The 2010s Were A Complicated Decade For Democrats And White Voters

There’s an aphorism I like, that we are entirely new people from one day to the next, let alone a year or a decade. Whether, say, a novelist writes their critical scene on Tuesday or Wednesday could make a world of difference. Our minds change by absorbing images and things people say. We float back and forth between what choices are best — the human race wears a shade of gray most of the time.

That piece of wisdom has come to top of mind lately as I cover the 2020 presidential race. The beginning of this decade was also the still-early days of the tenure of America’s first black president. Barack Obama’s victory was made possible in large part by winning the Iowa caucuses; by clinching an early victory in the lily white state, his campaign proved to the rest of the party, and to black voters in particular, that white America was ready to vote for a black man. The decade is ending as a Democratic presidential primary begins, and though the field has been historically diverse, the contest looks more and more likely to produce a white nominee. Democrats seem to have changed their minds about something in the last decade. They absorbed new words and images (often pretty ugly ones) that made them think the country isn’t in the place to have a person of color in the White House. (Or at least none running in 2020.)

In the summer of 2017, seven months after President Trump was sworn into office, I wrote about something I’d observed among Democrats since his election. While there was talk about promoting candidates that share the life experiences of the voters of color who anchor the Democratic base, the politicians who were actually seeing real momentum were youngish white men. Among the rising stars that I singled out was the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, who had made waves with his run for DNC chair in the months following Trump’s election. There seemed to be two distinct sides to the debate over how to win back the presidency: appeal to whites who voted for Obama and later Trump, or turn out those who stayed home in 2016, namely black voters. The former strategy seemed to be winning out, given the “safeness” of the young male candidates. They had fashioned themselves rhetorically after Obama, but their whiteness made them inherently less threatening to Trump voters. For what it’s worth, black turnout in the 2018 midterm elections was up 11 points from where it was in the 2014 midterms.

Two years later, it strikes me that Democrats are in the midst of an even deeper moment of preoccupation with white America. The party’s voters have expressed a preference for the most “electable” candidate, which has become a euphemism for a moderate who could win back Obama-Trump voters, many of whom are white. And you can see why.

Wisconsin, the tipping point state in the 2016 election, is 86 percent white. Whites make up over 76 percent of the country’s total population. And the Democratic Party bled white voters during the Obama years: In 2007, Pew Research found that whites were just as likely to identity as Democrats as they were to identify as Republicans. By 2010, a year into Obama’s tenure, whites were 12 points more likely to call themselves Republicans. The inflection point is hard to miss. Democrats have looked to states with large minority populations like Georgia and Arizona as a way to change their Electoral College fortunes, but forging a new path is never a sure bet; the old “blue wall” states filled with white voters must seem within grasp to many Democrats, if only they could find the right candidate with the right kind of campaign.

Sen. Kamala Harris was not that candidate and did not have that campaign. Her exit from the race last week was met with some surprise; in the wake of her announcement, Sen. Cory Booker and Julián Castro, imperiled but still in the running, raised the alarm about the potential for an all-white field.

In other words, it’s been another moment to talk about electability and who the best candidate to beat Trump might be. The good feelings about diversity and social progress that the initial field evoked — more women than ever before, more nonwhite faces — have soured. Candidates of color have struggled in the field, including with voters of color. Perhaps that’s because Democrats are worried that candidates of color might put off white swing voters.

And yet, as New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie pointed out last week, there has been a narrative that “wokeness” — often pejoratively used these days to mean an excessive focus on political correctness — rules the roost of the Democratic electorate. Candidates of color, with their very presence, seem to evoke this sentiment. By Bouie’s judgement, though, the “wokest” candidates have left the race (Sen Kirsten Gillibrand, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, now Harris) and the left-leaning Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders focus their progressivism on economic justice rather than social justice.

That the woke narrative has taken hold is unsurprising, though. First and foremost, there has been an actual movement of activists on the left seeking to shove the party to align with more progressive values on race, immigration and all manner of social reform. But there’s perhaps another reason for all the attention paid to wokeness, and it might have to do with another shifting political aspect of white identity: the increasingly leftward tilt of college-educated whites. And not just any college-educated whites — the ones that dominate the media.

A year into the primary race is as good a point as any to pause and reflect on the surprise we in the media have seemed to express about the strong showings of moderates like former Vice President Biden and Buttigieg. The media was prepped for a new kind of candidate — a woman or a person of color perhaps — but Democratic voters seem consistently behind white men. (Though Warren has seen her own strong showing at times in the race.)

Perhaps that’s because the media is so white — and so well educated. In 2018, Pew Research found that 77 percent of newsroom employees across newspapers and digital outlets were white. The overwhelmingly white industry is also largely college educated (though poorly paid).

If we use education as a proxy for social class (even though class is far more complicated than that), white Americans are in the midst of a radical political realignment along class lines. The conventional wisdom for much of the 20th century was that whites with a college education were more apt to vote Republican, and whites without a college education were more apt to be Democrats. But things have changed. Pew Research surveys show that as recently as 2009, white voters with a high school degree or less were evenly divided between Democratic and Republican affiliation. But in 2017, that same group was 58 percent Republican, 35 percent Democratic.

That realignment is discussed in “Identity Crisis,” John Sides, Michael Tesler and Lynn Vavrek’s book about the 2016 election. In it, they talk about the shifts of white America and argue it was informed by a greater awareness of the Democratic and Republican parties’ views on race. Trump’s campaign, which centered around nationalistic immigration views, only helped accelerate white Americans’ ideas of which party their views on race fit into. Pew Research shows that in the past decade, white Democrats are far more likely to call themselves liberal than black Democrats, and that whites in general have rapidly gotten more liberal on issues of race. They got woke, in the non-pejorative, original sense of the phrase: They were awakened to the way racial disparities play out in American life.

Add all these factors together, and the media’s surprise at the prominence of moderate white candidates in the race seems to make more sense; the changing world views of college-educated whites hold outsized sway because they occupy positions of power.

The 2020 Democratic primary won’t be the end of voters’ and the media’s preoccupation with what appeals to white Americans. The shifting racial consciousness of white Americans will perhaps dominate the next couple of decades of American political life. This may not be the 2020 primary that many in the Democratic establishment wanted, but it is the one that their voters have presented them with. A lot has changed since 2008.

FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast: Democratic primary, according to the early states

Where Americans Stand On The Democrats’ Impeachment Charges

After months of investigation and public testimony, the impeachment train has officially left the station. On Tuesday, Democrats introduced two articles of impeachment against President Trump: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. And the House Judiciary Committee is now expected to vote on the charges against Trump later this week.

It’s clear from the charges that Democrats have adopted a relatively focused approach to impeachment. Rather than expanding their inquiry to fold in additional allegations from the Mueller report, like obstruction of justice, as some Democrats pushed for, both articles of impeachment specifically revolve around Trump’s conduct in the Ukraine scandal.

And even those charges were narrower than many had anticipated. Democrats, for instance, didn’t opt for a separate article of impeachment on bribery. Instead, they have decided to zoom in on the question of whether Trump abused his power by acting in a way that damaged national security, undermined the integrity of the next election, and violated his oath of office by pressuring Ukraine’s government to open an investigation into the Bidens. They’re also contending that his total refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry constitutes an impeachable offense, arguing that he placed himself above the rule of law and violated the constitutional separation of powers by blocking key witnesses from testifying.

So where do Americans stand on the questions at the heart of Democrats’ charges? Overall, our tracker of impeachment polls shows that public opinion remains divided, with 48 percent of Americans in favor of impeaching Trump and 44 percent opposed.

But to assess how Americans might feel about the specific allegations that Democrats have included in the articles of impeachment, we looked at several months of polls that asked Americans whether they felt Trump had abused his power when it came to Ukraine, and whether they thought Trump should cooperate with the impeachment inquiry by turning over documents and allowing witnesses to testify.

On the first charge — abuse of power — there’s a fairly clear consensus. In an average of eight high-quality polls conducted between late September, when the Ukraine allegations against Trump first became public, and late November, we found that 54 percent of Americans believe Trump either abused his power or acted in his own self-interest, while 39 percent said he had not. That’s basically in line with the share of Americans who believe Trump committed an impeachable offense, according to our own polling with Ipsos.

Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry also appears to be unpopular, according to several polls that have come out in the months since the impeachment process began. For instance, in a Suffolk poll conducted in late October, 66 percent of Americans agreed that the White House has an obligation to comply with subpoenas from the House committees demanding testimony and documents. A Quinnipiac poll released about a month later found that 76 percent of the public thought Trump should comply fully with the impeachment inquiry. But, of course, it’s unclear how many Americans actually consider the administration’s lack of cooperation an impeachable offense. Two Economist/YouGov polls conducted in late November and early December suggested that there may be some disagreement in the extent to which Trump was perceived to be obstructing Congress’s inquiry — just 48 percent and 49 percent, respectively, disapproved of the Trump administration’s decision not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. This was still more than the 33 percent and 35 percent who approved, but it’s still not an overwhelming majority. And a sizeable percentage of respondents were undecided in both surveys.

There’s another reason why Democrats might have wanted to focus narrowly on obstruction of Congress, rather than including evidence from the Mueller report. It was the Ukraine scandal — not the findings from the Mueller report — that changed the conversation on impeachment. Americans weren’t supportive of impeaching Trump after the release of the Mueller report, and, in fact, they remained largely divided on one of the report’s core questions: Did Trump’s behavior in the Russia investigation amount to obstruction of justice? In an average of polls conducted between late April, when the Mueller report was released, and late July, when Mueller testified before Congress, we found that just under half (49 percent) of Americans agreed that Trump’s behavior in response to the Mueller investigation amounted to obstruction of justice, while 40 percent thought it didn’t, and 11 percent were unsure.

While that’s not necessarily a sign that including an obstruction of justice charge would have been a big political risk, it’s also not a sign of overwhelming support for obstruction of justice either. And because a broader obstruction of justice article was reportedly unpopular with moderates, the decision to push forward with a narrower case on obstruction of Congress may have also been designed to ensure a clean party-line vote on both articles, with as few moderate Democrat defections as possible. These narrow articles seem likely to preserve party unity as the impeachment process speeds ahead — even if they don’t increase the likelihood that Republicans will cross the aisle to vote for them.

