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Week 8 NFL Power Rankings: 1-32 poll, plus players who need to step up

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As the NFL Power Rankings charge toward midseason, this is a good time for assessment. And this week, it’s about identifying who must pick up the slack over the final 10 weeks of the campaign.

While most of the selections below are individual players, position units and even coaches bear some of this burden.

How we rank in our Power Rankings: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.

Previous rankings: 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | Preseason

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LV | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

Week 7 ranking: 3

Who needs to step up: S Minkah Fitzpatrick

Yes, Fitzpatrick had a pick-six against the Browns. But he needs to make splash plays more consistently. The Steelers traded away a first-round pick last season for the playmaker, who delivered almost immediately. He has been much quieter this season. His biggest play against the Titans was a holding call that gave Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry a fresh set of downs on the goal line after a would-be stop. Henry scored on the very next play. Fitzpatrick also missed a tackle of AJ Brown that led to Brown’s 73-yard touchdown. For the defense to play at the level it reached last season, Fitzpatrick needs to have a bigger positive impact on the game. — Brooke Pryor


Week 7 ranking: 2

Who needs to step up: K Harrison Butker

Butker has missed five extra points, and his PAT rate of 79.2% is the worst in the NFL. It hasn’t cost the Chiefs yet, but it’s only a matter of time until it does. What’s puzzling about this is that Butker has been so good on field goals (93%). He hit two 58-yarders in a Week 2 overtime win versus the Chargers. — Adam Teicher


Week 7 ranking: 1

Who needs to step up: S Jamal Adams

It’s not that Adams has underperformed when he has been on the field. It’s that he hasn’t been on the field enough, missing the past three games while the Seahawks’ defense has been gashed at a historic rate. Adams was arguably their most impactful defender before he hurt his groin in Week 3. Part of his impact was as a pass-rusher with two sacks, which remains tied for the team lead as Seattle has only nine sacks total. All the draft capital the Seahawks gave up for Adams will make it difficult to trade for another impact defender before next week’s deadline. They need their All-Pro safety to get back on the field and start making plays. — Brady Henderson


Week 7 ranking: 4

Who needs to step up: WR Miles Boykin

Boykin has failed to step up into the No. 2 wide receiver role for the Ravens, totaling 11 catches for 122 yards (ranking 104th among NFL wideouts). Boykin has struggled to develop any chemistry with Lamar Jackson and his increasing miscommunication with the quarterback has become a hot topic in Baltimore. With defenses loading up the box to stop the run game, Boykin can make teams pay with some big plays on the outside. The Ravens desperately need a third option because teams are focusing their coverages to stop wide receiver Marquise Brown and tight end Mark Andrews. — Jamison Hensley


Week 7 ranking: 6

Who needs to step up: OLB Preston Smith

Though six games last year, the edge rusher had seven sacks (on his way to a 12-sack season), 12 QB hits and a pass rush win rate of 24.2%. His numbers through six games this year: One-half sack, two QB hits and a PRWR of 15.6%. Smith made a key fourth-down stop on a read-option by Deshaun Watson in Sunday’s game, and the Packers’ defense needs more of that. — Rob Demovsky


Week 7 ranking: 5

Who needs to step up: OLB/DE Jadeveon Clowney

Winning the Clowney sweepstakes was supposed to push the Titans’ defense over the top. Clowney has gotten some pressure on the quarterback, but the Titans have yet to experience the type of game-wrecking performance that compelled them to sign him. Tennessee is last is opponent third-down percentage, allowing an NFL low 60%. A large part of that percentage is due to the Titans’ inability to get pressure on the quarterback. Through six games, the Titans only have six sacks. All of the blame shouldn’t fall on Clowney, but he hasn’t had the impact that was expected when Tennessee reunited him with Mike Vrabel. — Turron Davenport

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Max Kellerman finally agrees he was wrong about Tom Brady ‘falling off a cliff’ the past few seasons.

