Week 4 of the NFL season could well have a substantial bearing on how the playoff race shakes out.

Through three weeks, the 2022 campaign has delivered excitement at almost every turn, and there are plenty of high-stakes matchups to whet the appetite this weekend.

There are conference championship and Super Bowl rematches on the docket, as well as extremely intriguing matchups between some of the season's early pacesetters.

But which of the games on the schedule are likely to deliver the best contests? Stats Perform can provide some insight in that regard, using its SmartRatings as a guide.

SmartRatings is an AI-based platform that provides excitement ratings for sporting events, teams and players. The excitement scale, ranging from 0-100, is powered by complex algorithms that are predicated upon six primary variables: pace, parity, novelty, momentum, context and social buzz.

The weight of each variable is dynamic and adapts as a season progresses. The excitement scale translates to the following general sub-ranges: 0-39 (Dull Game), 40-64 (OK Game), 65-84 (Good Game), 85-100 (Great Game).

So, let's take a look at the three games rated among the most exciting on the Week 4 slate and break down the key matchups that could decide them.

Buffalo Bills @ Baltimore Ravens

SmartRating: 67

Win probability: Buffalo Bills (55.3%)

Key Matchup: Lamar Jackson vs. Bills linebackers

The Bills only need to look to their AFC East rivals the New England Patriots for a reminder of what can happen when a defense fails to defend 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson effectively.

Last week, Jackson threw for 218 yards and four touchdowns with one interception while rushing for 107 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries. He became the first player in Ravens history to throw at least three touchdown passes in each of the team's first three games of a season.

Limiting his efficiency on the ground will be critical for the Bills' hopes of outscoring a potent Ravens offense. On designed runs, Jackson is averaging a remarkable 13.47 yards per carry, with his threat as a runner naturally helping fuel the Ravens' play-action game. Baltimore's average of 10.85 yards per play on play-action is well above the league average of 9.15.

In Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds, the Bills possess two athletic and intelligent linebackers. They will need to display their physical gifts and their awareness to help limit Jackson's impact with ball in hand and ensure they do not bite too hard against play-action and open large throwing windows for him to attack. An evenly matched clash between two AFC heavyweights promises to be a classic, and Milano and Edmunds may have a crucial say in it tilting in the favour of Buffalo.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

SmartRating: 75

Win Probability: Kansas City Chiefs (54.7%)

Key Matchup: Travis Kelce vs. Antoine Winfield Jr.

The Chiefs are unlikely to find much joy targeting the Buccaneers outside corners, Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis, who have each enjoyed excellent starts to the season as they look to gain a measure of revenge for their blowout loss to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl LV.

Instead, Patrick Mahomes will probably look to his most trusted weapon, All-Pro tight end Kelce, to help him get the Chiefs back on track following their shock loss to the Indianapolis Colts last weekend.

Kelce has run 24 routes from the slot this season compared to nine from his in-line tight end spot. Having consistently thrived in the 'power slot' role throughout his career, Kelce will hope to do significant damage from that position while going against one the premier young safeties in the league.

Winfield has spent 63 percent of his snaps this season in the slot but has conceded a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup on a play where he is targeted, on seven of his 11 targets. He has given up a big play on four of those targets.

With Kelce registering a burn on 18 of his 24 targets, the matchup looks to be in his favour. Winfield must find a way to ensure it isn't if the Bucs' defense is to provide yet more critical support to an offense that continues to struggle.

Los Angeles Rams @ San Francisco 49ers

SmartRating: 85

Win Probability: Los Angeles Rams 53.0%

Key Matchup: Aaron Donald vs. 49ers' Offensive Line

Even after losing their starting quarterback and All-Pro left tackle to injury, the 49ers are still only seen as slight underdogs in Monday's rematch of last year's NFC Championship Game.

But it is how the 49ers perform up front in the absence of Trent Williams that will likely determine if the Niners can continue their regular-season hoodoo over the Rams.

The Niners have won the last six regular-season meetings with Los Angeles, but the Rams – who finally knocked off their rivals in the game that mattered most – will be confident of ending that streak if Donald and Co. can take advantage of San Francisco sliding Colton McKivitz in at left tackle as Williams' replacement.

Much of that confidence will be based on how Jimmy Garoppolo performs when he is pressured. Among quarterbacks with at least 10 throws under pressure, Garoppolo's well-thrown percentage of 54.5 is the second worst in the NFL.

Donald has already racked up 13 pressures on 40 pass rush snaps and is known for his ability to create pressure from anywhere on the defensive line. McKivitz, right tackle Mike McGlinchey and an extremely inexperienced interior offensive line must deliver their best for San Francisco to avoid falling to 1-3.

Lamar Jackson's sensational start to the 2022 season is "a natural next step", according to Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who always believed the quarterback could be "everything he is".

The Ravens improved to 2-1 with a 37-26 win over the New England Patriots on Sunday, in which Jackson threw four touchdown passes and rushed for 107 yards and a further score.

The fifth-year QB became only the second player in NFL history with at least four TD passes, 100 rushing yards and a rushing TD in a game after the Philadelphia Eagles' Randall Cunningham – also against the Patriots – in Week 9 of the 1990 season.

But Jackson also had three TD passes and 100 rushing yards in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins.

Only seven other QBs (including Cunningham) have previously enjoyed such a performance, and none of them have done so more than once. Jackson has achieved that feat in consecutive games and four times across his career.

Surely a contender again this year, Jackson was the MVP in 2019 when he led the league in passing TDs (36), as he does now (10).

The failure to agree a new Ravens contract in the offseason would likely have made Jackson more determined to bounce back from an injury-hit 2021, but Harbaugh has never doubted his star man.

"No one has to tell me about Lamar Jackson," the Baltimore coach said.

"I believe in him. I love him. I just believed him the first day we drafted him, the first day we talked about drafting him. I felt like he could be everything he is.

"I just think it's a natural next step in terms of like finding his rhythm during the week, what he's looking at, how he studies defenses, how he breaks defenses down.

