who would like that.

sara.ziegler: Do you want to find the best team? If you do, reseeding by record makes more sense to me.

Salfino: We can put analytics in charge of everything and just have Pythag determine the seeding. 🙂

sara.ziegler: Sold.

neil: Sorry, Seahawks.

Lol

sara.ziegler: That was the next game I wanted to talk about.

What … happened there?

Salfino: Seattle was a total fraud and was finally exposed when Russell Wilson had no magic in him for a day.

neil: Remember when Wilson was an MVP front-runner? He’s been running cold for about a month now.

Salfino: I think Wilson should still be an MVP front-runner, honestly. Seattle is a bad team with an inner-circle Hall of Fame QB and is winning, somehow. Put a slug QB on that team and it wins maybe four games.

(Not saying that Wilson, who has never even received an MVP vote, should win — just that he deserves being in the conversation.)

joshua.hermsmeyer: Perhaps the most notable event was a Hawks analytics staffer logging on to Twitter and defending Pete Carroll’s decision to punt inside the Arizona 40 early in the game (though the tweet has since been deleted). You hate to see it.

sara.ziegler: Arizona still won after losing Kyler Murray.

Brett Hundley shall lead them, apparently.

Salfino: I don’t get what is so complicated on the fourth and shorts. If we’re playing Madden or Strat-O-Matic or whatever, we’re going for those every time. If you just want to win, that’s the call. And every time, your opponent wants you to punt; they’re excited about you punting. Why give the opponent what they want so willingly? Teams have to quit playing to the press box and start playing to win, period.

sara.ziegler: There’s such a disconnect between playing the odds in a theoretical game and playing them in a real game. The age-old problem.

Salfino: But that’s only because deep down, you want to take the quiet loss. The loud loss gets you fired. So coaches will gladly pay a small price today in win probability for a better chance at maintaining employment tomorrow. This only changes when the announcers on the games start being hip to expected value and win probability.

neil: The good news for the Seahawks is that they still can win the division (and potentially even be the No. 1 NFC seed) with a head-to-head win over San Francisco, this time at home.

Salfino: I want to say I will eat a bug if the Niners lose, but their defense scares me for the opposite reasons as in the first half of the season. They can’t stop anyone now, it seems.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Wow, San Francisco just 55 percent to win the division by our Elo.

But if they win, 14 percent to win the Super Bowl.

neil: Elo has San Francisco favored by 1.5 on the road vs. Seattle in Week 17, which explains the 55 percent. Vegas has SF -3, FWIW, which translates to about a 59 percent chance.

Salfino: Josh has written about how defensive performance isn’t sustainable season-to-season, but the Niners have been two-faced on defense in the season.

sara.ziegler: How much were injuries to blame though, Mike?

Salfino: A lot. But that’s the thing on defense, IMO. You have to keep so many more people healthy. A top offense can lose practically anyone except the QB.

sara.ziegler: That’s fair.

Salfino: Speaking of injuries in that game, maybe the Seahawks will be helped by having no running backs except for maybe Shaun Alexander, I mean Marshawn Lynch, and thus be forced to pass.

neil: Shaun Alexander? What’s the statute of limitations on the Madden Curse?

joshua.hermsmeyer: I’m still weak that Marshawn coming back isn’t completely off the table.

sara.ziegler: OMG, yes.

joshua.hermsmeyer:

sara.ziegler: Come back to win them the Super Bowl!

Salfino: Lynch coming back and getting 25 carries with Wilson throwing 23 passes would be peak Schotty.

sara.ziegler: Meanwhile, in the AFC, the final wild card is still very much up for grabs. Tennessee and Pittsburgh refused to nail that spot down this weekend, and somehow, against all odds, Oakland still has a shot!

joshua.hermsmeyer: My head hurts.

neil: There was already a long list of things that needed to happen Week 16 to make it possible … and they ALL happened!

Salfino: So a Cowboys-Raiders Super Bowl is still alive!

joshua.hermsmeyer: The Raiders having the super long shot parlay for a playoff spot is on-brand considering their new home next season.

neil: Haha

sara.ziegler: It just makes sense.

Salfino: I think all those things could happen, except for the Ravens beating the Steelers with their 12 Pro Bowl players all benched. So do the Ravens sit everyone basically for two weeks — or play their starters, knowing they’ll have the next week off? Bill Belichick would play this one for real, I think.

neil: Somehow Pittsburgh can still make the playoffs even if it loses to Baltimore next week. (Which is incredible to me.)

