A frustrating start to the new NFL season has continued for the San Francisco 49ers after they had to place star cornerback Richard Sherman on injured reserve.

Per widespread reports, the Niners made the roster move on Wednesday after assessing a calf injury suffered by the five-time All-Pro selection.

Sherman is subsequently unavailable for at least three weeks, ruling him out of upcoming contests against the New York Jets, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.

That is a significant blow to the team beaten in February's Super Bowl LIV, with the Niners also losing their season opener 24-20 at home to NFC West rivals the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday in a tough outing for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

The Niners' number one corner Sherman played in 74 of their 78 defensive snaps in that game, giving up just one catch for nine yards on two targets.

The Big Ten has backtracked on its earlier decision to postpone college football into next year, with an October return now agreed.

The Big Ten was the first Power Five conference to announce last month there would be no further play in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the conference revealed on Wednesday its council of presidents and chancellors had unanimously voted in favour of a resumption on the weekend of October 23-24.

It said all student-athletes, coaches and trainers, along with any other individuals on the field for practices and games, must undergo daily testing.

"Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect the health and safety of the student-athletes and surrounding communities," said Jim Borchers, the co-chair of the conference's Return to Competition Task Force medical subcommittee.

All 14 teams are set to play eight regular season games in eight weeks in a shortened season, with the conference championship game following on December 19 in Indianapolis.

The New York Jets have placed running back Le'Veon Bell on injured reserve because of a hamstring problem.

Bell, a two-time first-team All-Pro, is eligible to return to action in three weeks.

He had just 14 yards on six carries as the Jets were beaten 27-17 by the Buffalo Bills in their season opener last Sunday.

Rookie wide receiver Denzel Mims (hamstring) and linebacker Blake Cashman (groin) have also been placed on IR.

The Jets signed running back Kalen Ballage in a corresponding transaction, though Frank Gore is likely to get the bulk of the workload in the coming weeks.

Gore and the Jets face his former team, the San Francisco 49ers, on Sunday in their home opener at MetLife Stadium.

Stephen Gostkowski was left feeling "embarrassed and frustrated" despite making the game-winning kick for the Tennessee Titans at the Denver Broncos.

Gostkowski's 25-yard field goal with 17 seconds left secured a 16-14 win over the Broncos at Sports Authority Field on Monday.

It was otherwise a debut to forget for the four-time Pro Bowler, who became the first kicker to miss four kicks in his first game with a team since Dennis Partee did so for the San Diego Chargers in 1968.

Gostkowski missed from 47 yards in the first quarter, 44 yards before the first half ended and 42 yards in the third, with another attempt blocked by Shelby Harris.

It was the first time he has missed three field goal attempts in a game during a career in which he has gone an entire season missing fewer than four on five separate occasions.

"It's tough. It's a very fickle position. It's definitely an opportunity I didn't deserve but grateful that I got it for the team and the guys that went out there and busted their butt," he said.

"I really put them in a tough spot. You don't always get the chance to redeem yourself. I'm just happy the guys got to celebrate.

"I'm disappointed in myself, embarrassed and frustrated, but at the end of the day, we won, and luckily the guys are happy going home."

Titans head coach Mike Vrabel insisted he had no doubts over Gostkowski lining up for the game-winner even if the Broncos perhaps thought differently.

"Nope, and they did, obviously, because they weren't using the timeouts, they were banking on him missing," he said.

"We've all got to do our job. It's not just on one player. We'll get this stuff fixed. We've got a lot of faith in our players. We're excited to get out of there with a win - it's a tough place to play.

"It's like sitting there and being like, 'Well, it's been red 10 times on roulette, so I'm going to bet black because it's been red 10 times,' and it doesn't work that way.

"I just felt like we were going to be able to make the field goal and that was the right play. That's the proper way to approach it and everybody did their job on the last one."

Ben Roethlisberger made a successful return in a Pittsburgh Steelers win, while the Tennessee Titans also opened their NFL season with a win.

Roethlisberger played just two games last season before undergoing elbow surgery, but the veteran quarterback made a fine return on Monday.

He completed 21 of 32 passes for 229 yards and three touchdowns as the Steelers beat the New York Giants 26-16.

