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Big Ben: Steelers ‘got the short end of the stick’

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PITTSBURGH — Coming off an unplanned bye week forced by a rash of positive COVID-19 tests in the Tennessee Titans organization, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was audibly frustrated with the ramifications to the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ schedule.

“Of course we got the short end of the stick,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday.

Though the possibility remains that the continuation of positive tests from the Titans could force the team to forfeit games, Roethlisberger said he doesn’t think “they’ll consider forfeiting our game.”

The timing of the bye week — which was just a three-day break after the Steelers obtained special permission from the league and NFLPA to resume practice Monday — was especially frustrating for Roethlisberger, who felt he was finally getting in a rhythm in the first three games after a year off following season-ending elbow surgery.

“It’s tough, especially for someone like myself who was just starting to get back into the flow of things,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s not easy, but you’ve got to adjust. You’ve got to adapt and do the best you can.”

Before the break, the Steelers were 3-0 and had momentum going into the Week 4 matchup against the also-unbeaten Titans. Roethlisberger was making strides each week adjusting to the offense and a new cast of weapons.

He was critical of himself after each game, but Roethlisberger took steps during the week to improve on his shortcomings, like working on his footwork during a Wednesday practice — usually his day off.

“The league already tried to slow it down, so I guess I’m going to start back over from scratch and hope this week I didn’t take too many steps backwards,” Roethlisberger said of losing his momentum. “Just try to see how it goes this week, I guess.”

For Roethlisberger, adapting during the impromptu bye meant staying active at his home over the weekend — albeit with a different training partner.

“Well, I don’t just sit on the couch all day,” he said. “I throw every single day because my son won’t let a day go by without playing catch.”

With the Titans’ COVID-19 outbreak and positive tests also popping up in the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders‘ organizations, Roethlisberger acknowledged his own team would have to navigate more challenges in dealing with the virus beginning this weekend when 5,500 fans will be allowed at Heinz Field for the Steelers’ home game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“We need to be cautious, be careful and protect each other,” Roethlisberger said. “New challenges arise this week with fans being allowed in the game now. Fans are allowed in the stadium, which means we’re allowed to have guests in town and things like that. In the Roethlisberger family, we’re not changing anything. No guests are coming in town. But there are a few challenges that have been presented and so hopefully guys can continue to be as cautious and as careful as we have been to this point.”

NFLPA rep Cameron Heyward also said positive tests weren’t totally unexpected, and the NFL has protocols in place to navigate outbreaks — it’s up to the teams to follow them.

“As a country and as a world, we’re still dealing with this pandemic,” Heyward said. “To think we weren’t going to have positive tests is ludicrous. … There’s going to be more positives. It’s our job to minimize the amount it takes over a team. The things we’ve done to really change that are adding to our practice squad, because we understand there are going to be positives. If there’s not, then it’s not a true pandemic.

“With those, you have think, whether one guy gets it or two guys get it, we’re able to respond accordingly. But when an entire team or it spreads throughout your coaching staff and team, it’s going to be hard to really deal with the effects of that.”

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Augusta National hosts GameDay during Masters

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ESPN’s College GameDay Built By the Home Depot show has originated from dozens of college campuses across the country since 1993.

On Saturday, Nov. 14, the show will combine two of sport’s greatest traditions — college football and the Masters.

ESPN announced on Tuesday that College GameDay will originate from Augusta National Golf Club, which is hosting the postponed Masters Tournament on Nov. 12-15.

Top matchups that day are No. 9 Wisconsin at No. 13 Michigan and No. 2 Alabama at LSU.

“Any time College GameDay travels to a new destination it’s special, and the opportunity to be on the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club during the Masters is extraordinary,” said Jimmy Pitaro, chairman, ESPN and Sports Content. “As this iconic event coincides with the college football season for the first time, we look forward to getting fans ready for a football Saturday, while also showcasing the Masters and the greatest golfers in the world.”

Longtime ESPN hosts Rece Davis, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and others will broadcast from the par-3 course from 9 a.m. to noon ET.

In its 13th year at the Masters, ESPN will once again televise the first and second rounds from 1 to 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 12-13. There will also be expanded coverage on ESPN+, including exclusive practice-round coverage on Nov. 10-11.

Golf fans will also be able to watch Featured Holes coverage on ESPN+ on holes 4, 5 and 6 in each of the four rounds of the Masters.

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Trump Hasn’t Gained Ground Since The Debate, And He’s Running Out Of Time

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One question we posed after the last presidential debate was, Will the presidential race tighten?

Since its peak on Oct. 19, Joe Biden’s lead over President Trump in national polls has narrowed from 10.7 percentage points to 9.4 points, while Biden’s popular vote margin in our presidential forecast also shrank from 8.4 points to 7.9 points. Although, as you can see in the chart below, Biden’s odds have been relatively stable.

So what gives? Is the race tightening? And, if it is, why is our forecast different from our national polling average?