"It's not a lightbulb thing; it's an evolution of studying the game that you see quarterbacks go through."

Jackson offered his own take on his development, adding: "I'd just say [it is down to] maturity, just because of my age, just knowing the game of football just basically inside out.

"You've just got to stay locked in. That's probably the thing, just being locked in no matter what's going on during the game."

The Miami Dolphins moved to 3-0 for the season and handed the Buffalo Bills their first defeat with a narrow 21-19 victory at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday.

The Bills had lived up to their pre-season Super Bowl favourites tag after outscoring their opponents 72-17 in their first two outings, but they came unstuck in Florida.

Two touchdowns from Chase Edmonds propelled the Dolphins to a first win in eight against the Dolphins and gave them sole possession of top spot in the AFC East.

The Dolphins came out on top despite being outgained 497-212 in total yards, with Buffalo picking up 31 first downs to their opponents' 15.

Josh Allen has often been a menace against the Dolphins and completed a career-high 42 passes from 63 attempts for 400 yards and two touchdowns, but it was not enough for the Bills.

Miami took the lead with 10 minutes remaining through the second of Edmonds' touchdowns, and held on despite punter Thomas Morstead bizarrely kicking one into his own teammates' rear end and out of bounds for a safety.
Allen drove the Bills as far as Miami's 41-yard line on a completion to Isaiah McKenzie, but he was unable to get out of bounds and the clock struck zero before Allen could spike the ball for a potential game-winning field goal.

Jackson's five inspires Ravens

Lamar Jackson's five touchdowns inflicted a 37-26 loss on the New England Patriots and moved the Baltimore Ravens 2-1 in the AFC North.

Jackson became the first player in NFL history to register three-plus pass touchdowns and 100+ rushing yards twice in the same season, doing so in back-to-back games.

Mac Jones matched Jackson with a rushing touchdown and threw for 323 yards, but the Pats' offense ultimately self-destructed in a disappointing defeat at Gillette Stadium, with Jones limping off at the end to add insult to injury.

Mahomes interception proves costly

Rodney McLeod picked off Patrick Mahomes with eight seconds left for the latter's first interception of the season as the Indianapolis Colts beat the Kansas City Chiefs 20-17.

Mahomes finished the game 20 for 35 for 262 yards, one touchdown and that costly interception that saw the Chiefs fall to 2-1 for the year.

The Colts only took the lead with 24 seconds left in the fourth quarter as Matt Ryan and Jelani Woods hooked up for the second time with a 12-yard touchdown.

Two weeks down in the NFL and the action has been sensational so far.

Late comebacks were the name of the game last week and Week 3 promises to bring even more excitement.

Sunday sees the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins battle it out to remain undefeated, the Baltimore Ravens will aim to respond to a Week 2 defeat against the New England Patriots, while the Las Vegas Raiders and Tennessee Titans fight to pick up a first win of the season.

There's plenty more on the agenda and Stats Perform has used Opta data to preview the action.

Buffalo Bills (2-0) @ Miami Dolphins (2-0)

The Bills travel to Florida having won their past seven games against the Dolphins, outscoring them by better than a two-to-one margin (258-123). That marks Buffalo's longest winning streak against Miami, beating a run of six consecutive victories from 1987 to 1989.

Buffalo have outscored their opponents 72-17 so far this season to stand 2-0, with the +55-point differential their second-best through the first two games of a season. In 1981, they won their opening two matches by a combined score of 66-3 (+63 points).

The Dolphins overcame a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit (35-14) in last week's 42-39 win at Baltimore, marking the sixth time since 1925 that an NFL team has won a game in regulation time after trailing by such a margin in the fourth quarter. The last such comeback win was in 2010, when the Eagles beat the Giants 38-31 in Week 16, having trailed 31-10.

Tua Tagovailoa threw six touchdown passes, including four in the fourth quarter, against the Ravens last week. Since 2001, the only other player to throw four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter of an NFL game was Sage Rosenfels for the Texans against the Titans in Week 7 of the 2007 season, though Houston lost 38-36.

Baltimore Ravens (1-1) @ New England Patriots (1-1)

The Patriots have a 9-2 record against the Ravens in the regular season, the best record by any team against Baltimore in their history – though they have split four postseason matches.

Lamar Jackson became the first player in NFL history to have a 75+ yard passing touchdown and a 75+ rushing touchdown in the same game during last weekend's defeat to the Dolphins.

In week 2, the Patriots beat the Steelers 17-14. Since Bill Belichick became head coach in 2000, the Patriots are 42-23 in games decided by three of fewer points, the best such record in the NFL.

Nelson Agholor recorded 110 receiving yards in Week 2, becoming the first Patriot with a 100-yard game since Jakobi Meyers in Week 15, 2020. That brought an end to a 20-game streak without a 100-yard receiver for the Patriots, which was the longest spell in the Belichick era.

Las Vegas Raiders (0-2) @ Tennessee Titans (0-2)

The Raiders have won their past three games on the road against the Titans. The last time the Raiders won four straight road games against a single opponent was a six-game streak against the Chiefs from 2007 to 2012.

An 29-23 overtime loss to the Cardinals in Week 2 came despite them holding a 23-7 lead in the fourth quarter, marking the biggest fourth-quarter blown lead for a loss in franchise history.

The Titans are 0-2 for the first time since 2012 and last started a season 0-3 in 2009. The 41-7 loss to the Bills last week was the largest defeat suffered by the Titans under Mike Vrabel.

Both the Raiders and Titans are 0-2 this season after making the playoffs a season ago. Neither franchise has ever started a season with two defeats and rallied to make the playoffs, while the last NFL teams to do so being the Texans and Seahawks in 2018.


Chicago host the Texans with just 432 offensive yards to their name so far this season, the worst in the NFL and the fewest yards the Bears have gained in the opening two weeks of a campaign since they had 335 net yards at the same stage in 2003.