Roethlisberger was full of praise for the Steelers' defense, who intercepted Daniel Jones twice and sacked the Giants QB three times.

He connected twice with JuJu Smith-Schuster, with the Steelers scoring 23 unanswered points after falling 10-3 behind in the second quarter.

Benny Snell Jr. rushed for 113 yards on 19 carries for the Steelers, who saw Zach Banner (knee), Stefen Wisniewski (pectoral) and James Conner (ankle) suffer injuries.

Giants star Saquon Barkley was limited to just six rushing yards on 15 carries, while he had 60 receiving yards.

The Titans edged the Denver Broncos 16-14 in their opener at Sports Authority Field.

Ryan Tannehill (29 of 43 for 249 yards) threw touchdown passes to MyCole Pruitt and Jonnu Smith, but the Titans trailed heading into the final minute.

Making his debut for the Titans, Stephen Gostkowski became the first kicker to miss his four kicks in his first game with a team since Dennis Partee did so for the San Diego Chargers in 1968, as per STATS.

But he got another chance with 17 seconds remaining and drilled a 25-yard field goal to lift Tennessee to victory.

Titans star Derrick Henry rushed for 116 yards on 31 carries.

Ben Roethlisberger hailed the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense as one of the best he has played with after a win over the New York Giants.

After undergoing surgery on an elbow injury that ended his 2019 season following just two games, Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a 26-16 victory in his return on Monday.

Roethlisberger completed 21 of 32 passes for 229 yards and three touchdowns as the Steelers started their 2020 season with a win.

But the veteran quarterback was full of praise for the Steelers' defense, who intercepted Daniel Jones twice and sacked the Giants QB three times.

"They're unbelievable. Unfortunately, I have to face them every day in practice," Roethlisberger told reporters.

"They're one of the best defenses I've played with and I've played with some really good ones so I'm excited to be on the football field with them.

"As a quarterback, they allow you to play more free because if you do make a mistake you can count on them to bail you out of it and they did it tonight numerous times, creating turnovers, big stops, I just can't say enough about the way they play."

A two-time Super Bowl winner, the 38-year-old Roethlisberger is in his 17th season in the NFL.

While there was talk Roethlisberger could retire after his elbow injury, the QB was happy to be back.

"I'm excited we won the game. I told the guys before the game it's not about me, individually the reason I came back is for these guys, for this team," he said.

"It's a special group of football players and men and so I'm just thankful to be a part of it."

Joe Burrow harshly graded his performance a "D" after the Cincinnati Bengals fell to a narrow defeat against the Los Angeles Chargers on the rookie quarterback's NFL debut.

The Bengals were just a play away from scoring a winning touchdown on the first outing since Burrow was selected as the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft as the Chargers claimed a 16-13 win at Paul Brown Stadium.

No quarterback selected first has won in week one of a rookie year since David Carr in 2002 and Burrow felt he fell short on a few plays, including overthrows for receivers John Ross and A.J. Green for what would have been touchdowns.

Even still, Burrow led the Bengals to within striking distance late in the game, only for Green to be called for pushing off in the end zone, before Randy Bullock missed a field goal to take the game into overtime.

"[I would give myself a] 'D'," Burrow responded when asked to grade his performance.

"I can't miss that throw to A.J.. A high schooler can make that throw. And I can't throw the ball right to Melvin Ingram when we're in scoring range, so it was a tough way to lose.

"I made too many mistakes to win the game. I missed A.J. on a deep ball and John on a deep ball and then I threw the interception – that just can't happen."

On the dramatic finale, Burrow added: "I'm obviously upset we didn't score a touchdown.

"I thought we played well enough on that particular drive to put it in the end zone and then they [the officials] made the call.

"I'm not sure what happened on the kick, but it doesn't matter what happened on the kick. We should have put them away a lot of times before that.

"I shouldn't have missed the throw to A.J. and thrown the interception. A lot of different plays affected the game."

Burrow finished with 23-of-36 passing for 193 yards, one rushing touchdown and one interception, and head coach Zac Taylor felt there were plenty of positives to take.