Mary Radcliffe contributed research

Brady Looks Bad, The Niners Look Great, And The AFC South Is A Mess

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): Week 14 of the NFL season brought us a couple of marquee matchups between top contenders — along with a few head-scratchers. Let’s start with the thrilling game between New Orleans and San Francisco.

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Amazing game.

Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): It’s probably good for the Niners that the offense and Jimmy Garoppolo had to win the key game of the season on the road because, of course, offense wins championships. But I’m sure the Niners are very worried about their defense today — and especially their pass defense, since that was their signature strength.

joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): It was really interesting to watch the Saints march down the field and score on their first four drives of the game. It was even more remarkable that the Niners led at the half.

sara.ziegler: You know you’re having a good day when one of your wideouts catches a touchdown pass and throws one.

Salfino: Both teams were throwing haymakers right from the start of the game. But I agree that the Niners going into halftime with the lead was stunning. The one thing people questioned was whether San Francisco could win a game in which their defense failed, and this was the most extreme version of that in one of the toughest places in football to play.

neil: Brees had the best game of Week 14 according to our Elo QB metric (+406 Elo points above an average starter). That’s part of a trend where the Niners’ pass defense has looked a bit less dominant in recent weeks — they’ve allowed very good games to Kyler Murray (twice), Lamar Jackson and now Brees over the past six games.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Expected points added per play agrees:

sara.ziegler: Though those are pretty decent quarterbacks…

neil: True, Sara. And one thing that’s helped offset it is that Jimmy G is playing much better recently.

Salfino: I actually thought that the Niners defense figured it out against the Ravens in the second half of that game, but they never figured anything out on Sunday.

neil: I wonder whether we’re going to look back at this game as an NFC championship preview in about six weeks.

sara.ziegler: It does seem like that, doesn’t it?

neil: These feel like the two best NFC teams, and it’s not particularly close.

sara.ziegler: (I’m glad I took them both in the Hot Takedown Super Bowl draft.)

Salfino: Garoppolo still has only 23 career starts. He’s 19-4 with a yards per attempt over 8.0. The only other quarterbacks to have matched or tied both of those marks are Kurt Warner, Ben Roethlisberger and Dan Marino. And he’s seventh since the 1970 merger in YPA in his first 23 starts, minimum 500 attempts.

So I think we underrate Garoppolo. I’m not saying he’s a Hall of Famer in the making, but he’s a legit franchise quarterback.

sara.ziegler: I’m not sure it’s underrating as much as just not knowing what he can do. He had been wildly inconsistent this year before turning it on in his past four games.

Salfino: He was inconsistent, but in fairness, his receiving corps had yet to emerge. Deebo Samuel is a rookie and is a totally different player now than he was at the start of the season. They traded for Emmanuel Sanders. George Kittle is a great receiver, and he drives the running game with his blocking, but he’s been hurt.

Kittle made probably the signature play of the season so far:

(Ironically, the 49ers were once on the receiving end of a tight end making a play like this in December on the way to a Super Bowl.)

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think the question with Jimmy is: Is he capable of putting the team on his shoulders week in and week out, or is Kyle Shanahan protecting him? Shanny schemed the second-most outside-the-pocket play-action plays for him across the league this week, and he dialed up a couple of trick plays, as well.

Salfino: And remember, his signature achievement before yesterday was completely turning around a clearly bad 49ers team in 2017. So when you bookend these two things, I think it’s fair to say he’s very good.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Any QB is hugely dependent upon the system he’s asked to run, and how well it meshes with his skill set (look at Jackson), so it’s not a knock. But I still think that Shanahan is the big driver of the Niners’ success.

Salfino: I do think it’s fair to give Shanahan a lot of credit, but you could say that even about Drew Brees with Sean Payton. It’s very hard to separate the QB and the coach.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Agreed.

sara.ziegler: What about the Saints? Should they be worried that they couldn’t close out that game?

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think officiating didn’t help. They scored the same number of TDs and field goals as the Niners, and they closed out the game with back-to-back TD drives. I don’t think anything is wrong with NO.

Salfino: I thought the Saints defense was just another unit before Sunday. I was shocked by how explosive they were on offense even with Alvin Kamara again doing basically nothing. It’s funny that after Teddy Bridgewater started several games, the feeling was, “This is a real team now that doesn’t need Brees!” and now they still need Brees to bail them out. And Brees is the king of bailing them out late and losing anyway.

neil: And it felt like one of those ones where whoever got the ball last would win.

Tough to lose, but essentially a toss-up.

Salfino: Payton has got to stop talking about the officiating though. Don’t expect the refs to bail you out on a fake punt.

sara.ziegler: Also, the officiating is bad for everyone right now.

joshua.hermsmeyer: So true.

Salfino: The Patriots can’t catch a break from the officials!

sara.ziegler: LOL

joshua.hermsmeyer: You hate to see it.

neil: Yes, won’t someone please think of the Patriots.

(I do think they got screwed a few times in that game. Lol.)

sara.ziegler: The challenge system is so ridiculous. A call looks wrong so you challenge, but it isn’t overturned. Then you challenge another call, and it is overturned. Then, if there’s another bad call later, because you were unsuccessful with your first call, you don’t get to challenge it. You’re essentially counting on the refs to not make an even worse call later, which is just not a good situation to be in.

Salfino: Out of challenges? A scoring play is automatically reviewed but not a play that actually should have been a scoring play? Coaches get a second challenge after an unsuccessful one sometimes but not all the time? The entire replay system is a mess. Just. Kill. The. Beast.

neil: Bad calls or not, Brady looks very mortal right now.

sara.ziegler: But he can run!


neil: I do like a fired-up Brady after a run-n-slide.

joshua.hermsmeyer: He did a half-hearted first down arm thing, which was very on-brand.

Salfino: The officiating is good for the Patriots in a way because it takes the focus off of the only ways they can score now: blocked punts, gadget plays.

sara.ziegler: Are they leading the league in trick plays for touchdowns??

neil: Feels like they try that flea flicker about once a game. (And it usually works.)

Salfino: In his last seven games, Brady’s yards per attempt is 5.8. There have only been 31 QB seasons this century with a yards per attempt of 5.8 or worse. You don’t want to be on this list.

neil: Is this Brady’s 2015 Peyton Manning season?

This is the first time he’s had a below-average QB Elo rating since that infamous KC game in 2014, when Jimmy G came on in relief.

(Ironically, they are moving on to Cincinnati again this time.)

joshua.hermsmeyer: Brady has probably declined some, but would we notice if he still had Rob Gronkowski?

I think probably not so much.

neil: That’s the eternal question of this season — is it Brady’s age or lack of weapons?

But at this point it kinda doesn’t matter. The Pats have who they have.

Salfino: Brady the inner-circle Hall of Fame QB would have elevated this supporting cast. But he can’t do that anymore. The talk in Boston is that he’s going to leave via free agency. The question is, who would want him?

joshua.hermsmeyer: Yeah, go where? Chicago? Washington?

Salfino: Josh, Trubisky had 32 fantasy points on Thursday. Show some respect.

sara.ziegler: Go live on the beach and stop eating so much kale, Tom.

Salfino: Peter King said that Denver was reportedly interested.

neil: That would be hilarious.

sara.ziegler: That would be ridiculous.

neil: Denver is where QB careers go to die.

I am much more curious about the post-Brady Pats with Belichick.

Salfino: The team that is positioned to win that needs Brady the most is … the Patriots. I mean, on paper anyway.

neil: Also, I want to note that we are basically looking ahead to next season and beyond for a team that still has a 9 percent chance to win the Super Bowl (and is the defending champion, with the best passing defense in the league).

So there’s still a lot of time for them to right the ship.

sara.ziegler: Always good to remember with New England.

And also, they were playing a really good team! The Chiefs looked excellent for a lot of that game.

Salfino: The Patriots could definitely win the AFC. But Sunday’s game was influenced significantly by Patrick Mahomes’s hand injury — he could not throw a spiral.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Exactly, Mike. Analysts seem to be pretty bearish on the Chiefs when Mahomes doesn’t pass for 400 yards and look like the best QB we’ve ever seen take the field. It looked like his hand was bothering him, and he took some shots during the game.

Salfino: The thing we don’t talk about with the Patriots is how bad Belichick has drafted. He took Sony Michel and N’Keal Harry in the first round the last two years,1 and neither guy could get on the field (though Harry did get the carry for the touchdown that never was).

neil: Michel has definitely had a sophomore slump. He’s down to 3.5 yards per carry this season, after posting 4.5 as a rookie.

Salfino: Belichick took Harry 19 picks ahead of A.J. Brown! Imagine the Patriots with that jet-propelled tank of a WR. But maybe Brady would have frozen him out for running the wrong route one time.

sara.ziegler: The other most notable games of the weekend for me were those in the AFC South.

neil: Houston refuses to just take command of this thing when it gets the chance.

Salfino: I think we talk about teams that a trapped with QBs that are not good enough but still good enough to win with. QB purgatory. The Texans are in coaching purgatory. Deshaun Watson is going to ensure they win enough to keep Bill O’Brien, but O’Brien is still a bad coach — or at least not a good enough coach to win a Super Bowl.

sara.ziegler: But why the difference in how the Texans played against New England vs. how they played against Denver? Is that really about the coach?

neil: Defensively, they let Drew Lock post a 136.0 QB rating.

Salfino: Think of how bad Brady must be to get shut down by the Texans defense that was gutted by Drew Freakin’ Lock.

neil: Yep.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Yeah, I don’t buy that loss to Denver is on the coach. They were looking past the Broncos.

Salfino: OK, but looking past a team is a failure of coaching, Josh.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Perhaps, but the entire team took the week off. That’s a team loss, not O’Brien in particular.

neil: Houston has been a bad defensive team after they lost J.J. Watt to an injury at midseason. And overall, they’re 31st in the league in QB Elo rating allowed per game.

Salfino: If they were looking past the Texans, I chalk that up 100 percent to the coach.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Good teams lose weird games every year.

