Enceladus Ocean Means Dating Trouble, Not Life

first_img(Visited 55 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0 News media are jumping over an announcement that Saturn’s moon Enceladus may have a large body of water under its icy crust, but what does it mean?Cassini scientists, publishing in Science Magazine, announced indirect evidence (via Doppler measurements of gravity anomalies during flybys) that Saturn’s little geysering moon Enceladus probably has a sub-surface ocean of liquid.  The data cannot resolve whether the ocean is regional or global, but is probably regional: “Although the gravity data cannot rule out a global ocean, a regional sea is consistent with the gravity, topography, and high local heat fluxes and does not suffer from the thermal problems that a global ocean encounters,” they said.  That’s because keeping water liquid requires a suitable heat source – the more water, the more heat required:The endogenic (nonsolar) power emitted from the south-polar region, derived from Cassini Composite Infrared Spectrometer data, is 15.8 GW [gigawatts], with a 20% formal uncertainty. This is equivalent to an average surface heat flux of ~20 mW/m2 and is an order of magnitude larger than conventional estimates of tidal heating if Enceladus’ current orbital eccentricity represents a so-called “equilibrium” resonant state with other satellites. It indicates time-variability in its internal properties, in a resonant state with other nearby moons, or in the rate of heat transport. In any or all of these cases, a plausible internal structure is that of a liquid water ocean overlain by a (thermally conductive) crust.It indicates those options, however, only if Enceladus is 4.5 billion years old, as assumed for solar system bodies.  The BBC News coverage mentions that the ocean could only last for tens of millions of years, “maybe 100 million years,” in steady state, unless some unknown cycles, like episodes of higher eccentricity, intervene.Science journalist Richard A. Kerr, commenting on the paper in the same issue of Science, did not pay much attention to the time problem of maintaining heat for billions of years, other than to speculate, “The presence of liquid water remains unexplained, but Saturn’s powerful gravity probably played a role, by tidally kneading the moon and heating its interior.”  Yet the scientists themselves had stated in their paper that the measured heat flux is “an order of magnitude larger than conventional estimates of tidal heating”.Rather than deal with that, Kerr focused on a different subject: “Suspicions that Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus harbors an internal ocean—one that could host life—have hardened into near certainty with exquisitely precise observations from the Cassini spacecraft,” he began.  His ending mentioned life twice: “Such strong support for a sea beneath the spouting plumes of Enceladus should encourage scientists, mostly Cassini team members, who want NASA to send a new mission to Enceladus to explore for life,” he stated, also speaking of the possibility of “life-laden waters” under Enceladus.The popular media, predictably, focused on life:“The findings … will boost the view that the 500km-wide moon would be one of the best places beyond Earth to go look for the existence of microbial life.”  (BBC News)“Saturn Moon Harbors Ocean, Raising Possibility of Life.” (National Geographic)“New gravity readings suggest it hosts a subsurface sea the size of Lake Superior at its south pole – and that this liquid water is in direct contact with the moon’s core, which is rich in nutrients. Both findings boost hopes that the sea hosts life.” (New Scientist)“Will Ocean Discovery On Enceladus Spur Life-Hunting Missions to Icy Moons of Saturn, Jupiter?” (Space.com – Mike Wall uses word “life” six times)Astrobiology Magazine, naturally, mentioned it, since astro-“biology” is their business: “Even if the reservoir is relatively young on the scale of geologic time, there’s still a chance for life,” the article said (oddly pointing out the possibility that the ocean is young; a young ocean would seem to require believing in life on the fast track).  But once the idea of rapid life enters the imagination, why stop there?  “This unexpected finding of an ocean on a small moon so far from the Sun raises a distinct possibility: that there are more oceans on more moons, each with a chance for life.”  A possible pool of liquid water suddenly became evidence for life all over the solar system!The original paper is more reserved in its claims, as befits scientific modesty: “The interpretation of Enceladus gravity presents a greater difficulty and uncertainty than usual, given the strikingly different appearances of the northern and southern hemisphere and the apparent confinement of endogenic activity to the high southern latitudes,” it cautions.  “Still, the deviation of J2/C22 from 10/3 (the value for a laterally homogeneous body) is modest (of order 5%) and the non–degree-2 gravity is small (of order 2% relative to J2), suggesting that there is some prospect of useful inferences.”Science Daily, echoing a press release from Caltech, did not mention life at all.  To its credit, this report was also very modest in its claims, mentioning that a sub-surface ocean is only a reasonable possibility:The suspicion is that the fractures—in some way that is not yet fully understood—connect down to a part of the moon that is being tidally heated by the globe’s repeated flexing as it traces its eccentric orbit. “Presumably the tidal heating is also replenishing the ocean,” Stevenson says, “so it is possible that some of that water is making its way up through the tiger stripes.”JPL’s press release, however, mentioned the L-word life three times (Cassini is an international mission managed by JPL).  Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker likely fueled the speculations of the popular media: “Material from Enceladus’ south polar jets contains salty water and organic molecules, the basic chemical ingredients for life,” she said. “Their discovery expanded our view of the ‘habitable zone’ within our solar system and in planetary systems of other stars.”  Data: gravitational anomalies on a tiny moon.  Conclusion: life abundant in the universe.It would be hard to find a more clear example of hydrobioscopy in action.  Give evolutionists an inch and they take a light year.  They have even less time to play with, using “chemical ingredients” they cannot see, employing processes that are not well understood, but then they turn around and extrapolate their imaginary microbes evolving around the whole universe!  Spilker, of all people, should know better.  She claims to be a Christian but repeats the water-equals-life mantra in a way that would make atheists applaud.  Doesn’t she know that naturalistic origin-of-life theories are in crisis?  (Survey our Origin of Life category for abundant evidence.)But why stop with microbial life?  Since speculation is OK in science now, let’s dream of underwater cities under Enceladus, inhabited by mermaids and mermen.  They can’t see Earth, but they speculate that if such a place exists, it can’t possibly be an abode for intelligent life.  Perhaps they’re right.last_img read more