Patrick Mahomes rallied the Chiefs offence to a 27-24 victory against the Chargers last week, overcoming a 17-7 second-half deficit, and are eyeing a third-straight win this season against the Colts. Since his first NFL season (2018), the Chiefs have more comeback victories after trailing in the second half (17) than any other NFL side.

The Saints travel to Carolina on the back of a 20-10 home defeat to the Buccaneers last week. Dating back to last season, New Orleans have scored 17 or fewer points in five of their past nine games (1-4). When they have scored 18 or more, they stand at 4-0.

The Cincinnati Bengals have plenty to do offensively against the Jets, with Joe Burrow having been sacked 13 times so far this season and thrown four interceptions. The last QB to be sacked that many times while throwing as many picks in the opening two weeks of a season was Danny White of the Cowboys in 1987.

Since entering the NFL in 2020, Tua Tagovailoa has had more doubters than believers.

With a stellar college career at Alabama ended by a hip dislocation, there were plenty of concerns around Tagovailoa ahead of the 2020 draft, and they persisted after the Miami Dolphins put them to one side to select him fifth overall.

A rookie year in which he rotated with Ryan Fitzpatrick and a surge in the second half of last season fuelled largely by the Dolphins' reliance on the run-pass option did little to dissuade the sceptics, with plenty still questioning his ability to be the long-term answer at quarterback for a franchise that has not had one since Dan Marino rode off into the sunset.

Those doubts evidently existed within the Dolphins' organisation, one which was reportedly very interested in striking a trade for Deshaun Watson last year.

But two games into an undefeated start to a make-or-break year for Tagovailoa it is clear he has the belief of the most important person in the building – his head coach.

And on Sunday, as the Dolphins remarkably stormed back from a 35-14 fourth-quarter deficit to stun the Baltimore Ravens 42-38 on the road, Mike McDaniel's faith in one of the most scrutinised quarterbacks in the NFL enabled Tagovailoa to deliver one of the most incredible results in recent league history.

The Dolphins became the first team to overcome a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit since the Philadelphia Eagles achieved that feat in Week 15 of the 2010 season against the New York Giants.

For those who aren't familiar with that game, it required a 65-yard punt return from Desean Jackson as time expired for the Eagles to complete the comeback and became known as the Miracle at the New Meadowlands. That's how unlikely such turnarounds are.

Yet McDaniel instilled calm in the Dolphins as they went into the second half trailing 28-7, and his relaxed approach and his belief in his quarterback yielded astonishing dividends.

McDaniel's understated inspiration

"I just challenged them to say 'who cares what the score is?' It's about how we play football together, so this is an opportunity, it's a tough one but that doesn't even matter, let's get something out of this game to feel good about in the second half and we'll worry about the score some time in the fourth quarter," McDaniel said.

"I didn't care about the outcome of the game at that point, at half-time it was a huge opportunity for us to show who we are and play good football for each other."

In regards to Tagovailoa, McDaniel was delighted he succeeded in getting his quarterback to play with a short memory in a game where he threw two interceptions in the first half.

"Now maybe Tua will finally listen to me," added McDaniel. "It's awesome to be critical of yourself, it's good. He has a high standard for himself. After the first game I just wanted to see the guy enjoy playing football, and understand that yes 'you want to make the perfect read and the perfect throw every time, but who cares?'

"If you just get better at one thing a game you're going to be pretty good at the end of the season. So let's just press forward.

"The absolute worst thing could have happened for him at the beginning of the game [on the first interception], where we get a contested ball, that's not really his fault, and then he starts pressing and throws it up for a second interception. 

"This is huge because he stopped worrying about the last play and he went and played and took his responsibility seriously to his team-mates about 'hey I'm going to lead this team confidently'.

"It is what you get into sports for. I think it was a moment that he'll never forget, that hopefully he can use moving forward because we basically had to play perfect complementary football to come back from a deficit like that against a really good team. His team-mates learned a lot about him and I think he learned something about himself."

That short memory allowed Tagovailoa to complete 36 of his 50 pass attempts for a career-high 469 yards and six touchdowns. The only other two Dolphin quarterbacks to throw six touchdowns in a game are Marino and Bob Griese.

And, with two of those scores coming on deep shots 48 and 60 yards to Tyreek Hill, Tagovailoa may feel he has gone some way to quieting a narrative that has persisted throughout the build-up to this campaign. 

Deep ball questions answered?

The offseason in Miami was defined in part by questions about Tagovailoa's ability to throw the deep ball. Last season, he had one completion of 20 yards or more for a touchdown. Through two games in 2022, he has three.

In addition to producing an immediate improvement on where he was last year in completing passes downfield, Tagovailoa also made strides from his performance in the opening week of the season against the New England Patriots.

Week 1 saw Tagovailoa deliver an accurate, well-thrown ball on 71.9 per cent of his passes, according to Stats Perform data. Against the Ravens, his well-thrown rate was up to 80 per cent.

Tagovailoa's performance saw him enter the NFL record books as the third-youngest player with six touchdown passes in a single game and the fourth-youngest with at least 450 passing yards and five touchdowns in the same game at the age of 24 years and 200 days.

His success came in part through heeding the words of his coach and getting significantly better in one area than he was in the previous week, but his career day was not simply the product of better accuracy and motivation from McDaniel.

Play-calling mastery

Indeed, it was also a result of having two receivers with the speed to terrify any defense and a play-caller who knows how to deploy them and set his team up for success, as well as two massive coverage mix-ups by Baltimore that allowed Hill to tie the game with two deep receptions.

While he only produced a burn – which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted – on seven of his 13 targets (a ratio of 53.8 per cent that was below the average of 58.7 for the week as of Monday), only five receivers targeted at least five times in Week 2 averaged more burn yards per target than Hill's 14.62.

With fellow speedster Jaylen Waddle winning 13 of his 19 matchups for an impressive burn rate of 68.4, Tagovailoa was targeting two pass-catchers adept at creating separation who presented the perfect duo with which to attack a Ravens secondary battling injuries, Hill and Waddle becoming the first pair of team-mates in NFL history to record at least 10 receptions, 150 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions in the same game.

