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Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes vs. Bills’ Josh Allen: Who has the strongest arm?

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There’s a reason Monday night’s game between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs (5 p.m. ET, Fox) has the highest over/under (57.5 points) in the league for Week 6: two explosive offenses led by the NFL’s second- and fourth-leading passers, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes, respectively. Stats aside, the pair are in a tier by themselves when it comes to one specific attribute: arm strength.

Coaches know it, teammates know it, fans know it. And clearly, so do they.

Allen showed interest in a throw-off with Mahomes during a guest appearance on the “Pardon My Take” podcast in February — which Mahomes reciprocated. They were serious enough to schedule an event, Allen said on “Good Morning Football” back in August, but they were forced to postpone it because of COVID-19 restrictions. Still, EA Sports’ Madden NFL 21 picked a side, giving Allen the strongest “Throwing Power” rating in the game.

We may never see either quarterback fully uncork a pass in a real game — both estimate they can throw it at least 80 yards. And with Mahomes ranking No. 2 in the NFL and Allen No. 6 in pass attempts of 20 or more yards since 2018, don’t be surprised to see Monday’s game turn into a showcase of their cannon arms.

Quarterback guru Jordan Palmer, who has worked with both, has a unique perspective on their arm talent.

“What we haven’t seen yet [in 2020] is [Bills receiver Stefon] Diggs running a curl on the left, and Josh breaks a tackle and rolls to his right,” Palmer said. “And Diggs just takes off toward the goalpost and Josh throws one 78 yards across his body — which is totally doable.

“Remember the first ball that Patrick really threw deep to [Chiefs receiver] Tyreek [Hill]? The defensive backs settled their feet because they were so far away from the quarterback that [they thought] there was no way he’s going to throw it. … There’s two guys that can do that — it’s Patrick and Josh. I’m not talking about hitting a deep ball … I’m talking about the, ‘Oh my God, did you see that?’ and everybody is talking about it for two weeks.”

The stats

Since Mahomes took over as the Chiefs’ full-time starter and Allen entered the league in 2018, they have the longest air distance passes tracked by NFL Next Gen Stats. Mahomes’ longest such throw, the touchdown to Hill that Palmer referenced, against Atlanta in Week 2 of the 2018 preseason, traveled 68.6 yards:

Allen threw a 57-yard completion to Zay Jones that travelled 63.9 air yards in Week 2 of the 2018 regular season:

Allen has regular-season bragging rights there, but when it comes to scoring throws, Mahomes has been better, leading the NFL with seven touchdown passes of 40-plus air yards since 2018. Allen has one TD on such throws over that same span, tied for 18th.

The case for Mahomes

In the summer of 2019, in the days before training camp and with very few people around, Mahomes stood on the Arrowhead Stadium playing field, took a couple of steps for momentum and heaved a football over the vast seating area that rises three levels high. Just for the fun of it.

This doesn’t mean Mahomes has the strongest arm in the NFL, but it was an impressive feat just the same. His arm strength never fails to get the attention of his teammates.

“He’s got a big arm,” Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman said. “Going backward, sideways, no matter. I think he can throw it 50-plus every time. I’m very confident he can get the ball to me no matter where I am on the field.”

Mahomes’ big arm has been on display again this season. He threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Hill in Week 2 against the Los Angeles Chargers that traveled 53 yards in the air, and he threw it while running 11.2 mph. It’s only the third TD pass over the past four seasons in which a QB threw the ball 50-plus air yards while running 10-plus mph.

His 49-yard touchdown pass to Hardman in the end zone in Week 3 against the Baltimore Ravens was thrown off his back foot because of pass-rush pressure.

“This kid, he does all kinds of different things during practice,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “With that arm and with his athletic ability, the ball can be thrown from any platform. He’s shown that. He’s proven that.”

Mahomes has thrown passes of more than 80 yards just fooling around in pregame warm-ups. As Palmer mentioned, the Falcons defending Hill on the throw in that 2018 preseason game appeared to give up on the play at one point, thinking Mahomes couldn’t get the ball that far.