Incentive scheme for the poor

first_imgA participant in the Broccoli Project incentive scheme with his reward for having an HIV test. Men wait in the Tutu Tester mobile facility for their turn at the test. Biometric identification helps keep track of people who have been tested at the Tutu Tester. (Images: MarcAnthony Zimmermann)Jennifer SternDespite the efforts of governments, charitable foundations, NGOs and individuals, half of the world’s population remains in poverty, with 3.9-billion people living on less than US$2 a day. It’s even biblical – the poor will always be with us.But it’s only recently that the poor have ever been seen as anything other than a problem that needs to be swept under the carpet, shipped off across an ocean or dealt with in some way. The most notable of the people proposing a different way of viewing the poor is CK Prahalad, author of The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid.Prahalad suggests that we stop thinking of the poor as a problem, or a burden, and start thinking of them as creative entrepreneurs and valuable consumers. These people “at the bottom of the pyramid” may not have much individual spending power but, because there are so many of them, collectively they represent Prahalad’s eponymous fortune.This realisation has not necessarily always been to the advantage of the poor, as it has opened them up to exploitation by ruthless corporations prepared to chase profit by any means. But there are also creative ways to make a profit from the bottom of the pyramid while offering a service that people actually need and want.So it was with all this in mind that MarcAnthony Zimmermann hit on the idea of an artist-endorsed starter pack for mobile phones. A joint collaboration with cellular operator Cell C, South African kwaito musician Zola and Zimmermann’s company Punq saw the launch of the Hola 7 starter pack in May 2008.Endorsed by an iconic local musician, the package offered real benefits to the users – allowing them reasonably priced access to the benefits of mobile phone technology. And one thing Zimmermann does like is technology.“But I really want to use my knowledge and creativity to do something with meaning,” Zimmermann says. “To do something good – while using cool technology, of course.”One of the most inequitable facts of modern life is that everything is cheaper for the rich. The more you have, the more you get given – a phenomenon graphically illustrated by loyalty programmes. Be it airlines, life insurance, coffee shops or credit cards, the more you spend, the more you are given. And that got Zimmermann thinking.“How,” he wondered, “could the poor benefit from incentive programmes without being made to spend more?”And what kind of incentives should they be offered? He is rather scathing of the rewards offered to the rich by most loyalty programmes, calling them “all sorts of junk you didn’t know you didn’t need, or stupidly valued voyager miles”.For Zimmermann, the one incentive scheme that stood out was Discovery Vitality. While it is still aimed at relatively affluent people, it offers rewards for positive life-enhancing behaviour. You get points every time you go to the gym, if you give up smoking (or have never started), if you lose weight (or don’t have to) and for routine preventive health checks like cholesterol tests and pap smears.“If the wealthy can be rewarded for healthy life choices with cheaper movies, holidays and aeroplane flights,” he thought, “why can’t the poor be rewarded for similar behaviour with more appropriate incentives?”And so the Broccoli Project was born. The basic idea is simple. Poor people are encouraged to take preventive health measures, keep their children in school and try to find work if they are unemployed. With families at the bottom of the pyramid, the incentives for these positive efforts are cash or vouchers for food, clothing and/or building materials.The pilot project was run in conjunction with the Tutu Tester, a mobile clinic run by the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation. The Tutu Tester travels from community to community offering free HIV, blood pressure and diabetes testing, along with comprehensive counselling services. If anyone is found to be HIV positive, or otherwise at risk, they are referred to primary health facilities.The Broccoli Project started off giving R75 cash as an incentive to take an HIV test, but they have since teamed up with retailer Pick n Pay and will be giving grocery vouchers in the future.The project is still in an early phase, but there are plans for expansion. They intend to add tuberculosis to the list of tests on offer, as well as sexually transmitted diseases other than HIV.All participants will be kept on a biometric database (this is where the cool technology comes in) and will be rewarded for, for example, taking an HIV test every three months, as well as remaining HIV-negative. Those who test positive will be given incentives to take their antiretrovirals. This is an important factor in ongoing treatment, as many of those receiving free antiretrovirals can’t afford to buy the nutritious food they need to maintain health.Other plans include incentivising people to keep their children in school, and unemployed people to seek work. But there is no limit to the life-enhancing activities that can be added to the programme.Future plans include a rollout whereby individuals or companies can buy Broccoli vouchers as incentives for employees, or just to give away to destitute people as an alternative to giving them money. The Broccoli Project is a registered Section 18a company, so vouchers will be tax deductable.The Broccoli Project is currently funded almost entirely from the profits of Hola 7, so Zimmermann is using the profits of selling mobile phone packages to (mostly) the poor to fund an incentive programme to better the lives of the poor. That’s really harnessing the power that resides at the bottom of the income pyramid.Do you have queries or comments about this article? Email Mary Alexander at marya@mediaclubsouthafrica.com.Related articlesLow-cost phones for Africa Mobile HIV testing in KZN HIV/Aids in South Africa Social Development in South AfricaUseful linksThe Broccolli Project Sinethemba Technology Cell Clast_img read more

