0Shares0000Kevin De Bruyne hopes City clinch the title by beating arch-rivals United next weekLONDON, United Kingdom, Aug 15 – Manchester City midfielder Kevin de Bruyne could face a spell on the sidelines after injuring his right knee in training, the Premier League champions said Wednesday.The 27-year-old, who enjoyed a superb World Cup as Belgium reached the semi-finals, is undergoing tests to assess the seriousness of the injury. “Kevin De Bruyne is undergoing tests on his right knee after sustaining an injury at training on Wednesday,” read a club statement on its website.“The extent of the problem is not yet known and we will bring you further updates on Kevin’s condition in due course.”De Bruyne, who has been at City since 2015, scored eight goals and provided 16 assists last season in a series of dynamic performances for the champions.According to www.metro.co.uk, De Bruyne faces around two months out after suffering the injury when he caught his studs in the turf before leaving the training ground on crutches.The Daily Telegraph said he had suffered knee ligament damage similar to the injury he sustained in a league game with Everton in January 2016 and which kept him out of the team for two months.Due to being given three weeks off following the World Cup he did not play a role in the Community Shield win against Chelsea but came on for a cameo role of half an hour in the 2-0 opening Premier League victory over Arsenal last Sunday.0Shares0000(Visited 2 times, 1 visits today)
More digital workspaces could help smaller towns around Donegal take advantage of Brexit, according to Cllr Gary Doherty.The Stranorlar area Sinn Féin councillor has called for more buildings to be turned into co-working spaces to help ease economic stagnation in villages.Speaking at the county council’s monthly meeting, Cllr Doherty said that facilities such as Letterkenny’s CoLab could help border towns, namely Lifford and Castlefinn, reap the benefits of Brexit. Cllr Doherty added that he believes the towns are geographically positioned to take advantage of Brexit for companies that want to keep a foot on both sides of the border.He suggested that existing vacant buildings would be transformed into spaces for hot desks for people who are working in multinational companies in larger towns, which would have a knock-on effect due to increased footfall locally.In their response, the council said that co-working facilities are a practical option for smaller centres rather than Digital Hubs. However, they are all reliant on broadband capability. Area manager Mr Garry Martin said that LEADER funding could be sought for these kinds of initiatives and the council will assist community groups in developing their cases as appropriate. Digital hubs could help border towns take advantage of Brexit – Cllr was last modified: March 26th, 2019 by Rachel McLaughlinShare this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to share on Telegram (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to share on Skype (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Tags:BrexitCLLR GARY DOHERTYco-workingdigital hubDonegal County Council
Mark Medina breaks down what to watch as the Golden State Warriors prepare for games against the Chicago Bulls, New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves this week. NEW YORK – One moment, the Warriors are making a video poking fun at Fergie’s rendition of the national anthem during the 2018 NBA All-Star game. At another moment, the Warriors are keeping a strict routine with meticulous treatment in the training room. At another moment, the Warriors appear excited every time one of their …
South African-based paper producer Mondi is expanding its international presence following its listing on the JSE at the beginning of the month, announcing a €525-million (about R5.1-billion) project to modernise and expand the pulp and paper mill in Syktyvkar, Russia.All main equipment contracts have been agreed and construction is to commence in April 2008, with completion scheduled by the end of 2010,” the company said in a statement issued last week. “The project will enhance Syktyvkar’s low cost position, with the additional volume of uncoated fine paper and containerboard being supplied to the high growth domestic Russian market.”Engineering News reported last month that the project involved the construction of new wood-handling facilities, a recovery boiler and turbine, a lime kiln and pulp dryer, as well as upgrades to two chemical pulp lines and improvements to machinery.Mondi chief executive David Hathorn told the publication that it should slash operating costs and improve efficiencies, while also slightly increasing production by 190 000 tonnes per year, 60 000 tonnes of which will be sold into the pulp market, which is being driven by Chinese demand.He added that the modernisation of the plant was probably only the start of the group’s activities in the territory, which is arguably the only major unexploited softwood resource left in the world.