NFL Sundays are back with a bang this weekend as Tom Brady and Drew Brees duel in New Orleans.

The two future Hall of Famers are set to face each other twice this year following ex-New England Patriots quarterback Brady's decision to join the Saints' NFC South rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the offseason.

Six-time Super Bowl winner Brady - the league's most decorated quarterback - will be aiming to bring the success he enjoyed in New England to a Bucs team deprived of postseason action in recent years.

Here, using Stats Perform data, we take a look at some of the most intriguing Week 1 matchups.

 

FEATURE GAME

Bucs at Saints - Sunday, 4.25pm (all times Eastern)

- Tampa Bay have gone 12 straight seasons without making the playoffs, the second-longest drought in the NFL (Cleveland Browns, 17 straight). The Buccaneers have not won a playoff game since defeating the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII in January 2003.

- Brady has joined the Buccaneers after 20 seasons and 285 career games played with the Patriots – the most games with a franchise all-time by a player who subsequently played for another team. Brady has an all-time best .774 career win percentage as a starting QB (minimum 100 starts); the Bucs' .387 all-time win percentage is the worst among current franchises.

- The Saints have won the NFC South three straight years, posting a 13-3 record in each of the last two. They are the fourth NFC team since the merger to have back-to-back seasons of 13-plus wins, joining the 1985-86 Chicago Bears, 1989-90 San Francisco 49ers and 1996-97 Green Bay Packers; no NFL team has ever had three straight 13-win seasons.

OTHER KEY GAMES

Browns at Ravens - Sunday, 1pm

- Since the franchise returned in 1999, the Browns are 1-19-1 in season openers, with the lone win in 2004 versus Baltimore (20-3). Every other team has won at least seven season openers in that span. 

Seahawks at Falcons - Sunday, 1pm

- Ten of the Seattle Seahawks' 11 wins last year – and two of their five losses – came by eight points or fewer. They joined the 1978 Houston Oilers as the only teams in NFL history to win 10 one-score games in a season (defined as seven points when there was no two-point conversion rule, and eight points when there was).

Chargers at Bengals - Sunday, 4.05pm

- Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow will be trying to become the first Heisman-winning QB drafted first overall to win his first start in the NFL since Jim Plunkett in 1971.

Cardinals at 49ers - Sunday, 4.25pm

- In their three-game postseason run in the 2019 campaign, the 49ers outrushed their opponents 612 yards to 212 yards, the best playoff differential for any team since Washington in 1982 and the best all-time by a non-champion.

Cowboys at Rams - 8.20pm

- The 2019 Los Angeles Rams finished third in the NFC West with a 9-7 record. Los Angeles were 7-0 when allowing fewer than 17 points last season, but just 2-7 when allowing 17 or more.

ELSEWHERE...

Dolphins at Patriots - 1pm

- When Cam Newton starts for the Patriots on Sunday, it will snap a streak of 471 consecutive games – regular season and playoffs – in which the Pats have started a QB that they drafted. This is the longest such streak in NFL history.

Bears at Lions - 1pm

- Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is set to make his 150th career start on Sunday. His 41,025 career passing yards are already the most by any QB through 150 career starts, with only Aaron Rodgers (40,715) also reaching the 40,000 mark.

J.J. Watt could not "fully understand" the boos heard during a pre-game moment of unity in protest against racism and social injustice ahead of the NFL's season opener.

Players from Super Bowl champions the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans linked arms prior to Thursday's contest, which the Chiefs won 34-20 at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Chiefs are among the teams letting supporters into their arena during the coronavirus pandemic and, despite fewer than a quarter of the seats being filled, boos could be heard from pockets of the stands.

"The moment of unity I personally thought was good," Texans defensive end Watt told NFL Media. 

"I mean the booing during that moment was unfortunate. I don't fully understand that. There was no flag involved. There was nothing involved other than two teams coming together to show unity."

The NFL has opted to alter its stance on protests this season, with end zones to bear the words "End Racism" and "It Takes All of Us", while players can display the names of victims of social injustice on their safety helmets.