In 1994, Steve Young was benched against the Eagles. Just embarrassed.

joshua.hermsmeyer: The Texans are fifth in EPA/play on offense. I don’t see how you can call them bad.

Salfino: But O’Brien is so obsessed with running Carlos Hyde that he doesn’t open the offense up in anticipation of his defense being bad. He has to lean into more offensive explosion with Watson and not play conventionally in “establishing the run.” His mindset every week should be that he needs to score 35 points. He has the horses to do this, IMO.

joshua.hermsmeyer: As for the Titans, Ryan Tannehill is either much better than we ever gave him credit for, or Mariota was playing so badly that he effectively sunk a pretty good team.

Salfino: Tannehill has been great. The throw to Brown on the 91-yard TD was fantastic. But Brown — like Samuel — has really emerged of late. He’s averaging 21 yards per TARGET the past three games.

Now the Titans play the Texans twice? That’s crazy. In a matter of weeks, the Titans have somehow gone from a team you dread watching to a fun team with explosive skill players. How did this happen?

sara.ziegler: With all of the weirdness this weekend, the Texans and the Titans are still more likely than not to make the playoffs — both have the edge over Pittsburgh.

So it looks to be a wild finish there.

Salfino: You always have a puncher’s chance with Watson. But the Texans are not a good team. Maybe not a bad one either — but a team that the rest of the AFC should hope makes the playoffs. I bet every playoff team in the AFC is rooting for Houston over Tennessee.

neil: Idk — I’d still rather face Tannehill than Watson in a playoff game.

Salfino: Yeah, that’s fair. Ironically, they both share the same weakness — sack rate.

neil: I am also stunned Tannehill has been as good as he’s been.

Remember when the joke was that, OK, next year, the Dolphins will break out with him — every year? For, like, six straight years?

This is that breakout I guess.

Salfino: And Tannehill has Derrick Henry, who played through a hamstring injury that sapped his speed, but he just ran over people instead. He had that hamstring wrapped, and his hamstring along looked like it weighed 100 pounds. Henry and Brown are two of the most unique skill players in the league, given their size. There is no prototype to compare them to. And Brown combines rare speed with a defensive end’s body.

sara.ziegler: Another big game for playoff chances was the Rams-Seahawks game Sunday night. Don’t look now, but the Rams are up to a 36 percent chance in our model (from 14 percent two weeks ago).

Which means I give the Vikings a 100 percent chance of missing the playoffs.

Salfino: Who would have thought that Tyler Higbee would end up being the player who would turn the Rams offense around.

neil: They also clamped down on Russell Wilson defensively, which was impressive.

Salfino: Wilson had nothing last night. I was shocked. The bag of tricks was empty.

joshua.hermsmeyer: The Rams are 2-0 since losing to Baltimore, so I think that qualifies as momentum, and they now must be considered one of the better teams in the league. Them’s the rules.

It would be something if Dallas were able to right the ship and beat L.A. — and save Jason Garrett’s job for another season.

sara.ziegler: Someone has to win the NFC East!

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Teams Are Excelling When Their QBs Leave The Pocket. Can That Continue?

In Kansas City’s Oct. 6 game against Indianapolis, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes faced a third and 18 from the Colts 27-yard line. Perhaps a bit skittish after an 8-yard sack on the previous play, Mahomes vacated the pocket early despite good protection from his line. Retreating backward, Mahomes faked left, then spun around and sprinted to the right sideline. He turned upfield at the boundary, and before crossing the line of scrimmage, he threw the ball approximately 35 yards across his body to wide receiver Byron Pringle in the end zone.

Mahomes is perhaps best known for his rocket arm and improbable no-look passes, but his ability to salvage plays like this — scrambling outside the pocket when the intended play design fails — is also off the charts. Mahomes has quickly become exhibit A when coaches talk about the value of a QB who can create out of structure. Throws outside the pocket have been on the rise across the league in recent years, including plays that are explicitly designed to put the QB on the move. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has even said that scheming movement for his quarterback is what makes his offense go.

This season, it seems to be paying dividends for teams that are proficient at it. With some notable exceptions, NFL teams that are successful on dropbacks outside the pocket have tended to win more games.

The Chiefs, 49ers and Patriots are all likely playoff teams that have taken different approaches to moving their quarterbacks.

The Chiefs have eight wins and rank fifth in the NFL in expected points added per play on dropbacks outside the pocket. I looked at all 60 plays that Kansas City has run outside, and I determined that half were improvised — plays made when the original call in the huddle broke down. On those improvised plays, Mahomes and the Chiefs averaged 0.39 EPA per play1 — 0.27 EPA per play better than the schemed plays designed by Reid.

San Francisco’s similar success to Kansas City belies a profound difference in approach. The 49ers are tied for the league lead in wins with 10 and are first in the NFL in EPA per play on outside dropbacks (0.51). But the Niners have run the second-fewest outside dropbacks in the league (28), and while the Chiefs have been reliant on the improvisational brilliance of their superstar QB, San Francisco has leaned heavily on head coach Kyle Shanahan. Nearly two-thirds of the 49ers’ plays outside the pocket in 2019 have been schemed, and Shanahan’s offense has been brilliant on those 18 occasions, earning 1.2 EPA per play. But when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been asked to improvise outside the pocket, he’s been a liability, accruing -0.43 EPA per play.

Similarly, the Patriots seldom ask Tom Brady to leave the pocket. The Patriots rank just above the 49ers in outside dropbacks on the year with 32, third-fewest in the league. Perhaps one reason is that when the 42-year-old Brady does move outside, it’s generally been a disaster: 62.5 percent of Brady’s plays outside the pocket have been improvised, and New England has an EPA per play of -0.70 on those scrambles. That’s far worse than the team’s work on schemed plays, which have generated 0.0 EPA per play.

Which approach is most likely to succeed? To answer that, we need to know if we should expect outside-the-pocket performance to continue. And if it does, which flavor of outside-the-pocket performance is most likely to persist: the improvisational approach exemplified by Mahomes and Kansas City, or the scheme-based approach of Shanahan and San Francisco?

To try to answer these questions, I tested the year-to-year stability of EPA per play both inside and outside the pocket.2 The results were somewhat surprising. It turns out that a quarterback’s performance inside the pocket has a 96 percent chance of being more stable than their performance outside the pocket. That is, a QB’s performance inside the pocket is a better predictor of future success (and future struggles) than the plays he runs outside of structure. This aligns generally with the work of Eric Eager at Pro Football Focus, who found that QB play from a clean pocket is a more consistent measurement of quarterback performance, relative to QB play under pressure. Moreover, the evidence suggests that performance on schemed plays outside the pocket — specifically play-action — is almost completely unstable, further driving home that we can’t infer much about a quarterback’s success on outside the pocket.

None of this is to say that outside-the-pocket performance doesn’t matter. It’s simply unpredictable. Fumbles have an enormous impact on the outcome of a game, but they’re basically random events. Just because a team has had good or bad fumble luck throughout a season doesn’t mean future fumbles are more or less likely to occur.

We can use this information to set reasonable expectations for the rest of the season and into the postseason. Kansas City relies on Mahomes’s out-of-pocket exploits to a large degree: They’ve run nearly as many plays outside as San Francisco and New England have combined. And while outside-the-pocket performance is generally unstable across years, the type of plays Mahomes makes out of structure tend to be the most steady. Mahomes is also impressive throwing from the pocket. Among healthy, qualifying QBs, Mahomes ranks second in in-the-pocket QBR, behind only Lamar Jackson. It’s reasonable to conclude that his performance has a good chance to continue.

Mahomes has performed well in and out of the pocket

Quarterback rating in plays inside and outside the pocket for QBs this season with a minimum of 100 passing attempts, through Week 13

player Team games out of pocket in pocket TOTAL
Matthew Stafford* DET 8 15.1 82.7 68.5
Lamar Jackson BAL 12 72.1 76.9 81.6
Patrick Mahomes KC 10 75.2 74.6 76.6
Drew Brees NO 7 8.6 72.8 61.0
Dak Prescott DAL 12 81.1 70.8 72.9
Deshaun Watson HOU 12 84.7 68.0 71.9
Derek Carr OAK 12 55.3 67.7 56.3
Kirk Cousins MIN 12 66.5 66.7 60.5
Kyler Murray ARI 12 23.7 64.0 59.6
Jimmy Garoppolo SF 12 87.5 63.8 58.4
Russell Wilson SEA 12 92.8 63.4 72.1
Jacoby Brissett IND 11 18.4 59.5 48.2
Teddy Bridgewater NO 7 18.0 58.2 47.8
Matt Ryan ATL 11 28.3 58.0 54.5
Carson Wentz PHI 12 94.4 57.9 64.3
Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA 11 58.5 57.7 64.1
Aaron Rodgers GB 12 66.1 55.5 55.9
Philip Rivers LAC 12 12.0 55.1 46.2
Tom Brady NE 12 12.1 54.4 52.5
Josh Allen BUF 12 18.1 54.2 47.3
Jared Goff LA 12 46.0 50.3 42.1
Ryan Tannehill TEN 8 18.3 49.8 52.9
Sam Darnold NYJ 9 36.2 48.7 43.3
Joe Flacco* DEN 8 35.7 48.0 48.3
Case Keenum WSH 8 72.0 47.1 47.2
Baker Mayfield CLE 12 30.8 46.9 51.8
Daniel Jones* NYG 11 28.4 46.7 51.4
Jameis Winston TB 12 92.1 46.0 52.0
Mitchell Trubisky CHI 11 39.0 44.1 38.8
Andy Dalton CIN 9 7.3 42.7 39.5
Kyle Allen CAR 10 43.6 41.4 38.3
Nick Foles JAC 4 5.9 40.0 34.3
Gardner Minshew JAC 10 66.6 38.1 43.3
Marcus Mariota TEN 6 16.7 33.1 33.0
Mason Rudolph PIT 9 65.2 32.7 32.9
Jeff Driskel DET 3 45.6 30.8 48.8
Josh Rosen MIA 6 13.3 21.5 19.7
Dwayne Haskins WSH 6 10.2 13.0 14.2

*Quarterbacks sidelined with injuries coming into Week 14.