"Some good and some things we have to improve on," Taylor replied when asked to sum up Burrow's performance.

"There were some missed opportunities but overall, he kept his composure. He moved onto the next snap, which is important.

"He made some critical plays down the stretch that put us in position to tie or win the game. I thought his decision-making overall was really good – where he went with the ball.

"In the first half, he was running for his life there. We did a better job of minimising that in the second half."

Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers debut did not go according to plan, while last season's Super Bowl participants the San Francisco 49ers started their 2020 NFL campaign with a loss.

Legendary quarter Brady struggled as the Buccaneers went down 34-23 to the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 on Sunday.

As for the 49ers, they were upstaged by Kyler Murray's Arizona Cardinals 24-20 in San Francisco.

 

BRADY'S BUCS BEATEN

Brady has taken his Super Bowl-winning expertise to Tampa Bay, but the six-time NFL champion endured a tough debut against NFC South champions the Saints.

A high-profile recruit from the New England Patriots following 20 years in Foxborough, Brady threw two interceptions in the team's season opener.

The 43-year-old had a pick-six, finishing 23 of 36 for 239 yards and two touchdowns, while he was sacked three times.

Brady started well, scoring a two-yard touchdown. He led a nine-play, 85-yard drive, completing his two passes for 37 yards before running the ball into the endzone for the first points of the game.

But Brady turned the ball over twice, with the second turnover resulting in a touchdown for the Saints' Janoris Jenkins.

It was a far better outing for fellow veteran quarterback Drew Brees, who passed for 160 yards and two touchdowns, without turning the ball over – throwing TD passes to Alvin Kamara and Emmanuel Sanders in New Orleans.

 

CARDINALS RALLY AMID GAROPPOLO WOES

The Cardinals – led by their star QB Murray – completed a comeback to upstage the highly rated 49ers on the road.

Murray's throw to DeAndre Hopkins set up Kenyan Drake's one-yard score with just over five minutes remaining as the Cardinals topped the 49ers.

The Cardinals overcame a pair of fourth-quarter deficits thanks to Murray, who threw for 230 yards and a touchdown, while running for 91 yards and another score.

It came as 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo struggled as criticism grows.

After a disappointing display in the Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, further questions have been raised after Garoppolo led just one scoring drive in the second half.

Garoppolo finished 19 of 33 for 259 yards and two touchdowns, and he missed two crucial throws, with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan saying: "He's gotta play better. We've all gotta play better. The entire offense missed opportunities."

 

RAMS OPEN NEW STADIUM WITH WIN

In their first game at SoFi Stadium, the Los Angeles Rams topped the Dallas Cowboys 20-17 behind a career-high 79 yards and two touchdowns from Malcolm Brown.

Rams quarterback Jared Goff passed for 275 yards, while Cowboys counterpart Dak Prescott was 25 of 39 for 266 yards and a touchdown.

Number one draft pick Joe Burrow put the Cincinnati Bengals in a position to claim a dramatic last-gasp win over the Los Angeles Chargers.

But after running 23 yards for a touchdown, Burrow watched Randy Bullock miss a 31-yard field goal with seven seconds to play as the Chargers prevailed 16-13.

 

Week 1 scores:

Seattle Seahawks 38-25 Atlanta Falcons
Baltimore Ravens 38-6 Cleveland Browns
Buffalo Bills 27-17 New York Jets
Las Vegas Raiders 34-30 Carolina Panthers
Chicago Bears 27-23 Detroit Lions
Jacksonville Jaguars 27-20 Indianapolis Colts
Green Bay Packers 43-34 Minnesota Vikings
New England Patriots 21-11 Miami Dolphins
Washington Football Team 27-17 Philadelphia Eagles
Arizona Cardinals 24-20 San Francisco 49ers
New Orleans Saints 34-23 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Los Angeles Chargers 16-13 Cincinnati Bengals
Los Angeles Rams 20-17 Dallas Cowboys

Tom Brady downplayed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season-opening defeat after the legendary quarterback struggled on debut.