Week 7 ranking: 7

Who needs to step up: TE Rob Gronkowski

I wouldn’t say Gronkowski needs to step up as much as I think he needs to continue doing what he has done over the past two weeks — catching 10 passes for 140 receiving yards and two TDs. He is really starting to own the middle of the field and is having a lot of success on crossing routes and in the red zone on back-shoulder fades. This is especially important without O.J. Howard (Achilles) and with Mike Evans continuing to recover from an ankle injury. — Jenna Laine


Week 7 ranking: 8

Who needs to step up: LB Tremaine Edmunds

To his credit, Edmunds has played through a shoulder injury that he suffered in Week 1 and caused him to miss the Bills’ following game. But when he has been out there, the third-year linebacker hasn’t looked like the Pro Bowler we saw last season. His reactions seem slower, he has missed tackles and he has difficulty shedding blocks. Buffalo’s defensive struggles represent the team’s biggest surprise so far this season, but if the Bills are going to turn it around in pursuit of an AFC East title, Edmunds needs to lead the charge. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


Week 7 ranking: 9

Who needs to step up: The secondary

It wouldn’t be fair to single out just one player in the Saints’ secondary, since every one of them has taken turns with busted coverages or pass interference penalties — which have become New Orleans’ most nagging problem all season. The Saints have now allowed six passes of 48-plus yards in their past four games. And they have just one interception since Week 1. They need cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins to live up to their potential as one of the league’s best CB duos. And they need a lot more consistency from the talented safety trio of Marcus Williams, Malcolm Jenkins and C.J. Gardner-Johnson. — Mike Triplett


Week 7 ranking: 10

Who needs to step up: K Samuel Sloman

It could be too little, too late for Sloman, a seventh-round pick from Miami (Ohio), after the Rams signed veteran Kai Forbath to the active roster from the Bears’ practice squad ahead of Week 7. Sloman has lacked consistency, especially on PATs and kickoffs, while his field goal range remains somewhat of a mystery because of the Rams’ ability to score touchdowns. A ninth-year pro, Forbath could take over the job at any moment. — Lindsey Thiry


Week 7 ranking: 16

Who needs to step up: RB Chase Edmonds

Even if Kenyan Drake‘s ankle injury isn’t very serious, Edmonds will still need to keep playing like he did in Sunday night’s win over the Seahawks. Edmonds gained 145 total yards, had a major impact in overtime and helped kick-start the Cardinals’ run game. He showed, yet again, that he can handle whatever is thrown at him. And if the Cardinals want to make a run to the playoffs, Edmonds will need to play a significant role. — Josh Weinfuss


Week 7 ranking: 11

Who needs to step up: QB Nick Foles

Foles is the obvious choice. Chicago is well-positioned for a playoff run. The Bears have a championship-caliber defense and a better-than-expected kicker in Cairo Santos, but the offense is suspect. Coach Matt Nagy benched Mitchell Trubisky in favor of Foles to smooth out the rough edges and play a more consistent brand of offensive football. The results have been average. The Bears are winning, but the offense under Foles doesn’t look a ton better than it did when Trubisky ran the show. Foles is under enormous pressure to elevate his game. The season hinges on it. — Jeff Dickerson


Week 7 ranking: 12

Who needs to step up: WR T.Y. Hilton

Hilton is on pace for the least productive season of his nine-year NFL career. He only has 20 receptions for 242 yards and no touchdowns through the first six games. What makes Hilton’s lack of production even worse from a statistical standpoint is that the soon-to-be 31-year-old will be a free agent at the end of the season. — Mike Wells

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Marcus Spears details how big of a loss it is for the Browns that Odell Beckham Jr. will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

Week 7 ranking: 13

Who needs to step up: WR Rashard Higgins

With Odell Beckham Jr. out for the season with a torn ACL, the onus will fall on Higgins to replace him in the lineup. Higgins and QB Baker Mayfield, who also are close friends, have enjoyed a rapport on the field dating back to Mayfield’s rookie season in 2018. The Browns will need Higgins to be Mayfield’s security blanket alongside new No. 1 WR Jarvis Landry if the Browns are to finally snap the league’s longest playoff drought, which dates to 2002. — Jake Trotter


Week 7 ranking: 17

Who needs to step up: QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Over the past two weeks, the 49ers have gotten back to their roots of running the ball, playing good defense and having Garoppolo steer an efficient play-action passing attack. But the schedule is about to get tougher, and the burden is probably going to fall more on Garoppolo to deliver. That means pushing the ball down the field more consistently and taking advantage when opposing defenses stack the box to stop the run. Garoppolo has done it before, but for the Niners to remain in the NFC playoff hunt, they’ll likely need him to do it again. — Nick Wagoner


Week 7 ranking: 15

Who needs to step up: RT Trent Brown

The enigmatic and expensive right tackle rarely practiced in training camp due to a cranky calf, played three snaps in the season opener after aggravating the injury and was a force in the Raiders’ upset win at Kansas City on Oct. 11. Then he tested positive for COVID-19 last week, and because he was not wearing his tracker in the team facility, the four other starting offensive linemen had to self-quarantine and miss practice the rest of the week before facing a fearsome Tampa Bay defense. Since signing a four-year, $66 million deal with the Raiders, Brown has played 10-plus snaps in just 11 of 22 games. Las Vegas needs a better return on its investment. — Paul Gutierrez