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

The performances of Garoppolo and Brady outside the pocket, however, take on less importance. Garoppolo likely won’t be as good in the future on outside plays — since most of them were schemed play-action — and there’s a chance that Brady won’t be as bad moving forward. We should probably temper our expectations on that count, though, since it’s unlikely that Brady will grow new legs at age 42. Perhaps the poor out-of-pocket numbers are here to stay for New England. More concerning is Brady’s very average in-the-pocket QBR of 54.4 through 13 weeks. If that number doesn’t improve, the Patriots’ path through the postseason could end up being one of the toughest, despite their gaudy regular-season win total.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

How Fast Can You Skip To Your Favorite Song?

Welcome to The Riddler. Every week, I offer up problems related to the things we hold dear around here: math, logic and probability. Two puzzles are presented each week: the Riddler Express for those of you who want something bite-size and the Riddler Classic for those of you in the slow-puzzle movement. Submit a correct answer for either,<a class="espn-footnote-link" data-footnote-id="3" href="#fn-3" data-footnote-content="<p>Important small print: Please wait until Monday to publicly share your answers. In order to 👏win 👏, I need to receive your correct answer before 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on Monday. Have a great weekend!</p> “>3 and you may get a shoutout in next week’s column. If you need a hint or have a favorite puzzle collecting dust in your attic, find me on Twitter.

Riddler Express

For this week’s Express, I present an apparent coincidence that has bothered me since 2015:

After being ambushed by the forces of the First Order on the planet Jakku, the droid BB-8 narrowly escaped and requires immediate help. Fortunately, there is one person (named Rey) on the planet who can help BB-8, but they’ve never met and BB-8 has no idea where Rey is located.

Even if BB-8 did know where Rey was, what’s the probability that BB-8 could reach her within 24 hours? Assume Jakku has a radius of 4,000 miles (similar to Earth) and that BB-8 rolls along at a speed of 3 miles per hour.

(Note: FiveThirtyEight is owned by Disney, which also owns BB-8, Jakku and whatever ramshackle hut Rey is hiding out in.)

Submit your answer

Riddler Classic

From Austin Chen comes a riddle of efficiently finding a song:

You have a playlist with exactly 100 tracks (i.e., songs), numbered 1 to 100. To go to another track, there are two buttons you can press: (1) “Next,” which will take you to the next track in the list or back to song 1 if you are currently on track 100, and (2) “Random,” which will take you to a track chosen uniformly from among the 100 tracks. Pressing “Random” can restart the track you’re already listening to — this will happen 1 percent of the time you press the “Random” button.

For example, if you started on track 73, and you pressed the buttons in the sequence “Random, Next, Random, Random, Next, Next, Random, Next,” you might get the following sequence of track numbers: 73, 30, 31, 67, 12, 13, 14, 89, 90. You always know the number of the track you’re currently listening to.

Your goal is to get to your favorite song (on track 42, of course) with as few button presses as possible. What should your general strategy be? Assuming you start on a random track, what is the average number of button presses you would need to make to reach your favorite song?

Submit your answer

Solution to last week’s Riddler Express

Congratulations to 👏 Kevin Winters 👏 of Rochester, New York, winner of last week’s Riddler Express.

The last edition of the Riddler posed a question about the World Series, in which one team hosts Games 1, 2, 6 and 7, while the other team hosts Games 3, 4 and 5. On average, the home team wins about 54 percent of the time. So then what was the probability that the home team would lose at least six consecutive games?

If we indicate a home win with an ‘H’ and a home loss (i.e., a road win) with an ‘R’, then you might think there are three ways the home team could lose at least six consecutive games out of seven total games: HRRRRRR, RRRRRRH and RRRRRRR. We can find the probability for each of these sequences by multiplying together 54 percent for each home win and 46 percent for each road win. The probabilities of HRRRRRR and RRRRRRH are each 0.512 percent, while the probability of RRRRRRR is a slightly smaller 0.436 percent.

But of course, as solver An Nguyen noted, this riddle has a twist. Let’s take a closer look at the sequence HRRRRRR, keeping in mind that one team will be the home team for Games 1 and 2 and then the road team in games 3, 4 and 5. After the first two games (HR in the sequence), the series will be even, with both teams having won one game apiece. After Games 3, 4 and 5 (RRR in the sequence), the original home team will now be ahead 4-1 in the series. In other words, the series is over — Games 6 and 7 will not be played, and there cannot be six consecutive road wins. Meanwhile, the other two sequences (RRRRRRH and RRRRRRR) indeed go to seven games, and so six road wins will occur. That means the answer is 0.512 percent plus 0.436 percent, or about 0.947 percent. That’s less than a 1 in 100 chance of it happening — a once-in-a-century event!

For extra credit, you were asked to find the probability that the home team will lose at least five consecutive games, as well as four consecutive games. Just as with six consecutive games, the strategy is to list out the possibilities, making sure no team wins four games (and hence, the series) prematurely.

Sequences in which the home team loses at least five consecutive games include those in which it lost at least six consecutive games, as well as the following: HHRRRRR, RHRRRRR, HRRRRRH, RRRRRHH and RRRRRHR. Of these sequences, the first three don’t make it past Game 5. The last two end at Game 6, meaning they are technically one and the same sequence, RRRRRH, which has a probability of 1.112 percent. All together, the home team will lose at least five consecutive games 0.947 percent plus 1.112 percent, or about 2.06 percent — a twice-in-a-century event.

To determine how often the home team loses at least four consecutive games, you must also consider the sequences HRHRRRR (which lasts seven games), RHHRRRR (which also lasts seven games), HRRRR (which lasts five games) and RRRRH (which can last different numbers of games, depending on what happens after Game 5). Taken together, the probability that the home team loses at least four consecutive games is about 8.1 percent.

Just in case you were wondering, the math says there’s a 23 percent chance the home team will lose at least three consecutive games and a 61 percent chance the home team will lose at least twice in a row.

Finally, puzzle submitter Dave Moran compared these predicted rates with reality. According to Dave, there have been 95 World Series since MLB went to the 2-3-2 format in 1924 (remember, there was no World Series in 1994 due to a strike). Based on the probabilities calculated above, we’d expect there to have been one World Series with at least six straight road wins — sure enough, there was exactly one (2019). We also expect there to have been two World Series with least five straight road wins — sure enough, there were two (1996 and 2019). Finally, we’d expect eight World Series to have had at least four straight road wins — and, to no one’s surprise at this point, there were exactly eight (1926, 1934, 1941, 1949, 1961, 1986, 1996 and 2019).


Solution to last week’s Riddler Classic

Congratulations to 👏 Joshua Goodman 👏 of Cambridge, Massachusetts, winner of last week’s Riddler Classic.

Last Riddler, five friends were playing the Riddler Lottery, in which they each chose exactly five numbers from 1 to 70. The first friend noticed that no number was selected by two or more friends. The second friend observed that all 25 selected numbers were composite (i.e., not prime and not 1). The third friend pointed out that each selected number has at least two distinct prime factors. The fourth friend remarked that the product of the selected numbers on each ticket was exactly the same. The fifth friend had nothing more to say. What was the product of the selected numbers on each ticket?

Solver Tim Thielke started by listing out all the numbers that met the criteria of the second and third friends (or really just the third friend, since having at least two distinct prime factors means a number must be composite). There are 41 numbers between 1 and 70 that have at least two distinct prime factors: 6, 10, 12, 14, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24, 26, 28, 30, 33, 34, 35, 36, 38, 39, 40, 42, 44, 45, 46, 48, 50, 51, 52, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 60, 62, 63, 65, 66, 68, 69 and 70. From this list, we somehow need to figure out which 25 numbers the friends chose.

Solver Maria Ilyukhina next looked at numbers that were multiples of large primes. (She also explained in her answer that it was her birthday — so happy birthday, Maria!) For example, suppose the product of the numbers on each of the five friends’ cards is divisible by 13. Looking carefully, you’ll see that only four of the numbers in the list above are divisible by 13: 26, 39, 52 and 65. So at most four of the friends’ products can be divisible by 13 — not all five. For the five products to be equal, that means no one chose a multiple of 13. The same goes for larger primes, like 17, 19 and 23. This leaves us with 28 numbers: 6, 10, 12, 14, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24, 28, 30, 33, 35, 36, 40, 42, 44, 45, 48, 50, 54, 55, 56, 60, 63, 66 and 70. We’re getting there!

Out of these 28 numbers, we need to pick the 25 that will be split into five groups of five numbers, each with the same product. If we were to multiply all 28 of these numbers together (it’s not entirely clear yet why we would do this, but bear with me), the product happens to be 236·322·512·78·115. Imagine splitting up these prime factors into the five groups. That’s easy for the five powers of 11 — one factor of 11 will go into each group. But dividing up the eight factors of 7 into five groups is trickier, because eight isn’t a multiple of five. We need to get rid of three of them, leaving us with five factors of 7, so that each group will get one of them.

And so, in going from 28 numbers down to 25, we need to remove three numbers so that the overall product of 236·322·512·78·115 becomes 235·320·510·75·115 — when every exponent is a multiple of 5, the prime factors are evenly distributable among the five groups. As James Barton explains in his writeup, the three numbers you must eliminate are 35, 63, and 70. Indeed, the 25 selected numbers are 6, 10, 12, 14, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24, 28, 30, 33, 36, 40, 42, 44, 45, 48, 50, 54, 55, 56, 60 and 66, and the product of the numbers on each ticket is 27·34·52·71·111, or 19,958,400.

Now that we know the 25 numbers the friends picked, we’re ready for the extra credit: How many different ways could they have selected their numbers? This was challenging, as solver “Lenboy” attested, having submitted, “Jeezaloo. Not enough time in the day… someone can write a code…” as an answer.

It turns out there are many ways the friends could have selected their numbers. One example is: {6, 15, 56, 60, 66}, {10, 14, 48, 54, 55}, {12, 18, 42, 44, 50}, {20, 21, 33, 36, 40} and {22, 24, 28, 30, 45} — sure enough, the product of each group of five numbers is 19,958,400. Working together, solvers Boris Perkhounkov and David Zimmerman wrote some code to find the total number of unique ways you can form the 25 numbers so that each group of five has the same product. The answer turns out to be a whopping 12,781!