And McDaniel made the most telling illustration of his impact on the final drive. Schooled in the Kyle Shanahan offense, the first-year head coach showed the value of his long apprenticeship under the league's pre-eminent play-caller on two game-deciding calls.

The first was his call for a split-zone run with Chase Edmonds on second-and-one from the Ravens' 35-yard line with 46 seconds left.

It is a situation where most would have expected another shot at big passing play. Instead, McDaniel created an explosive move with the run, using the snap motion to take the nickel defender at the second level over to the far side of the field, before safety Chuck Clark, playing down in the box, reacted to tight end Mike Gesicki peeling back across the formation to block linebacker Patrick Queen by following him away from the direction of the play, his vacation of his previous alignment and well-executed blocking by Miami creating a huge hole for Edmonds to rumble 28 yards to the seven-yard line.

Two plays later, McDaniel again used motion to help the Dolphins complete the comeback, this time with Waddle going across the field and being followed in man coverage by former Alabama team-mate Jalyn Armour-Davis. At the snap, Trent Sherfield ran a slant that essentially served as a pick play, the collision between Armour-Davis and Daryl Worley leaving the former out of position for long enough for Waddle to create separation with his pivot route and allowing Tagovailoa, having superbly navigated the pocket, to find him with a high throw on the move.

At Alabama, Tagovailoa was playing for college football's powerhouse, a program that serves as a ceaseless production line of NFL talent and the perfect incubator in which a young quarterback can thrive at that level.

In other words, he was in the ideal situation. Across his first two seasons in Miami, he was in anything but.

As the hugely improbable fightback against the Ravens demonstrated, Tagovailoa – with two game-breakers at receiver and a head coach with the mindset and the play-calling acumen to accentuate the strengths of his quarterback and his surrounding talent – is in a substantially better spot.

McDaniel, Tagovailoa and Co. combined to achieve the near-impossible and, after a fourth-quarter turnaround for ages, the quarterback whom so many were willing to write off should be the subject of burgeoning belief.

Tua Tagovailoa's career game led the Miami Dolphins to one of three remarkable fourth-quarter turnarounds in the NFL on Sunday, but his team-mates were not surprised.

Tagovailoa is now in his third year as a professional having been selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft – falling that far only after dislocating his hip at Alabama.

Even as the Dolphins' established starter, there had been concerns the quarterback would never get over that injury, showing only middling form prior to Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens.

But Tagovailoa set career highs in completed passes (36), passing yards (469) and passing touchdowns (six) as he led Miami to a remarkable fightback.

The Ravens had led by 21 points at the start of the fourth quarter, yet Tagovailoa threw four TDs in the final 15 minutes alone in a dramatic 42-38 win.

With the New York Jets also recovering to stun the Cleveland Browns and the Arizona Cardinals recovering against the Las Vegas Raiders, this was just the second example of three teams recovering from 13-point fourth-quarter deficits on the same day in NFL history (also October 4, 1992).

However, within that improbable sequence of results, Tagovailoa's team-mates did not doubt his ability.

"We expect that from him," wide receiver Jaylen Waddle said. "We're confident in him; he's confident in himself.

"It's good for you all to see, but we kind of expect that."

Waddle finished with 11 catches for 171 yards and two TDs, while Tyreek Hill had 11 catches for 190 yards and a pair of scores.

The Dolphins therefore became the first team in NFL history with at least 400 passing yards and five passing TDs from a quarterback and at least 170 receiving yards and two receiving TDs from two team-mates in the same game.

Hill added Tagovailoa had "really showed me who he is as a leader" in the sensational finale, although he overcame adversity even within that game.

Tagovailoa threw a pair of interceptions in the first half but kept coming back, with three of his six TD passes having at least 20 air yards – as many deep TD passes as he had thrown in his career up until that point.

"This is huge," said coach Mike McDaniel. "Because he stopped worrying about the last play and he went and played and took his responsibility to his team-mates seriously.

"It is what you get into sports for. I think it was a moment that he'll never forget that hopefully he can use moving forward, because we basically had to play perfect complementary football to come back from a deficit like that against a really good team. I couldn't be happier for him."

Three turnovers in the fourth quarter propelled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 20-10 victory against the New Orleans Saints in a frustrating game for Tom Brady.

The seven-time Super Bowl champion angrily tossed a tablet on the sidelines as both offences struggled to get going, with just a field goal apiece at the end of the third quarter.

A Jamel Dean interception proved to be the turning point though, setting up Brady for an 11-play drive, which was capped off by a 28-yard pass to Breshad Perriman.

Dean struck again in the following drive for the Saints, intercepting Jameis Winston in back-to-back possessions for the Saints and putting the Buccaneers in a solid position on the opposition 29-yard line.

Brady was unable to capitalise, the Buccaneers instead settling on a field goal to extend their lead. The visitors would hold firm despite Michael Thomas giving the Saints hope with a seven-yard touchdown reception.

Having suffered four consecutive regular season losses to the Saints since joining the Buccaneers, Brady's run came to an end, but it was not a vintage performance for the veteran, who completed 18 of 34 attempts for a total of 190 yards.

Tagovailoa shines in comeback victory

Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens had a fine start against the Miami Dolphins, Devin Duvernay taking the opening kick-off for a 103-yard return and Jackson having three touchdown passes in the first half, as well as a 79-yard rushing touchdown.

When Jackson completed a 75-yard touchdown pass to Rashod Bateman, he became the first quarterback in NFL history to have 75-yard passing and rushing touchdowns in the same game.

Trailing by 21 points heading into the fourth quarter, Tua Tagovailoa threw four touchdown passes to secure a remarkable 42-38 comeback victory – finishing the game with six touchdown passes and 469 yards, completing 36 of 50 attempts.