Brady stepped out in a Buccaneers uniform for the first time after winning six Super Bowl championships with the New England Patriots, but he threw two interceptions in Tampa Bay's 34-23 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

The 43-year-old superstar had a pick-six against the Saints, finishing 23 of 36 for 239 yards and two touchdowns, while he was sacked three times.

"I've lost plenty of games in my career," Brady said. "I know I don't like it. But it happens. We just gotta do a better job."

Brady started well on debut for the Buccaneers, scoring a two-yard touchdown.

He led a nine-play, 85-yard drive, completing his two passes for 37 yards before running the ball into the endzone for the first points of the game.

But he turned the ball over twice, with the second turnover resulting in a touchdown for the Saints' Janoris Jenkins.

Brady, who threw TD passes to O.J. Howard and Mike Evans in Tampa Bay's first game after the preseason schedule was scrapped amid the coronavirus pandemic, added: "It felt like a scrimmage out there.

"But obviously it counts. And I think we're all disappointed it didn't go our way ... We gotta look at each other in the eye. Work harder, put more urgency on the things we have to do. Get back to work and do a better job."

"We didn't do anything that great on offense today," Brady continued. "We made a few plays but, in the end, we're all going to wish we had a lot of plays back. Certainly I do."

Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians defended Brady's performance, telling reporters: "He came out lighting it up. We go right down the field and score a touchdown, so I wouldn't say he was out of sync at all until we started screwing it up.

"We had some good drives and we had some poor drives, but the turnovers and the penalties were the key."

Cam Newton said he is embracing life with the New England Patriots after the former NFL MVP impressed on debut against the Miami Dolphins.

Newton had two rushing touchdowns as the Patriots ushered in the post-Tom Brady era with a 21-11 win over the Dolphins in their season opener on Sunday.

A three-time Pro Bowler, Newton joined the Patriots on a one-year deal following his Carolina Panthers exit to replace legendary quarterback Brady in New England.

Reflecting on his first appearance for the Patriots, which consisted of 75 rushing yards on 15 carries, Newton told reporters: "It was different. It was great for the team to find a way – well, things showed up that we would not have expected, as we knew and things showed up that we did kind of expect.

"So one of the coaching points for the game was to be accessible to in-game adjustments and that's what it pretty much came down to. Getting a win like that, that's not necessarily pretty at times. That's good for the overall team character and I think we've just got to keep building from this."

Newton, who finished 15-of-19 for 155 yards and no interceptions, added: "This is the new normal and I think it's time for everybody, including myself, to realise this is what it's like.

"I think it came full circle today and – for me to just kind of realise that I'm a New England Patriot and I'm just going to embrace this whole moment."

"I'm just so blessed to have this opportunity, man, to, number one, be affiliated with an organisation," he continued. "Knowing that in itself is a blessing. To get a win, that's another added plus.

"But, yet through it all, this has been a strenuous, long process for me, and yet through it all, it's just been gratifying, and I just had such a sense of gratitude to the New England Patriots and to this team, just to give all that I could possibly give and hell or high water, finish today at this particular time with us having, going home with a win."

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick added: "Well Cam's been great for us… he's a very, very unselfish player. He's a great team-mate. He's earned everybody's respect, really, daily. He just continues to do everything that he can to help our team and that's really all you can ask from anyone and he continually does that, puts himself last and puts the team first.

"I think he's done a tremendous job there and I thought he played well today. He hit a lot of passes. He ran the ball well. He led the team. He made some good checks and adjustments, so I thought that he did a good job. There's room for improvement from all of us, so I'm not saying it was the best executed game in the history of football, but we did some good things today in all three phases of the game.

"We're proud of that and we'll go back and work on the things that we need to do to get better, but I thought he did a good job for us."

Cam Newton helped the New England Patriots get off to a winning start and the Chicago Bears staged a remarkable late comeback against Detroit Lions in the NFL on Sunday.

The Pats were comfortable 21-11 winners against the Miami Dolphins in their first game since Tom Brady's departure, with Newton contributing two rushing touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the Bears hit back at Detroit, who had linebacker Jamie Collins ejected for making contact with an official with his helmet in a bizarre incident.


PATS UP AND RUNNING POST-BRADY

The Pats kicked off a new Brady-less era at Gillette Stadium with a routine opening-day victory thanks in no small part to the performance of Newton.