Houston players stayed in the locker room during the national anthem, while the Chiefs' Alex Okafor took a knee.

Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said: "[We wanted to] let everyone know that we had their back.

"You can go ahead and whatever you feel is the right decision in your heart, you have your brother's back and you have your brother's support on this team. 

"And we made sure that everybody was comfortable in that area and they weren't gonna get backlash from anybody on this team for doing that.

"And I thought it was a great show of unity amongst both of us, the Chiefs and the Texans.''

Texans coach Bill O'Brien stated he did not hear any booing and pondered whether the jeers may have actually been for his team as the opposing side.

"I thought that that was a nice thing to do, so I'm not sure why they would boo that," O'Brien said. 

"Maybe they were just booing us because we had just come on the field as the visiting team. But yeah, I thought that that was a nice gesture."

Chiefs coach Andy Reid also said he did not hear the boos and added: "I thought that was kind of a neat deal, both sides coming together for a cause and the story was told there. 

"We can all learn from this, and really it's just to make us all better, even a stronger country than we already are. We have a chance to just be completely unstoppable when all hands join together and that's a beautiful thing."

Liverpool ended their 30-year wait for a top-flight title last season by comfortably finishing top of the Premier League.

After coming agonisingly close numerous times in the three decades since their most recent success, the Reds finished at the summit with an incredible 99 points.

The Merseyside club had hardly been starved of major trophies in that time, having won a couple of European Cups, three FA Cups and various other honours.

But for plenty of Liverpool supporters - many of whom would never have witnessed their side winning the title - last season's coronation was seen as a hoodoo being lifted.

Jurgen Klopp is now tasked with making it back-to-back triumphs, though, as history shows, it is not always so easy to push on from such a success.

Here, we look at some previous examples of what happened next after other sports teams ended their long-running title droughts.


Chicago Cubs (MLB) - 108-year wait

The Cubs ended MLB's longest-such drought by winning the World Series in 2016 with an 8-7 Game 7 victory over the Cleveland Indians in 10 innings.

The following season did not turn out to be quite so memorable as, after winning the division title, they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the League Championship Series.


Chicago White Sox (MLB) - 88-year wait

Not quite as long a wait as their city rivals, but a painful one all the same. The White Sox swept the Houston Astros in four games for their third World Series championship in 2005.

They finished third in the American League Central a year later with a record of 90-72 and are still on the hunt for their fourth crown.


Boston Red Sox (MLB) - 86-year wait

After years of falling just short, the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and vanquished the 'Curse of the Bambino' in the process.

Disappointment followed in 2005 as they finished second in the American League East before being swept by the White Sox in the American League Division Series.


Kansas City Chiefs (NFL) - 50-year wait

A more recent example of a team ending years of hurt, the Chiefs - led by the incredible Patrick Mahomes - recovered from 10 points behind to beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 in Super Bowl LIV earlier this year.

Seven months on from that famous win, they will enter the much-anticipated season as the favourites of many to match their recent success, much like Liverpool.


Chicago Blackhawks (NHL) - 49-year wait

Patrick Kane was the hero for the Blackhawks, scoring four minutes and six seconds into overtime of their decisive Game 6 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.

The Blackhawks lost several players due to salary cap restrictions and succumbed to the Vancouver Canucks in seven games in the first round of the following season's play-offs.

 
Golden State Warriors (NBA) - 40-year wait

A first NBA title in four decades for the Warriors was secured thanks to a 4-2 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 Finals, Steve Kerr's team winning the last three games of the series.

Among other records, they set the best-ever regular season return of 73-9 the next campaign but went on to lose to the Cavs 4-3 in the Finals as their opponents gained revenge.


Indianapolis Colts (NFL) - 36-year wait

The Colts got their hands on the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 2006 season with a 29-17 Super Bowl XLI victory over the Chicago Bears after ending the regular campaign with a record of 12-4.

Despite improving on their regular season record the folllowing year en route to winning a fifth straight AFC South divisional title, they lost to the San Diego Chargers in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Patrick Mahomes made history after throwing three touchdown passes as Super Bowl champions the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Houston Texans 34-20 in the NFL opener.