Finally, there are 5!, or 120, ways to assign these five groups to the five friends. Therefore, there are 12,781·120 = 1,533,720 total ways the friends could have picked their numbers so that their statements were all true. (Before you ask, yes, I also accepted 12,781 as a correct answer here.)

While that number is sizable, it’s still much, much smaller than the total number of ways the five friends could have chosen any five numbers. What I’m really saying is that these friends didn’t pick their numbers randomly. They were totally in cahoots.

Want more riddles?

Well, aren’t you lucky? There’s a whole book full of the best puzzles from this column and some never-before-seen head-scratchers. It’s called “The Riddler,” and it’s in stores now!

Want to submit a riddle?

Email Zach Wissner-Gross at [email protected].

North Carolina’s New House Map Hands Democrats Two Seats — But It Still Leans Republican

It doesn’t get a lot of attention next to the presidential race, but Republicans have a fighting chance to retake control of the U.S. House next year. Dozens of Democrats sit in seats President Trump carried in 2016, and the GOP still has a built-in structural advantage due to geographic self-sorting and how some districts are drawn. But some of that advantage disappeared this week, when a three-judge panel approved a new congressional map for North Carolina to replace the state’s previous Republican gerrymander.

It’s been a busy year for North Carolina district maps. In September, North Carolina’s state-legislative map was thrown out for violating the state constitution’s “free elections” clause. Within the month, Democratic-backed plaintiffs filed a similar lawsuit against the state’s U.S. House map, which was drawn to maximize the number of Republican districts. In October, a majority-Democrat panel of judges found that the map showed signs of “extreme partisan gerrymandering” and issued an injunction against it, and the Republican legislature passed a new map in mid-November. The Democratic plaintiffs argued that the boundaries were still not fair enough, but on Monday, the judges ruled in favor of the map, which will now be used for the 2020 elections.10

Let’s dive into the partisanship of the new map. Thanks to Daily Kos Elections, which has already calculated the results of the 2016 and 2012 presidential races (among other recent elections) in each of the new districts, we’ve calculated FiveThirtyEight partisan leans11 for each of the new seats, and the new map does significantly alter the partisan composition of several North Carolina districts. That means that, instead of 10 pretty safe Republican districts and three pretty safe Democratic ones, North Carolina now has eight fairly Republican-leaning districts and five fairly Democratic-leaning ones.

Two red districts in North Carolina just became blue

The FiveThirtyEight partisan leans* of North Carolina’s congressional districts, before and after court-ordered redistricting in 2019

District Old Partisan Lean New Partisan Lean
1st D+35 D+10
2nd R+13 D+19
3rd R+24 R+24
4th D+35 D+29
5th R+18 R+36
6th R+16 D+18
7th R+18 R+20
8th R+15 R+10
9th R+14 R+13
10th R+24 R+38
11th R+28 R+17
12th D+37 D+34
13th R+10 R+36

*Partisan lean is the average difference between how a state or district votes and how the country votes overall, with 2016 presidential election results weighted at 50 percent, 2012 presidential election results weighted at 25 percent and results from elections for the state legislature weighted at 25 percent. Note that FiveThirtyEight’s current partisan leans do not yet incorporate the results of the 2018 election.

Source: Daily Kos Elections

The two districts whose partisan lean changed hues as a result of the new boundaries are the 2nd and 6th. Instead of being an R+13 seat encompassing the exurban and rural areas around Raleigh, the 2nd District now covers Raleigh and its immediate suburbs and is now 19 points more Democratic-leaning than the country as a whole. Former state Rep. Deborah Ross, the Democrats’ 2016 U.S. Senate nominee, headlines a crowded field of Democrats running for the seat, while current Republican Rep. George Holding has said he will not run here again. Similarly, the 6th District has also gone blue — from R+16 to D+18 — by swapping several rural counties for urban areas like Greensboro. Incumbent Republican Rep. Mark Walker sounds unlikely to run here again, too; instead, he is reportedly considering primarying a Republican incumbent for U.S. Senate. Meanwhile, Democrat Kathy Manning, who lost a bid for the 13th District in 2018, looks like a formidable contender for the new 6th.

The new map makes it very likely that Democrats will pick up two House seats in North Carolina in 2020. That’s important because it makes Republicans’ quest to regain House control — or at least eat into Democrats’ majority — that much harder. In effect, Republicans need to flip two additional Democratic-held seats just to stand pat in the House.

But many Democrats still aren’t satisfied with North Carolina’s new map. In pressing the legal case against it, National Democratic Redistricting Committee chair Eric Holder complained that the redrawn map “simply replaces one partisan gerrymander with a new one.” And he has a point — the new map does still give an advantage to Republicans, albeit a smaller one than the old map. Under the old lines, the median district by partisan lean was 10 points more Republican-leaning than the state as a whole.12 And under the new lines, the median district is 7 points more Republican-leaning than the state as a whole.13

If you’re a fan of a roughly proportional map — a.k.a., one where the share of seats a party wins is aligned with its statewide vote share — that’s a problem, as is the fact that the map is virtually unresponsive to changes in the national mood. To see this in action, just compare the share of congressional seats Republicans would win under different national popular vote scenarios in North Carolina to Pennsylvania, which got a new court-ordered congressional map in 2018. In that case, the Democratic-controlled Pennsylvania Supreme Court appeared to go out of its way to create competitive districts that would ensure the makeup of the state’s congressional delegation changed with the political winds. North Carolina’s map appears less responsive.

As you can see in the chart above, as Republicans or Democrats do better in the national popular vote, we would expect them to flip multiple seats in Pennsylvania. For example, assuming congressional results track exactly with partisan lean, we would expect Democrats to win eight out of 18 seats in a D+1 environment, but 10 of 18 seats in a D+6 environment and just five of 18 seats in an R+5 environment.

But in North Carolina, partisan lean implies that Republicans would win eight out of the 13 new districts in a Republican wave year (R+10) … and in a neutral political environment … and in a Democratic wave year (D+9). In fact, Democrats would have to win the national popular vote for U.S. House by 13 percentage points to win a majority of North Carolina’s U.S. House seats (again, assuming the results tracked exactly with partisan lean).

Plaintiffs could have appealed the case to the North Carolina Supreme Court in hopes of getting a more competitive map, but they declined to do so on Monday, citing the fact that candidate filing is already underway. And of course the maps will be redrawn in North Carolina — and everywhere else — starting in 2021, so both sides will have another crack at drawing the map soon.

How Did The Democrats End Up With A 2020 Field So White And Male? 

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): The 2020 Democratic field was once hailed as the most diverse ever. But now, even as many candidates try to position themselves as the best person to build on the “Obama coalition of young people, women and nonwhite voters,” the four front-runners are nevertheless all white, and three are men.

On Tuesday, Kamala Harris dropped out of the race, and candidates like Julián Castro and Cory Booker have all struggled to break out, languishing below 4 percent in the polls nationally. Harris, in particular, had a bruising race, once sitting at 15 percent nationally to only plummet to 3 percent before ending her campaign.

Is this surprising? What are some possible explanations?

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): My somewhat complicated theory is that Booker kind of lost the informal black candidate primary to Harris from 2017 to early 2019. Harris then got all the buzz as the most viable black candidate when she entered the race. But then she struggled. I’m not sure if her campaign had the clearest of messages, but I also think she faced electability questions, which dog female candidates in particular.

julia_azari (Julia Azari, political science professor at Marquette University and FiveThirtyEight contributor): I think it’s pretty surprising that the top of the field is now dominated by white candidates. And I think there are a couple of explanations that don’t fall under the usual “electability” catch-all, although that certainly deserves consideration, too.

One is that Obama’s election removed the novelty of a person of color winning the nomination, which means it’s harder to frame media coverage in a way that doesn’t have to tackle really tough questions about minority representation and what it might mean to actually address those inequalities.

Another explanation is because people have changed their views on race to more closely match their political parties, white Democrats have adopted (superficially at least) pretty racially liberal opinions, which means all the candidates can now talk about race and the concerns of black and Latino communities to various degrees. Obviously, with varying levels of success, but still, that’s a big change from a few years ago.

geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, elections analyst): Joe Biden’s standing in the race has been a big hindrance, too, because he’s just so strong among older nonwhite voters, particularly black voters, who might have been a potential base for some of these other candidates.

meredithconroy: (Meredith Conroy, political science professor at California State University and FiveThirtyEight contributor): If I had to give a blanket explanation for why the nonwhite candidates aren’t polling well among Democrats, my answer is that there was never going to be a lot of room between a former VP (Biden) and former runner-up (Bernie Sanders). Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, Harris and Pete Buttigieg all made inroads at some point, although only Warren’s has really been sustainable. Why Castro and Booker haven’t (yet) is, in my view, related to their race and the “electabilityovercorrection following 2016, or this idea that only a white, moderate male can take on Trump at the ballot box. Because sexism and racism motivated voters’ choice at the ballot box in 2016, I think Democrats are reluctant to be all-in for a candidate that will make those attitudes more salient in 2020.

julia_azari: What’s interesting to me about that, Meredith, is that this electability message seems to have somehow turned into one about race and less about gender.

sarahf: In other words, it should be equally surprising Warren has continued to do well?

julia_azari: Yeah, and while Amy Klobuchar isn’t doing great in the polls, she hasn’t really been attacked on her electability credentials (which is not to say that attacks on her haven’t been gendered). Similarly, Kirsten Gillibrand didn’t drop out because of electability critiques. She lacked elite support and did poorly in the polls.

That’s not to say that women are doing great in this field; they’re not, as a group. But the fact that concerns over electability also affect Booker and Castro after Obama won big majorities is interesting to me. Perhaps a message Democrats took away from 2016 is to be generally cautious about demographics, but not ideology. I find that odd, but there’s a lot going on.

sarahf: What’s so hard to untangle in all of this, too, is just how much of it is about the individual candidates and the competition they face. Like Meredith said at the outset, with both a former VP and a former runner-up in the race, did that ever really leave that much oxygen in the race for other candidates?

geoffrey.skelley: Sanders’s appeal is just so narrow, though. His ceiling of support just isn’t as high as some of the other candidates, which is why Biden’s relative strength looms large to me. He’s taken hits in the race, but he hasn’t really fallen down.

