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Who are the early favorites to win the NFL rushing title?

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After a few down years, the running back position has made a comeback, and the NFL rushing title is again relevant each season.

In 2016, Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott became the first rookie since Edgerrin James in 1999 to lead the league in rushing, and he’s looking to be the first back since LaDainian Tomlinson a decade ago to repeat as the champ. So which other backs will be his biggest competition this season?

First, let me explain who you won’t see on this list. LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray and Devonta Freeman are, in my opinion, among the five-best backs in football today. That doesn’t mean they’ll rush for more yards than all other contenders, though.

Shady shares a backfield in Buffalo with quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who last year led all quarterbacks with 580 rushing yards. Even if McCoy can return to his 2013 form when he won the rushing title, he may not have enough carries to rack up the yards with how many touches Taylor will consume.

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Federer makes history with eighth Wimbledon, 19th major title

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Roger Federer trounced a tearful Marin Cilic to become the first man ever to win eight singles titles at Wimbledon.

It took the 35-year-old just an hour and 41 minutes to clinch by far his most one-sided Wimbledon final triumph and extend his overall record with a 19th grand slam singles title.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 16:  Roger Federer of Switzerland celebrates during his historic win at Wimbledon. Picture: Getty

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 16: Roger Federer of Switzerland celebrates during his historic win at Wimbledon. Picture: Getty

The 6-3 6-1 6-4 victory continues Federer’s magnificent season in what should be his tennis dotage, but even the most ardent of the Swiss’ fans – and there were many packed into Centre Court – did not want the final to play out like this.

Cilic started well but it became clear early in the second set that something was badly wrong with the Croatian.

At 3-0, he sobbed uncontrollably into his towel as he discussed the situation with the doctor and it looked like he might not be able to continue.

There has only ever been one retirement in a Wimbledon men’s singles final, back in 1911, and Cilic at least had the support of the crowd as he opted to play through the pain.

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Signings, trades shift balance of power across the NHL

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Elsewhere in the East, the Montreal Canadiens are reloading with the addition of longtime Washington defenseman Karl Alzner and the acquisition of forward Jonathan Drouin, as the Toronto Maple Leafs take another step toward being a championship contender by adding veteran winger Patrick Marleau to their young core.

“The five-year plan changes every day,” Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello said.

Out West, the Dallas Stars could be one of the favorites to reach the final after bringing in goaltender Ben Bishop, defenseman Marc Methot, center Martin Hanzal and winger Alexander Radulov and given the Chicago Blackhawks’ movement toward future cost certainty. Don’t expect the Stars to be out of the playoffs any time soon.

“We like what we have on paper, but in the end the goal for us is to be a contender every year, to get in the playoffs every year,” Dallas GM Jim Nill said. “This game can humble you pretty quick, and it’s a tough league.”

It’s a league where turnover is the norm. There were six new playoff teams last season who missed in 2015-16 and that season five teams that missed the year before.

There are plenty of candidates for that in 2017-18, including Dallas and Winnipeg in the West and Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida, Philadelphia and the New York Islanders in the East.

The Hurricanes got a couple of Blackhawks castoffs — goaltender Scott Darling and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk — and signed Justin Williams, who has won the Cup three times and was playoff MVP in 2014.

“Carolina, there’s no question, they haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, so that’s a long time,” said Williams, who returned to the Hurricanes on a $9 million, two-year deal. “We’re done losing and it’s time to climb the ladder and get relevant.”

The Rangers will be more relevant next season after signing defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk for $26.6 million and re-signing Brendan Smith for $17 million over the next four years. The Devils haven’t made the playoffs since 2012, but will be improved after winning the draft lottery to pick center Nico Hischier, signing Brian Boyle and acquiring Marcus Johansson from the salary-cap-strapped Capitals.

Washington traded Johansson for picks within the division, to which New Jersey GM Ray Shero said: “Unfortunately for us, I don’t think Washington’s that concerned about the Devils and hopefully they will be soon.”

MacLellan still expects the Capitals to be a good team because of their top-end talent, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see them fall back to the pack without Williams, Shattenkirk, Johansson, Alzner and defenseman Nate Schmidt.