Chiefs quarterback Mahomes became the first player in NFL history to throw three touchdown passes with no interceptions in a third consecutive season opener on Thursday.

Mahomes, who signed a record 10-year, $503million contract extension in the offseason, was 24 of 32 for 211 yards and one sack as the Chiefs opened their title defence in winning fashion.

Before the 2020 NFL season got underway, the Texans remained in the locker room for the national anthem, while the Chiefs all stood on the sideline in Kansas City.

There was also a first for professional sports in the United States, with fans in attendance amid the coronavirus pandemic – the Chiefs allowing a crowd of 22 per cent capacity to enter Arrowhead Stadium, where the Super Bowl banner was unveiled.

The Texans struck first on the road, David Johnson's touchdown giving Houston an early 7-0 lead before the Chiefs took control.

Mahomes led the way, throwing a touchdown to star team-mate Travis Kelce and another to Sammy Watkins as the Chiefs scored 17 unanswered points in the second quarter.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire – Kansas City's first-round pick – scored following a 27-yard run to put the Chiefs ahead 24-7 early in the third quarter.

Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson tried to inspire a comeback as Houston snapped a run of 31 consecutive points conceded following Mahomes' short pass to Tyreek Hill but there was no denying the Chiefs, who secured a 10th consecutive win – counting the playoffs and Super Bowl LIV.

Watson finished 20 of 32 for 253 yards, one touchdown, one interception and four sacks.

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton said he is excited to make his bow for the iconic NFL franchise, playing down any nerves ahead of the showdown against the Miami Dolphins.

Newton will debut for the Patriots on Sunday after signing a one-year deal following his Carolina Panthers release in March.

Former NFL MVP Newton is filling the void left by Tom Brady in New England after the legendary quarterback's move to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Newton has been hindered by injuries in recent years, with the 31-year-old limited to just two games in 2019 following a Lisfranc fracture.

"Excitement level is on 1,000," Newton, entering his 10th NFL season, said on Thursday. "I'm excited, happy. Just to get back into the rhythm of game week -- the preparation, the little nuggets that you can often forget.

"You have to remember, I've been away from football, really, for a full year. I haven't really had this whole process for a long time now, so being around, taking notes, watching film, finding out about different players each and every day, locking in.

"[I'm] excited about the game plan and more excited about just trying to get in a routine with the newness of the playcalling, the coaches and even the players."

Asked if he still experiences nerves before season openers, Newton joked: "I don't get butterflies. I give 'em."

"I've been playing in a lot of games in my life, a lot of opening days, to a lot of impactful, meaningful games, and at this particular point in my career I know how to control myself," he said.

Newton added: "Right now, I'm in a happy place, I feel motivated, I feel a lot of great emotions that are going on and not hindering me from becoming my best self.

"Yet through it all, I like it most that I'm just a piece to a puzzle. I don't want to be the puzzle. I try my best daily to prove my worth to this team and understand there are a lot of guys here who are depending on each other, and I want to be a person the team and these coaches can trust and depend on.

"Two or three months ago, I was questioning a lot of things. Right now, as I'm looking up at Gillette and the iconic logo for the Patriots like, 'How can I lose?'"

Tom Brady acknowledged he is playing catch-up ahead of his Tampa Bay Buccaneers debut, with the prospect of taking part in a real NFL game suddenly in focus amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Brady sensationally swapped the New England Patriots for the Buccaneers via free agency in the offseason, but the six-time Super Bowl champion and his preparations have been restricted due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Coronavirus forced the cancellation of the entire preseason schedule, meaning legendary quarterback Brady and the Buccaneers will have to hit the ground running against the New Orleans Saints behind closed doors in Sunday's opener.

"We've got one more day of practice before we play a game," Brady told reporters on Thursday. "So I think that hit me today that we've had a lot of these practices leading up to it and you just kind of finish practice and you go and watch the tape, then you go and get ready for the next practice.

"I think the reality hit me today that we are actually getting ready to play a game, and it is no longer just another practice tomorrow. We've got live contact, live football, real results, and it is something I haven't done in nine months. We're going to have to learn quickly and get up to speed as quickly as possible. I think the first quarter of the game is going to be new for everybody.

