👋 Good morning! Let's sports.
- ⚾️ World Series Game 6: It's Stephen Strasburg vs. Justin Verlander in a must-win game for the Nationals. 8pm ET on Fox.
- ⚽️ MLS Conference Finals: LAFC vs. Seattle Sounders. 10pm ET on ESPN. (MLS monitoring status of wildfires nearby)
- 🏈 NFL trade deadline: Today at 4pm ET. Here's the latest.
Today's word count: 1,426 words (5 minutes)
- Reminder: Refer 3 friends using your link at the bottom to gain access to Overtime, our insider community for Axios Sports readers.
1 big thing: 🏈 The Pats, the Niners and the road to 16-0
We're eight weeks into the NFL season and only two undefeated teams remain: The New England Patriots (8-0), who won the Super Bowl last year, and the San Francisco 49ers (7-0), who finished 4-12.
- The road to 16-0: The Patriots are favored to win all of their remaining games with the biggest test coming on Sunday night in Baltimore (57% win probability), while the 49ers are favored to win seven of nine.
Patriots in a nutshell: When the Pats went 16-0 in 2007, the offense rewrote the record books. This time around, it's the defense leading the way.
- By the numbers: New England's veteran-laden defense has scored more TD (6) than it has allowed (4) and leads the NFL in virtually every category, including sacks (31) and interceptions (19). For reference, no other team has more than 10 picks.
- Yes, but: Four of their wins came against the NFL's three worst offenses (Dolphins, Redskins, Jets twice) and their other four came against the 28th-ranked offense in terms of yards (Steelers), the 24th-ranked offense (Giants), the 20th-ranked offense (Browns) and the 19th-ranked offense (Bills).
- The bottom line: While the Patriots' cupcake schedule shouldn't take away from their impeccable start, any "they haven't played anybody!" gripes are legitimate because, well, they haven't. That'll change in November, though.
49ers in a nutshell: Kyle Shanahan has emerged as this year's Sean McVay — a football guru with a gift for designing plays. Meanwhile, the defense has been lights out and clearly the second-best unit in the league behind New England.
- Offense: The Niners rely heavily on play-action (34.1% of dropbacks) and Shanahan is a master of misdirection. When Jimmy Garoppolo hands the ball off, there's almost always some kind of motion to confuse the defense (prime example).
- Defense: The defensive front, led by No. 2 pick Nick Bosa and $85 million free agent addition Dee Ford, has been flat-out dominant. And the secondary — which, like the offense, uses lots of misdirection (i.e. disguised coverages) — has surprised everybody.
2. ⚾️ Down 3-2, Nats face a must-win in Houston
Home field advantage has been nonexistent in this World Series. Tonight's Game 6 will prove just how weird these teams want to get.
- If the Nationals win and send this thing to Game 7, it will mark the first time the road team has won the first six games of a World Series since … ever.
- Starting pitchers: In a rematch of Game 2, Stephen Strasburg goes against Justin Verlander. Not sure you can ask for a much better matchup on the sport's biggest stage.
- All eyes on the ump: An untimely blown call by umpire Lance Barksdale overshadowed Game 5 and, in some people's minds, illustrated the need for robot umps. Needless to say, all eyes will be on umpire Sam Holbrook and his very human strike zone tonight.
- Potential farewells: If Houston wins, this could be the last time we see Gerrit Cole, Strasburg and Anthony Rendon in their respective uniforms. Free agency looms.
Bonus: ⚾️ Nats fans are good people
A quarter-page ad from "an anonymous and appreciative Astros fan" thanking Nationals fans for their hospitality ran in yesterday's Washington Post Sports section.
"There seems to be a true appreciation of what we have in common like passion for the sport, our teams, and the fun of watching two great teams battling it out on the field, rather than a shallow focus on what differentiates us.
"In a world where unfortunately the focus is quite often put on the latter, I have been truly struck by how well we have been treated. ... [H]owever the Series ends, our family thanks you!"
3. 🏀 NBA awards (after one week)
This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever done and means absolutely nothing, but it's actually a great way to highlight the standout/surprise players thus far, so we're doing it.
- G: Kyrie Irving, BKN
- G: Trae Young, ATL
- F: Kawhi Leonard, LAC
- F: Pascal Siakam, TOR
- C: Karl-Anthony Towns, MIN
- G: Damian Lillard, POR
- G: Malcolm Brogdon, IND
- F: Luka Doncic, DAL
- F: Brandon Ingram, NOP
- C: Andre Drummond, DET
- G: Russell Westbrook, HOU
- G: Donovan Mitchell, UTA
- F: LeBron James, LAL
- F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL
- C: Tristan Thompson, CLE
- MVP: Towns
- Sixth Man: Montrezl Harrell, LAC
- ROY: Kendrick Nunn, MIA (undrafted!)