Perry has written about this before, but black voters have a pragmatic streak in the primaries, which means they have traditionally backed establishment candidates, which is one explanation for Biden’s continued success.

But in a universe where there is no Biden running, I think someone like Harris or Booker fills that lane better than Sanders or Warren. Considering Harris’s appeal earlier in the cycle among white college graduates, she might’ve had the best chance, too, to weave together that same sort of coalition that boosted Obama in the 2008 primary. But obviously that didn’t happen, and I think you can point to Biden as part of that, for eating up her support among nonwhite voters, and to Warren for grabbing college-educated voters.

perry: Would Stacey Abrams, Michelle Obama or Oprah have done better?

In other words, how big is the electability problem (a candidate’s gender and race) vs. the Biden problem (he is fairly popular with black people, even setting electability arguments aside)?

sarahf: In a race where a candidate’s perceived ability to beat Trump has been paramount, that’s hard for me to answer. I do think it’s notable how the conversation around electability has centered less on what characteristics voters think are important for winning vs. what they say they believe their neighbors think is important, and how that limits their choice as a result. For instance, in “magic wand” polls, where respondents are asked who they’d make president if they had the power to magically bypass the election, Warren has routinely beaten Biden, which stands out to me as a pretty stark example of just how different the race could be if electability wasn’t a factor.

julia_azari: I sort of doubt that any of those candidates would have done a lot better, Perry. That’s partly because the field is so crowded, and because there are so many existential questions about what the party should be doing.

meredithconroy: I think Abrams would’ve done fine, depending when she jumped in, because she has political experience. But I think Michelle Obama and Oprah wouldn’t have done as well because Democrats are generally more wary than Republicans of outsiders and people without formal governing experience.

julia_azari: Would Abrams have cleared the field, though? I doubt it. Sanders and possibly Warren would probably still have run, and if they’re in, then Biden jumps in, too. And I don’t see Buttigieg being put off by Abrams either.

geoffrey.skelley: Yeah, I don’t think there was a single field-clearer out there. Someone with Biden’s resume, maybe, if he or she were considerably younger and without as many failed presidential runs.

perry: Why Booker hasn’t done better is super interesting to me as well. I don’t think he actually has an electability problem, considering on the surface he’s the most similar to the last Democrat who won — black, male and running on a message of hope.

Yet, that hasn’t worked for him. Maybe he has been unlucky (people found another Rhodes Scholar mayor). Then again, maybe it’s because he’s been unable to pick a lane.

Buttigieg says I’m young; Biden says I’m experienced and electable; Warren and Sanders both say they’ll bring big structural change.

Booker, on the other hand, says I’m kind of left, but not that left, kind of young, but not that young, etc.

sarahf: And so you think it’s kind of inexplicable, Perry, that Booker hasn’t done better given all that?

julia_azari: My hunch is that this is the year of the factional candidate.

perry: Yeah, that is my view as well.

sarahf: Wait, what does the year of “the factional candidate” mean?!?

perry: Buttigieg and Biden are running as decidedly center-left. Warren and Sanders to the left. Harris and Booker on the other hand have refused to pick a lane, and in my view, fusion is failing.

julia_azari: Yeah, it’s the year of the candidate who can excite some segment of the party, rather than someone who seems OK to most segments.

perry: Better said.

sarahf: But isn’t trying to appeal to a wide swath of the party versus any one specific group kind of Biden and Buttigieg’s whole appeal? Hence, the whole “Vote for me, I won’t rock the boat too much” strategy?

Or would you say, no — they’ve still staked out an ideological lane more explicitly.

julia_azari: Look at the demographic trends. Biden does well mainly with older voters and minority voters, while Buttigieg really only does well with white voters, particularly those with a college degree. Which is similar to Warren, although she does a little bit better than him with nonwhite voters — but not by much. That’s factional support!

perry: Additionally, Harris and Booker lost the black left to Sanders and Warren, while black voters who are not-that-left ideologically flocked to Biden. That same kind of ideological split exists among white voters, except Buttigieg has done better with more moderate white voters than Harris and Booker have done with moderate black voters.

I do think, in defense of Harris and Booker, perhaps a black candidate can’t run on super-left platform and be seen as viable. There’s a reason why the Jesse Jackson model (a black candidate running on populist platform) has not been replicated and why there is no black Bernie Sanders-style candidate in the race.

sarahf: This theory of the year of the factional candidate is an interesting one and would also help explain to me why someone like Andrew Yang has overperformed expectations as an outsider-y type candidate in a field that has otherwise been not that receptive to candidates of color like Harris and Booker, who have taken a more middle-of-the-road approach. Tulsi Gabbard falls under this category as well I think, given her small-but-loyal fan base.

But this still doesn’t explain someone like Castro, right? After all, he did make being super liberal a core part of his campaign at one point — remember how he got everyone (except O’Rourke) to raise their hand at the first debate in support of making it a civil, not criminal, offense to cross the border without the proper documentation?

perry: In my view, Warren and Sanders don’t leave a lot of room for other super liberal candidates.

meredithconroy: I mostly agree. But I think Castro was smart to carve out space for a candidate who openly supports issues of social and racial justice. He is championing issues that often get sidelined. Only it hasn’t had much impact. Paul Begala, a former adviser to Bill Clinton, said that embracing progressive positions on things like immigration may not have done much to help Castro, given liberal voters’ loyalty to Sanders and Warren. So Castro’s poll numbers continue to languish.

sarahf: That’s the thing — he missed the last debate and doesn’t seem likely to make the next one in December either.

But OK, with Harris’s departure from the race, does that mean there really are only four possible front-runners at this stage? Or do people think this could still change?

julia_azari: Klobuchar-mentum!

perry: After every debate, people in the media, myself included, say Booker and Klobuchar did well. Yet they remain stagnant in polls.

Do more donors support Booker now, in part because he would be one of the few minority candidates on the debate stage and is probably more viable than Castro?

Maybe. If I had to bet on a fifth candidate to emerge, I would bet on Booker.

But I am not confident of that bet at all.

julia_azari: I agree with Perry.

meredithconroy: Sanders, Biden and Warren have cemented themselves as front-runners, I think. which I think leaves room for one, maybe two more. I would bet on Buttigieg, Booker or … maybe Yang? AM I TOO ONLINE?

geoffrey.skelley: The problem for Booker is he needs four qualifying polls for the December debate by Dec. 12, and he has zero at the moment. Maybe he can take advantage of Harris’s exit to pick up some of her support — not that there was a ton at this point — but the problem is he’s running out of time.

Yang, on the other hand, is currently one poll short of qualification and the “Yang Gang” is a legit financial resource — he raised about $10 million in the third quarter, which could keep him going for awhile.

sarahf: How will you think about the race moving forward?

julia_azari: The big question for me is whether Castro or Booker picks up any steam as a result of Harris dropping out. Or Klobuchar.

geoffrey.skelley: Maybe the absence of a nonwhite candidate at the top of the polls causes some people to shift their support, but I think we should keep in mind that many of Harris’s supporters will most likely flock to one of the other leading candidates. According to a recent poll from CBS News/YouGov that looked at who voters’ second-choice candidates would be in the early states, 80 percent of Harris supporters named one of the four leading candidates as their second choice.

julia_azari: Yeah, you’re probably right.

I’m on Twitter too much.

geoffrey.skelley: That said, I do think that Gabbard and Yang have very committed supporters who will keep them in the race for a while, but if I’m trying to figure out if there’s a nonwhite candidate who can actually win the Democratic nomination. That list may be empty at this point if Booker doesn’t improve substantially.

meredithconroy: Big picture, the lack of nonwhite front-runners signals to me that a vast number of voters are reluctant to support a nonwhite candidate because they are worried about winning swing states. For voters who are more concerned with policy than beating Trump, my thought is they have probably already settled on Sanders or Warren, which leaves a candidate like Castro — who also has a progressive agenda — out to dry. Long term, it should be a wake-up call for the Democratic party as an organization. They need to continue to build a diverse bench and do more to elevate nonwhite and non-male candidates.

geoffrey.skelley: General election turnout really matters for Democrats. Yes, Hillary Clinton lost for multiple reasons in 2016, but one big reason was lower turnout among black voters. Now, I don’t think anyone expected it to be at the same level as in 2008 or 2012 with Obama not on the ballot, but if you look at cities like Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, which were located in the three states that decided the election, black voter turnout was down in all three. Clinton only lost those states by a combined 78,000 votes or so.

So if you’re a Democrat trying to figure out how to win electorally important and fairly white states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, turnout among nonwhite voters is key. The same is true if you’re thinking about other potential swing states like Arizona and North Carolina.

Which means it should be at least somewhat concerning for the Democratic Party that there are really no viable nonwhite candidates left in the race two months before Iowa.

The Impeachment Hearings Just Confirmed Voters’ Preexisting Opinions

The first phase of the impeachment process is over, and according to our impeachment tracker, public opinion on impeaching and removing President Trump has remained largely steady through most of November, with roughly 47 percent of Americans supporting impeachment and 44 percent opposed. And in our latest survey with Ipsos, where we check back in with the same group of respondents every two weeks using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, we uncovered a similar trend.

A majority of Americans (57 percent) still think Trump committed an impeachable offense, which is essentially identical to the share who said so in mid-November when we first asked the question. There was one relatively small but noteworthy shift between the first and second rounds of our survey. After the first round of hearings, where witnesses testified that Trump and his allies had been involved in the push for investigations into Joe Biden and his son, respondents were more likely to agree that Trump withheld military aid to pressure the Ukrainians into opening an investigation. In our initial survey, 56 percent of respondents said they believed this happened, but in the latest poll, that number rose to 63 percent. Democrats are still, however, much more likely than Republicans to think that Trump conditioned the aid on the investigations.