Jets stun Browns with huge comeback

Victory for the Cleveland Browns at home against the New Yorks Jets would have secured a 2-0 record to start a season for the first time since 1993, and Kevin Stefanski's side looked to be set for a historic win, leading by two scores heading into the final stages.

Nick Chubb had starred with three touchdowns, totalling 87 yards from 17 carries, putting the Browns on the brink, but the Jets responded valiantly to score two touchdowns inside the two-minute warning.

Joe Flacco combined with Corey Davis for a 66-yard touchdown, before the Jets then recovered an onside kick and pulled ahead through a Garrett Wilson touchdown catch to win 31-30.

What a first week of the NFL season that was.

So much drama, so many late twists, and it's almost time to do it all over again as Week 2 looms on the horizon.

Sunday sees Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looking to follow up their opening win against the Dallas Cowboys when they head to New Orleans, the Los Angeles Rams will aim to get on the board when they host the Atlanta Falcons, while Russell Wilson's first home game for the Denver Broncos sees them welcome the Houston Texans.

With all that and more, Stats Perform has used Opta data to preview the weekend's action in the NFL.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) @ New Orleans Saints (1-0)

The Saints have won their last seven regular-season games against the Buccaneers, matching the longest previous winning streak by either team in this rivalry, a run of seven consecutive wins by New Orleans from 2011 to 2014. Tampa Bay did beat the Saints in a Divisional Playoff game following the 2020 season.

Tampa Bay had one interception (by Antoine Winfield Junior) in their season-opening win at Dallas. The Bucs were 11-0 last season in games in which they intercepted at least one pass. The Green Bay Packers (also 11-0) were the only other NFL team to go unbeaten last season in games in which they recorded one or more interceptions.

New Orleans won their season opener in Atlanta, 27-26, after trailing 26-10 in the fourth quarter. It was the first time in franchise history that the Saints won a game in which they trailed by 16 or more points in the fourth quarter, and only the third time they won a game in which they were behind by 16 or more points in the second half.

Tom Brady and the Bucs lost their last game against the Saints, 9-0 (Week 15 last season). That is one of only three times that Brady's team has been shut out in his 317 regular-season and 47 postseason starts in the NFL. The other shutouts were in 2003 (Patriots at Buffalo, 31-0 in Week 1) and 2014 (Patriots at Miami, 21-0 in Week 14).

Atlanta Falcons (0-1) @ Los Angeles Rams (0-1)

Including their original stint in California and time in St. Louis, the Rams are 28-8-2 (.778) at home against their former NFC West rival, Atlanta Falcons. That is the best home record of any franchise against a single opponent (minimum of 30 games) in NFL history.

Cordarrelle Patterson rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown in Atlanta's season opener. At 31 years old, Patterson is the second-oldest player in team history to have 100+ rushing yards and a touchdown run in a game, behind only Warrick Dunn, who had two such games.

The Rams started the season with a 31-10 loss to the Bills, the largest home loss in a season opener ever by a defending Super Bowl champion. The team has not started a season at 0-2 since 2011 when they were in St. Louis and have not lost their first two games as the Los Angeles Rams since 1987.

Cooper Kupp tied a career high with 13 catches in the opener against Buffalo. Including playoffs, Kupp has at least five receptions in each of the Rams' last 22 games. Only Antonio Brown has a longer such streak of team games with five or more catches in the Super Bowl era (37).

Houston Texans (0-0-1) @ Denver Broncos (0-1)

The Texans opened their season with a 20-20 tie against the Indianapolis Colts, despite being outgained by 218 yards in the game. Prior to Houston on Sunday, the last team to tie a game while having 200+ yards less than their opponent was the Packers against the Broncos in 1987.

In his first game with the Texans, O.J. Howard scored touchdowns on each of his two receptions. Howard joins Jaelen Strong as the only players to ever have two TD catches in their team debut for Houston.

Denver committed 12 penalties in their 17-16 loss to the Seahawks on Monday. It was the most penalties the Broncos have ever committed in a season opener, surpassing the 11 penalties they had to kick off the 1970 season against the Bills.

Russell Wilson threw for 340 yards against the Seahawks in his Denver debut. It was the most passing yards by a Broncos QB on their debut with the team and Wilson's 12th career game with 340+ passing yards (his teams are 5-7 in those games).


The New England Patriots travel to the Pittsburgh Steelers after suffering a 20-7 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 1, and have not started a season with consecutive double-digit losses since losing three straight games by such a margin to begin the 1969 campaign.

Baltimore's Lamar Jackson threw for three touchdowns against the New York Jets after throwing three or more TDs just twice all of last season. Before they host the Dolphins, it is notable that, in his career, the Ravens are 13-1 when Jackson has three or more pass TDs, the second-best team record among active players behind Josh Allen at 14-1 (minimum 10 such games).

Starting with their 2013 NFC Championship game success over the 49ers, the Seattle Seahawks are 15-2 in their last 17 games against San Francisco, which includes season sweeps in 2020 and 2021. The 15 wins since January 2014 are tied with the Patriots (vs. Jets) for the most by an NFL team against a single opponent in that span (including playoffs).

The Arizona Cardinals will need to watch Davante Adams, who had 10 catches for 141 yards on 17 targets in his Las Vegas Raiders debut. That is the most targets for any player in their first career game with the Raiders in the past 30 seasons. The only other with player with 15+ targets in their Raiders debut over that span is Randy Moss in 2005 (15).

Lamar Jackson turned down a new contract worth around $250million due to a lack of fully guaranteed money, according to reports.

The Baltimore Ravens and quarterback Jackson ended negotiations for a long-term contract extension prior to Sunday's kick off of the new NFL season.  

Jackson will play for just over $23m on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract, having previously said he would not continue to negotiate during the season.

"Despite best effort on both sides, we were unable to reach a contract extension with Lamar Jackson," Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement on Friday.

While talks will resume next offseason, NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported on Sunday that while the offer to Jackson "eclipsed" the $242.5m one handed to Russell Wilson by the Denver Broncos earlier this year, "fully guaranteed money is believed to be at the heart of the issue".