"Getting our feet wet and understanding the speed of the game is going to be a little faster than what it has been in practice. Hopefully I can recall some of things I have done over a period of time and go out there and try to play a real, solid football game against a great football team."

The Buccaneers, who also boast former Patriots star Rob Gronkowski, have not reached the playoffs since 2007 after finishing last season with a 7-9 record in the NFC South.

Brady, 43, added: "Ultimately the team that is going to win is the one that executes the best. So it doesn't matter if there is two million people in the stands or if there is nobody in the stands.

"The team that is going to win is the team that does their job, does their assignment, makes the plays, plays with good fundamentals, plays together, communicates well. All the things that it takes to be a great football team on a consistent basis.

"Ultimately we just have to be able to focus on what our job is and not who is in the crowd, who's not in the crowd. It is going to be a football game once that balls kicks off and we'll all be locked in and ready to go, and understand that all these games count.

"We've got a tough division opponent right off the bat. I think everyone is really excited, and we'll have to go out there and be at our best on Sunday."

An NFL season rarely pans out as expected and 2020 might be the most unpredictable campaign of them all.

After a shortened offseason, which featured no preseason games, the NFL will begin on time, albeit with fans not present in certain stadiums, and in some cases for the entire year.

Yet the threat of the coronavirus pandemic remains and there is no guarantee that every team even completes a 16-game schedule.

Conventional wisdom may therefore go out of the window and, with that in mind, we make some bold calls about what will happen in the coming NFL campaign.

 

THE STEELERS WILL MAKE THE SUPER BOWL

Twelve teams currently have shorter Super Bowl odds than the Steelers, but this is a team that should be considered among the favourites... provided quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can stay healthy.

In 2018, Big Ben led the league in passing yardage (5,129) and completions (452) and threw the most touchdowns of his career in a single season (34), but only played twice last year before undergoing elbow surgery.

It is fair to wonder how he will fare at 38 but Roethlisberger is durable – he missed only three games in three years prior to last season – and simply does not need to put up the numbers he did in 2018 because of the defense.

In 2019, that unit led the league in sacks (54), takeaways (38) and was top five in both points and yards given up. Roethlisberger's return should aid key offensive weapons JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner, while the offensive line is among the best in the business.

Yes, AFC North rivals the Baltimore Ravens have everyone salivating, but the well-coached Steelers haven't had a below .500 season since 2003.

 

DAK PRESCOTT WILL BE NAMED MVP

Young quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson have received plenty of love over the past 12 months as the darlings of the NFL, but Dak Prescott had better stats in many categories last year. 

Prescott, blessed with a fine offensive line himself, was second in passing yardage (4,902), fourth in touchdown passes (30), had two receivers go over 1,100 yards (Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup) and has now been furnished with a first-round pick in CeeDee Lamb, arguably the best receiver in college football in 2019.

His new head coach Mike McCarthy was in Green Bay when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers won two MVPs, and he can get even more out of Prescott, who will not struggle for primetime exposure given he plays for 'America's Team'.

THE PANTHERS WILL END UP WITH THE FIRST OVERALL PICK IN 2021

The general consensus is the Jacksonville Jaguars will wind up with the NFL's worst record in 2020 – and the chance to likely draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence – given their aggressive rebuild.

Yet young quarterback Gardner Minshew showed something in 2019. He was 16th in QB rating (91.2), 15th in TD percentage (4.5 per cent) and 20th in passing yardage. Minshew will certainly not be in on 'Tank for Trevor SZN' and those middle-of-the-pack numbers suggest he might just win enough games to ruin the Jags' chances of landing Lawrence.

Instead, the Panthers could finish with that 'consolation prize'. Having lost perennial All-Pro Luke Kuechly to retirement, they are set to field the NFL's youngest starting defense in 10 years, one that lacks depth, which means they could find themselves in shootouts.

That's not good news considering their new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has passed for over 300 yards just six times in his 34 career starts. Head coach Matt Rhule presided over rough first seasons at Temple (2-10) and Baylor (1-11) before turning things around, and it might be a similar story in Carolina.