Overall, though, opinion on impeachment seems to have hardened as a result of the public testimony instead of persuading people to change their position. For instance, a majority of respondents (58 percent) said that the hearings did shift their thinking on whether Trump committed an impeachable offense, but in almost all cases they simply became more convinced of their original opinion. Ninety-five percent of people who said the hearings made them more likely to think Trump committed an impeachable offense already said they thought he committed an impeachable offense in the first wave of our poll. Similarly, 95 percent of those who said the hearings made them less likely to think Trump committed an impeachable offense already thought his behavior wasn’t impeachable.10

Americans are split on whether Congress should decide Trump’s fate

Many Americans appear to have made up their minds about whether Trump committed an impeachable offense, but what do they think should happen to Trump next? This time, we asked respondents how they thought the impeachment process should end for Trump: Should he be impeached by the House and removed from office by the Senate? Or should his fate be decided in the 2020 election? Respondents were slightly more likely to say that the voters should determine what happens to Trump’s presidency (51 percent), while 47 percent said Congress should impeach him and remove him from office.

This means that 12 percent of respondents in our survey believed that Trump committed an impeachable offense, but that he should not be impeached and removed by Congress. Notably, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to occupy this middle ground. Just about 17 percent of Democrats believe that Trump committed an impeachable offense but his fate should be decided by the voters, rather than Congress, compared to only 7 percent of Republicans.

It’s important not to overstate the influence of the people who believe Trump committed an impeachable offense but should not be removed, given that they constitute a relatively small slice of Americans overall. But this group could still be significant for Democrats looking to draw more people into the pro-impeachment camp, since the fact that they’re already convinced of the severity of Trump’s behavior (and mostly identify as Democrats) could mean they remain somewhat persuadable.

Most Americans don’t think Ukraine interfered

Our survey also suggests that one of Trump’s defenders’ key arguments isn’t really landing. Throughout the hearings, Republicans in Congress have repeatedly floated an inaccurate theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, using the idea as a justification for why Trump would want to ask Ukraine for investigations in the first place. But according to our survey, the idea that Ukraine interfered isn’t gaining much traction with the public. Only 30 percent of Americans believe that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. By contrast, 71 percent of Americans believe that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. And the theory isn’t even resonating broadly among Trump’s supporters: Republicans aren’t any likelier than Democrats to think that Ukraine meddled in 2016.

There is one group, though, where a substantial chunk of respondents do believe Ukraine interfered in 2016: Fox News viewers. More than 4 in 10 respondents who say they predominantly watch Fox News say that Ukraine did interfere in the 2016 election, a higher share than among respondents who get their news from other networks. Fox News viewers were also less likely than other respondents to believe that Russia interfered with the last presidential election.

Fox viewers are most likely to believe Ukraine interfered

Share of respondents in an Ipsos/FiveThirtyEight poll who said they think Ukraine or Russia interfered in the 2016 election, by the TV news network they predominantly watched

TV Network TOTAL Ukraine Russia
Fox 332 44.2%
CBS 174 35.3
ABC 184 33.1
NBC 176 29.4
CNN 171 29.2
MSNBC 108 10.5
Other 100 38.7
Don’t watch 476 21.4

From a poll with 1,726 respondents, conducted from Nov. 27 to Dec. 2. TV news network information comes from wave 1 of the poll, conducted Nov. 13 to Nov. 18.

It makes sense that Fox News viewers are more likely to believe that Ukraine interfered, since Trump himself recently laid out the debunked theory on “Fox & Friends.” Overall, though, the fact that the narrative hasn’t gained widespread purchase even among rank-and-file Republicans isn’t especially good news for Trump’s defenders. As the impeachment process moves forward, both sides may find it increasingly difficult to change Americans’ minds.

Why Kamala Harris’s Campaign Failed

Kamala Harris dropped out of the presidential race on Tuesday, and she’s probably the most significant candidate to do so to date. The senator from California was polling about as well as any candidate outside of the four leading contenders (Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren). She was one of only seven candidates who have qualified for the December debate. And in a field that has become dominated by white and male candidates, she was one of the few female and nonwhite contenders.

What happened to Harris? I wrote an article in early October, after she had gradually dropped to mid single digits in most polls, trying to explain her decline. The most plausible theories, in my view, were:

  1. Democratic voters were not looking for an Obama-style candidate running more on charisma and personality than on policy.
  2. Biden, Sanders and Warren were just strong rivals. In particular, Biden’s strength among black voters and Warren’s support among college-educated whites boxed Harris out among two groups she really needed.
  3. Harris herself had not been an ideal candidate. At times, she struggled to explain her policy stances and her reasons for running for president.
  4. And finally, Harris, as a woman of color (she is the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants), faced extra high hurdles with a Democratic Party that’s focused on each candidate’s perceived ability to defeat President Trump. Many voters view nominating a woman as a risky bet in a general election.

Those explanations still ring largely true to me — but not fully.

Harris dropping out now surprised me. I expected she would stay in the race at least through Iowa and perhaps even New Hampshire, and drop out if she had poor showings in those contests. There has been a lot of reporting about infighting in her campaign and struggles to raise money, so I suspect those were the main factors driving her to drop out before any voting has taken place. Put simply, she may have run out of money, as Harris herself hinted in a post on Medium describing her decision to leave the race. Also, her poll numbers have been pretty steadily declining.

Maybe Harris just decided there was no path to victory, and that there was no reason to move forward.

So do I still subscribe to the theories of Harris’s struggle that I laid out in October? Mostly, yes. The former vice president, Biden, has remained at the top of the polls in part because of his strong support among black voters, and the senators from Vermont and Massachusetts, Sanders and Warren, respectively, are still formidable. Harris put in decent performances in the October and November debates, but other candidates’ performances got better reviews, and it’s still not totally clear why a voter would choose her over others in the field. Moreover, the questions raised about Warren’s electability by both journalists and more centrist Democrats over the last month reinforce my view that any female candidate in this campaign would and does face obstacles that the male candidates don’t face. I think Harris would have faced a similar electability panic if she were near the top of the polls at this stage of the race. (No black woman has ever been elected governor, and Illinois’s Carol Moseley Braun and Harris are the only two ever elected to U.S. Senate.)

The rise of Buttigieg, however, does make me question the idea that voters don’t want an Obama-style candidate. The South Bend, Indiana, mayor is running an Obama-style campaign in many ways. Maybe some Democrats do want an Obama-ish figure, just not Harris. That said, in recent months Buttigieg has leaned into running as a more moderate candidate, particularly in opposing the more liberal policy ideas of Sanders and Warren. That moderation on policy is one way to signal to voters that a candidate is trying to maximize his or her electability. I’m not sure a pivot to the center would have worked for Harris — a woman of color from California — as well as it has for a white man from the Midwest, since I’m not sure voters saw Harris as less electable because of her policy stances. (Voters perceive women and black candidates as more liberal than white candidates, even if their policy stances are similar.)

Here’s a final thought on Harris: I wonder if she and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke were both overhyped as candidates by the press, myself especially in the case of Harris. (I wrote a piece about her presidential prospects in June 2018.) As Joel Wertheimer, who served as associate staff secretary to Obama, wrote, “The story of Kamala Harris is one sports fans are familiar with: The scouts just got it wrong. That’s really it.”

Harris had been touted as the “female Obama” for years. A lot of the reporters and political staffers, including me, who now have a big role in America’s political conversation came of age professionally during Obama’s rise. We were (and probably still are) inclined to look for the next Obama. (I think looking for the next Obama also resulted in Sen. Marco Rubio being overhyped in the 2016 cycle, for example.)

But Harris is not Obama, and 2019 is not 2007. The rise of Trump and his brand of identity politics have probably made Democrats more wary of a female or minority presidential candidate. Obama is the defining figure of the party — multiple candidates, such as Biden and Buttigieg, are casting themselves as his logical heir, even if they aren’t black. And Harris, unlike Obama, was not the leading alternative to an establishment-backed candidate (Hillary Clinton) who had been wrong on the central issue of the day (the Iraq War). She was running in a primary with lots of viable candidates where one of the big questions is exactly what the primary is about (electability, restoring stability or big structural change).

Perhaps Harris, had the campaign unfolded a little differently, could have held onto the polling gains she made in the wake of the first debate. It’s possible that she got a bit unlucky and simply underperformed in a few crucial moments. But it’s also possible that pundits like me overestimated her chances from the start.

What Did We Learn About The Contenders In The NFL’s Week 13?

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): Week 13 had a little bit of everything: matchups between division leaders, out-of-nowhere upsets and yet another Chargers heartbreaker. A kicker caught a touchdown … thrown by a punter! What more could we ask for?

Let’s start with the biggest surprise of the week for me: Philadelphia, which could have jumped back into a tie for the NFC East lead with a win, marched down to Miami and gave up 37 points to Ryan Fitzpatrick and Co.

joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): Philly was befuddled by the muddle huddle.

Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): I always kick myself when I assume a team has completely transformed a unit in-season. I did buy the narrative that the Eagles had improved their pass defense immeasurably relative to their early-season woes. But this team was always weakest in the defensive backfield, so even getting guys back did not fix the problem, obviously, as Fitzpatrick — who has now played the Eagles seven times with seven different teams — just tore them apart.

gfoster (Geoff Foster, FiveThirtyEight contributor): Some smart NFL people predicted the Eagles to win the NFC this year based on the talent on their roster, which is one of the most expensive in the league. I think earlier this season it was easy to write off these losses because of their injuries at receiver and all over their defense. But now, is it time to admit that this team is just not that good?

joshua.hermsmeyer: I’m not sure what to make of the Eagles from top to bottom this season. They just gave a five-year, $21.8 million contract to Jake Elliott at the most replaceable position in football outside running back.

sara.ziegler: Sure, you laugh at a huge kicker contract, until you’re the Cowboys holding kicker tryouts on a December Sunday…

gfoster: Look at what Fitzpatrick did to this defense:

Salfino: They seemed to have the depth to be fortified against typical in-season problems. But I think we found out that even the starters were not that good. And nothing has really held up through in-season attrition. Even their coaching has not responded. Can you imagine being beaten by gadget plays now three straight games? It’s just embarrassing.

sara.ziegler: Fitzpatrick isn’t that bad! He’s almost league average in our QB ratings.

That makes what Miami is doing this year all the more confusing.

gfoster: This is the closing argument in the case that NFL tanking doesn’t exist. If the Dolphins really wanted Joe Burrow or Chase Young or whomever in the draft, they would simply play Josh Rosen at quarterback. But with Fitzmagic in there, they are going to get games like this from him, and they will win more.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I still contend that tanking did exist … but maybe the spotlight on their supposed tanking caused them to stop.