So the Ravens wouldn’t necessarily get the satisfaction of personally ending the hated Steelers’ season, whether they play the starters or not.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think beating the Browns was a pretty good substitute. The mismanagement at the end of the half by Cleveland was breathtaking, and, I think, much welcomed by the Ravens.

How do you not run out the clock and end up leaving Lamar enough time for a TD? Cleveland got the ball at the end of the half with 1:18 on the clock and punted with 1:02. It would have taken just one running play to keep the ball out of his hands.

Salfino: I’ll be shocked if we ever hear of Freddie Kitchens again after this year.

neil: “The mismanagement at the end of the half by Cleveland was breathtaking” — perma-analysis for the 2019 Browns.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Loool

sara.ziegler: Hahahaha

Salfino: The Browns are like the blockbuster movie with all the big stars that ends up winning only Razzies.

neil: Don’t say we didn’t warn them

Salfino: The Browns are like an old Irwin Allen disaster movie. Except those made money.

neil: I would LOVE to see Baker Mayfield accept his Razzie in person, a la Halle Berry.

Salfino: Baker’s commercial time is going to take a big hit in 2020.

sara.ziegler: I’ll miss the Baker’s House commercials when they’re gone.

joshua.hermsmeyer: It was an expensive season for Baker.

Salfino: He cashed out quick, like Brady Quinn. Quinn somehow had national commercials his rookie year.

joshua.hermsmeyer: !

neil: Is that, like, a thing for Browns QBs? Did DeShone Kizer hock some product that we didn’t know about?

sara.ziegler: Time for a deep dive on YouTube, Neil.

Salfino: Brandon Weeden did commercials for AARP.

neil: LMAO

sara.ziegler: Amazing

neil: Mike wins the chat.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Politics Podcast: Holiday Mailbag Edition

In this special holiday installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew spends a whole episode answering listener questions. The topics range from the best way to winnow a primary debate stage, to who would win if the podcast team went toe-to-toe in a battle royale.


FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast: Eggnog and listener questions


You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with additional episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

The December Democratic Debate in 6 Charts

This holiday season, the Democratic National Committee gave the gift of one last primary debate in 2019. The stage featured just seven candidates, and despite a sleepy first hour, there was a lot of tension in the two-and-a-half-hour affair. Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg came under fire from the rest of the field, fielding attacks from Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren in particular. According to the FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll, which used Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel to interview the same respondents before and after the debate, Klobuchar had a good night, attracting the most new potential support. Former Vice President Joe Biden also did well, earning the highest debate performance score from the viewers in our survey.

Maybe you were out holiday shopping — or watching the new Star Wars movie! — and missed it (hey, we don’t blame you), or you just want to know more about how the December debate may affect the race as we move into 2020. Either way, here’s the Democratic debate, summed up in 6 charts:

Which candidates performed best?

To kick us off, which candidates did viewers think had a strong performance? A weak one? To answer this, we compared each candidate’s pre-debate favorability rating1 to viewers’ ratings of his or her debate performance to see how candidates performed. This time, Biden walked away with the highest marks from respondents in our poll. But if it’s hard to see a decisive winner from last night, that’s because Biden, Warren and Sanders all performed roughly as well as we would expect given their pre-debate favorability. Buttigieg and Steyer received the worst marks for their performances, relative to their pre-debate favorability ratings.

How did voters’ priorities affect their views of the candidates?

According to our Ipsos survey, nearly two-thirds of likely Democratic primary voters prefer a candidate who has a good chance of beating President Trump over someone who shares similar stances with them on the issues. How these types of voters evaluate the candidates and their performances can vary, though, even if the differences are relatively small.

Voters who prioritize beating Trump thought Biden had the best debate performance, with Warren, Sanders, Klobuchar and Buttigieg tied with the second-highest marks. Among voters who prioritized issue stances, Sanders and Yang fared best.