ADAM GASE WILL BE THE FIRST HEAD COACH FIRED

Less bold than the others, perhaps, as Gase would appear to be on borrowed time with the New York Jets, who lost their two best defensive players for this season when Jamal Adams was traded and C.J. Mosley opted out.

Gase, fired by the Miami Dolphins after the 2018 season, was brought to the Jets to bring the best out of young quarterback Sam Darnold and fix a misfiring offense. That offense finished 31st in points and 32nd in offensive yards.

Darnold still has a paucity of offensive weapons, and the Le'Veon Bell signing hasn't worked thus far, with the running back having the 11th-most carries in 2019 (245), but only averaging 3.2 yards per rush - the worst of his career and only the 46th best in the NFL.

The Jets' early-season stretch looks tricky on paper. They face the Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers, Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Chargers, Bills and Kansas City Chiefs in their opening eight games. Gase, who was hired before general manager Joe Douglas arrived, may be gone before the leaves turn brown.

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner has been activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Warner was placed on the list, which is for players who have either tested positive for the virus or have come into contact with a person who has contracted COVID-19, on August 31.

His activation means Warner should be available to play in the 49ers' season opener against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

A third-round pick in 2018, Warner was a crucial part of the 49ers' second-ranked defense last season.

He finished the regular season with 118 tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception returned for a touchdown as the 49ers topped the NFC with a 13-3 record.

San Francisco progressed to Super Bowl LIV, where Warner intercepted Patrick Mahomes in the 49ers' 31-20 defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs in February.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier has announced his retirement at the age of 28 following an absence of just under three years due to a spinal injury.

Shazier suffered a spinal contusion in a head-on tackle against the Cincinnati Bengals in December 2017, an injury that required surgery to secure and repair the spine.

The two-time Pro Bowler was given a 20 per cent chance of ever walking again, but rehabilitation had him on his feet by the following April when he announced Terrell Edmunds as the 28th pick in the NFL Draft.

Shazier was placed on the reserve/PUP list for the 2018 and 2019 seasons and, although he had spoken of a desire to return to the field, the Steelers moved the player to their reserve/retired list in March.

Shazier confirmed he is now retired on Wednesday in an emotional video posted to his official social media accounts.

Appearing to fight back the tears, Shazier said: "I am here today to make sure the world knows how much I still love football, how grateful I am for everything football gave me.

"I am here today to let the world know that today I am officially retiring from the game I love so much.

"It's been over 1,000 days since I first got hurt. To lose the game in a way I never envisioned has not been easy. When you play the game of football the way I did, you convince yourself you are Superman, that nothing can stop you.

"Then, the moment I got hurt, I stopped being Superman and that was difficult to make sense.

"The way I look at it, God put us all here for a purpose. For 20 years, he let me play football, and now it's time for me to do what he wants me to do.

"I am going to step away from the game for a while and see what else life has to offer. I know football will always be here for me if I need it, but right now I am excited to explore some new challenges and different paths."

Shazier, a 15th overall pick out of Ohio State in 2014, ends his career with seven interceptions, seven forced fumbles, seven sacks and 299 tackles in 46 games.

Ohio State thanked Shazier for "everything" on their official Twitter account, while Steelers colleague TJ Watt paid tribute to a "remarkable team-mate and even better person".

The Los Angeles Rams have signed cornerback Jalen Ramsey to a five-year extension that makes him the highest-paid defensive back in NFL history.

Los Angeles confirmed the deal, which is reportedly worth $105million, on Wednesday. 

The contract averages $21m a year and keeps him in Los Angeles through the 2026 season.

Ramsey was traded to the Rams by the Jacksonville Jaguars last season in exchange for first-round picks in 2020 and 2021 and a 2021 fourth-rounder.

A three-time Pro Bowler and a first-team All-Pro in 2017, history says he will justify the price of the trade and the contract.

Ramsey registered his first interception for the Rams in the Week 16 game with the San Francisco 49ers last season, which Los Angeles lost as they were eliminated from playoff contention.