“I expect them to still be competitive,” said Alzner, who signed for $23.125 million over five years with Montreal. “I expect them to be a step below the Montreal Canadiens. That’s good. Leave them right there.”

Pittsburgh said goodbye to goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, defensemen Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey, center Nick Bonino and winger Chris Kunitz, but may not take that big of a step back because of the young players ready to accept bigger roles.

“We’re making a lot of changes … (but) we feel good about the guys that we still have,” GM Jim Rutherford said.

General manager Stan Bowman feels the same way about the Blackhawks after overhauling the roster. Gone are Darling, van Riemsdyk and fellow defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya and forwards Artemi Panarin, Marcus Kruger and Marian Hossa, who won’t play next season because of a severe reaction to medication for a skin condition.

“We got a lot of youth and we’ve got some guys that (have) stable contracts that we know are going to be here moving forward,” said Bowman, whose Blackhawks have won the Cup three times in the past eight years.

The Kings and Penguins have each won twice in that time and undergone changes along the way. Not even getting to the East final in the Alex Ovechkin era makes it more painful for the Capitals to undergo so many changes.

“It hurts,” MacLellan said. “It’s just we’re maturing, we’re getting a little more top heavy as a team, like Chicago, like Pittsburgh, and we’ve got to pay the result for it.”

___

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .

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Boxing continues to knock itself out with bewildering, incorrect decisions

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Here was boxing living down to its crooked reputation again late Saturday. Here were three judges who sat ringside and watched an aged Manny Pacquiao fight someone named Jeff Horn in Australia and somehow came to the unanimous conclusion that Pacquiao had lost. Here came all the Twitter backlash, the warranted anger and three-blind-mice memes and the one-word hashtag that summarized another decision that was surprising in how unsurprising it really was.

#boxing

That’s Saturday night in a nutshell. That’s Saturday night summarized. I scored the bout at home, after watching the ESPN telecast, and I had Pacquiao winning nine rounds and losing three (the first, sixth and 10th). I had friends who saw the contest 8-4 or 7-5. Fair enough. The broadcaster Teddy Atlas had spent the better part of an hour gushing over Pacquiao and perhaps his commentary nudged a close round or two in Pacquiao’s favor. Even accounting for that I can’t write up a fictional scenario in which Pacquiao had lost, let alone one in which a judge with two working eyeballs saw the fight 117-111 in favor of Horn, which actually happened on one scorecard.

This put me in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with the professional agitator Stephen A. Smith, who railed about the decision on SportsCenter. He wasn’t wrong. Nor was Atlas, who said the decision owed to incompetence or corruption. He was right. There’s simple no other explanation.

Still, I called Lou DiBella on Sunday morning for a professional opinion. DiBella is a longtime promoter, the founder of DiBella Entertainment and before that a boxing executive at HBO. He knows the sport as well anyone and had watched the bout on Saturday, and he told me that “three sixth graders who had never seen a fight before would have been more accurate.”

“There’s no way on God’s earth that a rational person who knew anything about boxing could have scored the fight for Horn,” DiBella continued. “He showed great heart but landed fewer than eight punches a round.”

It’s hard to disagree with the furor over the decision. But what that means for boxing as a sport and the casual sports fan who flipped to ESPN last night to catch Pacquiao’s first action on cable since 2005 is more nuanced and more complicated.

I agree with DiBella that those who know boxing and who follow the sport regularly were not surprised, even though I imagine everyone in that category felt that Pacquaio won. DiBella cited two other bouts from the last three days that he considered terrible scores: Robert Easter Jr.’s win at lightweight over Denis Shafikov (DiBella thought Easter won but not 120-108 like two judges had it) and Ivan Golub’s loss to Jamontay Clark at welterweight in a bout DiBella said Golub clearly won.

“Boxing fans are so used to this kind of garbage,” DiBella said. “Questionable judging on three fights in two days over one weekend reinforces the narrative that’s a major contributing factor in what turned the sport of kings into something that’s now in the ‘other sports’ column on major web sites. It’s been a long, steady decline downward and the expectations of boxing fans don’t preclude nights like last night. Boxing fans expect that decisions like that are somewhat routine.”

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