Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard believes the opportunity to sign DeForest Buckner was "unique" and one the team could not turn down.

Ballard believes adding the defensive lineman means the Colts have landed an "elite" player who can have an "infectious" impact on their defense.

The Colts, who also added quarterback Philip Rivers in free agency, gave up the number 13 pick in the upcoming NFL draft to bring in Buckner from the San Francisco 49ers.

They promptly signed him to a huge four-year, $84million contract extension and Ballard felt the chance to pick up a high-profile player in his prime was rare.

"When you have an opportunity to acquire what you think is an elite player at a premium position, who's just turning 26 years old, still has three-plus years of high-level play, who's a unique, physical talent - plus a unique individual in terms of his character - we thought it was a great move for us," Ballard told the team's website.

"Most of the time when you acquire elite players they're usually on the down side of their careers and if it happens in free agency there's usually a reason they're hitting the market. 

"So we just saw a unique opportunity. The 13th pick was a lot, but we think his play, both on the field and what he's going to bring to the locker room, warranted the 13th pick of the draft."

Ballard has been impressed by Buckner's NFL career to date, an opening four years that culminated with him forming a key part of the 49ers team which reached the Super Bowl in 2019.

"He disrupts the line of scrimmage and he's been productive throughout his career," added Ballard of Buckner, who was drafted at number seven overall in 2016.

"His effort level, when you put the tape on, you never seen a down play where you see lack of effort.

"It is a high motor, all the time, playing as fast as he can and as hard as he can, and that's infectious to a defense - that's infectious to a team. 

"DeForest just adds another young talented player with high character that we want to build this thing on."

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay is donating 10,000 N95 masks to distribute amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Irsay made the announcement via Twitter on Sunday, with the masks to be donated to Indiana State Department of Health.

The 60-year-old wrote: "We must fight and fight WE MUST! We must win and WIN WE MUST! We must fight for, protect, Inspire and pray for every Hoosier that draws a breath in faith or in doubt!

"In UNITY NOTHING can defeat us! HOOSIER POWER AND UNITY......#AmericanLiberty."

COVID-19 is wreaking havoc globally, with more than 69,300 deaths and over 1, 200,300 confirmed cases.

In the United States, the death count has exceeded 9,500, while confirmed cases have climbed above 334,700.

Coronavirus has brought sport to a standstill across the world, including the NBA, NHL and MLB.

However, the NFL is hopeful the 2020 season will get underway as scheduled in September.

 

Heading into the 1998 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts had what was deemed to be a tricky choice to make.

Armed with the first overall pick, new team president Bill Polian had two quarterbacks to choose from: Peyton Manning – the son of a former NFL player who starred at the University of Tennessee – or Ryan Leaf, the big man with a strong arm who had decided to leave Washington State a year early to enter the league.

History, of course, tells us the Colts made the correct call.

Manning spent 14 seasons in Indianapolis, his hugely successful spell with the team including leading them to glory in Super Bowl XLI. His jersey number (18) was retired by the franchise, while there is a statue of him at the team's Lucas Oil Stadium.

The San Diego Chargers, meanwhile, claimed Leaf at two. Their marriage did not run so smoothly – or last too long (three seasons, to be precise). He played just 25 games in a career that also included a stop in Dallas, throwing 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions, and is regarded as one of – if not the – biggest draft busts.

But what if Leaf had gone first instead? Let's start at the beginning…

 

THE COLTS

Having the first pick was the ideal building block for Polian, who was always going to hand new head coach Jim Mora a rookie QB to work with.

Manning started from the outset with the Colts. There were early teething problems and he finished his debut season with a 3-13 record, throwing more interceptions (28) than touchdowns (26).

However, the chance to learn on the job aided his development. The Colts went on to make the playoffs in the next two seasons and while 2001 was not so successful, a 6-10 campaign led to the arrival of Tony Dungy as head coach and, well, the rest is history.

Whether Leaf would have developed in the same circumstances has to be considered doubtful with how his career panned out, but Indianapolis would have at least afforded him time in which to prove himself.

They also had two rather useful pieces to help, as a running back by the name of Marshall Faulk and a wide receiver called Marvin Harrison were already on the roster.

Had Leaf still flamed out in a similar timeframe with the Colts – it should be pointed out he missed his second season in San Diego through injury - they may well have used the 2001 draft to find a replacement. The Chargers did exactly that, using the 32nd pick on Drew Brees.

THE CHARGERS

Here is where an alternative NFL timeline gets seriously interesting.

Manning as a Charger may not have blossomed in time to keep head coach Kevin Gilbride in a job – he was fired midway through the 1998 season, his second at the helm – but he may well have been the key to keeping the team in San Diego.

Owner Dean Spanos moved the Chargers to Los Angeles after an unsuccessful attempt to get a new stadium built. A failure to secure tax-payer funding led to relocation in 2017.

Surely, though, the presence of Manning could have made a difference. On-field success - perhaps even a Super Bowl triumph like the one the Colts enjoyed - could have led to them getting the backing required to stay put.

Instead, L.A. is now home, though they have so far struggled in competition with the Rams to attract fans. There have even been rumours that the Chargers could move again soon, this time overseas to become the NFL's permanent residents in London.

And what of Brees? Manning's presence would have made picking another QB a waste of draft resources. In 2001, the team to next take a player at the position after the Chargers were the Cowboys, meaning Drew could well have gone on to become a star in Dallas instead.

THE 2004 DRAFT

Of course, there is another Manning whose career would have changed if you take a sliding doors approach to the '98 draft.

After life with Leaf failed to pan out, the Chargers had better luck with Brees before then moving on to Philip Rivers.

However, they selected Peyton's younger brother Eli with the first pick in 2004, rather than Rivers, even though the former Ole Miss quarterback never had any intention of playing for them.

Eli ended up in New York with the Giants in a trade that saw Rivers, who was drafted at four, head in the opposite direction. The next QB taken that year? Ben Roethlisberger, who went to the Pittsburgh Steelers at 11. The Buffalo Bills also used their first-round pick on the position, opting for J.P. Losman after moving up to 22.

Yet had Peyton's place been in San Diego, several notable signal callers selected early in 2004 could have ended up in different locations to begin their pro careers.

March 28 was the day when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer went from the interim manager to Manchester United's permanent boss.

It was also the date that the Colts upped sticks and made the stunning move from Baltimore to relocate to Indianapolis.

March 28 remains a day of one of cricket's most significant milestones as well.

We take a closer look at what happened on this day in sports.

 

1955 - New Zealand all out for 26

The lowest Test score in history - recorded by the home side in Auckland - may never be broken.

New Zealand, who, at that point had not won a match in the longest format in the 24 years since they were granted Test status, were skittled out inside 27 overs against England.

Four batsmen were dismissed without scoring, another three having made only a single.

New Zealand's innings lasted just one hour, 40 minutes and they fell to an innnings-and-20-run loss to the tourists.

1984 - The Colts head to Indy

It is one of the most famous, and shocking, stories in NFL history.

Fifteen trucks turned up at the Baltimore Colts' Owing Mills facility under the cover of darkness, packed up the team's belongings and headed for Indianapolis.

Baltimore city officials had already passed legislation that would allow them to seize control of the Colts but, once the trucks left the state of Maryland, that did not matter.

The Colts remain Indianapolis' team today while Baltimore had to wait until 1996 before being awarded another NFL franchise - the Ravens.

2019 - Solskjaer appointed on a permanent basis

Exactly one year ago, United responded to their first back-to-back losses under interim boss Solskjaer by making the Norwegian's arrangement permanent and handing him a three-year contract.

United had previously won their first eight games in a row under Solskjaer and beat Paris Saint-Germain in France in March to advance in the Champions League.

"This is the job that I always dreamed of doing and I'm beyond excited to have the chance to lead the club long term," Solskjaer said of his appointment.

Philip Rivers considered retirement but is confident he can still play at a high level after signing a one-year deal to join the Indianapolis Colts.

Quarterback Rivers will be embarking on a new experience with the Colts, having previously spent his entire NFL career with the Chargers, firstly in San Diego and then in Los Angeles.

The 38-year-old admitted he was not at his best in the 2019 season, when he threw 20 interceptions for a team that missed out on the playoffs, leading to him contemplating the idea of walking away from the sport.

However, Rivers retains the hunger to keep on playing, adding it "just all worked out" to reunite with Colts head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, having previously worked with the pair at the Chargers.

"I think really where we settled in is I still love to play, certainly not coming off my best year [in 2019], but I know I still can play at a high level," the eight-time Pro Bowler told reporters on Saturday.

"It was one of those deals where we said if there's nothing else out there then that'll be our answer. I don't want to just try to hang on to play."

He added: "I was still excited about playing and hoping to get another opportunity to continue my career and certainly thankful that it's going to be with the Colts.

"It just all worked out. I am just super thankful the way it worked out and excited to - again - be a part of it, because we know this is the ultimate team game."

Rivers has not ruled out carrying on beyond his new contract - reportedly worth $25million - but has no plans to follow the lead set by Tom Brady, who will playing in the league at 43 after joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency.

"I don't think you'll see me in the Tom Brady range, but I am excited and feel like I can still help a football team go win a championship," he said.

Following Rivers' arrival, and with Jacoby Brissett - last season's starting quarterback - still on the roster, the Colts have released Brian Hoyer, who joined the team last September.

The dust is settling on a typically fast and furious start to NFL free agency.

While the new league year is still in its infancy, most of the major players on the open market have found new homes or opted to stay put.

A string of blockbuster trades have also changed the landscape of the league.

Here we look at the winners and losers from free agency.


WINNER: Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have been aggressive in addressing their needs in response to a disappointing 7-9 season in 2019, with the signing of Philip Rivers and the acquisition of DeForest Buckner in a trade from the San Francisco 49ers the headline moves.

Rivers comes across from the Los Angeles Chargers following 16 seasons with that franchise. He threw 591 times last season and was intercepted on 20 of those attempts.

A Colts running game led by the dynamic Marlon Mack that finished seventh in the NFL last year along with a bruising offensive line should ensure Rivers does not have to chance his arm as much in Indianapolis.

Rivers also has great familiarity with Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni from his time as the Chargers quarterback coach. The fit could hardly be better.

The Colts gave up a first-round pick (13th overall) to land defensive tackle Buckner and then pay him $21million a year. If he delivers the same kind of performances he produced for San Francisco – he had 28.5 sacks and 74 quarterback hits in four seasons for the 49ers – the Colts defense will be significantly improved in 2020.

LOSER: Houston Texans

The NFL universe is collectively still trying to wrap its head around the Texans' decision to trade DeAndre Hopkins, one of the league's premier receivers, and a late-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for just a second-round pick and running back David Johnson.

Hopkins' departure means quarterback Deshaun Watson loses his most reliable weapon in the passing game. Johnson's arrival hardly upgrades the running attack, as he was an afterthought for the Cardinals last year.

Houston also lost defensive tackle D.J. Reader, who signed with the Cincinnati Bengals, and overpaid for veteran wide receiver Randall Cobb, giving him a three-year deal worth $27m.

Head coach Bill O'Brien's presence as the de-facto general manager looks more ludicrous by the day.

WINNER: Teddy Bridgewater

Bridgewater's career appeared in jeopardy when he suffered a gruesome knee injury prior to the start of the 2016 season.

However, after making an emotional return to the field for the Minnesota Vikings, he has revived his career with the New Orleans Saints – going 5-0 during Drew Brees' spell on the sideline last season – and his comeback story reached his peak when he received a reported three-year, $63m deal from the Carolina Panthers to be their starting quarterback.

Expectations will be low with the Panthers in rebuild mode under Matt Rhule. Bridgewater, though, still has arguably the league's best running back in Christian McCaffrey and worked with Carolina offensive coordinator Joe Brady in his time in New Orleans.

Don't be surprised if he lives up to a deal some believed was too rich for the former first-round pick.

LOSER: Nick Foles

The author of the most remarkable comeback story in recent league history will get another chance to earn a starting job after a short-lived spell with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

However, in being dealt to the Chicago Bears, Foles is not landing in a situation where he can succeed.

The Bears took a step back on both sides of the ball last year and on offense Foles will find limited options at the offensive skill positions beyond Allen Robinson.

Chicago overpaid a declining tight end in Jimmy Graham who is unlikely to help the Bears improve their production on offense.

Even if he eventually takes the quarterback job from Mitchell Trubisky, Foles will have an uphill battle to guide the Bears to supremacy in a division also featuring Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins.

WINNER: Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys have not yet managed to reach a long-term deal with quarterback Dak Prescott, instead using the franchise tag on him, and lost cornerback Byron Jones, who signed with the Miami Dolphins.

Defensive tackle Maliek Collins and pass rusher Robert Quinn were further departures, but the Cowboys were able to sign wide receiver Amari Cooper to a lucrative five-year deal and replaced Collins with a superior player in Gerald McCoy. HaHa Clinton-Dix's signing gives the Cowboys a reliable starter at safety, too.

The Cowboys still have a strong roster with which to contend in the NFC, and they should be in the mix for years to come if they can eventually come to a more concrete arrangement with Prescott.

LOSER: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs' signing of Brady from the Patriots was unsurprisingly met with tremendous excitement from the Tampa Bay fanbase, while there have been reports of free agents showing desire to sign with them following the six-time Super Bowl-champion's arrival.

Yet it is debatable whether Brady will improve the Bucs' offense, which led the league in passing yardage with Jameis Winston at the helm but was undermined by the former first-overall pick's tendency to commit crushing turnovers.

The 42-year-old has the velocity to excel on the downfield throws that are a pivotal part of Bruce Arians' passing attack, but Brady lacks Winston's ability to escape pressure that helped mask the deficiencies of the Bucs' offensive line.

If Tampa Bay cannot improve up front, it could be a painful few years in Florida for Brady. For all the buzz around his signing, the Bucs would have been better served investing in a more mobile free-agent quarterback and looking to the draft for a long-term answer.

The Indianapolis Colts have signed eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers to a one-year deal, according to multiple reports.

Having previously spent his entire career with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers, Rivers is said to have inked a deal worth $25million.

Rivers will be expected to start for the Colts ahead of Jacoby Brissett, who led the offense last year in a season that saw Indianapolis finish a disappointing 7-9.

The Colts tipped their hand that they would not be drafting a quarterback when they traded their first-round pick (13th overall) to the San Francisco 49ers for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.

Rivers, 38, looked very much like a player in decline in his final season with the Chargers. He passed for 4,615 yards and 23 touchdowns but was turnover-prone as he threw 20 interceptions.

Indianapolis will hope that playing eight games in their domed Lucas Oil Stadium will help revitalise Rivers in the twilight of his career.

Rivers' familiarity with Nick Sirianni, who spent two of his four years with the Chargers as the quarterbacks coach, may also have been a motivating factor in his decision to sign for the Colts.

His arrival in Indianapolis removes the Colts as a potential destination for Tom Brady, who earlier on Tuesday announced he would be leaving the New England Patriots after 20 seasons.

The previously unthinkable is to become a reality: Tom Brady has confirmed that his "football journey will take place elsewhere".

Brady will not be a New England Patriot when he starts his 21st NFL season, but where he lands in free agency remains unclear.

The Tennessee Titans are ruled out after re-signing Ryan Tannehill while the Las Vegas Raiders' reported acquisition of Marcus Mariota means Sin City is unlikely to be Brady's next destination.

So where is his most likely landing spot? We assess the options.

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

A sporting icon moving to the City of Stars late in his career? See LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers for evidence that can happen.

The Chargers, who would welcome a star acquisition to help sell season tickets for their new stadium, have a lot in the 'pros' column. They have a vacancy following Philip Rivers' departure, the cap space (over $50 million for 2020) and a plethora of offensive weapons such as Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry and Austin Ekeler.

Los Angeles is also geographically appealing for a man who recently launched his own production company. Yet would Brady really want to challenge Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the reigning Super Bowl champions for supremacy in the AFC West?

 

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Another team heavily linked to Brady has been Tampa Bay, who are letting Jameis Winston hit free agency after he led the league in passing yards in 2019.

Winston also threw more interceptions than anyone else, and that is why a player of Brady's calibre - even at 42 years old - would be appealing to head coach Bruce Arians.

Brady's eyes would light up at the possibility of playing with a receiving duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and the Florida weather is a plus point too. Are the Bucs close enough to contending for a Super Bowl, though? 

 

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

The aforementioned Rivers seems a logical fit here given his familiarity with the coaching staff and reports suggest the two sides have a mutual interest.

However, if Brady really wanted to stick it to New England and Bill Belichick, what better way than signing for one of their rivals? The Colts are a team still seething at Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' U-turn when he seemed set to become Indy's head coach in 2018.

The Colts have plenty of cap space, a fine roster and could offer Brady the sanctuary of their dome for home games. Yet, it is hard to see Brady winding up at Lucas Oil Stadium given it was the Colts' complaint in the 2014 'Deflategate' scandal that led to the quarterback being suspended.

 

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Fans of the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills are sure to be among the happiest that Brady is finally leaving the AFC East.

Only what if he does not and Brady takes his talents to South Beach ala LeBron 10 years ago? The Dolphins, awash with cap space, could sign Brady and draft his long-term replacement Tua Tagovailoa to sit behind him and return to fitness.

Brian Flores, the former Patriots defensive coordinator, is the head coach in Miami, but his team are still in the early years of a rebuild - not the type of situation for a 40-something starting QB. Unless he really wants to stick it to Belichick and the Pats....

 

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

How about this for a Hollywood ending: The boyhood 49ers fan moves back home and rides off into the sunset after winning a seventh Super Bowl ring.

San Francisco came agonisingly close to winning it all last month only to fall short against the Chiefs, leading to Jimmy Garoppolo's naysayers to raise their concerns about his suitability as a franchise quarterback.

It would be some twist given Garoppolo once backed Brady up and was seen as his heir apparent, though Jimmy G's 2019 performances suggested he should be the present and future for Kyle Shanahan's team.

 

DENVER BRONCOS

Could Brady follow in Peyton Manning's footsteps and head to Mile High? Manning won a second ring as a Bronco in a perfect example of a veteran quarterback taking a talented team over the line, even if he was far from his best in Super Bowl 50.

John Elway drafted Drew Lock last year and though he produced some encouraging signs as a rookie, the Broncos head honcho said they would "always talk" to Brady if he became available. Consider them among the wildcards.

After two decades as a New England Patriot, Tom Brady will be wearing a different uniform in 2020.

The six-time Super Bowl winner was drafted by the Patriots in 2000 and has played 326 games for New England in the regular season and playoffs.

Yet Brady has not agreed a new deal with the Patriots, who in turn will not apply the franchise tag to their quarterback, and he confirmed on Tuesday that he will continue his "football journey" elsewhere.

The 42-year-old is not alone in being a great quarterback who switched late in his career, though, and here we take a look at others who wound up moving away from the franchises they became synonymous with. 

 

PEYTON MANNING

The Indianapolis Colts' Lucas Oil Stadium is known as 'The House That Peyton Built', such is Manning's standing in the Hoosier State

Manning, the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, took the Colts to the playoffs in 11 of his 13 seasons as the starter, but in 2012 Indy cut ties rather than pay an aging quarterback coming off a succession of neck surgeries a $28million bonus.

The Colts also had the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft which they spent on Andrew Luck, then considered the most sure-fire QB prospect since, well, Manning.

But 'The Sheriff' was not done. In four seasons with the Denver Broncos he twice made the Super Bowl, set NFL single-season records for passing yardage (5,477) and touchdowns thrown (55) and added a second ring at Super Bowl 50, after which he headed off into the sunset.

 

JOE MONTANA

Brady's childhood hero won four Super Bowl rings across 14 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, though he would end his career as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Montana missed virtually all of 1991 and 1992 with an elbow injury and in 1993, faced with one of the biggest quarterback controversies of all time, the Niners decided to apply their succession plan and stick with reigning MVP Steve Young under center.

So Montana was shipped to Kansas City, where he took the Chiefs to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons before calling it a day.

At the culmination of Montana's final season in 1994, the Niners won their fifth Super Bowl title with Young as the starting signal caller.

BRETT FAVRE

Though Favre was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, it was in TitleTown where the gunslinger made his name as he racked up the yards and records across 16 seasons and led the Green Bay Packers to victory at Super Bowl XXXI.

Favre appeared content to bow out in March 2008, when Aaron Rodgers had been identified as his heir apparent, yet things got messy when the veteran performed a retirement U-turn in July.

Green Bay had no interest in trading him to the Minnesota Vikings, their rivals in the NFC North, so Favre was moved to the New York Jets, where he spent one up-and-down season before retiring again.

Yet in 2009 Favre did the unthinkable and signed for the Vikings. Minnesota went all the way to the NFC Championship Game - beating the Packers twice in the regular season along the way - but Father Time appeared to have finally caught up with Favre in the 2010 season and on this occasion his retirement stuck.

 

JOE NAMATH

While his statistics do not measure up to Brady, Manning et al, Hall of Famer Namath is still one of the most renowned NFL quarterbacks of all time.

His "guarantee" that the underdog New York Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III is etched into NFL folklore.

Away from the gridiron, 'Broadway Joe' was perhaps the NFL's first celebrity and it seemed fitting that he went from the Big Apple to the City of Stars, signing for the Los Angeles Rams in 1977 after he had gone 4-17 as a starter in the previous two seasons.

However, by that point, injuries had taken their toll and Namath's time in the NFL ended with a four-interception outing against the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. At least he was in the right place to launch his acting career...

The San Francisco 49ers have signed Arik Armstead to a five-year contract extension, while DeForest Buckner is reportedly heading elsewhere in a trade.

Selected by the franchise in the first round of the 2015 draft, Armstead has appeared in 62 games - 43 of them as a starter - in his NFL career with San Francisco.

The defensive lineman enjoyed an outstanding 2019 season too, registering 54 tackles, 10 sacks and two forced fumbles as the 49ers reached the Super Bowl, albeit they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Miami.

His new deal runs through the 2024 season and while details were not officially disclosed, it is reportedly worth $85million.

"We are very pleased to have come together with Arik and his representatives to complete this contract extension prior to free agency," said 49ers general manager John Lynch.

"Arik's physical tools and versatility have allowed him to be highly productive in our style of defense, and we look forward to watching him take his game to an even higher level as he grows within our scheme.

"Arik has been an impact player on the field and a difference-maker in our community, and we are excited for what the future holds for him."

Buckner, however, is said to be on the move from San Francisco, with NFL insiders on social media reporting the defensive lineman is to be traded to the Indianapolis Colts.

The 49ers get the 13th pick in this year's draft in return for a player who made the Pro Bowl in 2018, while Buckner will net a lucrative contract extension from his new employers.

It will be the story that dominates the NFL offseason: What's next for Tom Brady?

The 42-year-old's quest to win an unprecedented seventh ring at Super Bowl LIV in Miami next month was dashed by the Tennessee Titans, who beat Brady's New England Patriots 20-13 in the Wild Card Round on Saturday.

With Brady currently set to be a free agent in 2020, there remains a possibility that he could begin his 21st NFL season away from Bill Belichick's team.

Here we assess Brady's potential options for next season.

 

RETIREMENT

Speaking after the defeat to the Titans, Brady had said retirement was "pretty unlikely... Hopefully unlikely".

The plyometrics fanatic has redefined what was considered possible for forty-somethings in the NFL, exulting the virtues of his 'TB12 Method' and speaking of his desire to play until he is 45.

But Father Time seems to be catching Brady, who threw just 24 touchdowns in the 2019 regular season, the fewest he has managed across a full campaign since he posted the same number in 2006.

Brady is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, a six-time Super Bowl champion and widely regarded as the best quarterback ever; at this point, carrying on may only harm his legacy. But will he want to bow out with a home playoff loss...?

STAY IN NEW ENGLAND

The most likely option is that Brady returns to Foxborough next season.

His slightly disappointing numbers this season come with caveats, most notably the lack of weapons in the passing game, the less-than-stellar offensive line and a ground attack that's remained, well, grounded.

New England drafted Jarrett Stidham last year but he was benched on his debut after throwing a pick-six from his third attempt. Asking him to step in for Brady at this stage appears too much.

Perhaps the Patriots would be better off surrounding Brady with a better cast and making one final Super Bowl push. Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown may just be up for that too.

JOIN THE INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

If Brady is to go elsewhere in 2020, it will almost certainly be to a Super Bowl contender.

The Colts can be just that. They went 10-6 in 2018 and won a playoff game and, despite losing Andrew Luck to retirement on the eve of the 2019 season, they still went 7-9 this term and would probably have made the playoffs had they had better play at the quarterback position.

Indianapolis have no long-term commitment to current starter Jacoby Brissett, who was one of Brady's former backups in New England.

The Colts have a fine offensive line, a roster stacked with young stars ready to make the next step and an offensive-minded head coach. Brady could do a lot worse, but would Indy - who are also projected to have the most cap space for 2020 - be keen given the current regime's desire to build through the draft?

JOIN THE LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Another AFC team with a possible opening at the game's most important position.

The Chargers, like the Colts, made the playoffs in 2018 and won a game, yet they were hugely disappointing when going 5-11 in 2019.

Philip Rivers might be four years younger than Brady but he looked far older this season and the Chargers can easily cut ties and look elsewhere in 2020.

Los Angeles may just be an appealing destination to California-born Brady; after all, it was to NBA veteran LeBron James.

JOIN THE LAS VEGAS RAIDERS

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden likes to work with veteran quarterbacks - see Rich Gannon and Brad Johnson - and 'Chucky' has offered no guarantees over current incumbent Derek Carr's future.

What better way to mark the move to a new stadium in a new city by rolling the dice and bringing Brady to Sin City?

The Raiders have a stout offensive line, a brilliant young running back in Josh Jacobs and enough cap space to sign a player of Brady's calibre.

One thing's for sure, if Brady ends up in Las Vegas, former Raider Brown will not be following him after the way he burned his bridges...

JOIN THE CAROLINA PANTHERS

A left-field suggestion, perhaps, but the Panthers have one thing that could work in their favour: A head coaching vacancy.

New England's current offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, is reportedly set to interview with the Panthers next week and both he and Brady may like the idea of joining forces and proving their worth away from Belichick.

The Cleveland Browns and New York Giants are thought to be keen on McDaniels too, though they both have young signal callers.

If Brady wants a 'home away from home' and McDaniels lands in Carolina, the Panthers might just fit the bill. 

The San Francisco 49ers edged the Seattle Seahawks 26-21 in a wild clash to clinch the NFC's number one seed and a first-round bye in the NFL playoffs.

San Francisco emerged as NFC West champions and the top seeds thanks to Sunday's incredible victory in Seattle.

The Philadelphia Eagles and Tennessee Titans booked their postseason berths with wins on the final day of the regular season.

Meanwhile, AFC top seeds the Baltimore Ravens head into the bye on the back of an impressive 28-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

NINERS DOWN SEAHAWKS IN THRILLER 

The Seahawks appeared dead and buried against the 49ers, trailing 26-14 with less than four minutes remaining.

However, the final minutes were unbelievable as the 49ers somehow denied the Seahawks a first-round bye and top spot in the NFC.

Down 26-21 in the final seconds, Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister charged towards the endzone and fell just inches short of the goal-line on a fourth-down play. It came after a delay of game penalty when Seattle had the ball at the one-yard line.

Dre Greenlaw made the tackle to hold out Hollister with nine seconds remaining as the 49ers earned homefield advantage throughout the postseason after sealing their first division crown since 2012, while the Seahawks will face the Eagles in the wildcard game.

49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was 18 of 22 for 285 yards and no touchdowns, while Raheem Mostert (two) and Deebo Samuel (one) both rushed for TDs.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson completed 25 of his 40 throws for 233 yards and two touchdowns.

 

EAGLES SOAR INTO PLAYOFFS, TITANS JOIN THEM

The Eagles moved through to the wildcard round after capturing the NFC East championship by beating the New York Giants 34-17.

Philadelphia (9-7) finished ahead of rivals the Dallas Cowboys (8-8), who eased past the Washington Redskins 47-16.

Failing to reach the playoffs thrust the future of out-of-contract Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett further into the spotlight but owner and general manager Jerry Jones said: "I'm not going to get into it at all, an evaluation or an assessment. I'm not. I'm going to do exactly what I always do and get up, go forward and do the best job that I can. We'll make those decisions accordingly."

The Titans, meanwhile, used a 35-14 victory against the Houston Texans to advance to the playoffs and set up a wildcard showdown with defending Super Bowl champions the New England Patriots.

The Oakland Raiders missed out on the playoffs following a narrow 16-15 defeat to the Denver Broncos.

 

RAVENS CAP SEASON WITH 12TH STRAIGHT WIN

Despite the absence of their star starters, the Ravens ended the regular season with another victory, this time against the Steelers.

The Ravens extended their winning streak to 12 as they improved to 14-2 for the season without Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram, Marshal Yanda and Earl Thomas.

"That puts an exclamation point on an excellent season," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.

Pittsburgh required a Tennessee loss to have any chance of becoming only the seventh team since 1970 to reach the playoffs following a 0-3 start.

 

RAMS SAY GOODBYE TO COLISEUM

The Los Angeles Rams farewelled LA Memorial Coliseum with a 31-24 triumph against the Arizona Cardinals.

As the Rams prepare to relocate to SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, they celebrated one last victory at the historic 96-year-old venue.

"I will miss playing in the Coliseum," said quarterback Jared Goff said. "I'm really excited for SoFi. What Mr. [Stan] Kroenke has done there is going to be something that I don't think the world has ever seen, honestly. It'll be a lot of fun, but I will miss the Coliseum and will miss the history of it, the lighting of the torch, the fireworks, the whole thing. The fanbase we've built here, how much louder it was this year compared to my first year, and just seeing it grow, is really cool."

 

Week 17 results

New York Jets 13-6 Buffalo Bills
Cincinnati Bengals 33-23 Cleveland Browns
Green Bay Packers 23-20 Detroit Lions
Kansas City Chiefs 31-21 Los Angeles Chargers
Chicago Bears 21-19 Minnesota Vikings
Miami Dolphins 27-24 New England Patriots
Atlanta Falcons 28-22 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (OT)
New Orleans Saints 42-10 Carolina Panthers
Dallas Cowboys 47-16 Washington Redskins
Denver Broncos 16-15 Oakland Raiders
Los Angeles Rams 31-24 Arizona Cardinals
Philadelphia Eagles 34-17 New York Giants
San Francisco 49ers 26-21 Seattle Seahawks
Jacksonville Jaguars 38-20 Indianapolis Colts
Baltimore Ravens 28-10 Pittsburgh Steelers
Tennessee Titans 35-14 Houston Texans

The NFL regular season comes to a close this week, with plenty still on the line.

Defending Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots, need a win against the Miami Dolphins to lock up the second seed in the AFC playoffs, though they are guaranteed a spot in the postseason.

The Tennessee Titans' postseason hopes are in their own hands – a win against the Houston Texans will see them through. Meanwhile, a victory over the Seattle Seahawks for NFC West leaders the San Francisco 49ers will ensure their place in the playoffs as the top seed and give them home advantage throughout.

However, the 49ers know that if they slip up then Seattle will win the division and the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints or Seahawks will take top spot in the conference.

The Philadelphia Eagles will clinch a playoff berth and the NFC East title if they win against the New York Giants. A shock defeat would give the Dallas Cowboys the opportunity to atone for last week's loss in Philadelphia and reach the postseason ahead of them by beating the Washington Redskins.

Using data from Stats Perform, we take a closer look at all the Week 17 fixtures.

SUNDAY (all times Eastern)

Chargers (5-10) at Chiefs (11-4) 1pm

- The Chiefs have won 10 of the last 11 meetings with the Chargers, but the last time these teams met at Arrowhead Stadium, 2018 Week 15, the Los Angeles triumphed 29-28.

- With Keenan Allen at 1,117 receiving yards and Mike Williams (963) and Austin Ekeler (950) within striking distance of 1000 receiving yards, the Chargers have a realistic chance of becoming the sixth team in NFL history with three players with 1,000+ yards receiving.

- The Chargers have already suffered their third 10+ loss season in the last five years, after going 11 seasons (from 2004-14) without a single 10-loss season.

 

Bears (7-8) at Vikings (10-5) 1pm

- The Bears have won three successive games against the Vikings, their longest streak since winning six straight over Minnesota from 2009-12.

- Entering 2019, Kirk Cousins had four straight seasons of at least 4000 passing yards, trailing only Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers for the longest active streaks in the NFL. Cousins needs 397 passing yards for a 4000-yard season in 2019, something he's never done in a home game in his career.

- Minnesota's 139 total net yards against the Packers last week were the fourth-fewest by any team in any game this season – only the Jets (twice) and Broncos have had fewer.

 

Jets (6-9) at Bills (10-5) 1pm

- Josh Allen has accounted for 29 total touchdowns this season (20 passing, nine rushing). Jim Kelly in 1991 is the only Buffalo player ever to account for at least 30 total touchdowns in a season (33 passing, one rushing).

- The Bills are 5-2 at home versus the Jets since 2012, with a +81 point differential over these seven games.

- The Jets have the second-fewest rushing yards in the NFL and have allowed the second-fewest rushing yards. They would be the first team since the 1954 Eagles to rank bottom two and top two in rushing yards and opponent rushing yards, respectively.

 

Saints (12-3) at Panthers (5-10) 1pm

- The Saints defeated the Panthers at home in Week 12. New Orleans have also won the last two meetings in Carolina.

- New Orleans have never had back-to-back 13+ win seasons and the 25 wins over the past two seasons are already the most by the Saints in a two-season span all-time.

- Having won the division title for the third straight season, the Saints have tied the longest NFC South title streak that was set by the Panthers from 2013 to 2015.

 

Browns (6-9) at Bengals (1-14) 1pm

- The Browns' home win over the Bengals in Week 14 was a third straight win over their in-state rivals. Cleveland have not managed four consecutive wins over Cincinnati since a seven-game streak from 1992 to 1995.

- Cleveland were eliminated from playoff contention with a loss to the Ravens. Their streak of 17 seasons without a playoff berth is tied for the fifth-longest in NFL history.

- The Bengals locked up the first pick in the 2020 NFL draft after a 38-35 overtime loss to the Dolphins in Miami last week. Cincinnati has drafted first overall three times in its history, taking defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson in 1994, running back Ki-Jana Carter in 1995 and quarterback Carson Palmer in 2003.

 

Packers (12-3) at Lions (3-11-1) 1pm

- The Packers clinched the division title with their win over the Vikings in Week 16. Green Bay has won the NFC North title six times this decade, the most division titles by any NFC team.

- Davante Adams hauled in 13 receptions for 116 yards in that triumph, bringing his career receiving yards to 5,101.

- Green Bay holds a 99-72-7 advantage in the all-time series against the Lions and could become the third franchise to win 100 games against another franchise.

 

Dolphins (4-11) at Patriots (12-3) 1pm

- New England will be trying to earn a first-round bye for the 10th consecutive season. Since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, no other team has earned a first-round bye in more than four straight seasons.

- Tom Brady has 3,836 passing yards this season. If he can reach 4,000 passing yards, it would be the third time he has thrown for 4,000 yards in a season at age 40 or older.

- Ryan Fitzpatrick leads the Dolphins with 228 rushing yards this season. No team has finished a 16-game season without a player having at least 300 rushing yards.

