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.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones believes their surprise victory over the Cincinnati Bengals served as a tonic for the disappointment of a season opener in which they lost Dak Prescott to injury.

The Cowboys suffered a chastening home loss in Week 1 as they slumped to a 19-3 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which quarterback Prescott sustained a fractured thumb that required surgery.

While Prescott's initial recovery timeline was deemed to be six to eight weeks, there is optimism he could return sooner.

Rush significantly boosted Dallas' hopes of still being in a position to contend when Prescott does return, helping to drop the defending AFC champion Bengals to 0-2 on Sunday.

He threw for 235 yards and a touchdown in the Cowboys' 20-17 win, going three of four on the Cowboys' final drive to set up Brett Maher for a 50-yard field goal as time expired to seal victory.

"Anybody knows how disappointing our first loss was last week," Jones said after the game.

"We could point to the reasons why, but that's not enough. But to come out here with our same home crowd and beat a really fine young quarterback and beat a team that was playing in the Super Bowl just a few months ago, that's a big tonic for the disappointment we had.

"And we all know how tough these games are that we've got coming up, but the main thing is kudos to Cooper Rush.

"That shows me so much about him and the principle of he kept a workmanlike basis. He's done that. He's gotten better. He knows this offense as well as anybody breathing, and he stepped out there and did some great execution."

Rush's performance helped calm some nerves about the prospect of playing without Prescott for any extended period.

"When [Prescott] has strength, which I have no idea when that will be, but it will be not an issue of being concerned about re-injuring the thumb. It will be an issue of his ability to grip the ball, and you know Dak, he's beat every timeline I've ever seen or looked at," added Jones.

"So he's got a good chance to do it, but there's no question that we didn't put him on injured reserve. I want to be real clear about that – we did not put him on [IR], so he could be working during these weeks.

"He could be out there, throwing, [and] certainly involved in everything else. He couldn't have done that had we put him there.

"I certainly would look to hope that he just might be available, but I'm telling you, this performance out here today by Rush sure takes a lot of the angst out of that."

Zac Taylor is confident the Cincinnati Bengals will still be a "really good football team" once they "settle down" following another shock defeat for the reigning AFC champions.

The Bengals fell to 0-2 on Sunday as they suffered a 20-17 defeat to a Dallas Cowboys team led by quarterback Cooper Rush in the absence of the injured Dak Prescott.

After being sacked seven times by the Pittsburgh Steelers in an overtime loss in Week 1, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was brought down for six more sacks by the Dallas defense.

It is a worrying start for a Bengals team who spent significant resources remodelling an offensive line that allowed Burrow to be sacked 51 times last season.

"It's all frustrating," head coach Taylor said of the Bengals' pass protection issues. 

"We've given ourselves an opportunity to win these games against good teams, so once things settle down, I know that we're going to be a really good football team."

Praising Micah Parsons, who registered his second successive two-sack game, Taylor added of the Cowboys: "Maybe they haven't gotten the sacks against everybody you watch, but quarterbacks are just springing out of the pocket when you watch all of the tape from last season against these guys.

"They have a really stellar pass rush. They use these guys really well.

"Micah Parsons is going to be in the conversation for one of the best, if not the best pass rushers, just the way they can move him around. The way he can take advantage and bend.

"He's a real problem, and they've got real good players behind him, too. We put ourselves in some positions where they could really tee off and maximise what they're really good at. And that was frustrating early on.

"I thought we settled in better later in the game and were a lot more efficient."

Following defeats for the rest of their AFC North rivals on Sunday, the Bengals are only a game back in their division despite their winless start, which they have the chance to end next week on the road against the New York Jets.

"Every team's going to go through this, where you face a two game losing streak at some point," said Taylor. "Unfortunately for us, it's the first two games of the season. It's a long season.

"We've just got to hit the reset button, not in a negative way, but just regroup for Tuesday to get ready for the Jets this Sunday. I know our guys are going to be focused the right way. We have great leadership.

