First Call: Steelers playoff math not great, Rams’ Brandin Cooks sidelined, Islanders goalies hot | TribLIVE.com
Breakfast With Benz

First Call: Steelers playoff math not great, Rams’ Brandin Cooks sidelined, Islanders goalies hot

Tim Benz
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AP
Cleveland Browns strong safety Eric Murray breaks up a pass to Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Cleveland.

Thursday’s “First Call” shows improving playoff odds for the Steelers. But they still aren’t great.

Also, the Rams will be without a valuable weapon Sunday at Heinz Field. Carmelo Anthony needs fashion advice. And I take another swing at the “good goalie jinx.”


Don’t get your hopes up

The Steelers are hot. They have won three in a row. And they have what appears to be a weak schedule the rest of the season.

So maybe they can go from 0-3 to the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the stat gurus at FiveThirtyEight disagree.

Their “Elo forecasting” system still only gives the Steelers a 37% chance of making the playoffs and a 9% chance of winning the division.

At least that’s up from 26% of qualifying as at least a wild card a week ago.

FiveThirtyEight says that “this forecast is based on 100,000 simulations of the season and updates after every game. Our traditional model uses Elo ratings (a measure of strength based on head-to-head results and quality of opponent) to calculate teams’ chances of winning their regular-season games and advancing to and through the playoffs.”

As of Tuesday, the forecast sees the Baltimore Ravens with an 88% chance of fending off the Steelers and others in the division for the AFC North.

It also projects the New England Patriots winning the AFC East, the Houston Texans winning the South and the Kansas City Chiefs taking the West.

The next two AFC teams with the best chances of claiming a wild-card spot are the Buffalo Bills (68%) and the Indianapolis Colts (54%).

The Steelers are projected as the first team out, with Oakland right behind them at 26% odds of sneaking in.


Concussion concerns

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks will be in Pittsburgh this week. But he won’t be playing against the Steelers.

Rams head coach Sean McVay said the pass catcher has been ruled out for the game. He has had two concussions this year and four since February 2018.

Cooks flew here Wednesday for the second time in as many weeks as he’s seeking treatment for his head injuries.


Great goalies

I applied the “goalie jinx” for the Penguins on Monday morning.

I wrote a glowing piece about their performance during the first month of the season, only to have them both combine for a stinker in a 6-4 loss in Boston that night.

Let’s see if I can even the score by saying a bunch of good things about the netminders for the New York Islanders today.

The Penguins visit their playoff rivals from last year Thursday evening. It’s the first game between the clubs since the Islanders swept the Penguins out of the first round of the postseason.

Little has changed for the Isles. They are still red hot. The defense is still solid. And the goaltending has been great.

Barry Trotz’s team has won 10 in a row. It has yielded a league-low 30 goals. And both of the goalies have goals against averages in the top 10 of the league.

Thomas Greiss is 6-1 with a 2.00 GAA. His .937 save percentage is third in the NHL. Meanwhile, former Washington Capital and Colorado Avalanche netminder Semyon Varlamov is 5-2 replacing Robin Lehner. He has a 2.14 GAA and a .929 save percentage.

Lehner is playing well in Chicago after stonewalling the Penguins for four games in the playoffs. He is 3-3-2 with a 2.33 GAA and a save percentage of .935 with his new team.

Varlamov is expected to start against, likely, Matt Murray of the Penguins.


How do I look?

Former NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony was in Syracuse Wednesday night to watch his alma mater play the defending national champion in the season opener.

His look was, um, unique.

‘Melo was only on campus for one year before winning a title and then turning pro. I don’t know if he ever had time to declare a major. But I’m guessing it wasn’t fashion design.

Virginia won 48-34.

Maybe Anthony was to blame for the awful offense in the game. The shooters on both teams were clearly blinded by his outfit.


Calling on Carmody

It appears former WPIAL star Robby Carmody is going to get more playing time in South Bend this year.

The 6-foot-4 Notre Dame sophomore forward averaged 10 minutes and 3.7 points per game last year before being sidelined with a season-ending shoulder injury.

In the season debut at North Carolina for the Fighting Irish last night, the former Mars standout was on the floor for 17 minutes. He had six points in a 76-65 loss.

Tar Heels freshman Cole Anthony was the star of the night. He had 34 points.

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Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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