Ohio ranch wins world championships

first_imgShare Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest Dickinson Cattle Company (DCCI) of Barnesville, Ohio won the 2015 Longhorn World Championship in Oklahoma City, OK, ending with the fiercest of competition on Oct. 24.  The final calculations were in the Cox Convention Center in downtown OKC.  This event is the world’s largest and most versatile cattle competition.The TLMA World Championship is a horn measuring event with careful detail to tip to tip measurement and total horn. Measurements are calculated to 1/16th of an inch by a team of experienced horn masters. This event has built momentum for many years and has great influence on Texas Longhorn market popularity.  In recent years Texas Longhorn cattle have sold for amounts above $150,000, and many were sporting record wide serpentined spreads.Texas Longhorn cattle are bred for all the same virtues of other cattle breeds, yet serious  longevity of production, attractive colors, unassisted calving, large weaning weights and long twisty horns.  The horns are an exciting investor factor with multiple opinionated preferences.The Texas Longhorn Marketing Alliance hosts numerous satellite events all across the nation, then the following week the last group of cattle are measured publicly in the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City. Owners who think they have the largest horned cattle participate in this public venue, and like a horse race, only one wins. The TLMA plan lets the best of the best compete all over the nation with all calculations finalized in OKC.DCCI entered two Ohio herd sires Rodeo Max and Clear Point, both prior World Champions. Clear Point won the Largest tip-to-tip in his division and the Greatest Total Horn. Rodeo Max won the Largest tip-to-tip in his division. Clear Point measured 86.5″ at under 42 months and Rodeo Max won with an 85″ measurement at age 11. In a rapidly advancing industry it is difficult for an 11 year old to be this competitive.Dickinson Cattle Company is a family owned ranching business that markets registered cattle, hosts ranch tours for the public and competes in national livestock contests.  DCCI has a fully stocked ranch store providing horn products and all natural Texas Longhorn healthy beef. Ranch manager Joel Dickinson reports, “We were very honored that from satellite events nation wide and the final OKC event, our Ohio DCCI bulls won their World Championship Bronzes.”The International Texas Longhorn Association and Texas Longhorn Marketing Alliance co-host the Longhorn Extravaganza at OKC. The Expo turns into a two day 10 ring circus of horn measuring, judged shows, futurities, video presentations, business meetings, marketing booths, vendor “horn” peddlers and an awards presentation/banquet on the final night.Clear Point bred and raised by Dickinson Cattle Colast_img read more