The 2015 MVP scored the 59th and 60th rushing TDs of his career, going 75 yards on 15 carries while also throwing 15 of 19 for 155 yards.

Sony Michel also rushed home from a yard out in the fourth quarter after Jordan Howard had given the Dolphins some temporary hope.


TRUBISKY DRAGS CHICAGO BACK FROM THE DEAD

Chicago scored 21 unanswered points on three touchdown passes from Mitch Trubisky to claim an improbable 27-23 win at Detroit.

The hosts carried a three-score lead into the final quarter yet somehow failed to see out victory

Trubisky picked out wide receiver Anthony Miller for a diving 27-yard touchdown catch with a little under two minutes remaining complete the fightback.

Detroit lost Collins in the second quarter, the linebacker ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct after lowering his head and made contact with an official as he appeared to signal another incident.


RODGERS DISMANTLES MINNESOTA

Aaron Rodgers looked back to his old self, helping himself to a couple of touchdown passes in the second quarter of the Green Bay Packers' 43-34 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

He did not look back from that point on, finishing with four touchdown passes, Davante Adams profiting from two of those, while Marquez Valdes-Scantling also got in on the act.

There was also a scintillating quarterback display from Russell Wilson in the Seattle Seahawks' 38-25 victory against Atlanta Falcons.

Wilson threw for 322 yards and four TDs for the Seahawks, who saw Greg Olsen and Carlos Hyde register debut scores.


JACKSON RESUMES MVP FORM
 
Lamar Jackson was nine-of-10 for 180 yards on throws of 10 yards or more downfield, including a 19-yard touchdown pass to Willie Snead, as the Baltimore Ravens beat Cleveland Browns 36-6. 

He completed 20 of 25 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns in total in a formidable performance, helping the Ravens win a season opener by more than 30 points for a third straight season.

It was a tighter contest in the clash between the Carolina Panthers and the Las Vegas Raiders, meanwhile, with the latter clinching a slender 34-30 road win.

Josh Jacobs rushed for three touchdowns, one of those a six-yard scoring run with 4:08 left, to inspire the Raiders to victory in their debut as Las Vegas' NFL team


JACKSONVILLE SHOCK COLTS

The Jaguars got off to a 1-0 start by overcoming divisional rivals Indianapolis Colts 27-20 at EverBank Field.

The Colts, in their first game with veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, were second best against a Jaguars side containing a number of rookies.

Andrew Wingard intercepted with less than five minutes of a tight contest remaining to set up Josh Lambo's second field goal in a surprise result.

Elsewhere, the Washington Football Team - inspired by Peyton Barber - rallied to beat the Philadelphia Eagles 27-17 from a 17-0 deficit.

Barber ran for two touchdowns in Ron Rivera's debut game, profiting from some poor defensive play from their opponents.


Week 1 scores:

Atlanta Falcons 25-38 Seattle Seahawks
Baltimore Ravens 38-6 Cleveland Browns
Buffalo Bills 27-17 New York Jets
Carolina Panthers 30-34 Las Vegas Raiders
Detroit Lions 23-27 Chicago Bears
Jacksonville Jaguars 27-20 Indianapolis Colts
Minnesota Vikings 34-43 Green Bay Packers
New England Patriots 21-11 Miami Dolphins
Washington Football Team 27-17 Philadelphia Eagles

Tom Brady did not take long to have an impact on his Tampa Bay Buccaneers debut.

The three-time MVP made his Bucs bow against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday after leaving the New England Patriots, where he won six Super Bowls.

And the 43-year-old was quickly in the thick of the action in Week 1, scoring a rushing touchdown on his first drive.

Brady led a nine-play, 85-yard drive, completing his two passes for 37 yards before running the ball into the endzone for the first points of the game.

Cam Newton, Brady's replacement in New England, had earlier scored two rushing TDs in an opening Pats win.

The NFL has announced there were no positive test results for coronavirus ahead of the first Sunday schedule of the season.

A total of 3,600 players and team personnel, along with a further 1,400 gameday assistants, were all cleared to play, as reported by ESPN.