“In fact, forests cover more than 70% of the territory, while swamps cover about 15%, making forestry activity attractive but difficult, given swarming mosquitoes and mud in the warmer periods,” Engineering News says. “This means that felling is generally confined to the icy winter months.”The company was spun-off from former parent Anglo American plc in July this year, and has looked at expansion to secure its position as an independent integrated paper and packaging group.Its main interests are in emerging markets, such as South Africa and in various locations in Eastern Europe.According to Mondi, Mondi Business Paper Syktyvkar, with an annual capacity of 580 000 tonnes of paper per year, is one of the largest producers in the Russian pulp and paper industry. In addition, the Syktyvkar mill controls 11 logging companies in the Komi Republic that supply the mill with wood.Mondi Packaging Paper, which operates within the same complex, has an annual capacity of more than 200 000 tonnes of packaging paper, delivering around 60% of the total white top paper market in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
For years, Sasikala has been at Jayalalithaa’s side, as a close aide and trusted friend. But she has never contested the elections. Now speculation is rife that the AIADMK is planning to pitch her in poll battle, which will also serve to silence critics who see the party without a second line of leadership.Within the AIADMK, Sasikala, known as ‘Chinna Amma’ or junior Amma, has come to wield enormous power. This week when chief minister Jayalalithaa went on a three-day trip to Srirangam, it is learnt that local leaders had demanded that Sasikala be made a legislator.It is believed that Sasikala could contest the bypolls from Trichy which fell vacant following the death of AIADMK minister Mariyam Pichai.Senior AIADMK functionaries are not willing to say much on this development. “It is Amma’s decision. She knows what is good for the party,” one of the leaders said.The friendship between Sasikala and Jayalalithaa goes back a long way. Not only does Sasikala follow Jayalalithaa like a shadow, they live under the same roof.Having left her husband, M. Natarajan, Sasikala has been staying with her friend.When Jayalalithaa turned 60, she and Sasikala went on a pilgrimage to the Thirukkadaiyur temple, where only couples used to visit. Curiously enough, they exchanged garlands, sending the rumour mills on an overdrive. While it gave fodder to her rivals, especially the DMK, it also shows the bond the two share.Initially, Jayalalithaa wanted to keep her friend away from the party politics. But gradually Sasikala started wielding a lot of influence and Jayalalithaa yielded by elevating her friend to the AIADMK general council and then to the party’s state secretariat council.advertisementApart from Sasikala, many of her household members have been accommodated in the party, though not everyone manages to retain the confidence of the diva. For, Jayalalithaa had dumped a few in the past, including her foster son V. N. Sudhakaran, whose extravagant wedding earned her the wrath of the people and cost her the election.For more news on India, click here.For more news on Business, click here.For more news on Movies, click here.For more news on Sports, click here.
Liverpool defender Van Dijk: Record price-tag never affected meby Paul Vegas10 months agoSend to a friendShare the loveLiverpool defender Virgil van Dijk says his world record transfer fee has never weighed on him.Van Dijk left Southampton a year ago for Liverpool in a £75m deal – a record for a defender.The Dutchman told AD: “Quite frankly, it does not do much for me. I can also do very little with it. It is, at most, something that people will start with when you play a lesser game. “But that amount … I know it works like that in football.”De Vrij also said: “I am the proud captain of my country. I play everything at Liverpool, in the international matches with the Oranje squad we all have an excellent feeling. But it goes on and on. We play football in England every three or four days. There is little time.” About the authorPaul VegasShare the loveHave your say
WASHINGTON – The House on Thursday passed a $4.1 trillion budget plan that promises deep cuts to social programs while paving the way for Republicans to rewrite the tax code later this year.The 2018 House GOP budget reprises a controversial plan to turn Medicare into a voucher-like program for future retirees as well as the party’s efforts to repeal the “Obamacare” health law. Republicans controlling Congress have no plans to actually implement those cuts while they pursue their tax overhaul.That’s especially so in the Senate, where the Budget Committee on Thursday gave party-line approval to a companion plan.Instead, the nonbinding budget’s chief purpose is to set the stage for a tax overhaul plan that is the party’s top political priority as well as a longtime policy dream of key leaders like Speaker Paul Ryan.The White House issued a statement saying the House plan is a key step toward “Making America Great Again.”The House measure, passed by a near party-line vote of 219-206, calls for more than $5 trillion in spending cuts over the coming decade, promising to slash Medicaid by about $1 trillion over the next 10 years, cutting other health care costs, and forcing huge cuts to domestic programs funded in future years by Congress.