NU Lady Bulldogs eliminate UP Lady Maroons from Final Four race

first_imgNU Lady Bulldogs. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.netMANILA, Philippines—National University squandered a two-sets-to-none lead but still got enough punch to knock University of the Philippines out of contention, 25-21, 26-24,17-25, 23-25, 17-15, Sunday in the UAAP Season 81 women’s volleyball tournament at Mall of Asia Arena.The victory hardly mattered for the Lady Bulldogs, who are already out of running, but they made sure they also pulled down with them the Lady Maroons, whose hope to make the Final Four was snuffed out altogether.ADVERTISEMENT It also gave University of Santo Tomas and Far Eastern University worry-free entry to the semifinals along with Ateneo and La Salle.NU star rookie Princess Robles unloaded 20 points, including the three straight in the frenetic back-and-forth in the fifth set. Libero Jennifer Nierva had 30 excellent digs and 27 excellent receptions.FEATURED STORIESSPORTSPrivate companies step in to help SEA Games hostingSPORTSPalace wants Cayetano’s PHISGOC Foundation probed over corruption chargesSPORTSSingapore latest to raise issue on SEA Games food, logisticsThe Lady Bulldogs, who also got 15 points from Audrey Paran including the winning spike, hiked their record to 4-9.Despite Tots Carlos’ 18 points, UP fell to 6-7. Don’t miss out on the latest news and information. DA eyes importing ‘galunggong’ anew Sports Related Videospowered by AdSparcRead Next Hontiveros presses for security audit of national power grid Panelo: Duterte ‘angry’ with SEA Games hosting hassles Cayetano: Senate, Drilon to be blamed for SEA Games mess View comments Private companies step in to help SEA Games hosting LATEST STORIES UST Salinggawi win medals in Singapore tilt Ethel Booba twits Mocha over 2 toilets in one cubicle at SEA Games venue MOST READ SEA Games hosting troubles anger Duterte Philippine Arena Interchange inaugurated Chief Justice Peralta on upcoming UAAP game: UP has no match against UST PLAY LIST 01:00Chief Justice Peralta on upcoming UAAP game: UP has no match against UST00:50Trending Articles00:50Trending Articles02:42PH underwater hockey team aims to make waves in SEA Games01:44Philippines marks anniversary of massacre with calls for justice01:19Fire erupts in Barangay Tatalon in Quezon City01:07Trump talks impeachment while meeting NCAA athletes02:49World-class track facilities installed at NCC for SEA Games02:11Trump awards medals to Jon Voight, Alison Krausslast_img read more

World Cup Match Reports

first_imgStay tuned to this story as the reports will be updated in the coming hours. Men’s 40’sAustralia has narrowly lost the Men’s 40’s division to New Zealand at the 2011 World Cup, 5-4 in an exciting encounter.Australia took an early lead when John Clark scored following a Troy Morgan run from acting half, but New Zealand were quick to hit back, levelling the score in the next set of six. New Zealand great Pete Walters sent a worry through the New Zealand camp when he looked to be injured, but was soon back on the field and back to his best, setting up a touchdown and helping New Zealand jump ahead to a 3-1 lead. Despite a number of penalties, Australia was unable to capitalise on its opportunities. .New Zealand took their two touchdown advantage into half-time, 3-1. Australia hit back soon after the half-time break, when Robin Kildare setting up John Samin to bring the score back to one touchdown, 3-2. Two quick touchdowns to New Zealand took their lead out to three with just over five minutes remaining. Troy Morgan scored in the next set of six, to bring New Zealand’s lead back to two, and when a New Zealand player was sent to the sin bin with just minutes remaining, Australia capitalised. Robert Sinclair-Smith scored during this time to bring his team back within one touchdown. The Australian comeback was too little too late however, with the siren sounding, giving New Zealand the win, 5-4.Men’s 35’sAustralia has continued it undefeated run at the 2011 World Cup, defeating South Africa, 11-6 in the Men’s 35’s division.The two sides had played each other twice in the lead up to the final, once in the round games and the other in yesterday’s quarter final, which were both won by Australia. Australia got out to a flying start, scoring the first three touchdowns of the match before South Africa got on the scoreboard midway through the first half and went into half-time with a comprehensive lead. Australia continued its dominance after the break, to take the match by five touchdowns and become Australia’s first World Cup champions for 2011.  Men’s 30’s Australia has comprehensively beaten England in the grand final of the Men’s Open division at the 2011 World Cup, taking the game 18-2. After a week of Touch Football that including plenty of high scores from the team, including a 31 touchdown win earlier in the week, the win was a great way for the teams to finish their World Cup campaign. The team didn’t waste any time getting on the scoreboard, making their mark on the game in the early exchanges. Captain Gavin Shuker led by example, scoring five touchdowns for the match.Senior MixedAustralia has pushed New Zealand all the way in the Senior Mixed division, taking the game to a drop off before losing 7-6. Australia got out to an impressive start, before New Zealand hit back to get back into the game. After leading 3-1, New Zealand hit back in the late stages of the first half, with Australia going to the half-time break up by one touchdown. New Zealand hit back in the early stages of the second half, with the teams continuing their great rivalry right down to the dying seconds, sending the game into a drop off. Both teams were unable to score in their first set of six, and it was New Zealand who eventually has the opportunity to capitalise, scoring in the first two minutes to take the title.last_img read more