Information of the clean bill of testing was posted on the NFL's official website and credited to "sources", although exact numbers were not included.

The tests were conducted on Saturday and Sunday's 12 games will all be allowed to go ahead as planned, pending the health checks at stadiums.

On Tuesday, the NFL and NFLPA confirmed there were seven positive results for COVID-19 from a total of 44,510 tests administered to 8,349 players and team personnel between August 30 and September 5.

The Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs kicked off the 2020 season on Friday, with the Super Bowl winners triumphing 34-20.

NFL action is back after the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Houston Texans to kick off the defence of their Super Bowl title.

A further 15 games across Sunday and Monday will see the league's other 30 teams begin their 2020 slate, with some having greater prospects than others.

The Chiefs and Texans were two of the teams who made the postseason in 2019, but there were 20 that did not, including some historic franchises.

With an increased 14 spots up for grabs – up from 12 last season – many of those non-playoff teams will be eyeing a return to the big time and here we have reviewed six of the best candidates to make the jump.

AFC

Indianapolis Colts

Eight-time Pro Bowl selection Philip Rivers provides the Colts with an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett at quarterback and he will now play behind one of the league's best offensive lines, a situation he never had with the Chargers. 

A difficult offseason for the Texans, last year's AFC South winners, is another boost to the hopes of the Colts, who also made a splash on the defensive side of the ball by bringing in DeForest Buckner from the San Francisco 49ers after his appearance in the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers went 8-8 last season even without two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger, who missed most of the campaign after shoulder surgery.

Despite a relatively quiet offseason, the Steelers can contend with Roethlisberger back and a defense that finished fifth in yards allowed (third against the pass) and sixth in points allowed, with T. J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick two of their star performers.

Against the odds…

Cleveland Browns

Yes, it's the Browns, and yes, last season they emphatically failed to deliver on preseason expectations and ended up changing their general manager and head coach having gone 6-10.

But despite those woes and an incredibly competitive division that contains the Baltimore Ravens and the Steelers, analysts may have gone too far the other way in dismissing the Browns as a 2020 threat. 

If Baker Mayfield can recover from a poor year and shine like he did as a rookie behind a revamped offensive line, an offense including Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will thrive, while pass-rusher Myles Garrett -  who has 30.5 sacks in 37 career games - is back from suspension to lead a defense that was a top-10 unit against the pass last season.


NFC

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After winning six Super Bowls and nine AFC Championships in 20 seasons with the New England Patriots, Tom Brady has a new home at the age of 43, instantly making the Bucs a likely playoff team.

Brady has also brought tight end Rob Gronkowski along with him, those two adding to an already explosive Bruce Arians offense that includes pass-catchers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O. J. Howard and Cameron Brate.

With the offense set to shine and the Bucs looking to become the first team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl on home soil, the defense will need to play its part – but there is optimism there too with league sack leader Shaquil Barrett returning on the franchise tag and a promising young secondary in place.

Dallas Cowboys

Fresh from throwing just shy of 5,000 yards and adding 30 touchdowns last season, Dak Prescott would not have believed his luck when top wideout Amari Cooper signed a new long-term deal and Oklahoma prospect CeeDee Lamb dropped to the Cowboys in the draft.

Michael Gallup is also part of an impressive receiving corps being overseen by highly rated offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. A strong all-round roster and a weak NFC East should help new head coach Mike McCarthy as he looks to make the kind of postseason impact that eluded predecessor Jason Garrett.

Against the odds…

Arizona Cardinals

Adding DeAndre Hopkins, one of the NFL's best wide receivers, from the Texans in a one-sided trade was perhaps the deal of the offseason for an optimistic Cardinals team who should improve on their five wins in 2019 and could even be a surprise playoff team.

Hopkins joins franchise icon Larry Fitzgerald as a receiving option for QB Kyler Murray, of whom big things are expected after a largely positive rookie season from the former number one overall pick (3,722 passing yards and 544 rushing).

If they are to contend, big strides are also needed on the other side of the ball, but fans will be excited to see versatile top draft pick Isaiah Simmons paired with All-Pro pass-rusher Chandler Jones.