They will attempt to wrest the NFC West division crown from the 49ers in 2020 and Ramsey will surely play a pivotal role.

In four seasons in the NFL Ramsey has 49 pass breakups and 10 interceptions, with one returned for a touchdown.

There has perhaps never been a tougher year to be a rookie in the NFL.

With the coronavirus pandemic decimating offseason practice schedules and preventing any preseason games from taking place, 2020's crop of first-year players will start their pro careers having had very little time to adapt.

Yet, even in exceptional circumstances, there are still plenty of players from a talented rookie class with the chance to excel in their maiden season.

Here we look at 10 rookies to watch in the 2020 campaign.

 

Joe Burrow - QB, Cincinnati Bengals

The first overall pick in the 2020 draft will look to carry arguably the greatest season by a quarterback in the history of college football into his rookie year into the pros. Should he succeed, it will likely result in a quick turnaround for a moribund Bengals franchise. The reports from training camp suggest he is a position to do just that.

KEY STAT: Burrow's 60 passing touchdowns for National Champions LSU were the most in a single season by a college football quarterback.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire - RB, Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs used the final pick of the first round to select Burrow's former LSU team-mate. With Super Bowl hero Damien Williams opting out of the season, Edwards-Helaire has been a consensus first-round pick in fantasy drafts and - entering the league's most explosive offense - this do-it-all running back is in a situation to enjoy a monster rookie season.

KEY STAT: Of running backs selected in the 2020 draft, only Raymond Calais (7.5) - a seventh-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - had a higher yards per touch average than Edwards-Helaire (6.9) in 2019.

Chase Young - DE, Washington Football Team

Young was an easy pick for Washington with the second overall selection. Some believe his upside is greater than last season's Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa, who was taken in the same spot by the 49ers in 2019. Playing on a defensive line stacked with first-round talent, Young has the ability to replicate the impact his former Ohio State team-mate had for San Francisco with a Washington team that has few bright spots.

KEY STAT: Despite serving a two-game suspension Young's 16.5 sacks were the most in the NCAA last season.

Tua Tagovailoa - QB, Miami Dolphins

Tagovailoa will have to wait for his NFL debut after veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick was named the 2020 starter. That is not much of a surprise given Tagovailoa has not played a game since dislocating his hip for Alabama in November. However, given the frenetic nature of Fitzpatrick's play, the fifth overall pick should eventually get a chance to prove he, and not Burrow, was the best quarterback in the class.

KEY STAT: Tagovailoa led the NCAA in touchdown percentage in 2019, with 33 (13.1 per cent) of his 252 pass attempts resulting in scores.

Brandon Aiyuk - WR, San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers traded up from 31 to 25 to select wide receiver Aiyuk with their second pick of the first round. When a play-caller of Kyle Shanahan's talents makes such a move, the rest of the league needs to take notice. Aiyuk has reportedly started to vindicate that decision with impressive performances in training camp and has the skillset to make one of the league's premier offenses even more devastating in 2020.

KEY STAT: Aiyuk averaged 18.2 yards per touch in 2019 for Arizona State. Of wide receivers selected only CeeDee Lamb (19) - the first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys - averaged more.

Isaiah Simmons - LB, Arizona Cardinals

Aiming to help the Cardinals slow down the 49ers offense will be Cardinals first-round pick Simmons, who can operate as a linebacker, safety and even occasionally as a cornerback. His remarkable blend of size and athleticism gives Simmons the potential to be a true position-less player on defense and the key to him thriving as a rookie will be defensive coordinator Vance Joseph making the most of his physical attributes.

KEY STAT: Simmons showed his versatility in his final season at Clemson, recording eight sacks, three interceptions and eight pass breakups.

Antoine Winfield Jr. - S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

While there has been so much focus on the Buccaneers' offense following the arrival of Tom Brady, the defense also looks championship-ready and Winfield can be a crucial contributor in his first year. The second-round pick is the son of former Pro Bowl defensive back Antoine Winfield Sr. and the same playmaking ability his father had has been apparent in Tampa Bay's preparations for a season where expectations will be extremely high.