“It’s a budget that will help grow our economy, and it’s a budget that will help rein in our debt,” said Ryan, R-Wis. “It reforms Medicaid. It strengthens Medicare.”But Republicans are not actually planning to impose any of those cuts with follow-up legislation that would be required under Washington’s Byzantine budget rules. Instead, those GOP proposals for spending cuts are limited to nonbinding promises, and even a token 10-year, $200 billion spending cut package demanded by tea party House Republicans appears likely to be scrapped in upcoming talks with the Senate.Instead, the motivating force behind the budget measures is the Republicans’ party-defining drive to cut corporate and individual tax rates and rid the tax code of loopholes. They promise this tax “reform” measure will put the economy in overdrive, driving economic growth to the 3 per cent range, and adding a surge of new tax revenues.“In order to pay for these huge tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, this Republican budget makes savage cuts to the life and death programs that mean so much to ordinary Americans,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.Passing the measure in the House and Senate would provide key procedural help for the tax measure because it sets the stage for follow-on legislation that can’t be filibustered by Senate Democrats. Republicans used the same so-called reconciliation procedure in their failed attempt to kill “Obamacare,” including its tax surcharges on wealthy people.“Through reconciliation, our budget specifically paves the way for pro-growth tax reform that will reduce taxes for middle-class Americans and free up American businesses to grow and hire,” said Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., who chairs the House Budget Committee.Eighteen Republicans opposed the measure, including several from high-tax states like New York and New Jersey who are concerned that the upcoming tax effort would repeal the deductions for state and local taxes.Democrats blasted the sweeping spending cuts proposed by Republicans — more than $5 trillion over 10 years in the House plan and somewhat less in the Senate GOP measure — as an assault on middle-class families and the poor.“Is it a statement of our values to take a half-trillion dollars out of Medicare to give a tax cut to the wealthiest people in our country?” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.The Senate Budget Committee’s companion plan approved Thursday differs in key details — but would still result in a deficit of $424 billion in 2027, according to the Congressional Budget Office.The House measure assumes the upcoming tax bill won’t add to the deficit; the Senate version, however, would permit the measure to add $1.5 trillion to the $20 trillion-plus national debt over the coming 10 years. The final version is likely to stick closely to the Senate measure in key respects. A final House-Senate agreement won’t come until November, Black said, but she anticipated conflict over the Senate plans.“That is certainly going to be a very lively discussion,” Black said of House-Senate talks. “Our members are concerned about (budget) balance and they’re also concerned about the debt and deficits.”The real-world trajectory of Washington, however, is for higher deficits as Republicans focus on tax cuts, a huge hike in the defence budget, and a growing disaster aid tally that is about to hit $45 billion.“The train’s left the station, and if you’re a budget hawk, you were left at the station,” said Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C.___This story has been corrected to change the amount in the first paragraph to $4.1 trillion, not billion.
New Delhi: The central zone of South Delhi Municipal Corporation on Sunday undertook massive clean-up operations near Nizamuddin Dargah and Humayun Tomb area in an attempt to remove illegal encroachments that were causing major traffic congestion problems in the area. This action from the municipality comes after the Delhi High Court demanded that substantive measures be taken to this effect based on a plea filed by the Jamia Arabia Nizamia Welfare Educational Society (JANWES). Also Read – After eight years, businessman arrested for kidnap & murderDuring the clearing operation, SDMC stated that they demolished 42 temporary sheds and ‘tripals’ and removed several petty articles including iron grills, benches, and refrigerators. Officers from the Licensing and Health and Veterinary departments along with Delhi Police staffers carried out the clearance operations in what SDMC said was an attempt to ease traffic congestion in the streets leading towards the Dargah. The SDMC said that they also issued notices to two kiosks in the area, asking occupiers to remove them, failing which central zone officials will take necessary steps. However, this comes on the back of repeated orders from the High Court regarding clearing up the area, according to an observation made by a bench last week. While hearing the JANWES plea, the court had noted that SDMC and police officials were busy blaming each other and thus delaying clearance operations. It had asked SDMC Commissioner and DCP Traffic to appear before it on April 16.