Video: Rick Pitino Appears To Make Gesture Towards Kentucky Fan After Loss

first_imgRick Pitino flipping off Kentucky fans.Twitter/@Fine_and_TandyPretty much every edition of the Kentucky vs. Louisville basketball rivalry is intense, and today’s game certainly didn’t disappoint. The game featured technicals on both coaches, huge dunks and blocks, and a dramatic finish, resulting in a two-point UK win.After the game, multiple Kentucky fans claimed that Louisville head coach Rick Pitino flipped off someone in the crowd while leaving the court. Twitter user Seiver Tandy captured the incident on video. Pitino definitely appears to make a gesture after being taunted, but it is hard to really tell if he gave a fan the finger or not, at least based on this footage.I got Rick flipping off UK fans on video @KySportsRadio pic.twitter.com/VPgUbRGM9H— Seiver Tandy (@Fine_and_Tandy) December 26, 2015Pitino sent assistant Ralph Willard out to answer questions after the game, so we’ll have to wait some time to hear Pitino’s side of things. If he did, in fact, flip of a Kentucky fan, that is a really bad look for the Hall of Fame coach.[KSR]last_img read more

Ram pickups recalled to fix rusting fuel tank strap

first_imgDETROIT – Fiat Chrysler is recalling more than 300,000 older Ram pickup trucks worldwide because the fuel tanks can sag.The recall mainly affects trucks in cold-weather U.S. states and Canada where salt is used to clear snow from roads.It includes Ram 1500 pickups from the 2009 through 2012 model years. In the U.S. the trucks are in 20 states and Washington, D.C.The company says an investigation found a bracket can corrode and let the tanks sag. The remaining structure will stop the tanks from falling. Fiat Chrysler says it’s not aware of any crashes, fires, leaks or injuries due to the problem.Dealers will reinforce the bracket. Owners will be told when to schedule service. Anyone who notices a hanging strap or lower tank should contact their dealer.last_img

KMC to take concrete steps to ensure roundtheclock water supply in slums

first_imgKolkata: The Kolkata Municipal Corporation is gearing up to supply round the clock drinking water to the slums in the city. The slum dwellers in the city presently get water twice in a day —for around three hours in the morning and for two hours in the late afternoon.”We have already held three meetings and are chalking out a detailed plan on how to go about in developing the infrastructure in the slums so that the residents get round the clock water supply. Mayor Firhad Hakim has instructed us to take all possible measures in this regard,” said Swapan Samaddar, Member, Mayor-in-Council (Bustee Development ) Also Read – Bengal family worships Muslim girl as Goddess Durga in Kumari PujaThe slum dwellers sometimes suffer from scarcity of water particularly during the summer months when the demand increases manifold. Some slum areas are so narrow that vehicles with water tanks are unable to reach. As per initial plans , the KMC Water Supply department will set up a reservoir in the slums wherever there will be availability of space. The water stored will be drawn through a pump and then through a dedicated pipeline it will be supplied to the slum. “We have to carry out awareness among the dwellers to prevent wastage of water,” an official in the Bustee Development department said. Also Read – Bengal civic volunteer dies in road mishap on national highwayThere are around 4,500 slums both authorised and unauthorised under KMC’s jurisdictional area. “We are presently producing water in excess to the demand of the Kolkatans. There are supply problem in certain pockets in the added areas of the city like Tollygunj, Bansdroni, Garia and work for supply pipeline is going on in full swing. Work is expected to be over by March 2020,” an official in the Water Supply department said. The construction of a small booster pumping station at Bangur Park in ward 93 and Babubagan in ward 92 has already started. A reservoir with additional capacity of 2 million gallon is being constructed inside the campus of Anandapur booster pumping station to improve water supply in the adjacent areas.last_img read more