KEY STAT: Winfield's seven interceptions for Minnesota in 2019 were the fourth-most in college football.

Jalen Hurts - QB, Philadelphia Eagles

Hurts' selection in the second round by the Eagles caused a stir, but Hurts will not be displacing Carson Wentz as starter, at least not yet anyway. It is likely, though, that the Eagles use Hurts as runner in the red zone, the former Alabama and Oklahoma quarterback having the dual-threat ability to add another dimension to the Philadelphia offense.

KEY STAT: The 3,274 rushing yards Hurts gained from 2016 to the end of the 2019 season were the third-most by a quarterback in that span.

Cam Akers - RB, Los Angeles Rams

With Todd Gurley now a member of the Atlanta Falcons, second-round pick Akers will carry much of the burden of reviving the Rams' running game in 2020. Having excelled in college despite playing behind a poor offensive line at Florida State, Akers should be confident of making a successful transition to the pros for a Rams team that also had a fair share of struggles in the trenches last season.

KEY STAT: Akers averaged 93.3 scrimmage yards per game in three seasons at Florida State, with that number the third-highest among running backs in the Atlantic Coast Conference between 2017 and 2019.

Jonathan Taylor - RB, Indianapolis Colts

Second-round pick Taylor is set to step into a heavy-duty role in the Colts backfield as a rookie. He should get a larger share of the carries than team-mate Marlon Mack, who is a free agent at the end of the season, and will be the favoured back in the red zone. If he performs as he did during a stellar collegiate career at Wisconsin, Taylor will be in the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation.

KEY STAT: Taylor averaged 150 rushing yards per game during in his career at Wisconsin (2017-19), the highest average of any running back in college football in that timeframe.

Von Miller could miss the entire 2020 NFL season with an ankle injury, according to reports.

NFL Network and ESPN both reported Miller had an MRI after suffering an injury in practice on Tuesday, and the initial diagnosis suggests the eight-time Pro Bowler has injured a tendon that will require season-ending surgery.

Miller is thought to be seeking a second opinion on Thursday before determining whether he needs to go under the knife.

The Broncos, who have not confirmed the news, tweeted a picture of Miller with a praying hands emoji.

Miller, 31, is one of the NFL's elite edge rushers and has 106 sacks since entering the league in 2011 - 10 more than any player in that span.

In 2018 he formed one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league with rookie Bradley Chubb - the two combining for 26.5 sacks - but Chubb only played in four games last year due to injury.

Super Bowl 50 MVP Miller had eight sacks in 2019 - the first time he had failed to reach double digits since a suspension-hit 2013 - but there was optimism about a bounce-back campaign, both for him and the Drew Lock-led Broncos.

However, Denver have potentially suffered a crushing blow on the eve of the new season, with less than a week to go before they face the Tennessee Titans in Week 1.

Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt, who has suffered his own injury issues in recent years and was drafted nine picks after Miller in 2011, tweeted: "Absolutely hate to hear the news @VonMiller, the game is better when you're out there. Know you'll dominate the recovery and come back swinging."

Team-mate Chubb, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Los Angeles Chargers defensive back Chris Harris - who used to play in Denver - were among the others to offer well wishes to Miller on Twitter.

Leonard Fournette said he has a legitimate quarterback for the first time in his career after joining Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Running back Fournette moved to Tampa Bay after he was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars ahead of the new NFL season.

After playing alongside Blake Bortles, Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew in Jacksonville for the past three seasons, Fournette is excited to be linking up with legendary QB and six-time Super Bowl champion Brady.

"For the first time in my life, I really have a quarterback, so that's an eye-opener for me. Not a lot of pressure is going to come on me," said Fournette.

"Me coming to Tampa made perfect sense. I felt like they had all the keys I needed and vice versa. I can help the team out and also they can help me.

"I think it's probably one of my first seasons running in probably a six-man box ... I made sure all of that was in consideration of me coming here."

Fournette – the fourth pick in the 2017 NFL Draft – rushed for 2,631 yards and 17 touchdowns in his three seasons with the Jaguars.