Rapoport's sources also indicated the offer "fell short of the $230m, fully guaranteed deal that Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson received after Cleveland traded for Watson in March", and it is understood Watson's deal was the barometer used by Jackson in negotiations.

ESPN's Adam Schefter also reported on the deal, stating his sources believe Jackson turned down an offer worth around $250m.

The 2019 NFL MVP negotiated for himself with help from his mother and the NFL Players' Association, and the Ravens are expected to apply their franchise tag to prevent Jackson from hitting free agency if the sides are unable to reach a deal at the end of the season.

Even if no other quarterbacks sign lucrative deals in the meantime, exclusively tagging Jackson would cost the Ravens $45.4m in 2023 and $54.4m in 2024.

According to NFL reporter Chris Mortensen, Jackson rejected the offer of a six-year deal, with $133m fully guaranteed, more than Wilson's $124m and Kyler Murray's $103.3m with the Arizona Cardinals, though short by some way of Watson's $230m.

The Ravens kick off their season at the New York Jets on Sunday.

The Baltimore Ravens and quarterback Lamar Jackson have ended negotiations for a long-term contract extension with their season poised to kick off on Sunday.  

Jackson will play for just over $23million on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. Earlier this week he said he would not continue to negotiate during the season.  

"Despite best effort on both sides, we were unable to reach a contract extension with Lamar Jackson," Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement.

"We greatly appreciate how he has handled this process and we are excited about our team with Lamar leading the way.  

"We will continue to work toward a long-term contract after the season, but for now we are looking forward to a successful 2022 campaign."

While talks will resume next offseason, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported that Jackson is likely to receive the franchise tag in 2023. 

Dak Prescott played the 2020 season for the Dallas Cowboys under the franchise tag before the sides agreed to a four-year, $160m deal before last season.  

The quarterback market has been booming this offseason, with Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson each signing contracts with an average annual value of at least $46m and with total guarantees over $165m.  

Watson's $230m contract with the Browns is fully guaranteed, and Jackson could be looking for something similar.  

Watson's contract could further complicate the Ravens' situation, with his scheduled $55m cap hit for next season inflating the value of the franchise tag, which is the average of the top five salaries at the position.  

Even if no other quarterbacks sign lucrative deals in the meantime, tagging Jackson would cost the Ravens $45.4m in 2023 and $54.4m in 2024.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is seeking a massive contract extension, but he is just not willing to let negotiations interfere with the 2022 season.

Jackson set Friday as the deadline to work out a new deal before shutting down negotiations to focus on the regular season, ESPN reported.

"As of right now, we're still talking," Jackson said after practice Wednesday. "The week isn't over yet."

The Ravens open the season by visiting the New York Jets on Sunday.

If a new contract isn’t signed in the next two days, Jackson will play the 2022 season on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, netting him $23 million.

The quarterback market has been booming this offseason, with Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson each signing extensions with an average annual value of at least $46 million.

At 25-years-old and with an MVP award already on his mantle, Jackson could be looking for even more than that.

Jackson was unwilling to comment on whether he and the Ravens are close to a new deal.

"I have no clue," Jackson said. "You have to ask the guy who I'm talking to. You talk to the GM [Ravens' Eric DeCosta] about that."

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey and tight end Mark Andrews are among the Baltimore players who have said publicly that Jackson has kept his focus on preparing for the season and that the contract negotiations have not been a distraction.

Still, Jackson has been clear that he would like to secure his long-term future in Baltimore sooner rather than later.

"It was a pretty big risk [playing] last season. The year before," Jackson said. "I'm just playing football.

"Anything can happen. God forbid the wrong thing happens."

The idea of "any given Sunday" is what makes the NFL so compelling.

Any one team can beat another, and that means at this stage of the season, with the first snap still to be taken, every team can have Super Bowl aspirations.

Sort of.

The Cincinnati Bengals, for example, may have been slightly surprising contenders in 2021, but there remain some teams whose title hopes are so remote as to be non-existent.

For some, this is because they have missed their shot at glory in recent years; for others, the plan is to challenge in seasons to come.

So, this leads us to draw up a preseason tier system, ranking all 32 teams by their Super Bowl windows with the help of Stats Perform AI predictions...

Nowhere near

This is unlikely to be a season to remember for the teams grouped in this category, for a variety of reasons.

The Houston Texans won the AFC South in 2018 and 2019, but the Deshaun Watson saga and two down years have them looking at a rebuild, with the data forecasting just 4.8 wins this year. That at least ranks them ahead of the Atlanta Falcons (3.6 projected wins) and the New York Giants (4.2), while the Texans did gain draft assets in the Watson trade.

The Chicago Bears are the fourth and final team projected to earn fewer than six wins (4.9), with second-year quarterback Justin Fields receiving little help on offense and playing behind an offensive line ranked 31st in pass protection.

Meanwhile, the Washington Commanders rank 31st in terms of skill players – better only than the Falcons – with faith in Carson Wentz long since having diminished. In Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, the Carolina Panthers have two high-draft-pick QBs unlikely to trouble the postseason. The New York Jets are in a similar boat, even if Zach Wilson is still young.

The Detroit Lions might argue they do not deserve to keep such company after a 3-3 finish to last season, but nobody could seriously argue they are title contenders.

Entering contention

If that first group was a mixed bag, so too is the second.

Anyone who has paid any attention to the New England Patriots' preseason would suggest they are very fortunate to be given any hope of success in the near future, but they finished with 10 wins in 2021 – even if that number is projected to shrink to 7.7. Despite a trade for Tyreek Hill, that still ranks the Patriots comfortably ahead of the Miami Dolphins (7.0), although the losing team in their Week 1 meeting will face a long slog of a season.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Philadelphia Eagles are forecast to have 11.9 wins – the second-most in the NFL – after a very strong offseason. But Jalen Hurts, for now, is unproven in the postseason, so Philly fans may have to stay patient.