The more things change in the NFL, the more they stay the same. Fresh off of their sixth Super Bowl win with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at the helm, the defending champion New England Patriots open the 2019 season as our favorite to win again. The rest of the top contenders are similar to last season’s as well: the Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles round out the top five in Super Bowl odds, according to our predictions.But our NFL Elo model has changed in a somewhat significant way. You can read more about how it all works here, but in a nutshell, we have added a number of wrinkles to make our football picks more accurate:Quarterback adjustments. We hinted at this over the summer, but we now track rolling performance ratings1Based on a regression between Total QBR yards above replacement and basic box score numbers (including rushing stats) from a given game, adjusted for the quality of opposing defenses. for each QB in the league, which can then be compared with a team’s own rolling QB rating to adjust its Elo in games with a different quarterback starting.2This is very similar to the way we handle starting-pitcher adjustments in our MLB Elo model. (Related to this, we have a new interactive page that shows the relative quality of every quarterback in the league.)3Initial ratings for rookies are based on draft position, ranging from a 0 for an undrafted free agent to a +113 for a No. 1 overall pick like Arizona’s Kyler Murray. JacksonvilleN. Foles+914987.835242 ClevelandB. Mayfield+915168.441252 How we’re predicting the AFC North race Chance To… TeamStarting QBvs. avgElo RatingProj. WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin Super Bowl TeamStarting QBvs. avgElo RatingProj. WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin Super Bowl Chance To… MinnesotaK. Cousins+1215408.543273 N.Y. JetsS. Darnold-4814527.124111 TeamStarting QBvs. avgElo RatingProj. WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin Super Bowl Last year, the defending champion Eagles suffered a historic hangover to start their 2018 season, but eventually righted the ship to make the playoffs and even win a first-round game. Armed with Elo’s eighth-ranked QB (Carson Wentz), a talented supporting cast and one of the easiest schedules in the NFL, our model thinks Philadelphia should be division favorites in 2019 — particularly if the Eagles have better injury luck. The defending East champ Cowboys might have something to say about the Eagles being favorites, however, regardless of the holdout of RB Ezekiel Elliott. We rank QB Dak Prescott ninth in Elo, right behind Wentz. Once again trailing in the division are the Giants and Redskins; Washington has the better Elo rating but is slightly less likely to make the playoffs because of a tougher schedule than that of New York. Fittingly, both teams have mediocre veteran QBs (Eli Manning and Case Keenum) trying to fend off highly drafted rookies (Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins). PhiladelphiaC. Wentz+2015869.863%49%7% The playoffs are different. We found that differences in talent between opposing teams tend to be amplified in the NFL postseason, so now Elo differentials are multiplied by 1.2 before computing the expected win probabilities and point spreads for playoff games.Altogether, these changes improved our historical predictions by quite a bit in backtesting, so we’re feeling confident that our 2019 picks will be better than ever before.6You might notice that we don’t have a dedicated factor for defense included in the model. For one thing, defense would implicitly be part of a team’s non-quarterback Elo rating; for another thing, it was difficult to find specific defensive variables (such as coordinators) which improved predictive accuracy — perhaps because defense is notoriously difficult to predict between seasons. For cases below where we do need to refer to a team’s projected defensive quality, we used ESPN’s Football Power Index projections for the upcoming season.And what are those picks, exactly? Let’s run down what our Elo model thinks of each division in the NFL, starting with… AtlantaM. Ryan+6715338.339233 The AFC South experienced a dramatic shakeup when Andrew Luck retired two weeks ago, giving the division a whole new favorite: the Texans. Now, Houston is in somewhat tenuous possession of that distinction, with No. 6-ranked QB Deshaun Watson leading the way — despite last weekend’s bombshell trade that shipped star pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney to Seattle. The Titans aren’t far behind Houston, although QB Marcus Mariota has regressed over the past few years: In Week 12 of the 2016 season, his Elo adjustment would have been 61 points higher than an average quarterback; now it’s 34 points below average. The Jaguars are right in the mix as well, thanks in part to the acquisition of former Eagles backup Nick Foles; Foles adds 14 points of Elo compared with the team’s long-term historical QB rating (i.e., Blake Bortles). Finally, the Colts went from first to last in Elo’s division prediction — literally overnight — after Luck retired. Backup Jacoby Brissett is worth about 90 fewer Elo points by himself than Luck would have been — a huge blow to Indy’s chances of making a return trip to the playoffs. Even so, this is the most uncertain