"So again, that's just what we're relaying on right now, is those guys to get focused, have a great week of practice and go to New York and find a way to win.

"I think we're going to be in great position going forward. Any time you lose, it's going to feel like, from everybody that's watching, that's the story. I get it. That's how it should be. We're going to work hard, just as we have, to go on the road and find a way to win against a good team."

Burrow, meanwhile, hailed the second-half improvement in pass protection but recognised the need for a complete game for the Bengals to get back on track.

"Second half, I thought the protections was great. They have a great rush, I would say top two or three best rushes in the league," Burrow explained. 

"They've got DeMarcus Lawrence, Micah, they do a really good job with their picks in game, too. And so, early in the game, you're going to have those, and I can do a better job of getting the ball out quickly.

"I thought, for the most part, we protected the ball well in those situations, and that was my goal this week. And then in the second half, I thought the offensive line protected great.

"We kind of warmed up in the run game, and then we're able to have some more time in the pass game, and that's what comes off of that.

"When we're able to run the ball well, they might be thinking 'run', and so then they're not so quick to get into their pass rush. So, the second half was more efficient, better for us, but just need to prolong that for the entire game."

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor has explained the reasoning behind two apparent gaffes that occurred during Sunday's overtime defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Last season's defeated Super Bowl side had a rollercoaster ride in Week 1 of the new season, quarterback Joe Burrow having five turnovers – four of which came before half-time.

It was, however, two questionable decisions from the sideline that ultimately paved the way for the Steelers' dramatic win, one of which saw Taylor's special teams unit head out with a running clock to punt the ball early.

That gave Pittsburgh enough time to get into field goal range and win it, with questions asked as to why the Bengals did not run the clock all the way down – and Taylor reasoned it was due to a change in long-snapper, after Clark Harris suffered an early injury and was ruled out.

"New operation. We snapped there with 13 seconds, I understand that, trust me, we'd rather do something different," he said after the game.

"But just trying to make sure the operation ran smoothly, it turned out that we sacrificed some seconds just to make sure that we were all on the same page there."

The Bengals may have been able to avoid overtime entirely had the team elected to challenge the play that saw Ja'Marr Chase score an apparent touchdown that was not caught by the officials, Taylor again admitting mistakes were made.

"Part of it was that that's the hardest place for us to see in the entire field is that spot. I didn't think there was a chance there was a touchdown there initially. So, we got on the ball to run it in quickly," he added.

"It's hard with all the craziness in that moment, all the communication to get that 'Stop, stop. Let's evaluate this.'

"We just couldn't get it done fast enough by the time we'd seen a replay and realised 'Oh shoot, he might have gotten in there.' We've just got to learn from those.

"It's a fine line — when you get the ball on the inch, you just want to punch it in real quick. In hindsight, maybe he was in and we could have given ourselves a chance."

The Bengals travel to Dallas in Week 2 to face a Cowboys side set to be without quarterback Dak Prescott due to injury.

T.J. Watt is being assessed by the Pittsburgh Steelers as reports suggest the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year has suffered a torn pectoral.

Watt left the game in the fourth quarter of the Steelers' wild 23-20 overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1.

The Pittsburgh pass-rusher had played a key role in stifling Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who finished with five turnovers – four interceptions and a lost fumble.

Watt dominated the game with six tackles, three tackles-for-loss, an interception and a sack, but the Steelers now fear he faces an extended period on the sideline.

"I'm appreciative of the effort – it wasn't without cost," said coach Mike Tomlin afterwards, revealing Watt was "being evaluated with an upper body injury".

Running back Najee Harris was also being evaluated having exited the game with a foot injury.

The worst game of Joe Burrow's NFL career almost turned into a memorable Week 1 win for the Cincinnati Bengals, who instead blew their chance for an overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Bengals went down 23-20 to the Steelers after missing kicks at the end of regulation and in the additional period that would have secured a winning start.

Instead, Chris Boswell kicked the game-winning field goal for the Steelers in the final seconds of overtime.