How UABs Upset Of Iowa State Changed Our March Madness Predictions

Check out FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions. The 2015 NCAA tournament is only a few hours old, and we’ve already seen what’s likely to be one of its bigger upsets: 14th-seeded UAB’s 60-59 victory over No. 3 seed Iowa State on Thursday afternoon. Before the game, we pegged Iowa State’s chances of winning at 90.8 percent, so the Blazers’ surprise victory certainly counts as a huge upset. It’s currently the third-most unlikely result in the tournament since we started publishing the FiveThirtyEight model in 2011, trailing only No. 15 seed Norfolk State’s upset of No. 2 seed Missouri in 2012 (which had a 2.8 percent probability of happening) and 14th-seeded Mercer’s victory over No. 3 seed Duke a year ago (7.1 percent).So what are the implications for the rest of the bracket, particularly the South Regional? According to the changes to our model, the biggest beneficiary (other than UAB themselves) might be Southern Methodist University; SMU’s chances of cracking the Sweet 16 rose by 26.7 percentage points now that Iowa State isn’t standing in its way. A similar story goes for UCLA, SMU’s round-of-64 opponents; UCLA’s chances of making the Sweet 16 increased by 14.9 percentage points.Looking further down the bracket, Gonzaga saw its chances of landing in the Elite Eight improve by 11.5 percentage points and its odds of making the Final Four improve by 5.5 percentage points. And even Duke, relatively distant from Iowa State in the bracket as a No. 1 seed in the other half of the region, saw its odds of a Final Four berth improve incrementally (by 1.9 percentage points).It’s all proof that big upsets in the round of 64 can have ripple effects that extend beyond it. In particular, the absence of a potential threat down the road can make things easier for the other strong teams in the region along their path to the Final Four. read more

2015 NFL Preview The Ravens Bengals Steelers And Yes Even The Browns

Cleveland Browns2014 Record: 7-9 | 2015 Proj. W: 6.2 | Playoff Odds: 9.7%Off. Rank: 31st | Def. Rank: 11th | S.T. Rank: 14thAs usual, the Browns’ quarterback situation is dismal. Backup Johnny Manziel gets most of the headlines despite (or, perhaps, because of) a spectacularly trying rookie campaign, but new starter Josh McCown isn’t much better. The 36-year-old journeyman showed unexpected flashes of brilliance in eight games as a Bear in 2013, but he returned to form — ranking second-worst in the NFL in QBR — with the Buccaneers last season. Judging from the rest of his career, it would be unrealistic to expect much more from McCown in 2015.We all know that the NFL is a passing league, so Cleveland’s QB predicament puts them at a disadvantage. But if there’s any good news for the Browns, it’s that you don’t necessarily need a great passing attack to build a winning team. And with McCown and Manziel unlikely to lead the Browns out of the quarterback wilderness, it falls upon the team’s defense to provide an edge instead.The Browns return nine starters from what was an effective, and unusual, defense in 2014. Typically, defenses that limit opponents’ passing also have an edge against the running game, and Cleveland was excellent versus the pass — it was third-best in EPA allowed on passing plays, trailing only the Texans and Bills. But the Browns had trouble slowing down opposing runners. Against rushing plays, they ranked 31st in EPA allowed, ahead of only the Saints.Again, the NFL is a passing league, so Cleveland had a top-10 defense despite its weakness against the run. But given the Browns’ lack of offensive playmakers,12Their most important offensive player might be a center. In the five starts Alex Mack made in 2014 before suffering a season-ending injury, the Browns averaged 26 points and a 75 QBR; over the remainder of the season, they averaged 16 points and a 25 QBR. their defense can’t afford to have any vulnerabilities if they hope to win games. That’s why Cleveland drafted nose tackle Danny Shelton 12th overall and added defensive lineman Randy Starks in free agency, with an eye on getting tougher against the run and building an elite all-around defense.It’s an unconventional formula for team-building, but a roster engineered to keep the score low and close can make for upsets. Just last year, the Buffalo Bills used a similar blueprint to win nine games despite having the league’s fifth-worst offense. So if the Browns defense is better than their offense is bad, and they get a few lucky bounces of the ball on special teams, Cleveland might have a winner for just the third time since the franchise was reborn in 1999. Baltimore Ravens2014 Record: 10-6 | 2015 Projected Wins: 9.0 | Playoff Odds: 54.7%Offensive Rank: 15th | Defensive Rank: 5th | Special Teams Rank: 2ndA slight favorite in the AFC North according to ESPN’s preseason Football Power Index (FPI) ratings, Baltimore is more likely than not to make its seventh playoff appearance since 2008. In part, that’s because general manager Ozzie Newsome is playing his own brand of Moneyball. One of his favorite strategies: using free agency to build depth and plug roster holes, rather than trying to sign big-name players at a premium. It’s an approach that keeps the Ravens out of boom-and-bust rebuilding cycles, and keeps generating tickets to the Plinko game that is the NFL playoffs.For instance, Baltimore needed to address its weakness at secondary this offseason. Although the Ravens were tough against the run1They allowed the NFL’s third-fewest rushing expected points. and consistently put pressure on opposing QBs, they also allowed the league’s 10th-most expected points added (EPA) through the air because injuries forced them to field a handful of scrap-heap defensive backs. So Newsome added cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Kendrick Lewis in free agency to bolster the secondary — moves he could afford to make because of cap room freed up by trading defensive tackle Haloti Ngata for draft picks. The deft deal-making2Along with the return of cornerback Jimmy Smith from injury. is a big reason experts think Baltimore will reclaim elite-defense status this season.Another signature Newsome move was to let free-agent wide receiver Torrey Smith walk, rather than paying the $22 million sticker price he was eventually guaranteed by San Francisco. While other teams shell out for expensive free-agent receivers such as Smith, Vincent Jackson and Mike Wallace, Newsome has had success with cheaper options. Take Steve Smith, whom the Ravens were able to sign on the cheap3Paying only an average of $3.5 million per season. a year ago because of his advancing age (he was 35 last season). All Smith did in his Baltimore debut was produce one of the top receiving seasons in Ravens history — and help quarterback Joe Flacco post the best Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) of his career.Even running back Justin Forsett, whose breakout season lifted Baltimore’s yards per carry from last in the league in 2013 to a tie for sixth last season, was paid only $730,000 a year ago — a pittance by RB standards. Forsett got a raise for 2015 but should benefit from another secret weapon smart teams often use: continuity. All five starters on the Ravens’ offensive line are also returning, and incoming offensive coordinator Marc Trestman is expected to keep predecessor Gary Kubiak’s running scheme.Newsome appears to recognize a few fundamental truths about the NFL: namely, that bank-breaking offseason pickups are rarely worth the trouble and that teams are better off using their money to build depth and bolster multiple positions. It’s a formula that has served the Ravens well over the years and should continue to pay off in 2015. Read more: 2015 NFL Previews FiveThirtyEight is previewing the 2015 NFL season ahead of the first game of the year. Check out our coverage of every division » Cincinnati Bengals2014 Record: 10-5-1 | 2015 Proj. W: 8.4 | Playoff Odds: 42.1%Off. Rank: 14th | Def. Rank: 12th | S.T. Rank: 8thFPI predicts that the Bengals will be solid again in 2015, and one