division race in the league. How we’re predicting the NFC East race L.A. RamsJ. Goff-915889.660%46%7% How we’re predicting the AFC East race How we’re predicting the NFC West race Chance To… L.A. ChargersP. Rivers+415809.659366 Quarterback ratings are relative to the average NFL team’s long-term rolling QB performance and are included in the listed Elo ratings. Simulations are updated as of Sept. 3, 2019.Source: ESPN N.Y. GiantsE. Manning-2714246.4179<1 What would Vegas do? In the past, our preseason ratings would simply be each team’s final rating from the previous season, reverted to the league’s average Elo rating by one-third. But our new system also incorporates ratings derived from a team’s over/under win total according to the Las Vegas sportsbooks, giving those twice the weight of mean-reverted Elo when setting a team’s preseason rating. HoustonD. Watson+2915338.443%32%3% TeamStarting QBvs. avgElo RatingProj. WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin Super Bowl The Chiefs are the second-most-likely team to win the Super Bowl, trailing only the Patriots. One of the biggest reasons: Elo ranks Patrick Mahomes as the fourth-most-valuable QB in the league behind Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees. Although K.C. will probably regress some after last year’s breakout (we think the Chiefs’ point differential will fall from +144 to +79), and the defense is no better than average (it ranks 16th in ESPN’s preseason Football Power Index), we think this is the team most likely to dethrone New England. The Chargers aren’t running very far behind, either, ranking sixth in overall Elo. L.A. didn’t do much over the offseason — and its trademark injury problems are already cropping up — but this remains one of the most talented rosters in the game. The gap between this division’s top two and bottom two is vast. The Broncos upgraded under center with former Ravens QB Joe Flacco, but he’s still mediocre at best. Late summer for the Raiders has been a circus even by the standards of a “Hard Knocks” team; maybe Brown will improve QB Derek Carr’s numbers, but the team has plenty of other question marks. Oakland and Denver won’t be helped by playing the two toughest schedules in the league, either. BaltimoreL. Jackson-4015278.441263 Chance To… DetroitM. Stafford-2214586.922121 ChicagoM. Trubisky+1215669.152%37%5% BuffaloJ. Allen-1214757.630151 Kansas CityP. Mahomes+59161510.369%50%9% Quarterback ratings are relative to the average NFL team’s long-term rolling QB performance and are included in the listed Elo ratings. Simulations are updated as of Sept. 3, 2019.Source: ESPN MiamiR. Fitzpatrick-213895.5104<1 Green BayA. Rodgers+2815228.238243 How we’re predicting the NFC South race TeamStarting QBvs. avgElo RatingProj. WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin Super Bowl Quarterback ratings are relative to the average NFL team’s long-term rolling QB performance and are included in the listed Elo ratings. Simulations are updated as of Sept. 29, 2019.Source: ESPN At the top of the NFC South, we have Drew Brees and the Saints coming in as favorites to win the division for a third straight year. Elo rates Brees as the league’s third-best QB, even though he sputtered down the stretch of last season and will turn 41 in January. Fortunately for New Orleans, its supporting cast appears to be good enough to help ease Brees into old age, ranking eighth in QB-independent Elo.9I.e., the team’s adjusted Elo rating if Brees were to be replaced with an average starter at quarterback. As for the Falcons, Matt Ryan is No. 2 in our QB rankings, but the rest of the team ranks 25th in QB-independent Elo. That’s more an indictment of a defense that ranks 23rd in preseason projected FPI than an offense that still includes hyper-productive WR Julio Jones, but Atlanta is hoping that a coaching staff of all new coordinators can help Ryan. The Panthers are still only three seasons removed from a Super Bowl appearance, but they’ve gone exactly 24-24 since then. Elo calls for more of the same this season, with an 8-8 projected record, although Carolina does have the No. 10 QB in our rankings (Cam Newton) and a respectable 38 percent chance of getting back to the playoffs. Finally, the Buccaneers are hoping to end the franchise’s postseason drought at 11 seasons — but they need to improve on last year’s horrid defensive performance and get more consistency from both Jameis Winston and a passing attack that had the third-highest game-to-game QB Elo variance10Trailing only the Rams and the Nathan Peterman-led Bills. of any team in 2018. CincinnatiA. Dalton-4014146.2158<1 This is the tightest division race in the NFC. The Bears are favored to win again, though Mitchell Trubisky is Elo’s second-lowest rated QB in the North. (He’s 13th overall, so it mainly speaks to the quality of passers in this division.) On the other side of the ball, the amount of talent on Chicago’s defense is impressive, a necessary component as the Bears are hoping to repeat as last year’s stingiest defense in terms of points allowed. The Vikings come in slightly lower but are still 13th overall by the Elo rankings. So should we blame QB Kirk Cousins for Minnesota’s disappointing 2018 season? Probably not. Although his Elo rating wasn’t as high as during his 2016 or 2017 campaigns, Cousins was good for most of last year, and he enters 2019 as our 12th-ranked quarterback. But the best QB Elo in the division belongs to Aaron Rodgers of the Packers. Even if former coach Mike McCarthy didn’t always put him in the best position to succeed, Rodgers still had solid numbers last season and is currently ranked seventh in QB Elo. (It’s the rest of the roster that’s holding Green Bay back from a division probability better than that 24 percent.) Last, we have the Lions. They project to finish fourth, with QB Matthew Stafford coming off his worst season in years and a second-year coach already on the hot seat. But we do call for Detroit to return to its rightful place in the NFL standings, with roughly a 7-9 record, after last season’s 6-10 hiatus. DenverJ. Flacco-1614626.82091 DallasD. Prescott+1815478.949334 TennesseeM. Mariota-3415027.836252 WashingtonC. Keenum-2414276.31691 San FranciscoJ. Garoppolo-2114807.428171 Travel distance and rest matter. We used to give a blanket home-field advantage of 65 Elo points for every game that wasn’t at a neutral site. Now, we modify our home-field effect4Which is worth a flat adjustment of 55 Elo points. using the distance the visiting team needed to travel to get to the game, docking a team by 4 points of Elo for every 1,000 miles traveled.5This effect is not applied to international games, though it is used for the Super Bowl. Teams also perform better after a bye week (including teams that don’t play during the opening week of the playoffs), so we now give a bonus of 25 Elo points whenever a team is coming into a game fresh and extra-rested. PittsburghB. Roethlisberger+8715699.558%41%5% OaklandD. Carr-2614135.8125<1 Chance To… New EnglandT. Brady+52164011.180%69%14% IndianapolisJ. Brissett-5514797.328191 TeamStarting QBvs. avgElo RatingProj. WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin Super Bowl As we said above, the Patriots are not only the division favorites (for what feels like the millionth consecutive season) but are also the model’s top Super Bowl pick. Their fate is tied to Tom Brady continuing to play well at an age when basically no other QB has done that, of course, and he’ll have to do it without favorite security blanket Rob Gronkowski, who retired in March. But Brady hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down yet, and he’ll get to face the NFL’s easiest schedule7According to the average Elo ratings of New England’s regular-season opponents, adjusted for expected starting QBs and home-field advantage. in 2019. Perhaps surprisingly, Elo gives the Bills a slight edge over the Jets for second place in the East. Both teams’ sophomore QBs (Josh Allen and Sam Darnold) played well down the stretch last season, though our model likes Allen a bit more. New York had the more eventful offseason, signing Le’Veon Bell and abruptly firing GM Mike Maccagnan, but the Bills might have made steadier progress. And the Dolphins bring up the rear, though they have the division’s second-highest rated Elo QB in newcomer Ryan Fitzpatrick. (Amid questions of Miami tanking, Vegas gives the Phins 500-to-1 Super Bowl odds, the worst in football.) Quarterback ratings are relative to the average NFL team’s long-term rolling QB performance and are included in the listed Elo ratings. Simulations are updated as of Sept. 3, 2019.Source: ESPN TeamStarting QBvs. avgElo RatingProj. WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin Super Bowl New OrleansD. Brees+61160410.063%46%8% How we’re predicting the AFC West race CarolinaC. Newton+1415158.338223 Chance To… Tampa BayJ. Winston+714466.61791 Quarterback ratings are relative to the average NFL team’s long-term rolling QB performance and are included in the listed Elo ratings. Simulations are updated as of Sept. 3, 2019.Source: ESPN SeattleR. Wilson+1415458.746314 Quarterback ratings are relative to the average NFL team’s long-term rolling QB performance and are included in the listed Elo ratings. Simulations are updated as of Sept. 3, 2019.Source: ESPN Chance To… TeamStarting QBvs. avgElo RatingProj. WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin Super Bowl Quarterback ratings are relative to the average NFL team’s long-term rolling QB performance and are included in the listed Elo ratings. Simulations are updated as of Sept. 3, 2019.Source: ESPN How we’re predicting the NFC North race Quarterback ratings are relative to the average NFL team’s long-term rolling QB performance and are included in the listed Elo ratings. Simulations are updated as of Sept. 3, 2019.Source: ESPN Chance To… Rumors of the Steelers’ demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated. Despite a tumultuous offseason that involved officially losing Bell8The running back sat out all of last season as part of a contractual dispute. and also shipping receiver Antonio Brown to the Raiders, Pittsburgh remains the top-ranked team in the North. Part of that is thanks to Ben Roethlisberger, who checks in as Elo’s No. 1 overall QB, and part of it is because the Steelers have one of the league’s easiest schedules. The Ravens and Browns are neck-and-neck behind them; Elo is skeptical about Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson after he posted not-so-great numbers as a rookie, but it thinks his supporting cast is superior to Baker Mayfield’s in Cleveland — despite the Browns’ big offseason (hi, Odell) and general