The San Francisco 49ers are even younger at QB after promoting Trey Lance to a starting role, which explains why the prediction model looks so unfavourably on a team many consider contenders right now. Just 7.1 projected wins speaks to the potentially low floor Lance brings.

NFC West rivals the Arizona Cardinals have to be considered among this group of future hopefuls, with Kyler Murray hugely talented and now committed long term but frustratingly inconsistent, while the Jacksonville Jaguars will hope Trevor Lawrence can follow in the footsteps of the Bengals' Joe Burrow – the number one pick the year before him.

The Los Angeles Chargers, with 9.8 projected wins, have Justin Herbert to lead their charge, while the Cleveland Browns might have been contenders already if not for Watson's suspension, which is enough to limit them to a still strong 9.3-win forecast.

In their prime

The Chargers may have Herbert, but they also have three division rivals who intend to win and intend to win now. Indeed, all four AFC West teams rank in the top half of the league in terms of projected wins, with the Chargers second – behind the Kansas City Chiefs (11.5) and just ahead of the Denver Broncos (9.7) and the Las Vegas Raiders (9.2).

The Chiefs lead the AFC in this regard, although their playoff win over the Buffalo Bills last season came down to a coin flip, and the two are set to be similarly tough to separate this year. Buffalo are down for 11.1 wins.

The two teams coming off a Super Bowl run are of course prominent among the contenders, even if the model has far greater optimism for a Los Angeles Rams repeat than for another Bengals charge. The Rams are backed for a league-leading 12.4 wins and given a 15.3 per cent shot at defending their title, while the Bengals are actually projected to dip below .500 with 8.2 wins.

The Bengals' route to the Super Bowl will be complicated not just by the AFC West and the Bills but also by any return to form for the fit-again Lamar Jackson's Baltimore Ravens, who are counted among nine teams on course for 10 or more wins (10.4).

Also in that group are NFC pair the Dallas Cowboys (11.0) and the Minnesota Vikings (10.9), who may not even be the best teams in their divisions but might be nearing a point when they must seriously challenge or start again, which brings us to...

Last chance saloon

As long as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are the QBs for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Green Bay Packers, those teams are in with a chance. The question is how long that will remain the case.

Brady is 45, briefly retired this offseason and then missed a chunk of the preseason. Rodgers is 38, has repeatedly been linked with a move away from Green Bay and lost top target Davante Adams ahead of the new season. Still, the Buccaneers rank eighth for projected wins (10.7), with the Packers up in third (11.5).

They are not the only ageing teams in the NFL, however.

The Indianapolis Colts hope they have upgraded in moving from Wentz to Matt Ryan, yet the former MVP is now 37 and last played in the postseason in 2017 – when Wentz's Eagles took the title.

Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill is a little younger at 34, but of greater concern would be Derrick Henry's durability after the injury that limited to eight games last regular season. The Titans need to make the most of any seasons they have left of the superstar running back going at full tilt.

Missed their chance

Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees won Super Bowls with the Seattle Seahawks, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New Orleans Saints respectively, but with all three having now moved on, it is difficult to see those teams plotting a path to the title.

For the Seahawks and the Steelers, this will be their first year without their stalwart QBs, even if things had already gone stale in 2021. Wilson dipped below the .500 mark for a season for the first time in his career, while Pittsburgh were attempting to stay competitive in spite of Roethlisberger rather than because of him.

Still, with both gone – Wilson to Denver and Roethlisberger to retirement – there is a void under center that has not been suitably filled. Seattle also rank 32nd in pass protection, likely leaving Geno Smith hopelessly exposed.

The Saints have had another 12 months to come to terms with Brees' exit, albeit they spent it juggling Jameis Winston, Trevor Siemian and Taysom Hill at QB. Winston's season-ending injury doomed the Saints' hopes of contention last year, and New Orleans' outlook for 9.5 wins with the entertaining but erratic former number one pick is at least far more positive than that of the Seahawks (6.2) or the Steelers (7.0).

Regardless, each of these three teams have provided an example in how not to do succession planning. They all could have won additional honours with their departed veterans and now face long waits for further title tilts.

It seemed on a frenzied January night in Kansas City as though the AFC title would be decided by the toss of a coin.

The Kansas City Chiefs were the beneficiaries, coming up the field one last time to beat the Buffalo Bills, but Patrick Mahomes and Co. were not to make the Super Bowl.

That the Chiefs were stunned by the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game said a great deal for the strength in depth of the conference.

And that has been ratcheted up to another level over the course of the offseason, with Russell Wilson and Davante Adams among the notable names traded into the AFC.

The NFC may still have the defending Super Bowl champions, but there are no shortage of contenders here – including as many as four in one wild division out west.

The favourites

The Chiefs and the Bills would both have been hugely disheartened by the manner in which their seasons ended. Kansas City had the fortune that deserted Buffalo but were unable to make the most of their reprieve against the Bengals.

But that will merely make Mahomes and Josh Allen two of the more motivated superstars heading into the new season.

Mahomes is now without Tyreek Hill, yet the Chiefs' offensive line went from strength to strength as last season wore on, ranking third in pass protection win percentage by the year's end.

Meanwhile, Allen showed in that playoff blockbuster he can be every bit a match for Mahomes at his best. He threw nine touchdown passes across his two playoff games; no player had previously thrown more than seven while playing two games or fewer in a single postseason.

Allen will hope not to get the chance to better that record, this year targeting a run that goes far beyond the Divisional Round.

In the mix

The Bengals of course have to be considered after pushing the Los Angeles Rams all the way, while the Tennessee Titans actually matched the Chiefs for the best regular season record in the AFC despite Derrick Henry being limited to eight games, though the trade of receiver A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles may restrict their ceiling on offense and ability to compete this year.

Deshaun Watson's suspension will give the Cleveland Browns work to do just to make the playoffs, but they may well be a serious threat if they get there.