The new NFL playoff format will see seven teams from each conference reach the postseason, and that presents the division widely regarded as the league's best with an opportunity for history.

A realignment of divisions following the addition of the Houston Texans to the league in 2002 had made it impossible for four teams from the same division to reach the playoffs.

That is no longer the case in the wake of playoff expansion, though, providing the NFC West with the chance to do what the five-team AFC East last did back in 1998.

With division champions the San Francisco 49ers still considered the class of the NFC by many and the Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals all likely to be competitive, there is a clear possibility all four could be playing postseason football come January.

How likely is that? Here we look at each team to assess the chances of the NFC West having three wild card teams to go with its division winner.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are attempting to avenge their Super Bowl LIV agony. Kyle Shanahan's team were minutes away from lifting the Lombardi Trophy before Patrick Mahomes propelled the Kansas City Chiefs to glory.

It is typically usual for great defensive teams as the 49ers were in 2019 to experience some kind of regression and San Francisco traded All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts in the offseason.

However, the Niners still have a ferocious pass rush and a dynamic offense overseen by arguably the league's premier play-caller in Shanahan. The addition of seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams as a replacement for the retired Joe Staley could see a devastating running game get even better while tight end George Kittle is the most versatile offensive weapon in the game.

The question surrounds quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo – maligned by some after the Super Bowl loss – and whether he can take the step forward to keep the Niners atop the conference. With Shanahan calling the plays, the smart money is on Garoppolo and the 49ers silencing the doubters.

Seattle Seahawks

On offense, the Seahawks are the inverse of the 49ers. There are no doubts about their quarterback but there are plenty around the coaching staff's ability to maximize his MVP skill set.

Despite Seattle's bizarre focus on running the ball rather than putting the game in the hands of Russell Wilson, they have missed the playoffs only twice in Pete Carroll's 10 seasons as head coach and the Seahawks were inches away from beating the 49ers in Week 17 and winning the division last year.

There are concerns about the pass rush after Jadeveon Clowney was not re-signed but an underrated secondary was significantly bolstered by the acquisition of All-Pro safety Jamal Adams in a blockbuster trade.

The hope will be that Adams can slow down Kittle and the 49ers. That may be wishful thinking but, as long as Wilson is around to perform his trademark late-game heroics, there appears little chance of Seattle missing out on an expanded postseason.

Los Angeles Rams

Had playoff expansion happened before last season, the Rams would have made the postseason in 2019, a fact that serves as evidence their 'Super Bowl hangover' was not as bad as perceived.

Head coach Sean McVay was overshadowed by Shanahan last year but he remains among the league's best in terms of play-calling acumen. He should continue to put Jared Goff in favourable positions in 2020 but the success of the Rams' quest to get back to the playoffs hinges on two things: their offensive line and their defensive coordinator.

Injuries and a decline in performance from the O-Line was a significant factor in a disappointing 2019 for Los Angeles. They chose to bring back veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth and the hope is that better continuity up front will fuel a committee group of runners to production the departed Todd Gurley was unable to deliver last year.

Brandon Staley is a relative unknown that has the huge responsibility of replacing legendary defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. To his advantage is that he gets to coach perennial Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and the new highest-paid cornerback in football Jalen Ramsey.

If he delivers a resurgence on that side of the ball, expect the Rams to again be a force in the NFC.

Arizona Cardinals

After an Offensive Rookie of the Year season from 2019 first overall pick Kyler Murray, the Cardinals have been the darlings of the offseason.

The stunning trade for All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins won them more admirers who anticipate an exciting offense helping Arizona challenge in the division.

While the NFL is an offense-first league, there is not enough on defense in Arizona to provide the support needed for the Cardinals to contend for the division title.

Pass rusher Chandler Jones is frequently in the Defensive Player of the Year mix and Budda Baker is a versatile playmaker at safety, but a lack of talent elsewhere on defense should stymie their hopes of an NFC West crown.

The offense could be productive enough to keep them in the mix for a wild card berth, however, in a loaded conference, Arizona's shortcomings when Murray is not on the field may just be what stops the entire NFC West from going to the playoffs in 2020.

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