Hardman knows how they feel. In an offseason practice last year, when he was a rookie, he would quit running hard when he got to a certain point down the field, thinking he had no chance to get the ball. Mahomes even took to Twitter to remind the rookie that few places on a field are inaccessible to his passes.

“It’s a different kind of league, a different kind of player,” Hardman said. “It definitely took a minute to get used to the arm strength. It’s not something you’re used to. It took until training camp until I got a grasp of it.”

The Chiefs still marvel at the throw in Atlanta and the dimension it adds to their offense.

“That’s the cool thing with him,” Chiefs offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. “Nothing is impossible. I mean, the ball fluttered and still went 65 or 70 yards in the air. That beyond-deep threat is always available with him.

“You just don’t expect to see that in a game. You can see it in practice, where a guy can run 5 yards, crow hop, and chuck it. … You don’t usually get to see a guy fully uncork it in a game situation. That touchdown pass was pretty fun to see and it’s good to put on tape. Defenses have to know with Tyreek Hill’s speed and [Mahomes’] arm, you may have to guard 70 yards deep instead of 50. That can be a good thing for our offense.”

Few quarterbacks can match Mahomes’ arm strength, but Allen is one who might.

“Obviously Josh has an extremely strong arm,” Mahomes said this summer during an appearance on ESPN’s SportsCenter. “But I’ve yet to see someone have a stronger arm than me, so maybe we can line up — I know we talked about having a throw-off and then we can prove who really has the strongest arm.

“I have ultimate belief in myself. He does have a strong arm, but I’ve put it out there 80, 85 yards. If he beats that, he beats it.”

The case for Allen

The Bills made Allen the No. 7 overall pick in 2018 in part because of how his arm strength would fare in the cold temperatures and swirling winds of Orchard Park, New York. In his first career start, he showed his arm is plenty strong in normal conditions as well with what is still his longest completion in terms of air yards: the throw to Jones.

Palmer said the most impressive aspect of Allen’s arm strength is the effortlessness — “easy gas” as NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah calls it.

“It never looks like he threw it really hard, he doesn’t grunt when he rips it,” Palmer said. “His arm is the type of arm that when I have a group of other NFL starting quarterbacks, every day he’ll make one or two throws and the guys will giggle.”

Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll can’t point to a particular play Allen made in practice.

Not to say there haven’t been any; at this point, it has become routine.

“He’s got a rifle, obviously,” Daboll said. “You see it every day … I’m not going to compare him to any of the guys I’ve been around, but when he lets it go, it’s up there — and I’ve been around a few of them that have some pretty strong arms, but his is up there. He’s naturally gifted with his ability to throw the football. You’re kind of born with it, I think.”

Allen says the farthest he has ever thrown was 83 yards in Wyoming — but he admits he got “a little help” from the 7,200-foot elevation.

“I know [Mahomes] has a cannon as well, so for the meantime, we’ll just let everybody guess at who throws further,” he said.

The problem was never Allen’s capability to get a ball where it needed to be; before the 2020 season, it was his ability to do so efficiently. During his first two seasons in the league, the Bills quarterback completed 27% of his passes that traveled 20 or more yards downfield. That figure is up to 69% this season, good for fourth in the NFL.

His coaches trust him to make those throws this season, as Allen ranked second in the NFL in passing yards entering Week 6.

Despite his uncanny arm strength, Allen has worked to make sure he isn’t the type of passer to beat up his receivers’ fingers, like former strong-armed greats John Elway, Dan Marino and Brett Favre.

“I feel like that’s what really surprised me was the amount of touch for the speed that it’s coming,” Bills rookie receiver Gabriel Davis said. “It’s still got some good spin on it — it’s real easy to catch.”

So, will a friendly throwing competition happen?

“I think at some point it will,” Allen said. “I don’t think it’s the smartest thing to do it the day before or the day of the game. But I’m sure we’ll have the discussion when we’re out there and we see each other.”

Said Mahomes: “I’m usually in Texas and he’s usually in, I think California, so we’ll see what happens with that in the future. But I’m always up to any challenge.”

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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