of the primary reasons is continuity. Twenty-one of their 22 starters are back from a year ago, which ties for the second-most returning starters any NFL team has carried into a season since 2006. Plus, prodigal defensive end Michael Johnson returns after a season in Tampa Bay, and linebacker Vontaze Burfict might (eventually) come back from the knee injury that cost him most of 2014.While researching FPI,4I was on the production analytics team that developed FPI this summer. we found that consistency like this, especially when the team is already decent — as the Bengals were last year — is a small but reliable predictor of success. And in the absence of a first-class quarterback, Cincinnati needs all of these small things to go its way if the team wants to stay competitive.Bengals starting quarterback Andy Dalton has a lifetime QBR of 51, which pretty much makes him the definition of average. (QBR is scaled where the league-wide mean is 50.) Fans and observers have spent years wondering if Dalton can become a top passer, but four seasons of consistently middling numbers probably suggest that we’ve seen his best. He’s dependable, and even good enough to make a winner out of a team if it surrounds him with talent. But rarely do quarterbacks blossom into something new after four full seasons in the NFL.So instead of counting on Dalton to be great, Cincinnati has built a balanced roster that doesn’t need a star turn at QB. Wideout A.J. Green, for instance, picks up the slack by serving as Dalton’s target more than 30 percent of the time, one of the highest shares for any receiver in the league. Although Dalton played well enough to win two of the three games Green missed last season, it would be unwise to think the Bengals offense would prosper for long without Green’s ability to stretch defenses downfield.And defensively, FPI projects the Bengals to bounce back after a down year in 2014. Cincy’s defense had allowed the NFL’s second-fewest overall EPA and fifth-lowest rate of yards per attempt two years ago, but they fell to 16th and 20th, respectively, after the departure of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer a year ago. Losing a coordinator can be surprisingly traumatic for a defense (more on this later), so they should be better in Paul Guenther’s second season at the helm.Continuity, on both the roster and coaching staff, is one of several small factors Cincinnati will have to rely on this season. Because unless, by some miracle, Dalton turns into a top passer, the Bengals need all the advantages they can get. In preparation for the 2015 NFL season, FiveThirtyEight is running a series of eight division previews, each highlighting the numbers that may influence a team’s performance (including projections and rankings based on ESPN’s preseason Football Power Index). Today we focus on the AFC North, where Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have all taken the division title twice over the past six seasons. Will the defending-champ Steelers hand it off again this year? And can the Browns finally break into that group? Pittsburgh Steelers2014 Record: 11-5 | 2015 Proj. W: 8.3 | Playoff Odds: 41.4%Off. Rank: 9th | Def. Rank: 24th | S.T. Rank: 4thThe Steelers had a very un-Steeler-like team in 2014. The offense was white-hot: Antonio Brown led all NFL receivers in fantasy scoring5Using ESPN’s standard scoring system. by a wide margin, Le’Veon Bell finished second among running backs, and Ben Roethlisberger ranked fifth among quarterbacks.6Even Heath Miller ranked 11th among tight ends despite seeing the fourth-lowest target frequency of any qualifier at his position. The defense, on the other hand, was full of holes, as age7They were one of the oldest defenses in the league. and free agency8They lost a number of veterans, including Larry Foote, LaMarr Woodley and Ryan Clark. caused a unit once nicknamed the “Steel Curtain” to allow the league’s third-worst rate of yards per play.Pittsburgh still used that bizarro-world formula to squeak past its rivals for the division crown. But it doesn’t bode well as a blueprint for sustainable winning, because there are reasons to think the defense won’t rebound even as the offense falls back to earth.By virtue of regression to the mean, we usually expect defenses to bounce back from uncharacteristically bad seasons, but Pittsburgh’s situation is complicated by the departure of legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. When developing FPI, we found that defensive coordinators have a similar (albeit smaller) impact on defense as quarterbacks do on offense — namely, that when a team has a returning coordinator, its defensive performance tends to be better and more consistent between seasons. Conversely, when a new coordinator comes in, the defense usually declines a bit9Regardless of its previous quality. and generally is harder to project.10In statistical speak, the variance is higher in projections involving new defensive coordinators. So it’s difficult to say whether the 2015 Steelers will be any better defensively than the 2014 team.And Pittsburgh might not be able to afford another down defensive year. Although the Steeler offense was surprisingly strong in 2014, it’s probably not realistic to expect a repeat performance — most obviously because Bell will be suspended for the season’s first two games, but also because the team is unlikely to be as healthy as it was last season. Not only was Pittsburgh’s offensive “injury score”11A weighted total of players designated as “out,” “doubtful” or “questionable” by the NFL’s official weekly injury reports. the lowest of any team a year ago, but the team also lost less than half as much playing time to injury as the average NFL offense from the past nine years. It’s highly unlikely that they’ll be so fortunate again.This doesn’t necessarily mean Pittsburgh needs a complete rebirth of the Steel Curtain defense. (The FPI projections still point to the Steelers being a top-10 team, after all.) But with Baltimore and Cincinnati each boasting a slightly higher probability of winning the division, the defense probably has to improve if the Steelers want to repeat as AFC North champs. read more