Burrow had put the Bengals in position to succeed despite his dismal start, looking nothing like the 2021 Comeback Player of the Year who led Cincinnati to the Super Bowl.

The quarterback had four turnovers before half-time – a career high for an entire game – including a pick-six for Minkah Fitzpatrick from his very first pass.

Burrow finished with four interceptions, a lost fumble and seven sacks, but he also threw two touchdown passes, including one for Ja'Marr Chase that appeared to set up a stunning Bengals win.

However, Fitzpatrick blocked Evan McPherson's PAT, and McPherson missed his target again in overtime.

Boswell similarly squandered a chance to win the game, hitting the left post, but he made amends just as it looked as though the NFL would see two ties in the same week for the first time since Week 2 in 1973, with the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts also tied 20-20.

Browns deny Baker's Panthers

The Bengals were the only team not to win in the AFC North – a division that had it all on Sunday. While Lamar Jackson guided the Baltimore Ravens to victory over the New York Jets, the Cleveland Browns celebrated their first Week 1 win since 2004 as former QB Baker Mayfield saw his Carolina Panthers beaten 24-23 by a late field goal.

The Miami Dolphins' 20-7 win over AFC East rivals the Patriots was far more straightforward, with Tua Tagovailoa becoming the first QB to remain unbeaten against Bill Belichick in the regular season having started at least four games against New England.

49ers flounder at sodden Soldier Field

Miserable conditions in Chicago hampered the San Francisco 49ers as they suffered a shock 19-10 loss to the Bears, with Trey Lance's miserable 13-of-28 passing including an awful fourth-quarter interception for a quarterback rating of just 50.3.

Elsewhere in the NFC, Jalen Hurts also did not throw a single touchdown pass in the Philadelphia Eagles' 38-35 victory over the Detroit Lions – he contributed one of four rushing scores – but the QB connected with A.J. Brown for 155 yards on 10 catches. Marquee offseason trade signing Brown had 128 receiving yards before half-time, the most in the first half of a team debut by any non-rookie since at least 1991.

The first week of the 2022 NFL season is here, with all the possibilities a new campaign brings.

Things kicked off on Thursday with the Buffalo Bills beating the Los Angeles Rams 31-10 thanks to a starring role from quarterback Josh Allen, who threw three touchdowns against the defending champions.

There are even more enticing games to look forward to over the weekend, with last season's Super Bowl runners up the Cincinnati Bengals hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers, Patrick Mahomes and the much-fancied Kansas City Chiefs facing Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals, and it will be Aaron Rodgers v Kirk Cousins as the Green Bay Packers go to the Minnesota Vikings.

Stats Perform dives head first into Opta data to preview those games and more of the opening weekend of NFL action.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have won their last three games against the Steelers (27-17 in December 2020, 24-10 and 41-10 last season). It is the Bengals' longest winning streak versus the Steelers since they won six consecutive games from 1988 through 1990.

Mitch Trubisky will be the first quarterback other than Ben Roethlisberger to start a season opener for the Steelers since Dennis Dixon in 2010 (Roethlisberger was suspended). Trubisky is 1-2 in season openers, losing to the Packers twice and beating the Detroit Lions (all when he was with the Chicago Bears).

The Bengals played a league-high seven games decided by exactly three points during the 2021 regular season (won three, lost four), the highest single-season total by an NFL team since the 2012 Steelers (seven). Three of Cincinnati's four postseason games were also decided by exactly three points, including the 23-20 Super Bowl loss to the Rams.

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow completed 67 of 85 passes for 971 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions over his final two games in the 2021 regular season (Week 16 against the Ravens, Week 17 against the Chiefs). Burrow's passing yardage is the second-highest two-game total by one player in NFL history, trailing only Dak Prescott's 974 passing yards over a two-game span in 2020.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Arizona Cardinals

The Chiefs have won their division in six consecutive seasons, which is three more than the next longest active streak (Green Bay). Only two teams in NFL history have had longer streaks (New England - 11, 2009-2019 and LA Rams - seven, 1973-1979).