Among voters who prioritize beating Trump, Biden did best

How well debate-watchers thought candidates performed in the sixth Democratic debate, by which type of candidate they prefer

Type of candidate preferred
candidate Similar issue positions Able to beat trump
Biden 2.8 3.3
Warren 2.9 3.1
Sanders 3.1 3.1
Klobuchar 2.7 3.1
Buttigieg 2.5 3.1
Yang 3.0 3.0
Steyer 2.5 2.8

From a survey of 3,543 likely Democratic primary voters who were surveyed between Dec. 13 and Dec. 18. The same people were surveyed again from Dec. 19 to Dec. 20; 720 responded to the second wave and said they watched the debate. The average ratings are out of 4 points, where 4 is best and 1 is worst.

Source: Ipsos/FiveThirtyEight

Who left a good impression?

We also wanted to see if any of the candidates managed to leave a good impression, as captured by their net favorability rating (favorable rating minus unfavorable rating) before and after the debate. By this metric, Yang and Klobuchar saw the largest gains, roughly six points each. But even with these increases, their net favorability scores are still lower than much of the rest of the field — better-known candidates like Biden, Sanders and Warren are viewed more favorably.

Yang and Klobuchar made positive impressions

Change in net favorability for candidates in a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll taken before and after the December Democratic primary debate

Net favorability
candidate before debate after debate change
Yang +16.1 +22.4 +6.3
Klobuchar +11.0 +17.1 +6.1
Steyer +4.3 +7.3 +3.1
Warren +40.0 +43.0 +2.9
Sanders +40.5 +42.6 +2.1
Biden +43.2 +45.1 +1.9
Buttigieg +29.4 +27.5 -1.9

From a survey of 3,543 likely Democratic primary voters who were surveyed between Dec. 13 and Dec. 18. The same people were surveyed again from Dec. 19 to Dec. 20; 1,908 responded to the second wave.

Who spoke the most?

Klobuchar stole the mic Thursday, speaking the most words of any candidate. This was the first time the Minnesota senator earned this distinction, significantly improving upon her position in the last debate, where she came in fifth for words spoken. Buttigieg wasn’t too far off from Klobuchar, though, speaking just 200 fewer words.

Who held the floor?

Number of words candidates spoke in the sixth Democratic debate

Candidate Words Spoken
Amy Klobuchar 3,557
Pete Buttigieg 3,327
Elizabeth Warren 3,087
Bernie Sanders 2,891
Joe Biden 2,869
Tom Steyer 1,937
Andrew Yang 1,729

Source: Debate Transcript via ABC News

The fact that Klobuchar and Buttigieg spoke the most last night may be surprising given that they are significantly behind Biden, Sanders and Warren in the national polls. Normally, higher-polling candidates tend to get more air time, but in Thursday’s debate, the relationship between a candidate’s polling average2 and the amount of words he or she spoke was not particularly strong.3 For instance, while Sanders spoke about as much as his polling average would suggest, Biden spoke far less than expected.

Who mentioned Trump the most?

The candidates may not have spoken for equal amounts of time, but one thing they did have in common was name-dropping Trump. Klobuchar, for example, talked about Trump way more than Warren, who only mentioned him once. (This doesn’t seem to be a new strategy for Warren: She came in second to last in Trump mentions at the November debate, too, saying his name just twice.)

Who talked about Trump?

How often Trump’s name was mentioned by candidates in the sixth Democratic debate

Candidate Trump Mentions
Amy Klobuchar 11
Bernie Sanders 8
Joe Biden 6
Pete Buttigieg 6
Tom Steyer 4
Andrew Yang 4
Elizabeth Warren 1

Source: Debate Transcript via ABC News

On average, each candidate said Trump’s name about six times. But of course, this doesn’t cover every reference to Trump, as some didn’t call out the president by name — like when Sanders said “we have a president who is a pathological liar.”

Do you want even more debate coverage?

Cool graphics from other sites:

  • Going into the debate, The New York Times had a cool primer, which included tidbits like which candidates they expected to attack each other. It’s fun to look back now and see whether they were correct; notably, their speculation that Buttigieg might come under fire proved prescient, particularly in the back and forths with Warren and Klobuchar.
  • And if you want to see exactly how many times the candidates attacked one another, NBC News tracked it! Buttigieg came under fire the most, while Sanders dished it out more than any other candidate.
  • The New York Times also tracked how long each candidate spoke on each issue. Sanders spoke the most about health care, while Klobuchar dominated the conversation on electability. And foreign policy was the longest-discussed topic of the evening, racking up 15 minutes total.

And here’s more great post-debate analysis:

But really, all you need is … our debate coverage: