NFL

Eagles and Mahomes both bidding to break new ground in Week 16

By Sports Desk December 23, 2022

The Philadelphia Eagles may have already won the NFC East and will enter Week 16 without quarterback Jalen Hurts, but a clash with the Dallas Cowboys remains the standout game on the slate.

While the Cowboys' attempts to stick with the Eagles this year were hampered by their road form, Dallas are strong at home and will hope to send a warning to their division rivals ahead of a playoff campaign in which both teams will hope to feature prominently.

Elsewhere, the Kansas City Chiefs have work to do still as they aim, like the Eagles, to secure a bye with the number one seed in the AFC.

But it is not all about the NFL's leading lights, with the battle for position ahead of the postseason ongoing – with a big game in store in Charlotte.

Stats Perform picks out the key facts ahead of a busy Christmas weekend...
 

Philadelphia Eagles (13-1) @ Dallas Cowboys (10-4)

In beating the Chicago Bears last week, the Eagles secured a 13th win in a single season for only the third time in franchise history. On the two previous occasions, Philly finished with a 13-3 record and reached the Super Bowl, losing to the New England Patriots in the 2004 season and beating the same team in 2017.

The Eagles have never won 14 games in a regular season and will be without injured QB Hurts as they aim to end a four-game losing streak in Dallas.

But the Cowboys are coming into this big home game on a downer, having blown a 17-point lead against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week for their first loss in five.

That game also again showed big QB performances can sometimes prove immaterial, with Dak Prescott throwing for 256 yards and three touchdowns. The Cowboys are 1-2 this season when Prescott has thrown three or more TD passes and only 7-6 since 2020. Prior to that, they were 13-3 in such games.

Seattle Seahawks (7-7) @ Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)

Patrick Mahomes and Geno Smith each earned Pro Bowl selections this week – a fifth for Mahomes but only a first for Smith. Both were well deserved, with the pair third and second respectively for passer rating among qualifying players this year (Smith, 105.3, and Mahomes, 105.0).

However, Mahomes will look to do something he has never done before on Saturday: beat the Seahawks. Having lost 38-31 to Seattle in his only previous such clash in 2018, they are one of just two teams Mahomes has played but never beaten (also 0-2 against the Indianapolis Colts).

Smith, who has never faced the Chiefs, leads the NFC with 26 touchdown passes as he aims to follow Russell Wilson (2017 and 2018) and Matt Hasselbeck (2005) as the only Seahawks to lead the conference across a season. However, with eight interceptions and four fumbles lost by Smith, Seattle are the sole team in the league to have committed a turnover in every game this year.

Detroit Lions (7-7) @ Carolina Panthers (5-9)

The Lions' stunning 6-1 run, including an active three-game winning streak, has them firmly in playoff contention in the NFC. The last time they won six out of seven games in a single season, back in 2016, was also the last time they made the postseason.

However, the Lions have a miserable history against the Panthers. Their 3-7 record in this matchup is their worst against any current NFC franchise, while Detroit are 0-5 on the road against the Panthers since winning on their first trip in 1999.

With Jared Goff in the best form of his career, the Lions will hope to snap that streak. He has gone six games without an interception, which ties the longest such streak by a Lions QB since the statistic was first tracked in 1960. Goff had never previously gone more than three games without throwing a pick.

Elsewhere...

The Bears this week face the Buffalo Bills, the only team in the Super Bowl era to have lost more consecutive games with 125 or more rushing yards in each loss. Chicago have lost seven in a row, but the 1976 Bills were defeated in 10. With 2,616 rushing yards but a 3-11 record, the Bears are on course to become the first team to lead the league in rushing yards yet have one of the worst two records since the 1932 Staten Island Stapletons.

Recent history suggests the Minnesota Vikings will follow up last week's record-breaking comeback against the Colts with another win over the New York Giants. The Vikings' 7-2 record against the Giants since 2005 is their best against NFC opposition and New York's worst.

The Patriots will have to upset the Cincinnati Bengals to get their playoff bid back on track, yet they have won their past seven home games in this matchup, including the last four while scoring at least 35 points. The last team to win five in a row at home to any one team while scoring 35 points or more were the San Francisco 49ers against the Atlanta Falcons between 1992 and 1996.

Tua Tagovailoa will be relieved this week's game against the Green Bay Packers is in Miami and not Wisconsin. Following last week's defeat to Buffalo, the Dolphins QB is 0-4 in starts when the weather is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit; he is 17-7 when the temperature is at least 50 degrees.

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    Andy Murray bowed out in the opening round of what is likely to be his final French Open appearance, following a straight-sets defeat by Stan Wawrinka.

    The Swiss ran out a commanding 6-4 6-4 6-2 victor in two hours and 19 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier, and could play Murray's compatriot Cameron Norrie in round two.

    Murray was facing Wawrinka for a third successive match at Roland Garros, having lost out to the latter in the 2020 first round and 2017 semi-finals.

    The 2015 champion stole an early advantage this time around, too, breaking in the opening game and subsequently holding to win the first set.

    A single break was also enough in the second set as Wawrinka doubled his lead.

    Murray has repeatedly said he is approaching the end of his career, revealing in February that he does not "plan on playing much past this summer".

    However, the 2016 runner-up's chances of extending what is potentially his French Open swansong were all but ended as Wawrinka broke twice in the third set for a 4-0 lead, before the 39-year-old rounded off a dominant win.

    Data Debrief

    Wawrinka (39) and Murray (37) locked horns in the second-oldest match-up at Roland Garros this century, behind the 2019 first-round showdown between Ivo Karlovic (40) and Feliciano Lopez (37).

    And the Swiss was not to be denied, as he became the oldest man to win a match at the French Open since compatriot Roger Federer three years ago.

  • Leeds United 0-1 Southampton: Armstrong sends Saints marching back into Premier League Leeds United 0-1 Southampton: Armstrong sends Saints marching back into Premier League

    Southampton secured an immediate return to the Premier League after Adam Armstrong was the hero in a 1-0 victory over Leeds United in the Championship play-off final.

    Saints' top scorer Armstrong provided the decisive first-half strike at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, with his 24th league goal of the season sending Russell Martin’s side straight back into England's top division.

    The pair had scored a combined 197 goals this campaign, but just the one finish was enough to settle what was only the third second-tier play-off final between two sides relegated the previous year.

    Southampton join Leicester City and Ipswich Town in winning top-flight promotion, while Leeds – who hit the crossbar through Daniel James late on – must prepare for at least another campaign in the Championship.

    Daniel Farke's team settled the quicker of the two sides, who were separated by just three points during the regular season, but with little success in front of goal.

    Archie Gray – the youngest Leeds player to appear at Wembley – drilled just wide early on, while Wilfried Gnonto shot straight at Alex McCarthy.

    However, Southampton struck the all-important opener after 24 minutes, somewhat against the run of play.

    Armstrong beat the offside trap after Ethan Ampadu's mindless charge out from the back, latching onto Will Smallbone’s throughball before neatly slotting past Illan Meslier.

    A shoulder injury forced a distraught David Brooks off soon after but the Saints went close to doubling their lead just before the break as Meslier parried away Armstrong’s drive.

    Crysencio Summerville curled just wide from the edge of the box within four minutes of the restart as Leeds sought an equaliser.

    Substitute James rattled the crossbar with a right-footed effort six minutes from time and was again denied by McCarthy, as Southampton held on to seal their return back to the big time.

    One Armstrong finish, one giant step for Saints

    Southampton were appearing in their first-ever play-off final, and they had lost on eight of their 10 previous visits to Wembley, including each of the last five.

    However, the Saints stopped the rot with a little help from a promotion expert – boss Martin achieved five of them as a player, and this was his third to the top flight overall.

    Armstrong's cool finish proved the difference; his 24 goals this term is the most by a Southampton player in a single season since Rickie Lambert struck 27 in 2011-12 – their last promotion-winning campaign.

    It was also the Saints' 100th – and most important – goal of the season; their first time reaching triple figures since the 2009-10 season under Alan Pardew.

    More play-off pain for Leeds

    Leeds have now appeared in the English Football League play-offs on six occasions, failing to secure promotion in each of those instances.

    The omens did not look good when they fell behind considering not since Cardiff City in 2010 has a team failed to get promoted after opening the scoring in a Championship play-off final.

    It is just over 16 years since their third play-off final disappointment against Doncaster Rovers in League One (May 25, 2008), with Leeds now playing the most such matches without ever gaining promotion.

    Farke also missed the opportunity to become the third manager – after Steve Bruce (four) and Neil Warnock (three) – to win three Premier League promotions, following his Championship-winning campaigns of 2018-19 and 2020-21 with Norwich City.

  • Alcaraz moving freely after easing injury fears with French Open success Alcaraz moving freely after easing injury fears with French Open success

    Carlos Alcaraz put any concerns over an arm injury to one side after easing into the French Open second round on Sunday.

    The world number three cruised to a straight-sets victory over J.J. Wolf on Court Philippe-Chatrier, dropping just four games en route to a convincing triumph.

    Spain's Alcaraz had worries over featuring at Roland-Garros, where he was defeated in the semi-final last year, due to a troublesome arm injury.

    The 21-year-old played through his first-round victory with a supportive sleeve on his right arm, though that issue did not cause Alcaraz any problems on his emphatic return.

    "I would have loved to have played more matches," Alcaraz said after his dominant performance in Paris. 

    "I don't need too many matches to get to 100 per cent. I think I prepared well these past two weeks before coming to Paris.

    "I felt well moving. My forearm is getting better and better. That is something good for me.

    "I think I don't need too many matches to play my best."

    Alcaraz claimed a 12th win from his opening 15 matches at Roland-Garros. Since 2000, only two players have claimed more from that opening span of matches – Rafael Nadal (15) and Juan Carlos Ferrero (13).

    The powerful Alcaraz also boasts a record of 21-1 against players ranked outside the top 50 at major events, with his only such defeat inflicted by Mikael Ymer at the 2021 Australian Open.

    "I am really happy to be back here and back here in Paris," Alcaraz added. "To compete again has been a difficult month for me. I love competing and playing tennis. To stay away from that was hurting for me.

    "I tried everything I could do to be here at 100 per cent. I think I showed my best tennis today. I'm really, really happy to show my best tennis again.

    "I love playing here in Paris. The energy from the crowd here is something special. Seeing the full stadium in the first round is amazing. It's great for tennis to have a lot of people come into the tournament. I'm trying to make the people enjoy as well."

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