hype level heading into 2019. Meanwhile, the Bengals are a distant No. 4, as QB Andy Dalton has seen better days, and the team is breaking in a first-time head coach (Zac Taylor). ArizonaK. Murray-5013895.5106<1 The Rams are coming off a Super Bowl run, and there were times last season when they looked unbeatable, not least because of a GOAT-level performance by defensive lineman Aaron Donald. But with questions remaining about QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley — to say that neither were major factors in the playoffs would be an understatement — L.A. might be due for a regression, even if Elo does still consider the Rams division favorites. A number of signs point to a decline, from L.A.’s 6-1 record in close games last year and favorable bounces in recovering fumbles, to a more difficult schedule and even the possibility of adverse effects due to more injuries. Elo thinks the Rams’ point differential will drop from +143 to +58 this season. Behind them, the Seahawks have the division’s best (slash only above-average) Elo QB in Russell Wilson, and they did some offseason shuffling — Clowney and Ziggy Ansah will replace Frank Clark on the pass rush, for example. But Seattle mostly looks like the same good-but-not-great team it was last season. The 49ers will get a do-over with Jimmy Garoppolo after the QB was injured three games into the 2018 season. But is Jimmy G. any good? Elo’s still not sure. It ranks Garoppolo 22nd among starters heading into 2019, despite his hefty price tag. All three of those teams could potentially contend for the division, though. For the Cardinals, that looks like a long shot at best with the tandem of rookie QB Kyler Murray and first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Elo gives Arizona the worst rating and tied for the lowest playoff odds of any team in the NFL this season. How we’re predicting the AFC South race
It’s likely no coincidence that Toronto’s opponents are scoring at a rate of nearly 4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Lowry on the court than they did a season ago. In fact, Lowry’s rehabilitation has been so complete that the Raptors now rank among the league’s top 10 teams at both ends of the floor and he has risen to full-blown MVP candidate status.You’re only as good as your best playerIt’s no secret that there’s a distinct relationship between a team’s championship probability and the quality of its best player, but it takes a truly exceptional player to make a run at a title. In the past, Lowry hasn’t been good enough to move that needle, but this season’s version is inching into the territory where small individual improvements can drastically upgrade a team’s chances of winning a championship.We’d expect a team being led by Lowry at his previous career-high BPM of +5.9 to win the title about 5 percent of the time; at this season’s +7.2 mark, those odds are doubled, to 10 percent. (Not even Carter in his prime led Toronto with a BPM so high.) Add in a decent supporting cast — and it’s debatable as to whether Toronto has one of those, particularly with DeMarre Carroll on ice, but let’s entertain the notion anyway — and suddenly the idea of a championship parade down Bay Street doesn’t seem quite so pie-in-the-sky. By just about any measure, the last three seasons have been the best time to root for the Toronto Raptors in their 20-year history. The Vince Carter era was thrilling but brief, and Chris Bosh’s dinos never quite realized their potential. Since 2013-14, however, the Raptors’ winning percentage has hovered around 60 percent, and their efficiency differential has been roughly 3.5 points per 100 possessions — numbers that those previous runs only approached in spurts.For all that success, however, Toronto has had trouble making any kind of dent come playoff time. As my ESPN colleague Zach Lowe wrote about Tuesday, each of the team’s past two postseasons ended with a first-round exit, and although the Raptors were upset both times — implying they had the talent to potentially go further — 49-win teams don’t typically vie for NBA championships anyway.1There are rare exceptions, but even conditional on making it past the first round of the playoffs, only 13 percent of teams that won 48 to 50 games in a season went on to the NBA Finals. If this season’s version of the club is basically the same, expecting different results would be irrational.These Raptors, however, have a secret weapon that their predecessors lacked: skinny Kyle Lowry.Technically speaking, this is Lowry’s fourth season with Toronto; he even logged the second-most minutes of any Raptor during the failed playoff runs of 2014 and 2015. But that version of Lowry was — how can we say it? — less svelte, and far less productive. By Box Plus/Minus (BPM), Lowry’s 2014-15 season was the worst he’d had in four years. This season, though, Lowry profiles like a top-five player according to the advanced metrics. And his sudden improvement could finally give Toronto the star power necessary to truly compete for a championship.Lowry’s evolving gameBefore this season, Lowry appeared to be on an evolutionary arc many players go through, trading a higher usage rate for less efficient scoring. In his rise as one of the game’s best guards, he’d once ranked in at least the 70th percentile of NBA players in both true shooting percentage