Week 7 ranking: 18

Who needs to step up: TE Ian Thomas

It would be easy to say the entire defense that just allowed the Saints to convert 12 of 14 third downs and that has been horrible on third down all year. But I’m going with Thomas, because in seven games, he has only seven catches for an offense on which he should thrive. Sure, the tight end has been downplayed somewhat in Joe Brady’s scheme. But one reason it’s been downplayed is the lack of consistent playmaking ability by Thomas. It makes that position a possible target before the trade deadline. — David Newton

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Ryan Clark breaks down why Cam Newton hasn’t turned out to be exactly what the Patriots needed thus far into the season.

Week 7 ranking: 14

Who needs to step up: QB Cam Newton

Would the real Cam Newton please stand up? Is it the QB who electrified New England in the first weeks of the season? Or the struggling QB who hasn’t looked the same over his next three games? The contrast is striking. Fewer interceptions and better accuracy and decision-making are where the improvement starts. — Mike Reiss


Week 7 ranking: 19

Who needs to step up: RB Matt Breida

The Dolphins brought in two veteran running backs this offseason — Breida and Jordan Howard — to upgrade their run game, and both have been outplayed by second-year back Myles Gaskin. Breida was brought in for his speed and big-play ability, but he has yet to break an impact play. Over the past four games, he has 21 carries for 56 yards for only 2.67 yards per carry. With Tua Tagovailoa as the new starting QB, Breida needs to be more of a playmaker. — Cameron Wolfe


Week 7 ranking: 21

Who needs to step up: The defense

Melvin Ingram III is back from IR and the leader of the group. In his absence, the D gave up 17-point leads to Tampa Bay and New Orleans and lost both games. The defense also was in danger Sunday versus the Jaguars, losing a 16-point lead at one point. Justin Herbert might be all that, but if the defense doesn’t step up, it won’t matter. As Ingram said presciently, “We can’t keep making the same mistakes. We come in, we look at each other in the eye as men and say, ‘It’s got to stop somewhere, so why not today?'” The close losses have to stop, and Herbert can’t do it on his own. — Shelley Smith


Week 7 ranking: 22

Who needs to step up: DT Fletcher Cox

Carson Wentz has picked up his game, so now it’s critical for the primary driver on defense to do the same. Cox has 1.5 sacks through seven games, putting him on pace for 3.5 this season — a far cry from his 10.5-sack campaign in 2018. Cox draws plenty of double-teams and has had his share of impact plays, but big expectations come with an average salary of $17 million and the billing as one of the NFL’s best defensive players. With Hassan Ridgeway lost for the season and Malik Jackson dealing with a quad injury, it’s as important as ever that Cox sets the tone for a defense that’s yielding 28 points per game. — Tim McManus


Week 7 ranking: 23

Who needs to step up: RB Adrian Peterson

While the Lions are seeing better play from rookie D’Andre Swift, they need to be getting more from the Peterson. The future Hall of Famer’s numbers might not look too bad, but his production is trending down. He has gone from 6.64 yards per carry in Week 1 to 2.64 yards per carry in Week 7. If Detroit is going to give Peterson 10 or 11 carries a contest instead of, say, Kerryon Johnson or using Swift more, Peterson needs to be doing more with those opportunities. It’s not all his fault, though. The playcalling hasn’t always been advantageous to him, often resulting in runs in fairly predictable situations. Some playcall diversification from offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell might help. — Michael Rothstein


Week 7 ranking: 24

Who needs to step up: QB Drew Lock

Broncos coach Vic Fangio is correct when he calls the team’s passing-game struggles “an 11-man operation.” And the Broncos certainly have issues in pass protection (13 sacks combined in Weeks 2 and 3), dropped passes and a continued propensity for negative plays. Yet Lock is just a 53% passer since returning from a shoulder injury that kept him out of two games. He has looked impatient in the pocket, at times, leaving his progressions too early and passing up easier completions to make riskier and unsuccessful throws downfield. He needs help, but he can control how he operates in the pocket and how he handles the way defenses are playing him. — Jeff Legwold


Week 7 ranking: 25

Who needs to step up: QB Kirk Cousins

The Vikings’ QB was brutally honest after throwing three interceptions in the first half of Minnesota’s fifth loss of the season. “The reality is if the pace I’m on in terms of the interceptions, if that were to continue, I won’t finish the season,” Cousins said. He is tied for the league lead in interceptions (10) after throwing just six last season. If Cousins’ poor play continues, the Vikings will need to make a decision about his future. Yes, it would be financially catastrophic to move on from the QB who has two years (all basically guaranteed) left on his contract, but if Minnesota is going to try to rebuild and Cousins continues to play poorly, his status will absolutely be debated. — Courtney Cronin

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Rex Ryan considers the Cowboys’ failure to extend Dak Prescott to be the reason for the team’s on-field struggles.