 

Falcons (6-9) at Buccaneers (7-8) 1pm

- Since 2015, the Falcons and Buccaneers have combined for 55.1 points per game against one another, the highest-scoring matchup between divisional opponents in the NFL.

- The Buccaneers rank third in the NFL in points (436) and third-worst in the NFL in points allowed (421).

- The Falcons have 19 touchdowns in the fourth quarter, tied with the Titans for most in the NFL.

 

Cardinals (5-9-1) at Rams (8-7) 4:25pm

- The Rams won 34-7 when these teams met in Week 13 and have outscored the Cardinals 164-32 during their five-game winning streak against Arizona.

- Tyler Higbee had his first career game with at least 100 receiving yards in Week 13 against Arizona, and has now had at least 100 yards in each of the three games since.

- Arizona beat the Seahawks 27-13 in Week 16, their second straight win following six consecutive losses. Both wins came by 14 points – the first time they have won back-to-back games by at least 14 since December 2015.

 

Raiders (7-8) at Broncos (6-9) 4:25pm

- The Broncos have won six of the last seven home games against the Raiders.

- Oakland has gone 17 straight seasons without winning the AFC West, tied for the fourth-longest streak not winning their division.

- The Broncos will finish with a losing record for the third consecutive season, the second-longest streak of losing seasons in franchise history (10 straight from 1963-1972).

 

Redskins (3-12) at Dallas Cowboys (7-8) 4:25pm

- The Cowboys have won six of their last seven over the Redskins, including three straight in Dallas.

- Last week, the Redskins became the third team in the NFL this season to allow 300+ passing yards and 200+ rushing yards in a game.

- Dallas have had at least 400 total net yards in all seven home games. No team since at least 1950 has had eight home games with 400+ total net yards in a season.

 

Titans (8-7) at Texans (10-5) 4:25pm

- Following their 24-21 win at Tennessee two weeks ago, the Texans look to secure the first season sweep by either team since 2015, and to square the all-time series at 18 wins each.

- The Texans clinched their second straight AFC South title with a 23-20 win at Tampa Bay – Houston's fifth victory this season by three points or fewer.

- Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson did not throw a touchdown pass last week; his season total sits at 26, matching the number he threw one season ago.

 

Steelers (8-7) at Ravens (13-2) 4:25pm

- Since John Harbaugh became head coach in 2008, the Ravens are 12-11 against the Steelers, and 14 of the 23 meetings have been decided by three points or fewer.

- Pittsburgh has lost back-to-back games after winning seven of its previous eight games. The Steelers have failed to score a fourth-quarter touchdown in eight straight games.

- The Ravens have clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, and they have tied a franchise record with 13 wins.

 

Colts (7-8) at Jaguars (5-10) 4:25pm

- Jacksonville have won four straight home games against Indianapolis, tied for its third-longest home winning streak against any opponent in the team's history.

- The Jaguars lead the NFL with a 96.8 field-goal percentage this season (30-for-31), all attempted by Josh Lambo.

- Chris Conley had 56 receiving yards and a touchdown catch in Jacksonville's Week 16 loss to the Falcons, his third touchdown reception in the last two games.

 

Eagles (8-7) at Giants (4-11) 4:25pm

- The Eagles got a 23-17 overtime win at home when these teams met in Week 14, their sixth straight win over the Giants and 10th in the last 11.

- Philadelphia has converted 57.1 percent of its red zone third downs this season, the highest mark in the league.

- The Eagles' six-game winning streak is tied for their second-longest all-time against New York – they won 12 straight between 1975 and 1981.


49ers (12-3) at Seahawks (11-4) 8:20pm

- Seattle got a 27-24 overtime win in San Francisco when these teams met in Week 10. Including their win in the 2014 NFC Championship Game, the Seahawks have won 13 of their last 15 games against the 49ers.

- Indeed, San Francisco have not won in Seattle since Week 16 in 2011.

- The 49ers beat the Rams on Saturday, reaching 12 wins for the first time since 2013. With another victory, they will clinch the NFC's top seed for the first time since 1997.

Rookie quarterback Will Grier will make his NFL debut for the Carolina Panthers against the Indianapolis Colts, interim head coach Perry Fewell has confirmed.

Grier came into the season as the Panthers' third-choice QB, but regular starter Cam Newton was placed on injured reserve after two games due to a foot injury.

Kyle Allen deputised, throwing 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions across 12 games, leaving Carolina 5-9 and bottom of the NFC South.

With nothing on the line in Indiana this week, it was reported Grier - the 100th pick in the draft - would get a first start.

And after giving Grier first-team reps in practice, Fewell told reporters the 24-year-old would indeed get his chance.

"Will has demonstrated to us that he's ready to start this football game on Sunday, so he will be our starter," said the temporary coach, who replaced Ron Rivera earlier this month.

Grier added: "I'm extremely excited just to get to go and get that game experience. Camp and pre-season is one thing, it's a grind, but I'm excited to actually play in a real game.

"I'm excited to get out there with these guys and try to get a win.

"[Staying patient] is part of the deal. You have to prepare every week like you're starting, and you may not. But you'd rather be prepared and not play than be unprepared and be thrown in there."

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