I think the pressure got to them!

sara.ziegler: There’s also the argument that Miami is just bad at tanking.

Salfino: It’s like “The Producers.” If you’re trying to be terrible, it’s actually not that easy.

sara.ziegler: Hahaha

gfoster: To clarify: I think you can tank in the NFL. But you can only do it by purposefully playing a lesser QB. Like, say, Ryan Finley over Andy Dalton.

Salfino: But what’s the carrot for tanking? It’s one starter out of 22, and we don’t even know if that guy ever is really the best player.

If it’s just about compiling draft capital, then it’s more binary — be bad, it doesn’t matter if you’re the worst or not.

joshua.hermsmeyer: So the Bengals have a one-game lead on the New York Giants for the first overall pick. You have to think Cincinnati takes Burrow if they lose out. But an interesting question is: If the Giants get the first overall, do they take Burrow or trade down?

Salfino: Geoff, they’re just trying to make us feel better about the Jets….

sara.ziegler: There’s no way to feel better about the Jets today.

gfoster: I think they would try to trade down, and if that didn’t work, then they would just take Chase Young at No. 1 and not feel too bad about it.

Salfino: I will eat 1,000 bugs if the Giants draft Burrow. Plus, Burrow is old for a prospect. I have low confidence with all QB prospects translating as expected but even lower with older prospects. Burrow should be dominating just based on his age.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think it would be pretty funny if Giants GM Dave Gettleman didn’t trade back and take the profits, just to be stubborn.

Salfino: I would just take Young, period. No matter what team I was.

Will Burrow get more draft capital in return than Young? I’m uncertain about that. And there are going to be a lot of veteran QBs on the market that teams think they can rehab. It will be like musical chairs.

gfoster: Burrow can join a long line of LSU QBs to dominate the NFL, names like … JaMarcus Russell, Matt Flynn, Zach Mettenberger.

sara.ziegler: Hey, Flynn was a dominant backup.

Salfino: You can never take away Flynn’s six-TD game. He monetized that sucker.

gfoster: Here’s the thing about the Bengals win: It wasn’t that big of an upset. They were only 2.5-point dogs. No team in the NFL is that bad. Also, the Jets are deeply weird. I follow this team closely, and I still don’t understand them.

sara.ziegler: Please, yes, the “this loss was fine” take.

Salfino: Ha ha ha

joshua.hermsmeyer: Apparently, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Jets are the first team to lose to teams that were 0-7 or worse coming into a game. That’s a weird way to say you gave the Dolphins and Bengals their first wins, but there we are.

Salfino: The Jets did not have a red zone snap against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Not a snap!

I’m not sure the Jets could beat the 1976 Buccaneers right now.

gfoster: The second I heard Dalton was starting, I knew the Jets had no chance. I knew he was going to come back motivated and looking to polish a resume. Also, he passed Ken Anderson for most TD passes in Cincy history. Which is funny, because does that mean that the Bengals were going to sit to him the rest of the year when he was one shy of that record?

Salfino: Benching Dalton was all an elaborate scheme to preserve the memory of Ken Anderson.

gfoster: Dalton is going to be really solid on the 2020 Bears.

sara.ziegler: OMG

joshua.hermsmeyer: Geoff has seen the future, and it’s bleak.

sara.ziegler: That’s the future I want.

Salfino: Dalton is one of those vets that teams are going to turn to this offseason: Dalton, Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston … (Though maybe he stays now?)

sara.ziegler: It’s always so weird when the up-and-comers become the has-beens.

gfoster: Ryan Tannehill is NOT making Mariota look good in Tennessee.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Winston’s highs are too high to let him go, I think.

Salfino: But Winston is what he is now though. That’s never going to be good enough. He’s not going to stop throwing picks and getting sacked.

joshua.hermsmeyer: But if all you do is try and avoid interceptions, you end up being discount Aaron Rodgers, post 2015.

Salfino: I agree that there’s an ideal INT rate, and it ain’t 0 percent. But Winston makes too many mistakes, period.

joshua.hermsmeyer: What happened to loving the gunslinger, Salfino?

Salfino: No gunslinging on first downs and in the red zone.

sara.ziegler: Words to live by.

joshua.hermsmeyer: This disrespect of the Joe Namath archetype is why the Jets lost, tbh.

Salfino: Namath’s INT rate in his AFL heyday was below average for his time, BTW.

Back to Tannehill: He’s been sacked 24 times in 200 pass plays, which is ABSURDLY bad. He is proof again that sacks are mostly a QB stat. Put him anywhere, and he’ll be dumped at a double-digit rate. Jameis has this flaw of holding the ball too long, too.

gfoster: Tannehill is leading the league in yards per attempt. And Derrick Henry is now Jim Brown, apparently.

What is happening?

sara.ziegler: The Titans have won their last three games and now have a very real chance to make the playoffs — up to 42 percent in our model.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Between Tannehill and Lamar Jackson, I think the league is figuring out the secret to success at QB is to play your WR there. (Tannehill was a WR in college, and some scouts thought Lamar would only be successful in the NFL as a WR.)

sara.ziegler: 🤣

Speaking of Lamar … the Baltimore-San Francisco game was wildly entertaining. These two teams are just really fun to watch right now.

joshua.hermsmeyer: It helps when you have way more offensive plays to watch because neither team is punting.

Salfino: Both teams were just running the ball up and down the field. It’s so weird that this is where we are with the two best teams in football now.

gfoster: There were only seven drives in the second half of that game. And they resulted in two field goals, two punts, two turnovers on downs and a fumble.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Killjoy

sara.ziegler: That game-ending drive by the Ravens was a thing of beauty, though. Six minutes and 30 seconds to win the game on a field goal? Love it.

gfoster: It feels like the Ravens’ break-in-case-of-emergency plan is to just give designed runs to Lamar. AKA, play like the 2018 Ravens.

Also, Josh, kicker may be the most replaceable position in the NFL. But Baltimore having Justin Tucker in the playoffs is a clear edge.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Bill Belichick said he’s the best to ever do it. So I won’t argue it.

Salfino: Oh, man. You just knew Tucker was making that, even in those conditions. That dude is just unreal.

Geoff, didn’t you lose a playoff game in fantasy when Tucker kicked 137 field goals? 🙂

gfoster: I may have.

Salfino: It was one of those 99 percent win probability losses.

sara.ziegler: I’ll take Tucker at the end of an important game … but maybe not in a press conference.

joshua.hermsmeyer: **leaves chat**

Salfino: Kickers can’t be the cool kids. They’re the rock critics of football.

sara.ziegler: LOL

The other great matchup of the weekend that I wanted to talk about was the Patriots-Texans game on Sunday Night Football.

Salfino: Tom Brady RIP.

sara.ziegler: I live for the “Tom Brady is done” takes.

Salfino: Brady is someone who occasionally evokes Tom Brady now. But Belichick has let him down with his supporting cast of receivers. How big a bust must N’Keal Harry be if he can’t even get on the field ahead of this motley crew?

Does this change our opinion on the Texans? It’s weird that no one seems to have done so, with what — on paper — is a signature win for them.

sara.ziegler: The Texans are hard for me to figure out. They were so thoroughly dismantled by the Ravens that I have a hard time understanding where they fit in the echelon of good-but-not-great teams.

gfoster: This news for the Texans is huge, if it’s true:

sara.ziegler: Whoa, hadn’t seen that about J.J. Watt.

Salfino: Deshaun Watson had a great game. If he plays within structure like that and sprinkles in the occasional Watson things, they can overcome Bill O’Brien’s coaching. I think. At least until they play the Ravens.

gfoster: The funniest thing about the NFL is how scared everyone is to write the “Patriots Are Done” stories. We have all experienced this too many times.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I’ve seen a take floating around that it was Gronk’s greatness that was keeping Brady afloat all these years, and perhaps there’s something to it.

Salfino: Well, Rob Gronkowski and Josh Gordon were intermediate/deep receivers, and now that guy for the Patriots is ?????

The Patriots can win still like the 2015 Broncos did with the Ghost of Peyton Manning.

sara.ziegler: The Patriots can still win like the 2003 Patriots did!

Salfino: 🙂

gfoster: I think the lack of weapons on the outside is real. The running game is also way, way worse this year. Brady’s whole game is about being in sync with his receivers and having them be in the right spot at the right time, and you can tell that they are not in sync at the moment. But give Josh McDaniels and them a bye in the playoffs to work on some stuff, and no one will be surprised to see them fix these problems.

sara.ziegler: Brady screaming at his receivers on the sidelines doesn’t fix everything?

joshua.hermsmeyer: It’s a toxic relationship right now.

Salfino: But I think it’s more than “outside,” though maybe that’s a proxy of having no one who can remotely stretch the field. Gronk stretched it from the slot in the seam. But yes, they are woefully deficient at a position that should not be hard to fill.

As to Sara’s point, a QB has to be loved or feared, and Brady has always been way more feared than loved. So it’s in character for him. It’s worked.

gfoster: I think that actually COULD help things, Sara. You are telling me Jakobi Meyers and Harry aren’t spending more time in the film room this week to avoid another Brady scolding on national TV? Everyone in that organization seems to buy in to the system or get discarded.

sara.ziegler: Fair — I felt bad for those guys, and they weren’t even on the screen!

Salfino: The Patriots for sure know that QBs are not really part of the team, they are above the team. Brady is just a coach proxy on the field. Probably ahead of most of the coaches, too.

sara.ziegler: I will believe the Patriots are out of it when both Belichick and Brady are sitting on a beach somewhere while NFL games are being played, and not a moment before.

Salfino: There’s a report that the Patriots players are lobbying to bring Antonio Brown back.

But then Brown seemed to destroy the possibility.

gfoster: “Patriots players are lobbying to bring Antonio Brown” — according to reports from Antonio Brown.

Salfino: Brown is a 7-Eleven PR nightmare. Open all night.

gfoster: There’s only one person who can save the Patriots offense now:

joshua.hermsmeyer: 👏

Check out our latest NFL predictions.