Well, two things. First, we’re still expecting some tightening toward Trump in our forecast, so we’re pricing that in a little in our model. And second, the forecast is mostly based on state polls, which have been more consistent with an 8-point Biden lead than the 9-to-10-point Biden lead we’ve seen nationally. (Remember, if used properly, state polls give you a more accurate projection of the national popular vote than national polls do, which is why our forecast relies on them so heavily!)

But let’s unpack the latest polls conducted entirely (or mostly) after the last presidential debate to better answer that question of just how much the race is tightening. Overall, we have six national surveys and eight battleground-state polls, and on average, these 14 polls show essentially no change from before the debate.

Not much has changed since the debate

State and national polls conducted entirely (or mostly) after the Oct. 22 debate compared to the last poll from the same pollster

Biden lead
Pollster Now Before change
MI Gravis Marketing +13 +9 +4
PA Gravis Marketing +7 +3 +4
PA InsiderAdvantage -3 +3 -6
PA Reuters/Ipsos +5 +4 +1
TX NYT Upshot/Siena -4 -3 -1
TX Data for Progress +1 +1 0
WI Gravis Marketing +11 +8 +3
WI Reuters/Ipsos +9 +8 +1
US IBD/TIPP +7 +5 +2
US Morning Consult +9 +9 0
US Rasmussen Reports -1 +3 -4
US RMG Research +7 +8 -1
US SurveyMonkey +6 +6 0
US Yahoo News/YouGov +12 +11 +1
Average 0

Source: Polls

In fact, the post-debate polls have arguably been pretty good for Biden. Gravis Marketing, for instance, last tested Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in July, but now finds Biden in better shape in all three states, including double-digit leads in Michigan and Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Ipsos and The New York Times Upshot/Siena College found essentially no movement in Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. Most national polls also showed little to no change. International Business Daily/TIPP’s five-day nationwide tracking poll had shown Biden declining, but it has recently found his lead back up in the high single digits.

There may have been a bit of tightening before the debate, but at this point, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of the race tightening since the debate. In fact, only two polls found clear, negative shifts for Biden, and they both come from pollsters that might have a particular interest in casting the president’s chances in a positive light.

First, a new InsiderAdvantage survey sponsored by the Center for American Greatness, a conservative media think tank, gave Trump a 3-point lead in Pennsylvania, which marks a 6-point swing in margin from its previous poll in mid-October. We, of course, can’t discount that this might be the case, but the ideological leanings of the pollster’s sponsor do give us pause. Similarly, a national poll from Rasmussen Reports/Pulse Opinion Research found Trump ahead by 1 point, a 4-point shift from its last survey. But Rasmussen has a well-known GOP house effect, or put another way, it consistently shows better results for Republican candidates compared with other polling firms.

We choose to be very inclusive when it comes to our forecast, so we toss almost everything into the polling kitchen sink. But, on the whole, these recent polls may indicate some post-debate widening in the race rather than tightening, especially if you take the two quasi-partisan polls with a small pinch of salt (which we’d recommend).

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The Cases Where Amy Coney Barrett’s Presence On The Supreme Court Could Make A Difference Immediately

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It’s official: Amy Coney Barrett will be the country’s next Supreme Court justice. She was confirmed by a 52 to 48 vote margin, and will be sworn in by Justice Clarence Thomas at the White House tonight — just in time for Election Day.

Barrett’s ascension to the court was incredibly swift — her confirmation hearings started less than a month after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, and this is the closest to an election a Supreme Court confirmation vote has been held. Notably, though, despite this accelerated timeline, Barrett emerged relatively unscathed from her confirmation hearings. This is quite a feat considering both the partisan nature of the hearings and the looming questions over whether the rush to confirm her jeopardizes the court’s legitimacy.

Barrett’s confirmation is incredibly consequential, too, as she will likely shift the center of gravity away from Chief Justice John Roberts and toward the right edge of the court’s conservative wing, which could potentially result in rulings that are significantly outside the mainstream of public opinion.

We won’t have to wait long to see how Barrett rules, either. She faces a slew of hot-button cases right off the bat, including a dispute over religious liberty exemptions, a challenge to the Affordable Care Act and several cases involving controversial Trump administration policies — not to mention any election-related fights that make their way to the court in the next few weeks, plus the fact that Mississippi recently asked the Supreme Court to consider its 15-week abortion ban, which directly challenges Roe v. Wade.

Why Barrett is poised to remake the Supreme Court

As we’ve written before, it’s hard to know exactly how a nominee to the Supreme Court will rule until they’re actually sworn in and begin weighing in on cases. But we do have data on Barrett’s three years as a judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and as you can see in the chart below, she was very conservative.

We looked at two separate analyses of her record on the court this month, and we found whether it was in regular opinions or in special en banc decisions in which the entire appeals court ruled together, she was consistently on the right-most edge — if not the most conservative judge on the bench. And she was especially likely to rule in a conservative direction on civil rights issues.