The 25-year-old also had 134 receptions for 1,009 yards and two touchdowns during that period.

Ahead of Sunday's season opener against the New Orleans Saints, Fournette said: "Everything's gonna take care of itself. My job is to come out here and compete the best I can, get in the playbook, understand what they want from me, and the rest will take care of itself.

"We have guys – Shady [LeSean McCoy], RoJo [Ronald Jones], other guys in there – I'm comfortable with my role right now. I don't have to get beat up every week. We can split carries, which is gonna help a lot on our bodies towards the end of the year when we're trying to make that run for whatever, the playoffs, or whatever the case may be. I'm fine with my role right now."

Kareem Hunt and the Cleveland Browns have agreed to a two-year, $13.25million contract extension on Tuesday, keeping the running back tied to the franchise through the 2022 season.  

The deal includes $8.5m in guaranteed money, according to ESPN.

Hunt has played eight games for the Browns since they signed him last year, following his release from the Kansas City Chiefs due to a pair of off-field physical altercations.  

The NFL suspended Hunt for the first eight games of 2019 for the incidents. One altercation – in which Hunt shoved and kicked a woman outside a hotel elevator – was captured by security tape and leaked to the public.  

Drafted by the Chiefs in the third round out of Toledo, Hunt was an immediate star in 2017, piling up 1,327 rushing yards, 455 receiving yards and scoring 11 total touchdowns on his way to Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.  

Hunt scored 14 touchdowns in 11 games in 2018 before his off-field violence was made public, landing him on the Commissioner’s Exempt List before he was released.  

The 25-year-old Hunt has repeatedly thanked Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam – as well as the front office and coaching staff – for signing him and giving him a second chance in the NFL.  

After returning from his suspension last season, Hunt rushed for 179 yards and two touchdowns in a limited role.  

His new contract, however, indicates the Browns may have a larger role in mind for Hunt, despite the early success of third-year running back Nick Chubb.  

It will be the task of new head coach Kevin Stefanski and his staff to find the best workload and usage for the two running backs, undoubtedly one of the best backfield duos in the league.  

Cleveland are trying to bounce back from a 6-10 campaign last year that failed to live up to lofty preseason expectations. The Browns have not won a division title since 1989 are without a playoff appearance since 2002.  

Colin Kaepernick will feature in the Madden NFL video game for the first time since 2016.

Kaepernick has not played an NFL snap since the end of the 2016 season, when the then San Francisco 49ers quarterback created headlines by protesting police brutality and racial injustice by kneeling during the playing of the United States national anthem.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has encouraged teams to sign Kaepernick and last month said he wished the league had "listened earlier" to what his protest was about.

Those comments followed an upswell in support for the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd in police custody in May.

And in a statement confirming his inclusion in Madden 21, EA SPORTS said: "Colin Kaepernick is one of the top free agents in football and a starting-calibre quarterback.

"The team at EA SPORTS, along with millions of Madden NFL fans, want to see him back in our game.

"Knowing that our EA SPORTS experiences are platforms for players to create, we want to make Madden NFL a place that reflects Colin's position and talent, rates him as a starting QB, and empowers our fans to express their hopes for the future of football.

"We've worked with Colin to make this possible, and we're excited to bring it to all of you today. 

"Starting today in Madden NFL 21, fans can put Colin Kaepernick at the helm of any NFL team in franchise mode, as well as play with him in Play Now. We look forward to seeing Colin on Madden NFL teams everywhere."

Kaepernick has received an overall rating of 81 in the game, putting him in the top 15 of the 111 playable quarterbacks.

A second-round draft pick of the 49ers in the 2011 season, Kaepernick led them to Super Bowl XLVII after taking over as starter from Alex Smith in the 2012 season. San Francisco lost 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens.

He guided them back to the NFC Championship game in the 2013 season and has 12,271 passing yards, 72 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in his NFL career.

Known for his dual-threat ability, Kaepernick also has 2,300 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground to his name. 

He holds the NFL record for the most rushing yards in a playoff game, racking up 181 in his first postseason appearance - a 45-31 win over the Green Bay Packers.

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