Patrick Mahomes has won 50 of his 63 career starts as Kansas City's quarterback. The only QB in the Super Bowl era to reach 50 wins in fewer career starts than Mahomes was Kenny Stabler, who earned his 50th win in his 62nd start.

Arizona scored 30 or more points in nine different games in 2022, tied for the most in a single season in team history. Since a 56-14 win over the Vikings in Week 4 of 1963, the Cardinals have gone 903 games without scoring 50 points, which is the longest streak in NFL history (Broncos, 761 straight games from 1963-2013).

Cardinals QB Kyler Murray will not want to be upstaged by Mahomes, and is the only player in NFL history to have at least 70 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing touchdowns in the first three seasons of his NFL career.

Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings

In their 22 road games against the Vikings this century, Green Bay has scored 30 or more points in 10 of them. That is tied for most 30-point games by an NFL team at a single opponent in that time with the Patriots at the Bills.

No NFL head coach has won more games over his first three NFL seasons than Matt LaFleur (39; George Seifert had 38). A win Sunday would make LaFleur the third coach in NFL history with 40 wins through 50 career games as head coach, joining Paul Brown (41) and Chuck Knox (40).

Kirk Cousins has thrown for at least 3500 yards and 25 TDs in seven consecutive seasons, the longest active streak in the NFL. He is the fifth QB in NFL history to have more than five straight, joining Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady.

Since becoming Green Bay's starter in 2008, Aaron Rodgers has thrown 169 TDs against division opponents, compared to 25 interceptions. The Vikings have a total of 121 passing touchdowns and 73 interceptions against the NFC North in that span.


When Carolina host Cleveland, with Baker Mayfield starting for the Panthers and Myles Garrett starting for the Browns, they will become the second pair of number one overall draft picks for the same team to go on to play against one another. The others were Jeff George and Steve Emtman in 1995.

The Eagles head to the Lions, with no team targeting their receivers less frequently than Philadelphia last season (239 targets), which led to the acquisition of A.J. Brown. The fourth-year WR has scored a TD on 13.0 percent of his career catches, third-highest rate among active players (min. 150 receptions).

The New Orleans Saints will need to beware of Foye Oluokun, who led the NFL last season with 192 total tackles, becoming the first Atlanta Falcon to lead the league in that category since Jessie Tuggle in 1995 (152). Oluokun's 192 total tackles were the most in a season by an NFL player since Chris Spielman had 195 in 1994 for the Lions.

Tom Brady is back for Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a very brief retirement as they travel to the Dallas Cowboys. The 45-year-old's last two seasons mark the first time in NFL history a QB has had 40 or more TD passes and a passer rating of 100.0 or better in back-to-back seasons.

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.

Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald has drawn a line under his part in last Thursday's practice brawl against the Cincinnati Bengals, stating "what matters" is that he is ready for the season opener against the Buffalo Bills.

The defensive tackle was caught on camera in footage from a joint practice session between last season's Super Bowl finalists swinging a Bengals helmet as a weapon on August 25.

No ban has been handed down to him for his part in the fight, while Donald stated he did not wish to rehash the subject in an appearance on the AP Pro Football Podcast last week.

Speaking to media ahead of the NFL curtain-raiser against the Bills, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year reiterated his stance, while pointing out that nobody was injured in the incident.

"My main focus is Buffalo right now," Donald said. "I'm happy nobody got hurt in the practice and whatever, but my main focus is Thursday night against Buffalo.

"Everybody protected each other, everybody got out of the situation clean [and] healthy. So that's what matters. [I'm] ready for Week 1."

Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris meanwhile further added that the team treated the incident as a serious matter, but suggested it was an "error" of judgement more than an intentionally malicious move.

"You don't want to swing a helmet ever just at anybody in general, but there have been some helmets ripped off at times," he added.

"You never ever want to do those things. You don't want to have that on your resume.