A conference packed with quarterback talent also includes former MVP Lamar Jackson, who is fit again and looking to set the Baltimore Ravens back on course after a difficult 2021 in which they finished bottom of the AFC North.

But if the Chiefs are the team to beat, perhaps one of their division rivals can cause an upset. Each of the Los Angeles Chargers, the Denver Broncos and the Las Vegas Raiders have reasons to be optimistic.

Four contenders in the wild, wild AFC West

The Chiefs have won the AFC West six years in a row, but there is no guarantee that will become seven. The scale of the challenge before Kansas City represents a big boost to their AFC rivals – and to the neutrals, licking their lips at a must-watch season-long tussle.

Justin Herbert has long looked like making the Chargers contenders, with just the 14th 5,000-yard passing season in league history helping his offense finish fourth in the league in yards per game (390.2) and fifth in total points scored (747) last season. Crucially, the Chargers have added defensive help in the form of Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson now, too.

Yet their offseason work perhaps pales next to that of the Broncos and the Raiders.

Wilson left the Seattle Seahawks for Denver, who promptly handed him a huge contract, clearly feeling he and Nathaniel Hackett can be the QB-coach combo they have been missing to return them to the postseason.

Support for that belief comes from Wilson's performance in quarterback Efficiency Versus Expected (EVE), which measures a signal-caller's performance in expected passing situations against the league average. Despite playing only 14 games on a Seahawks team that finished in the NFC West cellar, Wilson was still 13th in EVE, just behind Tom Brady.

Meanwhile, Adams has reunited with former Fresno State team-mate Derek Carr on the Raiders, with Stats Perform's positional rankings subsequently considering Las Vegas to have the most talented skill players in the NFL.

The Chiefs will undoubtedly now be made to work for the division after years of dominance. 

Lamar out to right last year's wrongs

With half of the conference potentially in contention for a Super Bowl run, there is perhaps no true sleeper pick, but the Ravens will expect to go from worst to first in their division.

Much will depend on a return to form for dual-threat superstar Jackson.

Baltimore were firmly on course for the playoffs at the time of the ankle injury that kept Jackson out of the run-in in 2021, collapsing thereafter. However, it had already been by far the QB's worst season as a regular starter.

After 3,127 passing yards and 36 passing TDs and 1,206 rushing yards and seven rushing TDs in his MVP season of 2019, Jackson had regressed slightly in 2020 and struggled further last year both through the air and on the ground.

In 12 games, Jackson threw just 16 TDs to 13 interceptions, while his 767 rushing yards saw him finish second among QBs to Jalen Hurts – a category he had dominated in the previous two campaigns.

Everything the Ravens do when they are good goes through Jackson, so his performance level will make or break their season.

Can Tua turn his fortunes around?

With the wealth of talent at the top of the AFC, there must also be some dregs at the bottom. The Miami Dolphins might fear they belong instead to that category.

The Dolphins made their own big move this offseason, taking elite receiver Hill out of the AFC West to give Tua Tagovailoa little excuse in his third season.

Hill got open on 82.7 per cent of his targets last season, with those skills of separation sure to come in useful when attempting to link up with a passer in Tagovailoa who threw to an open target just 73.8 per cent of the time.

The Dolphins are not expecting Tagovailoa to be Mahomes, but they need him to be much better than he has been thus far for this project to work.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is focused on playing according to head coach John Harbaugh despite no contract extension being agreed yet.

Jackson, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, had previously indicated that he hoped to come to an agreement on an extension with the Ravens by a Week 1 deadline.

But the Ravens' season opener is fast approaching, with Baltimore up against the New York Jets on Sunday.

Harbaugh rejected any suggestion that Jackson would hold out on a new deal and insisted he was focused on playing for the Ravens after Monday's practice.

"Lamar has said he's focused on the season, he's under contract and he's going to have the best season he can have," Harbaugh told reporters.

"He's hopeful to get a new contract and we're hopeful to get him a new contract. All the rest of it is business. There is nothing other than coming to something that is mutually agreeable.

"That's the way that all of these deals are done. So, obviously, I'm very hopeful, and I know everyone is really hopeful to get it done."

The Ravens QB, who is representing himself without an agent, is set to make just over $23million guaranteed on his fifth-year option in 2022.

"I don't have any updates," Harbaugh said.

"My interactions with Lamar have been all football. He's been focused and locked in on that, 100 per cent, from a football standpoint."

The 32nd overall pick of the 2018 draft, Jackson is coming off an injury-marred 2021 season, averaging 240.2 passing yards and 63.9 yards rushing in 12 games.

He finished with 16 passing touchdowns, a career-high 13 interceptions and an 87.0 QB rating – eighth lowest among the 30 quarterbacks with at least 350 passing attempts last season.

The Ravens lost four of the five games Jackson missed last season and finished 8-9 to miss the playoffs for the first time in his career.

The New York Jets' season kicks off in six days and coach Robert Saleh is still leaving the door open for Zach Wilson to start the opener.

"Yeah, it's possible," Saleh said on Monday.

Saleh told reporters Wilson threw some passes and tested his right knee during a workout on Monday and a decision will be made in the next few days to see if he will be healthy enough to start on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. 

"We put Zach through a workout today," Saleh said. "Looked good, felt good. We're going to see how the knee responds today and tomorrow, and we'll have an answer for everyone on Wednesday."

Wilson suffered a bone bruise and torn meniscus in his knee while scrambling in the Jets' preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles on August 12, and the original diagnosis was he would be sidelined for two to four weeks.

That timeline remained the same after the second-year quarterback had successful arthroscopic surgery on August 16 in Los Angeles.

"Everyone heals differently," Saleh said. "Like I said, we'll see what happens tomorrow and all that stuff.

"I almost feel like some of the guidelines that are put on, they're guidelines, but everyone responds differently."

The Jets plan to be cautious with the 23-year-old, who they selected second overall in last year's draft, as they hope he will be the franchise's long-term answer at quarterback.

If he cannot play, Joe Flacco will get the start in Week 1 against his former team.

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