- MIP: Ingram
- DPOY: Anthony Davis, LAL
Go deeper: Winners and losers of the first almost-week of the NBA season (The Ringer)
4. 🤝 Not your typical endorsement deal
Steph Curry and Callaway Golf announced a multi-year partnership last week that includes a commitment from both parties to partner on initiatives aimed at making golf "more accessible to underserved and underrepresented youth."
- This comes on the heels of Curry's pledge last month to help Howard University launch a Division I golf program and fund it for six years.
- Callaway will be the official equipment provider for Howard, while also donating additional funds — an example of the kind of philanthropic work Curry and Callaway hope to do together.
Why it matters: This is both a sign of the times and a potential blueprint for the future.
- Sign of the times: Sports is at the center of almost every major American issue these days, so athletes have bigger voices than ever. NBA players, in particular, are increasingly willing to speak out on social issues, making them ideal partners for brands wanting to take a public position on something or just generally score points with socially-conscious consumers.
- Blueprint for the future: A recent study found that two-thirds of Gen Z consumers experience an increase in positive feelings about a brand because of an association with a social cause. As their buying power grows, athletes would be wise to follow Curry's lead and push for similar commitments from brand partners.
5. 📊 By the numbers
There were more advocacy and corporate social responsibility ads aired during the first four games of the World Series than any other type of ad outside of auto makers, according to data from Advertising Analytics.
- Why it matters: This is a departure from typical sports championships, in which consumer package goods and retail ads typically dominate. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for brands to reach Washington decision-makers in a casual environment, writes Axios' Sara Fischer.
- Go deeper: Subscribe to Sara's weekly newsletter, Axios Media Trends.
Through eight weeks, the NFC is 23-13 against the AFC, and the top 10 NFC teams by record are 20-3 (!) against AFC opponents.
- Go deeper: The NFC is dominating this NFL season (WashPost)
🏟 171 counties
Notre Dame is the most popular college football ticket in 171 U.S. counties, by far the most in college football, according to data from Vivid Seats. Georgia is second with 142.
- Map: How widespread is your college football fan base? (FiveThirtyEight)
6. Oct. 29, 2018: 🏀 Klay makes record 14 threes
One year ago today, Klay Thompson made an NBA-record 14 three-pointers in the Warriors' 149-124 win over the Bulls, breaking teammate Steph Curry's previous record of 13.
By the numbers: Thompson made 18 of 29 shots and 14 of 24 threes to finish with 52 points, and he did this all in just 27 — I repeat — 27 minutes. He didn't even play in the fourth quarter.
7. 🏈⚾️ NFL/MLB trivia
- Question: Which active NFL player was drafted in the 18th round of the 1995 MLB draft by the Montreal Expos?
- Hint: Quarterback.
Answer at the bottom.
8. The Ocho: 🎯 European Darts Championship
England's Rob Cross, the No. 2 ranked darts player in the world, won the European Championship yesterday in front of a packed crowd in Gottingen, Germany.
The big picture: Darts has become one of the most popular televised sports in England by following the WWE playbook. Every player has a catchy nickname and their own walk-on music. It's pure entertainment — and could be coming to America soon.
P.S. ... Speaking of darts, this is wild.
9. 📚 Good reads
🇭🇰 Inside the Hong Kong protests at the center of the NBA-China firestorm (Jordan Ritter Conn, The Ringer)
"Hong Kongers have long carried a reputation as busy and career-obsessed, perhaps even a little individualistic. … The movement, though, has inspired a togetherness among supporters that's long been missing from the local culture."
🏀 The best player in college basketball history at every jersey number (John Gasaway, ESPN)
"Here are the best college basketball players to ever wear each of the NCAA's 37 allowed jersey numbers (plus a look at a few that are no longer eligible)."
🎮 A glimpse down the esports talent pipeline (James B. Cutchin, LA Times)
"Much of the attention paid to the burgeoning esports industry focuses on the highest professional levels. ... But there's an untapped market lower in the rungs of the competitive gaming scene."
10. 📸 Pic du jour
According to his 2017 combine performance, T.J. Watt has a 37-inch vertical. He may have hit 38 ahead of last night's game against the Dolphins. Getting that stoked in the tunnel = very on brand for the Watt family.
- Recap: Steelers 27, Dolphins 14