"But at the same time, those things happen in practices. They're mistakes. They're errors and they're correctable when they happen at these times."

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald has downplayed a brawl in their Thursday practice against the Cincinnati Bengals where he was seen swinging a Bengals helmet as a weapon.

Footage emerged of the incident from the practice session between last season's Super Bowl teams with three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Donald at the center of it.

The situation led to calls for a suspension, but clubs, and not the league, are responsible for overseeing the players' conduct in practice, with no ban transpiring since.

Rams coach Sean McVay played down the significance of the fracas later in the day and Donald reiterated that on Wednesday.

"It was just a practice. It was football," Donald told AP Pro Football Podcast.

"I don't really want to go back to nothing negative that happened and talk about something that happened in a practice. My main focus is Buffalo."

Donald indicated he had addressed the incident with McVay and teammates but would not be drawn on it further.

The Rams start the new NFL season against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night.

A joint training session between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals was ended early on Thursday after multiple fights broke out.

Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald reportedly swung Bengals helmets amid one of the skirmishes, with pictures circulating on social media putting the spotlight upon the 31-year-old, leading to calls for a suspension.

In training sessions, clubs, and not the league, are responsible for overseeing the players' conduct in practice and a suspension would therefore be unlikely, though there could be disciplinary action.

The teams elected to end their joint practice session early and Rams coach Sean McVay played down the significance of the fracas later in the day.

"I just see guys swinging and some guys have helmets on, some don't. There's a scrum. You just never know what can occur," he said.

"And my biggest concern is just unnecessary injuries for people that we're counting on, whether it's for our team or the other team."

Bengals coach Zac Taylor made it clear the premature end to the session was not a major loss, with just a few snaps remaining.

"We just called it. We were in the last [practice] period. We got two really good days of work. So was it worth getting the extra couple of plays? No. So we called it," he explained.

The two teams will meet in their final pre-season match on Saturday.

The competition for the Carolina Panthers' starting quarterback job for the season opener is complete. 

Baker Mayfield will start in Week 1 when the Panthers host his former team – the Cleveland Browns – on September 11. 

"When we started this process, we were looking at three things," Carolina coach Matt Rhule said on Monday. "Number one, mastery of the offense, number two, situational football excellence, and number three, moving the ball and getting guys involved. That's been our focus all along. 

"Baker has made a lot of improvement, a lot of growth in all three areas in a short amount of time."

Mayfield and Sam Darnold had been battling for the starting job since the Panthers acquired Mayfield in a trade with the Browns in July. 

"All along, we've felt like we need to have a really strong quarterback room, and have every quarterback ready to play," Rhule said. "The reality of this league is most teams will play multiple quarterbacks. Sam has worked incredibly hard, played really well for us during training camp, and will be ready to go if and when it's needed."

Rhule was not ready to name a starting QB after the Panthers’ 20-10 loss to the New England Patriots on Friday – a game in which neither Mayfield nor Darnold played – but with rookie third-round draft pick Matt Corral suffering a Lisfranc ligament tear in his foot in that game and the season opener now less than three weeks away, he is ready to give Mayfield the opportunity to lead the offense in Week 1. 

"Like I said all along, when we know we know," Rhule said on Friday, "And we’ll announce something when it’s right."

Rhule did not say anything about the starting job being Mayfield’s all season, so it’s certainly possible Darnold could take over if the 27-year-old struggles or the losses pile up and the team needs a spark. 

The two signal-callers will be forever linked as the top two quarterbacks taken in the 2018 draft, with Mayfield going first overall to the Browns and Darnold being chosen third by the New York Jets. 

Mayfield started 59 games in his four seasons in Cleveland and helped lead the Browns to their first playoff victory since the 1994 season in 2020. 

He battled injuries in 2021, however, and his production on the field dipped as he posted an 83.1 passer rating – fourth lowest among the 30 QBs with at least 350 pass attempts – as Cleveland struggled to an 8-9 record, prompting the team to pursue Deshaun Watson in the trade market. 