Week 7 ranking: 20

Who needs to step up: LB Jaylon Smith

Just one? Well, then it’s Smith. Or DeMarcus Lawrence. But let’s stick with Smith. Don’t be fooled by his tackle stats. He has not made impact plays, and he has been poor in coverage and out of position. While he was added to the Pro Bowl last year, his best season was in 2018. If Smith does not improve, he might be a salary-cap casualty in 2021. He is set to make $7.2 million next season, which becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year. Given how the season has played out so far, nobody is safe; but the Cowboys could move on from Smith if he does not pick up his performance. — Todd Archer


Week 7 ranking: 26

Who needs to step up: RB David Johnson

As interim coach Romeo Crennel said Monday, the Texans “have to establish a running game.” Houston’s running game — Johnson and backup Duke Johnson — has failed to find consistency. David Johnson, who the Texans acquired in the DeAndre Hopkins trade and are paying more than $11 million to this season, doesn’t have a 100-yard rushing game for Houston yet and is averaging 3.88 yards per carry. He came close with 96 rushing yards in Week 5 against Jacksonville but otherwise has not been a sufficient replacement for Carlos Hyde, who ran for more than 1,000 yards in 2019. — Sarah Barshop


Week 7 ranking: 27

Who needs to step up: S Vonn Bell

One of the Bengals’ lone healthy additions from free agency has struggled in pass coverage this season. When Bell is the nearest defender, he has the second-highest total expected points added of any Bengals defender, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. He has had some tough moments early on and will look to improve a pass defense that is one of the worst in the NFL. — Ben Baby

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Washington coach Ron Rivera receives an ovation as he walks down the hospital hallway to ring the bell after his final day of cancer treatment.

Week 7 ranking: 29

Who needs to step up: RB Peyton Barber

In truth, there are more than a few who belong on this list, and Barber might not be needed as much if rookie Antonio Gibson becomes a consistent back. But for now, Barber keeps getting carries in Washington’s jumbo package and has averaged 2.13 yards on 38 carries. He averages only 0.63 yards after contact. It’s not like he is always getting huge holes, so his production goes to the entire group. But if Washington keeps using him in this role, then the production has to be greater. This team will not win with its pass game and therefore needs to be more effective with Barber in the game. — John Keim


Week 7 ranking: 28

Who needs to step up: Interim coach Raheem Morris

Morris might have lost his chance to be a prime candidate for the Falcons’ permanent coach when they fell to Detroit on Sunday. But what if Morris leads the Falcons to a 10-1 record? The reality is, Morris isn’t just auditioning for Falcons owner Arthur Blank; Morris is essentially auditioning for a coaching position for every team that will have any kind of opening on its staff next season. — Mike Wells


Week 7 ranking: 30

Who needs to step up: DE Josh Allen

When the Jaguars traded Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, they were counting on Allen to be an even better pass-rusher than he was as a rookie (10.5 sacks). Allen has made minimal impact, though, with just two sacks and seven tackles in five games. (He did miss two tilts with a knee injury.) He is getting more attention from opponents but also isn’t winning as many one-on-one battles with blockers as he should. He has to be better — much better — in the second half of the season. — Mike DiRocco


Week 7 ranking: 31

Who needs to step up: QB Daniel Jones

Jones was expected to make that jump in Year 2. That meant cutting down on the turnovers and proving to the new coaching staff he was the unequivocal quarterback of the future. Instead, Jones has looked much like he did as a rookie — flashes one play, makes a bonehead play the next. He is tied for second in the NFL with 11 turnovers through seven weeks. These final nine games are an opportunity to take that next step in his progression. — Jordan Raanan


Week 7 ranking: 32

Who needs to step up: QB Sam Darnold

In five starts, Darnold is averaging less than 200 passing yards per game, with twice as many interceptions (six) as touchdown passes (three). He might not be back next year if the Jets land the No. 1 overall pick, but they need him to play well to boost his trade value for the offseason if they decide to make a change. The thing is, if he plays well, it could result in a couple of wins, which could cost them Trevor Lawrence. Ah, such a dilemma. — Rich Cimini

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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.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

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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