Those findings underscore the idea that Barrett is likely to be a reliable conservative vote on the court. And her confirmation is even more significant because she’s replacing one of the court’s stalwart liberals. If Barrett ends up being ideologically similar to Justice Samuel Alito, who is currently the second-most conservative justice on the Supreme Court, her replacement of Ginsburg could be one of the biggest ideological swings in modern court history.

In this scenario, Justice Brett Kavanaugh would replace Roberts as the court’s new median justice, which could lead to a significant rightward turn on the court, as Roberts is often the lone conservative justice to side with the liberals. He has cast several recent pivotal votes with the liberals, too, including a dispute in which the justices deadlocked 4-4 on whether to halt a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision that allowed state officials to count ballots that arrive up to three days late. With Barrett on the court, though, Roberts would lose that “swing justice” role.

In the short term, that means election-related cases could have very different outcomes — even including a new iteration of the Pennsylvania case, which Republican officials recently brought back to the court. And in the long term, conservative legal advocates may respond by bringing even more ambitious cases, questioning long-held precedents.

The hearings could have gone much worse for Barrett — and the court

The idea of confirming anyone to replace Ginsburg before the election was quite unpopular only a few weeks ago. While it’s true that most Supreme Court confirmation hearings are pretty partisan these days, around the time Barrett was named as the nominee, a majority of Americans said they wanted the winner of the election to choose the next justice. And polling by the Economist in mid-October also found that Barrett was the most unpopular nominee in Supreme Court history.

Now, though, Americans may actually have warmed to the idea of Barrett joining the court before Election Day. According to tracking polls by Morning Consult, support for confirming Barrett rose from 37 percent when she was nominated to 51 percent after the hearings were over and a Gallup poll conducted during Barrett’s confirmation hearings found a similar result. Notably, according to that Gallup poll, this was substantially higher than the share who wanted the Senate to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 (41 percent), and is even slightly higher than the support previous nominees since 1987 have received on average (48 percent).

Barrett’s confirmation wasn’t that divisive

Share of Americans who said they were or were not in favor of the Senate confirming each Supreme Court nominee

Nominee In favor Not in favor No opinion
Amy Coney Barrett 51% 46% 3%
Brett Kavanaugh 41 37 22
Neil Gorsuch 45 32 23
Merrick Garland 52 29 19
Elena Kagan 46 32 22
Sonia Sotomayor 54 28 19
Samuel Alito 50 25 25
Harriet Miers 44 36 20
John Roberts 59 22 19
Ruth Bader Ginsburg 53 14 33
Clarence Thomas 52 17 31
Robert Bork 31 25 44
Average for previous nominees 48 27 25

Data was not available for Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter, Anthony Kennedy and Douglas Ginsburg.

Source: Gallup

To be sure, this isn’t universal support for Barrett’s confirmation. Partisan opinion on her confirmation is really divided — according to Gallup, only 15 percent of Democrats wanted the Senate to vote to confirm her, for instance. A deep partisan divide in support isn’t a good sign for the court in general either, as it can reinforce perceptions that the court is itself a partisan institution. But Barrett could have emerged a lot less popular from her hearing — which is why the level of support she does enjoy is pretty notable, especially when you consider most Americans agreed that she’d push the court to the right (54 percent in that Morning Consult poll).

Barrett will be faced with highly controversial cases immediately

Barrett could be immediately faced with tough decisions, too, including voting on the fate of ballot deadlines in several states. There are a number of important or even precedent-altering cases at stake, too, and considering that the Roberts court has already been overturning more precedents with slim 5-4 majorities than any other court in modern history, that trend could further accelerate with Barrett on the court.

The day after the election, for instance, the justices will hear a case in which they’re being asked to reconsider a 30-year-old religious liberty precedent. In that case, the justices will consider whether that precedent makes it too hard for religious people to sue for exemptions. The majority opinion in that precedent-setting case, Employment Division v. Smith, was actually written by the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, but four of the current conservative justices have already signaled they may be willing to strike it down. Barrett could overrule it, and make it much easier for nondiscrimination provisions to be challenged by religious litigants.

And a week after the election, a case involving the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act will come before the court, in which the justices could declare the entire law invalid. Another important signal will be whether Barrett’s presence on the court gives conservatives a fourth vote to hear a case involving Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, which the state attorney general described as an “ideal vehicle” for “clarifying” how the court’s precedents on abortion should be interpreted. There are also several important Trump administration policies on the docket a little later this term — including the administration’s attempt to exclude undocumented citizens from the census count used for redistricting, and whether Trump unconstitutionally commandeered Congress’s power when he diverted Defense Department funds to expand the border wall with Mexico. Given that several recent Supreme Court decisions on Trump administration policies — including an attempt to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census — split 5-4, with Roberts casting a deciding vote with the liberals against the Trump administration, Barrett’s presence on the court could make a decision in favor of Trump more likely.1

Barrett made it through her confirmation hearings mostly without controversy, but we’ll see whether that lasts. It won’t take long to get a sense for just how far the Supreme Court’s conservatives are willing to go now that they hold a decisive majority for the first time in decades.

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