Darnold spent three seasons with the Jets before being traded to the Panthers for draft picks last April. He won his first three starts with Carolina last season before finishing 4-7 with nine touchdown passes and 13 interceptions and a 71.9 QB rating – one spot worse than Mayfield. 

New York Giants rookie edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux left Sunday night’s 25-22 preseason win against the Cincinnati Bengals in the second quarter after apearing to suffer a knee injury when a blocker took out his legs.

Thibodeaux, the fifth overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, was hurt on a cut block from Bengals tight end Thaddeus Moss on a running play early in the second quarter. The 21-year-old was able to walk off the field under his own power and to the team’s sideline medical tent before being taken to the locker room.

The Giants later announced Thibodeaux would not return to the game, though Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reports the team’s initial belief is that he avoided a major injury. After the game when walking through the tunnels, Thibodeaux responded to reporters saying "I'm good... good news".

New York selected Thibodeaux with the first of two top-10 choices in this year’s draft following a standout three-year career at Oregon. The six-foot-five, 258-pound edge rusher amassed 19 sacks in 32 games for the Ducks, earned 2019 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honours and was a unanimous All-American in 2021.

Thibodeaux has been running with the first-team defense during training camp and is being counted on to boost a unit that tied for 22nd in the NFL with 34 sacks last season.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has revealed his appendectomy last month was more serious than first thought after his appendix ruptured.

Burrow returned to training on Sunday after undergoing an appendectomy on July 26, giving him four weeks to build up before the Bengals' NFL season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 11.

The 25-year-old quarterback, who was due to return to team drills on Wednesday, revealed the extent of the issue when addressing a press conference for the first time since the surgery.

"It wasn't normal appendicitis that you hear about," Burrow said.

"I didn't really feel much. Just getting checked out and had some discomfort so we thought we'd get it checked out.

"Turns out I had it, so we had to get it fixed. Not ideal timing obviously but glad to have it now than halfway through the year."

Burrow was sidelined longer than most players for an appendectomy which typically means only missing a few days.

The Bengals are confident the 2020 NFL Draft top pick will be fit and healthy to face the Steelers but Burrow said there was plenty of work to do to ramp up, having lost weight in hospital.

"When they cut into you and do all that stuff your core is going to lose some muscle and some strength just getting that back," said Burrow, whose 2020 and 2021 preseasons were interrupted by COVID-19 and knee surgery respectively.

"I'd like to have a normal offseason at some point. That would be great. Going into the season feeling as good as I can, but that hasn't been the reality for three years."

Burrow, however, is not expecting to play in the Bengals' preseason.

"I think it will be OK," Burrow said. "We have a good plan as far as nutrition and weight room and all that stuff.

"I feel good right now and just going to keep feeling better."

Four weeks to the day before the Cincinnati Bengals open their 2022 season, Joe Burrow was back on the practice field for the first time since undergoing surgery to remove his appendix 2 and a half weeks ago.

It's uncertain how much work Burrow did during Sunday morning's walkthrough, though the 25-year-old quarterback returned from the practice field in his jersey while carrying his helmet.

Prior to the Bengals' Sunday afternoon practice, the team tweeted out a short video of Burrow in shoulder pads and a practice jersey to tease fans of his return.

A return to the practice field appeared imminent after he took part in some pre-game sprints ahead of the Bengals' preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals on Friday night.

Sidelined since his appendectomy on July 26, Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor had just said last week Burrow was feeling better but didn’t want to put a timetable on when he would return.

The Bengals open the season on September 11 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the team has always indicated Burrow would be healthy enough to start the opener.

After a knee injury cut short his 2020 rookie season, Burrow is coming off a sensational 2021, in which he led the Bengals to their first Super Bowl appearance since the 1988 season, while ranking second in passer rating (108.3), sixth in passing yards (4,611) and eighth in touchdown passes (34).

He's baaaaack

— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) August 14, 2022
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