and usage. That isn’t an easy thing to do. But last season, Lowry seemed to have surpassed the workload at which he could maintain a reasonable level of efficiency — a situation exacerbated by the banged-up state he found himself in as the season progressed. As a result, his offensive numbers dipped: He settled for more midrange shots and drew fewer fouls; he ran the pick-and-roll less often (and less efficiently); and over the course of the season, he struggled with his jump shot in a way he hadn’t for years.Although Lowry was pretty clearly not being himself, the Raptors won the Atlantic Division and locked up the No. 4 seed in the East. But the team was also unceremoniously swept by Washington, a series in which Lowry kept a high usage but saw his efficiency completely collapse. This seemed like a bad sign.Perhaps even more troubling, it was getting harder to find evidence that Lowry — a player with a good two-way reputation — was still among the league’s best defensive guards. Going into last season, he’d ranked up around the 80th percentile of NBA guards in defensive BPM over his career — a ranking corroborated by play-by-play plus/minus metrics and tracking data from Synergy Sports Technology — numbers underpinned by smart, bruising pick-and-roll defense. But in 2014-15, Lowry’s defensive indicators offered mixed messages. Although he still gave the Raptors’ defense a boost while on the floor, the team was also significantly worse defensively than it had been the previous season, and Lowry often looked slow, clunky and, at times, indifferent when trying to fight through ball screens. This season, Lowry has made course corrections at both ends of the floor. Although his usage continues to grow, his scoring efficiency has bounced back, in part because of smarter shot selection. He’s once again devoting fewer shots to the midrange, allowing his rates of taking threes and drawing fouls to return to their historical norms, and he’s been faster and more aggressive in the transition game as well. On defense, you can really see the effects of Lowry’s offseason weight loss. Last season, Lowry frequently failed when trying to use his strength to fight through screens (both on the ball and off), ceded too many easy buckets on pick-and-rolls and was generally slow to recover when he guessed wrong or his gambles didn’t pay off.2014-15: So this season should be encouraging for Raptors fans, at least by this metric. But after years of watching Chris Paul-led teams underachieve in the playoffs, it’s fair to ask whether this algorithm oversells the title chances for a point guard-driven squad. And as it happens, controlling for the entire skill set of a team’s best player, we found a slight tendency for teams led by players with a lot of value tied up in passing to perform worse in the postseason than we’d expect from their BPM. This could be due to any number of causes — from defenses keying in on passing patterns in a long playoff series to the way a playmaker’s value is only maximized when complemented by other skills (or perhaps it’s just random noise) — but it’s one (albeit minor) reason to consider lowering expectations for Lowry.Except that this season, Lowry’s game has been extremely well-rounded — he ranks in at least the 78th percentile of all NBA players in scoring efficiency, possession usage, assist rate and defensive BPM. Historically, teams whose best players excel in the first and last of those categories tend to exceed expectations in the playoffs at a rate far greater than any penalty that’s levied against passers.Of course, all of this presumes that Lowry’s overhauled game is legit. He’s currently 29 years old, an age at which NBA players are typically already on the downside of their careers, not metamorphosing into championship-caliber stars. Also, there was little in Lowry’s preseason CARMELO projection (our statistical crystal ball for NBA careers) to suggest an imminent breakout, aside from the late-blooming presence of Steve Nash on the fringe of his comparables list. An optimistic look at his strongest CARMELO comps suggested that he might pull a Rod Strickland and stay productive into his mid-30s; a less rosy one saw the possibility of flaming out far sooner, like Michael Adams and Derek Harper. So it’s entirely possible that Lowry will regress toward his previous career norms in the season’s second half.But given the particulars of Lowry’s skill set, and the ways in which he’s corrected his deficiencies of a season ago, it’s also very possible that if his caloric intake doesn’t regress, neither will his output.The question of whether Lowry’s teammates are good enough to support a championship run is still very much open. And even if they are, Lowry may have timed his improvement poorly, elevating his play during a season with two abnormally dominant teams that are soaking up all the league’s title odds. But Lowry’s sudden upgrade to the NBA’s elite class of players gives the Raptors a superstar the likes of which they’ve never had before. At the very least, they now possess a crucial element that was missing from the team’s recent string of good-but-not-good-enough campaigns. The new, slimmed-down version of Lowry has been quicker afoot and more focused in his pursuit of ballhandlers around and through screens, forcing more turnovers and fouling less as a result.2015-16: