The Tennessee Titans' 2021 hopes took a further hit on Saturday when the team placed wide receiver A.J. Brown on injured reserve.

The Titans are the top seeds in the AFC heading into Sunday's big game against the New England Patriots, but they are missing a host of key men on offense.

Superstar running back Derrick Henry suffered a Jones fracture in Week 8, having tallied 937 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns to that point – the best start to a season in his career.

Julio Jones then followed Henry onto the IR less than two weeks later due to the hamstring problem that had hampered both the start of his Titans career and his last year with the Atlanta Falcons.

Tennessee still managed to extend their winning run to six games until it was halted in dismal fashion against the struggling Houston Texans last time out.

And Brown, who had 11 receiving TDs in 2020 in his second straight 1,000-yard season, suffered a chest injury in that game that will now keep him out of at least the next three.

This development represents a further blow to quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was erratic against the Texans, throwing for 323 passing yards and a touchdown after tying his career-high 35 completions but also tossing four interceptions from five pickable passes.

Rookie Dez Fitzpatrick is likely to get his chance against the Patriots, although Golden Tate is on the practice squad and could earn a promotion after Tennessee's Week 13 bye.

The 8-3 Titans have already failed to replace a key piece with one big-name veteran, however, with Adrian Peterson lasting just three games after Henry's designation before he was waived.

The New England Patriots are the form team in the NFL right now after winning five-in-a-row, but will have the AFC-leading Tennessee Titans to contend with on Sunday.

The last time the two teams met was in the wild card round of the 2019 playoffs, where Tennessee beat New England 20-13 in Tom Brady's last game as a Patriot.

Brady of course now leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the 2021 Super Bowl champions also have a tricky contest in week 12 as they travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts.

The Green Bay Packers will be looking to shake off their heartbreakingly narrow loss to the Minnesota Vikings last time out as they host the Los Angeles Rams at Lambeau Field.

 

Tennessee Titans (8-3) @ New England Patriots (7-4)

The Patriots beat Atlanta in week 11, 25-0, for their fifth consecutive win, and the longest active streak in the NFL. Bill Belichick's team are the only one this season to win five straight games by a total of more than 100 points (+125, 175 points for and 50 points against during the streak).

Tennessee lost to Houston in week 11 (22-13), snapping a six-game winning streak for the Titans. Their 103 rushing yards were the most since they lost Derrick Henry to knee surgery in week 8.

Ryan Tannehill threw 52 passes for 35 completions against Houston, the second most attempts of his career (58 in week 12 of 2015) and tied for his career high in completions (also 35 in week 16 of 2014).

Including the playoffs, New England are 7-3 against Tennessee over the last 20 years.

Nick Folk went a perfect 4-for-4 on field goals in the Patriots victory over the Falcons. It was his fourth game this season kicking at least four field goals and making them all, the most in the NFL (Zane Gonzalez of the Carolina Panthers is second most with two such games).  

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3) @ Indianapolis Colts (6-5)

The Buccaneers and Colts have met just seven times when playing in Indianapolis, with Tampa Bay winning only twice. Tampa's last win there came during week 10 of the 1997 season.

Tampa Bay beat the Giants 30-10 in week 11, breaking a two-game losing streak. They have lost back-to-back games just twice in the last two seasons and have not lost three in a row since Tom Brady arrived. Their 10 points allowed were the second fewest allowed all season after holding Chicago to three points in week seven.

Brady found Mike Evans for a five-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter of last week's victory. Their 10 combined touchdowns are tied for the most between any passer and receiver this season with LA Rams' duo Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp.

The Colts beat the Bills last week (41-25) for their third-straight-win and longest win streak of the season. Their 26-point differential was the second-largest victory of the season for the Colts, only behind their 31-3 victory over the Texans in week six.

Colts quarterback Carson Wentz was 11-for-20 with 106 passing yards in their victory over the Bills. That is the lowest number of passing yards he has ever thrown for in a game when having at least 20 pass attempts.

Los Angeles Rams (7-3) @ Green Bay Packers (8-3)

These two last faced off in the divisional round of the playoffs in January, with the Packers winning 32-18 at Lambeau Field. After 96 games in the all-time series (including the playoffs), the teams are separated by just six points, with the Rams having scored 2204 points to Green Bay's 2198.

The Rams have lost two straight after a 31-10 defeat to San Francisco in week 10, having lost to Tennessee 28-16 the week prior. It is the first time the team has lost consecutive games with both being by double digits since Sean McVay became head coach in 2017.

Matthew Stafford has thrown for more interceptions than touchdowns in consecutive games after not doing so in any of his first eight games with the Rams. Stafford had 31 such games in his 12 seasons with Detroit.

Green Bay fell to Minnesota in a dramatic 34-31 loss last week, despite converting seven of 11 third-down attempts (63.6 per cent). It was the highest third-down conversion percentage for the Packers in a loss since week two of the 2005 season when they lost 26-24 to Cleveland while converting 10-of-14 third downs.

Aaron Rodgers threw for a season-high 385 yards to go with four touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Vikings. It was the fourth time Rodgers has thrown for 375 or more yards, four or more touchdowns and no interceptions in the same game, which is three more times than any other Packer QB.

Elsewhere...

The number one pick of the 2021 draft Trevor Lawrence will be hoping to fare better against the Atlanta Falcons (4-6) after going three straight starts without throwing a touchdown for the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8). He is one of two quarterbacks to go three-straight-starts without a passing TD this year, along with the Carolina Panthers' Sam Darnold.

The Minnesota Vikings (5-5) are the only NFL team that has had every game decided by fewer than 14 points this season. Minnesota will tie a single-season team record for most consecutive games (11) decided by 13 or fewer points with another such game on Sunday when they travel to the San Francisco 49ers (5-5).

The Denver Broncos (5-5) will be looking to keep a lid on LA Chargers (6-4) QB Austin Ekeler, who scored four touchdowns against Pittsburgh last week, two on the ground and two in the air. He is the only active player with multiple rushing and receiving TDs in a game and the first player to do so since Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew in 2011 against Tampa Bay. 

The Cleveland Browns (6-5) head into their clash against the Baltimore Ravens (7-3) coming off a 13-10 win over Detroit, their fourth win in the last two seasons when scoring 17 or fewer points. No other NFL team has more than two wins while scoring so few points since the beginning of last season. 

The neutral has plenty to be thankful for in this thrilling 2021 NFL season.

But all that drama, driven by a series of stunning against-the-odds upsets, can make life miserable for fantasy players, even at this celebratory time of year.

Want to maintain your cheer through another seemingly unpredictable slate of games this Thanksgiving week? Turn to Stats Perform for the below data-powered picks.

Quarterback: Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants

The Eagles head into Week 12 rejuvenated, having won three of their past four games to improve to 5-6 ahead of a big NFC East matchup. Those three wins have all had one thing in common: Philadelphia have exceeded 200 yards rushing.

This run-heavy approach – with a league-high 49.6 rush percentage – wisely plays to the strengths of quarterback Hurts, who had three rushing scores last week against the New Orleans Saints as he surpassed 50 yards on the ground for the fifth straight game.

That was Hurts' 15th QB start. He ranks second through 15 QB starts since 1950 for rushing touchdowns (11 – behind Cam Newton, 14) and second through 15 QB starts since 1960 for rushing yards (890 – behind Lamar Jackson, 1,193).

The Giants – reeling from a bad defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – have given up 4.38 yards per rush play, ranking a mediocre 19th, and have not yet played any of the six best offenses in that regard. The Eagles' offense (4.99 yards per rush), led by Hurts, sits third and will be eyeing further big gains.

Running back: Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Mixon is already enjoying a career year with nine rushing TDs, and the 2021 season might be about to get a whole lot better for the running back – and any fantasy players who can count on him – as the Bengals face an injury-ravaged Steelers defense.

Pittsburgh have now given up the most yards per rush play (4.76) after a tough two weeks in which their roster was hit by absences and it showed on the field. The winless Detroit Lions tallied 229 rushing yards and two TDs in their Week 10 tie, before the Los Angeles Chargers averaged 6.12 yards per rush as Austin Ekeler's two scores headlined a Week 11 win.

Mixon, who has rushing TDs in four straight games and last week ran for over 100 yards for the first time since Week 1, should get free rein against a Steelers defense that successfully disrupts the run on just 24.62 per cent of attempts.

Even if Pittsburgh can fix a problem that has persisted throughout the season and got worse of late, Mixon ranks 12th among running backs (min. 10 carries) with 3.74 yards per carry on disrupted runs.

Wide receiver: Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers vs. Minnesota Vikings

A significant shift towards a run-heavy approach – the 49ers averaged 25.6 rushes per game through Week 9 but 43.0 per game since – would be an issue for most wide receivers, but Samuel is not most wide receivers.

It is his versatility that has helped accommodate a change that has potentially brought San Francisco back into contention.

Samuel caught only one pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week but rushed for 79 yards and a TD in the absence of injured rookie Elijah Mitchell. The previous week, with Mitchell involved against the Los Angeles Rams, Samuel had rushing and receiving scores in the same game for the first time in his career.

With the Vikings' rush defense matching the Steelers' in giving up 4.76 yards per rush, expect Samuel and the Niners to run the ball again and do it well.

Tight end: Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Pitts is the sixth-most targeted tight end this season (69) but has the third-most receiving yards (635), boosted massively by 100-yard games against the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins either side of the Falcons' Week 6 bye.

The schedule slowed that momentum somewhat – Atlanta were held to three points across defeats to the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots – but a trip to Jacksonville gives Pitts the opportunity to put his name up in lights once again.

The Jaguars have given up 7.20 yards per pass play in 2021, meaning this is unlikely to be the defense to keep Pitts in check. He has got open on 34.41 per cent of his 93 matchups, up on the tight end average of 18.10 per cent.

Defense: New England Patriots vs. Tennessee Titans

The Titans head into this week as the top seed in the AFC, but the Patriots may well take that spot from them over the next two weeks, hosting Tennessee before going to the Buffalo Bills in Monday Night Football.

While Mac Jones is enjoying a fine rookie year at QB, it will be New England's defense that puts them in contention, having given up only 5.07 yards per play while securing 21 total takeaways – ranking third in both regards.

And the Pats will expect to dominate the Titans, whose injury list has only grown since Derrick Henry went down. A.J. Brown is the latest offensive weapon to be unhealthy, while Julio Jones is not expected back for another two weeks.

These problems contributed to a woeful defeat to the Houston Texans last time out, when Ryan Tannehill threw four picks. Elsewhere in Week 10, New England caught four interceptions against the Falcons.

The NFL is a passing league. If a team has a quarterback who can elevate those around him and an offensive line that can protect him, chances are they will be well-positioned to contend for the playoffs.

Though the elite quarterbacks in the league can fit the ball into tight windows on a consistent basis, the odds of success on that side of the ball are much higher when those signal-callers are paired with receivers who can defeat man coverage and get into open space.

Excelling at finding the soft spot in zone coverage is also important, while the top play-callers in the NFL frequently engineer space for their receivers.

Yet receivers who can win one-on-one are a tremendous help to quarterbacks, especially those who can defeat the blitz regularly with their ability to efficiently read the field and find the open man.

While determining the 'best' receiver in the NFL is a subjective process that can hinge on an affinity for certain styles of play, success in beating defenders in coverage can be quantified.

Stats Perform has done so with its open percentage metric, which tracks how often a receiver gets open when they're matched up against man coverage and have enough time to run a route. Plays that break down before a matchup with a defender can take place or scramble drills where a receiver uncovers after running his initial route are discounted.

So who are the best and worst in that regard? Here we look at the top performers, some surprise names uncovering more often than perhaps expected and those who rarely separate from defenders.

THE ELITE

A year in which Cooper Kupp leads the NFL with 1,141 receiving yards has seen him established as arguably the premier route runner in the NFL.

That is reflected by his open percentage of 57.75, which is the highest of any player with more than 10 coverage matchups.

Getting open on 41 of his 71 matchups, Kupp has consistently excelled at creating separation. His burn percentage, which measures how often a receiver wins his matchup with a defender when he's targeted, of 65.2 is above the average of 60.3 for wideouts (min. 10 targets), while he is fourth in the NFL in burn yards per route (4.2).

Joining Kupp near the top of the tree is Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings. Proving his record-breaking rookie year was no fluke, Jefferson has faced 108 coverage matchups and got open on 55 of them, good for an open percentage of 50.93. 

Eleventh among receivers with a burn percentage of 73.4 and averaging 3.3 burn yards per route, there has been no sign of a sophomore slump from Jefferson, whose combination of separation ability and prowess at the catch point has turned him into one of the most dependable and dynamic receivers in the league.

Keenan Allen (53.16) is Kupp's closest challenger, the Los Angeles Chargers veteran underlining his status as one of the NFL's most underappreciated receivers by getting open at a rate that may only heighten frustrations around his team's underperforming offense.

Kansas City Chiefs star Tyreek Hill (47.78) boasts an elite open percentage that belies his underwhelming big play rate of 28.0 per cent, with Stefon Diggs' (47.62) success at getting open dispelling the notion of a drop-off from last year's receiving leader. Davante Adams (45.65) is unsurprisingly also among the league's best, yet he is accompanied by some eyebrow-raising names.

SURPRISE STUDS

It has been tough to watch an uninspired Pittsburgh Steelers offense this season and think anyone is getting open.

Almost every passing play the Steelers run seems to end in a contested catch, yet a wideout who thrives in those situations is also winning the vast majority of his coverage matchups.

Indeed, second-year wideout Chase Claypool ranks behind only Kupp and Allen in open percentage, uncovering from a defender on 35 of his 68 matchups (51.47). 

However, a burn yards per route rate of 2.5, just above the average of 2.3, and his struggles in the burn yards per target metric (10.30) indicate that, while Claypool is separating from coverage, he is not putting significant distance between himself and defenders. He will likely need to continue relying on his superiority at the catch point.

As with the Steelers, you won't find too many people who draw a sense of excitement watching a Teddy Bridgewater-led Denver Broncos offense.

There is no doubting the talent on Denver's attack. With Jerry Jeudy hurt and Noah Fant so far failing to take the second-year leap many expected, Courtland Sutton has shone brightest and is on course for a 1,000-yard season, though Tim Patrick's impact has been comparable.

Save for Kendall Hinton (47.83 on 23 matchups), it is the relatively unheralded Patrick who has proven Denver's best at separating, his open percentage of 44.44 from 90 matchups level with Dallas Cowboys star Amari Cooper.

A below-average burn yards per route of 2.0 speaks to a paucity of substantial separation, but Patrick is using the distance he is able to put between himself and defenders to create explosive plays, his big-play rate of 36.7 per cent comfortably above the average of 29.2.

Again leading tight ends in receiving yards (747), most would expect Travis Kelce of the Chiefs to top the list at that position for open percentage. Instead, it is a former AFC West standout in ex-Charger Hunter Henry.

Scoring seven touchdowns in as many games prior to being kept out of the endzone in Thursday's win over the Atlanta Falcons, Henry possesses an open percentage of 48.15. However, he has not been double-teamed this season.

Darren Waller has a double-team percentage of 17.2 and has still managed to get open 46.75 per cent of the time. The attention the Las Vegas Raiders star draws and his ability to succeed despite it illustrate his position as one of the league's biggest matchup nightmares and arguably the gold standard at tight end.

NO ROOM FOR MANOEUVRE

The Packers' offense has stuttered by its own high standards in recent weeks, with their underwhelming numbers not just a product of Jordan Love's struggles against the Chiefs.

Since Week 6, the Packers are averaging 213.2 net passing yards per game – 20th in the NFL. For the season, they are 16th in yards per pass play (6.46).

That mediocrity can, in part, be attributed to a lack of receiving depth beyond Adams, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling's issues getting open encapsulate that problem.

Valdes-Scantling is supposed to be the Packers' deep threat who can stretch defenses with his ability to separate vertically.

Open on only five of his 38 coverage matchups – a percentage of 13.16 – Valdes-Scantling is not fulfilling his role. The Packers will likely need to be more explosive in the playoffs if they are to go all the way, meaning Valdes-Scantling must up his game.

Bryan Edwards is in a similar situation in Las Vegas. Scarcely utilised last season, Edwards has seen a bump in targets in 2021, the Raiders often going to him downfield. 

Edwards' average depth of target is 17.2 yards, but he has found deep separation hard to come by, uncovering on 17 of his 111 matchups (15.32 per cent). Yet with a gaudy burn yards per target average of 15.01 and a big-play rate of 50.7 per cent that is third among receivers (min. 10 targets), Edwards is a player who takes full advantage of the little separation he gets when Derek Carr looks his way.

Edwards' former South Carolina team-mate San Francisco 49ers star Deebo Samuel is performing at the highest level of his young career. Samuel is second behind Kupp with 979 receiving yards and already has seven total touchdowns this season.

However, Samuel ranks near the bottom of the league in open percentage (15.07), with the difference between that number and his overall production a reflection of how he is used by San Francisco.

His average depth of target is 8.6 yards, below the NFL average for receivers of 11.0, speaking to the Niners' reliance on him on screens and short passes that are an extension of the run game.

Third in burn yards per route and leading all wide receivers with an average of 9.6 yards after catch per reception, Samuel takes advantage of those short targets with his speed, elusiveness and power, while he can win at the catch point downfield even without separation. The 49ers often get Samuel in space in the backfield but, for one of the league's most unique players, separation is not always a requirement.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick hailed his side's defense after their shutout 25-0 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday.

The Patriots improved to 7-4 across the season, extending their undefeated away run to five games, being one of two teams who remain unbeaten on the road.

New England also maintained their excellent defensive form, having allowed only 13 points in their past three games.

"I'm proud of the way our guys played on defense," Belichick said at the post-game news conference. "The coaching staff did a good job.

"I thought our defensive coaches really worked hard this week. It was a short week of preparation.

"[Falcons head coach] Arthur [Smith] is always giving us trouble, we had a lot of trouble with him at Tennessee. He gave us some problems tonight but fortunately we were able to get out of some of them one way or another.

"You've got to give the coaches and players a lot of credit. They did a good job."

The Patriots are second in the AFC East after winning their past five consecutive games, and defensive back Devin McCourty said they had discovered their "blueprint" but had to keep it up.

"We found our blueprint," McCourty told reporters. "It's hard work. It's putting in the hours practising hard. We can't let that slip up. End of November-December we have to stick to that.

"I think that's shown so far, when we stick that we have a chance to win a lot of games."

The New England Patriots continued their mastery of the Atlanta Falcons, riding a suffocating defensive performance to a 25-0 road win Thursday. 

It was the Patriots' fifth win in a row overall and seventh consecutive victory against the Falcons as New England (7-4) dominated the game despite scoring only one offensive touchdown. 

Mac Jones hit Nelson Agholor on a crossing route for a 19-yard TD early in the second quarter that gave New England a 10-0 lead, as the rookie quarterback again showed impressive efficiency in completing 22 of 26 passes for 207 yards. 

It was a different story for Atlanta's veteran quarterback Matt Ryan, who completed 19 of 28 passes for 153 yards and saw his team rush for just 40 more in another disastrous performance.

The Falcons' last four drives of the game ended interceptions, including Kyle Van Noy picking off backup QB Josh Rosen and returning it 35 yards for a touchdown with 1:23 remaining. 

Kicker Nick Folk accounted for the rest of New England's scoring with four field goals from as many attempts, while Younghoe Koo missed his only try for Atlanta. 

The Falcons (4-6) were shut out for the first time since a 38-0 loss at the Carolina Panthers in December 2015, and on the heels of their 43-3 defeat to the Dallas Cowboys in the previous game, they have been out-scored 89-6 since their most recent touchdown early in the fourth quarter of a 27-25 victory over the New Orleans Saints on November 7. 

 

The New England Patriots scored 45 unanswered points in their rout of the Cleveland Browns, but none were celebrated more enthusiastically than the six from Jakobi Meyers as his wait for a first career receiving touchdown was ended.

New England hammered the Browns' 45-7 to move to 6-4 on the year, sending a clear message to the rest of the AFC that they are legitimate postseason contenders.

It was Meyers who had the final say at Gillette Stadium, finally getting into the endzone on an 11-yard pass from Brian Hoyer after a superb performance from rookie quarterback Mac Jones had put the game well beyond doubt.

The score came in his 39th game and 135th reception for the Patriots, with Meyers' team-mates mobbing him as he registered the score his contributions to New England have long since merited. 

"I told him today, I was like, you're going to score before the game – I didn't know it was going to come from Hoyer. It was great. I was super excited," Jones told a media conference.

"We were out together and the ball [that he scored with] – I was so concerned about the ball. I was like, 'we've got to find the ball.' I guess they found it. That was good.

"But I think Jakobi is a great team-mate and he's a great team player and that's much deserved and he's going to get more. From here, hopefully we just keep stacking them up and there will be a bunch. He's a great team-mate, like I said, gets to the red zone, does his job, sometimes when he's not even getting the ball, he's in there knocking people down and just being really physical.

"We are really happy to be able to play together and hopefully we'll play together for a long time."

Asked about Jones being more eager than him to find the ball, Meyers replied: "That is a little bit weird, right? I thought so too. I was like, 'Man, I should probably do a little more to get his touchdown ball', now that I think about it.

"Honestly, the fact that everybody celebrated with me means more than the touchdown. I feel like it says a lot about your team-mates and what they think of you, and just the fact that they were all there. I know they've been waiting on that, they've been real patient."

Jones threw just four incomplete passes in one of the best displays of his young career, which saw him finish with 198 yards and three touchdowns.

"Mac always looks poised. I don't know what it is. He's just driven in different ways, wired a different way," receiver Kendrick Bourne said of Jones.

"He's just relaxed and I think that's how we all need to play. He's not thinking about the next play. He's not thinking about the last play. He's thinking about the current play.

"That mindset can take you far in this league when you have that kind of mindset. I think he has it. It's easy to dwell on the past. It's easy to get caught up on what's ahead and what's coming. He's good at just being in the moment and fixing what he's got going on right there."

The New England Patriots and the Cleveland Browns head into week 10 off the back of impressive wins as both look to further improve their playoff chances when they face each other on Sunday.

Bill Belichick, who was the Browns' head coach from 1991 to 1995, has a 7-2 record against Cleveland since he became the Patriots' head coach in 2000, including winning all five home games against them.

The Arizona Cardinals boast the outright best record in the NFL right now at 8-1 after beating the San Francisco 49ers, and welcome the Panthers to State Farm Stadium as they seek to make it nine wins out of 10.

There has been a lot of talk about form, or lack thereof, when it comes to star quarterback Patrick Mahomes but he will be betting on himself to silence the critics as his Kansas City Chiefs make the trip to Las Vegas.

 

Cleveland Browns (5-4) @ New England Patriots (5-4)

The Patriots moved to 5-4 after a 24-6 win at the Panthers last week, while the Browns have an identical record following their emphatic 41-16 victory against the Bengals.

The Browns' 25-point margin of victory was their second largest in any game since the Cleveland franchise was revived in 1999. The Browns' biggest winning margin over the past 23 seasons was 38 points, in a 44-6 rout of the Cardinals in 2003.

Running back Nick Chubb has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of his past three road games for the Browns. Jim Brown is the only other player in the franchise's history with three consecutive 100-yard rushing games on the road in one season, although he managed that feat three times (1961, 1963 and 1964).

The Patriots won their last home game 54-13 against the Jets in Week 7 after losing their first four at Gillette Stadium this season. The 41-point margin of victory was the Patriots' largest in a home game since 2010, when they beat the Jets 45-3.

Baker Mayfield will have to keep an eye out for J.C. Jackson, who made two interceptions in the Patriots' game at Carolina, including an 88-yard touchdown return. Jackson has a league-high total of 22 interceptions in his four seasons in the NFL.

Carolina Panthers (4-5) @ Arizona Cardinals (8-1)

The Cardinals will go into this one as heavy favourites but the Panthers have actually won their previous five meetings, including in the 2015 Wild Card and 2016 NFC Championship games.

After throwing three interceptions last week against the Patriots, Carolina have now turned the ball over in six consecutive games. The only team with a longer active streak of games with a turnover is the New York Jets (nine games, going back to last season).

However, with Sam Darnold out for the next few weeks with a shoulder injury, the Panthers are expected to start P.J. Walker at quarterback, despite Thursday's announcement that Cam Newton has re-signed with the franchise.

Walker has previously started just one game for Carolina, which was a 20-0 win over Detroit in Week 11 last season where he completed 24 of 34 passes (70.6 per cent). The only other Panthers QB to have their first start with the team and complete a higher percentage of their passes was Steve Beuerlein in 1996 (71 percent).

The Cardinals' victory over the 49ers was the third time this season they have gone on the road and gained 350+ yards without turning the ball over. Over the past 70 years, the Cardinals have never had more than two such road games in any season.

Arizona have completed 73.9 percent of passes this season. No team in the Super Bowl era has ever held a completion percentage that high over the course of an entire season, with the 2018 Saints coming the closest (73.4 percent). 

Kansas City Chiefs (5-4) @ Las Vegas Raiders (5-3)

All eyes will be on Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who finished with 166 passing yards in last week's 13-7 win against the Green Bay Packers, the second-lowest total in his career. Interestingly, Kansas City are 6-0 when Mahomes has thrown for 200 yards or fewer.

Since 2013, the Chiefs are 13-3 against the Raiders. Two of the losses were on the road (2014 and 2017), and one came at home last season.

The Chiefs home victory against the Packers last week saw their fewest points in a win since a 10-3 success over San Diego in 2015. Having allowed an average of 32.6 points against in their first five games (2-3), they have averaged just 16 points against in their previous four (3-1).

The Raiders lost to the New York Giants 23-16 on the road last week. They have lost all three games in which they have managed fewer than 20 points this season.

Raiders QB Derek Carr threw one touchdown pass and two interceptions last week. It was his first game with more interceptions than touchdown passes since Week 13 of the 2019 season, which was a 40-9 loss in Kansas City.

 

Elsewhere...

The Green Bay Packers (7-2) will be hoping to get back on track against Seattle (3-5) after a rare defeat last time out and will be confident of doing so having won nine straight home games against the Seahawks dating back to 2003 (including playoffs). It is the Packers' longest home winning streak against any opponent since 24 straight against the Lions (1992 to 2014). The Hawks' last win in Green Bay was in 1999.

The Los Angeles Chargers (5-3) will be hoping for another big performance from quarterback Justin Herbert when they host the Minnesota Vikings (3-5). Herbert tallied 356 passing yards in last week's 27-24 win against the Eagles, going 32-for-38 (84.2 percent). It was the highest completion percentage all-time by any Chargers QB to throw for at least 350 yards.

The Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) picked up a shock 9-6 win against the Buffalo Bills last week but may need to score more points against the Indianapolis Colts (4-5) if they want to succeed again. Last week's victory was the first time since the beginning of last season that a team was held under 10 points in a game and still won. Teams are now 1-59 in the past two seasons when scoring single digits.

After a bye week to clear their heads, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2) will be looking to bounce back from their 36-27 defeat in New Orleans as they travel to Washington (2-6). Since Tom Brady joined the Buccaneers in 2020, Tampa Bay are 5-1 following a loss.

Baker Mayfield threw a 60-yard touchdown to Donovan Peoples-Jones as the Cleveland Browns won without Odell Beckham Jr in Week 9, although Joe Burrow contributed to the Cincinnati Bengals' 41-16 defeat.

The Browns made the short trip to Cincinnati with Peoples-Jones back from a groin injury and in the lineup after fellow receiver Beckham was released at the end of a week that began with his father criticising quarterback Mayfield.

Beckham had underwhelmed this year since his return to fitness and his absence certainly was not felt on Sunday as Cleveland moved to 5-4 in a big AFC North matchup.

Before Mayfield came to the fore, though, Burrow endured a miserable start. Moments after a penalty reprieve when he was sacked on third and goal, the Bengals QB threw straight to Browns cornerback Denzel Ward on the goal line, covering Ja'Marr Chase and racing away for a 99-yard defensive TD.

Joe Mixon replied with the first of his two rushing scores, but Nick Chubb battled through contact to finish Cleveland's first drive with a TD, which Peoples-Jones added to as he caught Mayfield's first target to a wideout.

Long scores were the name of the day for the Browns, as Chubb's second saw him go 70 yards to score in the third quarter.

Burrow, who had scored three TDs in each of his previous three games, tying a Bengals record, was then picked off again throwing to Chase – this time by John Johnson III. Chase had earlier fumbled for a turnover of his own on a miserable day for two of Cincinnati's offensive stars.

Mayfield finished with 218 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions on 14-of-21 passing. His second TD pass to David Njoku was set up by another throw to Peoples-Jones, who had 86 yards on just two catches.

Big upsets for Boys and Bills

The Dallas Cowboys had not lost since Week 1 but have a miserable record against the Denver Broncos, who had won the teams' past six meetings – their best ever run against a single opponent and the Cowboys' worst such streak. And six became seven as the Broncos won 30-16 in Dallas, holding their hosts scoreless until the fourth quarter despite Dak Prescott's return.

The Buffalo Bills also suffered a shock defeat as they went down 9-6 to the Jacksonville Jaguars in a game of zero touchdowns. Jaguars defensive end Josh Allen picked, sacked and recovered a fumble from his namesake, Bills QB Josh Allen.

However, the Baltimore Ravens survived a scare, as Lamar Jackson led them back from 17-3 down to make overtime, where Justin Tucker clinched a 34-31 win. Jackson is now 12-0 as a starter against NFC opponents.

Darnold spooked again

Sam Darnold said he was "seeing ghosts" when he threw four interceptions for the New York Jets against the New England Patriots in 2019, and Bill Belichick's defense has continued to spook the quarterback. He had three picks with the Carolina Panthers on Sunday and now has nine in just four career starts against New England, all four of which the Pats have won.

New England are hot on the heels of the Bills now, while AFC East rivals the Miami Dolphins snapped their seven-game losing run against the Houston Texans despite Tua Tagovailoa sitting out with a finger issue.

The Carolina Panthers activated star running back Christian McCaffrey from injured reserve, the NFL franchise announced on Saturday.

McCaffrey has missed five games, sidelined since Week 3 due to a hamstring injury.

The 2019 first-team All-Pro, who was designated to return earlier this week, is eligible for Sunday's showdown with the New England Patriots.

However, McCaffrey is no guarantee to play as the Panthers prepare to evaluate the 25-year-old on the day of the game.

McCaffrey has 201 yards and a touchdown in three appearances for the Panthers (4-4) this season.

Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold was also cleared from concussion protocol, though he continues to deal with a shoulder injury.

The Panthers are 4-2 in six regular-season games against the Patriots (including wins in the last two games, in 2013 and 2017), but New England beat Carolina 32-29 in Super Bowl XXXVIII (February 2004) – the only postseason game between these teams.

Carolina had 47 rushing attempts (for 203 yards) in their win against the Atlanta Falcons last week. It was the fourth-highest single-game total in Panthers history and their highest since 2009, per Stats Perform.

Darnold has lost each of his three career starts against the Patriots (one in each of the past three seasons), all with the New York Jets. The aggregate score for those three games is 99-17. He threw six interceptions with one touchdown pass in those games.

Adrian Phillips enjoyed the sweet taste of victory on Sunday, as he took the chance to "stick it" to his former team in the New England Patriots' win at the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Patriots moved to 4-4 on the season with a 27-24 triumph at SoFi Stadium, with ex-Chargers safety Phillips making a decisive impact.

Phillips intercepted two Justin Herbert passes, his second pick returned for a touchdown that effectively served as the telling blow by putting the Patriots 27-17 to the good late in the fourth quarter.

"Everybody always wants to kind of stick to their former team, and this is a great organisation that we played against today," said Phillips.

"Just to be able to go out there and play against them and end up having the game that I had, it was sweet. I loved it.

"Great teams win the close games. And we need to keep stringing these along."

Herbert's pick-six came on an apparent mix-up between himself and tight end Jared Cook, with last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year taking the blame after the Chargers dropped their second successive game to fall to 4-3.

"Just a miscommunication [between him and Cook]. I've got to be smarter about that," said Herbert, who will hope to help the Chargers avoid a third straight defeat against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 9.

"I've got to move on to the next read. But that's one of those plays you'll have to watch and get better from and as tough as it is, you're gonna have to get better from it.

"That is one of the good things about film tomorrow. It is going to sting for a while, but it is on to the next week and we have got another tough competitor next Sunday, so we are going to watch film and get better from it."

 

SoFi Stadium will play host to Super Bowl LVI in February and, as the NFL season enters its eighth week, both teams that call it home have a chance of competing on the grandest stage in North American sport for the chance to lift the Lombardi Trophy.

However, it would be fair to still have doubts around the Chargers after they slumped to a 34-6 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6.

The Chargers have had a bye week to stew and try to wash off the stink of a performance they will be all too eager to forget; however, getting back on track may not be straightforward.

Indeed, the Chargers on Sunday host a 3-4 New England Patriots team who have lost three of their games by one score.

The Patriots rank 11th in Stats Perform's efficiency versus expected (EVE) metric, which looks at down, distance, yards from goal, quarter, time remaining, and score difference and uses those six factors to train a model to predict yardage output for any game situation. From there, the projected yards are compared to the actual yards gained or prevented in those situations.

That is eight spots higher than the Chargers, indicating that the Patriots have performed at a more efficient level than Los Angeles this season and should provide a stern test of their Super Bowl credentials.

It is easy to pin this game as a battle between last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert and arguably the best first-year quarterback from this year's crop, Mac Jones.

But to do so ignores the several other factors that may decide this intriguing AFC clash.

Harris to make hay on the ground

In part reflective of the Patriots having played an extra game and having claimed two blowout wins over the New York Jets, who entered the week 31st in EVE, the difference between the Chargers and New England in offensive yards per play is negligible.

The Chargers are 16th in yards per play with 5.71 while the Patriots are 18th with 5.70.

Success for the Patriots on offense has often come as a result of the play of running back Damien Harris.

Harris is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games, rushing for three touchdowns across their overtime defeat to the Dallas Cowboys and a second win over the Jets.

Among running backs with at least 25 carries, Harris is 10th with an average of 2.26 yards after contact per attempt, running behind an offensive line that, per Stats Perform data, is 27th in run block win percentage. 

In other words, he is overcoming disappointing blocking and performing very efficiently, and this week he gets to face defense that is 29th in the NFL in run disruption rank. 

The Chargers are giving up 5.45 yards per rush, the most in the NFL, and if the Patriots are to keep up with an explosive Los Angeles offense, Harris will likely play a key role.

The Patriots' secondary struggles

Having conceded to being undone by the Ravens' defense and their use of disguise two weeks ago, Herbert faces another vaunted defensive schemer in Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

New England's defense entered Week 8 ranked eighth in yards allowed under expectation; however, their depleted secondary is vulnerable.

The Patriots are 15th in pass yards allowed under expectation and have given up 77 passes of 10 yards or more, the seventh most in the league.

Herbert's passer rating on throws of 21 or more air yards of 114.8 is eighth among quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts of such distance.

And, with Mike Williams having already racked up eight receptions of 20 yards or more, the Chargers have a receiver who can consistently deliver the explosive plays that can tilt the contest firmly in the Chargers' favour.

Should he do so against the Patriots, Jones may find it difficult to put up the points stay in the game versus a Chargers defense featuring a name with which Belichick is extremely familiar.

Can Jones make right reads?

"It makes me feel old," Belichick replied when asked about Asante Samuel Jr, the son of the cornerback by the same name who played five seasons with the Patriots, winning the Super Bowl in 2003 and 2004 in a career that saw him twice lead the league in interceptions.

Belichick and the Patriots will surely be wary of Samuel, who has inherited his father's ball-hawking tendencies and already has two interceptions to his name since being taken in the second round of this year's draft by the Chargers.

Samuel is giving up a big play on only 21.1 per cent of his targets, comfortably the right side of the league average of 26 and has allowed a receiver to get open on just 13 of his 56 coverage matchups so far.

His efforts are a big part of why a Chargers defense that has struggled against the run came into the week sixth in pass yards allowed under expectation.

However, Belichick also had great praise for Chargers head coach Brandon Staley and his defensive system, which relies heavily on defenders matching the routes of their receivers but from a zone coverage look.

"Coach Staley does a really good job of keeping you off balance, and, again, we're going to have to make some good post-snap decisions on a lot of things, whether it's movement, rotations, how the coverage plays out," said Belichick. 

"They do a good job of matching routes. What looks like zone or what looks like some space closes very quickly in the passing game, and, again, they're very well-coached. They do a good job of, as the pattern develops, they just pounce on it. It really plays like man-to-man, but it's not man-to-man, but it turns out to be man-to-man. Those are challenging for the receivers and the quarterback because the match zones are tough."

That means Jones, who has done an excellent job of reading the field and getting the ball out quickly and is delivering a well-thrown ball on 82.8 per cent of his passes – tied second among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts entering Week 8 – will have a lot to decipher on Sunday.

It may be billed as Herbert versus Jones, but in reality, this clash is Harris against a struggling Chargers run defense, Herbert vs. Belichick and Jones and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels vs. Staley. Those subplots should make for a fascinating matchup that will be critical in the AFC playoff race.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers head into Week 8 with a 6-1 record, though their form will be tested against the New Orleans Saints.

Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns and 211 yards in the Bucs' 38-3 thrashing of the Chicago Bears last week, though Tampa Bay's recent record against the Saints is poor.

The Los Angeles Rams are also 6-1, and are looking to extend their strong start when they take on the Houston Texans, who are out to avoid a franchise first.

Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase, meanwhile, have been linking up to superb effect for the Cincinnati Bengals, who are at the New York Jets on Sunday. 

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-1) @ New Orleans Saints (4-2)

Tampa Bay may have picked up from where they left off last season, but their recent run against New Orleans has not been at all profitable.

New Orleans have won five straight games against NFC South rivals Tampa Bay, which is the longest active losing streak for the Buccaneers against any single opponent.

However, the Bucs did set franchise records for points in a first quarter with 21, and points in a first half with 35, in their 38-3 win over the Bears. The 21 first-quarter and 35 first-half points are also the most scored by any NFL team this season.

Mike Evans caught three touchdowns against the Bears with all of them coming in the first half. He joined Marvin Harrison, Marvin Jones Jr, Jerry Rice, and Sterling Sharpe as the only players since the merger to have multiple games with three first-half touchdown catches.

The Saints beat the Seattle Seahawks in their last outing, and had 35 passing attempts in that win. Both teams have combined to win 76.9 per cent of their games this season, the highest combined winning percentage that the teams have ever had when facing each other.

Los Angeles Rams (6-1) @ Houston Texans (1-6)

This will be only the fifth all-time meeting between the Texans and the Rams, and just the second game since the latter moved back to Los Angeles.

The Rams have outscored the Texans by an aggregate of 71-20 over the last two meetings, and, at 6-1, Los Angeles are enjoying their equal second-best start to a season this century, behind the 7-0 run in 2018.

They are also looking to win each of their first four road games of a season for the fourth time since 2000, having also done this in 2001, 2017 and 2018.

Matthew Stafford has thrown for 2,172 yards this season, the most by any Rams player in the team's first seven games of the season since Kurt Warner threw for 2,445 yards in the first seven games of 2000.

Houston, meanwhile, have lost six straight, with each of the last two losses coming by over 25 points. The Texans have not lost three straight games by at least 25 points in franchise history – the only team to do so in a single season in the last 25 years were the Miami Dolphins in 2019.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) @ New York Jets (1-5)

The Bengals have won each of the last three meetings between these teams, matching their longest-ever win streak over the Jets (1973-81). Cincinnati's 23-22 win in New York in 2016 snapped a nine-game losing streak when visiting the Jets.

Cincinnati only managed four wins in 2020, but they surpassed that figure with a brilliant 41-17 victory in Baltimore last week, with quarterback Burrow and wide receiver Chase turning in stellar performances.

Burrow passed for a career-high 416 yards and tied a previous career high with three touchdown passes. It was his seventh consecutive game with multiple TD passes, tying a franchise record set twice before by Carson Palmer (2004-05 and 2010).

Chase, meanwhile, had 201 receiving yards, the most all-time by a Bengals rookie and the most by any rookie since Mike Evans had 209 in 2014. Chase's 754 receiving yards in 2021 ranks are the most by any player through seven career games in NFL history.

The Jets' 54-13 loss to the Patriots last week was their largest defeat since a 45-3 loss in Week 13 of the 2010 season, which also happened in New England. The 54 points are the fourth-most that New York have allowed in a single game and the most since 1980.

Elsewhere...

The Detroit Lions are still winless, going 0-7 so far, but could snap the losing streak against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Lions have won three straight against Philadelphia, with each of the last two games being decided by three points or fewer. 

Strugglers the Miami Dolphins travel to Buffalo. With two receiving yards on Sunday, Stefon Diggs will reach 2,000 as a Bill in just his 23rd game with the team. That would be tied for the second fewest games needed by any player with any single team in the Super Bowl era (Odell Beckham Jr. – 21 with the Giants, Vincent Jackson – 23 with Tampa Bay, Brandon Marshall – 23 with Chicago).

Fresh from their win over the Jets, the Patriots will aim to maintain the momentum against the Los Angeles Chargers, against whom they have five straight wins and are 16-3 in the last 19 meetings.

An AFC North clash sees the Browns (4-3) host the 3-3 Steelers. Pittsburgh have not won in Cleveland since 2017, as the teams tied in 2018 before the Browns won in 2019 and 2020.

New York Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson appears set to miss at least a few weeks after injuring his right knee in Sunday's 54-13 loss to the New England Patriots. 

The Jets said Wilson – the second overall pick in this year's NFL Draft – hurt his posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) and will have an MRI exam on Monday. 

Wilson got hit by Jets linebacker Matt Judon on a pass attempt early in the second quarter. The Jets trailed 17-0 at the time and backup Mike White came in to lead New York to a touchdown, but the Jets would trail 31-7 by half-time. 

Jets head coach Robert Saleh said the Jets "feel good" about Wilson's prognosis based on the initial examination but will have to wait for the MRI to know more. 

Wilson told reporters he "felt a pop" as his knee got twisted on Judon's hit but said his knee did not hurt after the game. 

"I don't know a lot about the PCL," Wilson said. "The pain really isn't there. It's just feeling like something is a little off as far as being loose and unstable."

While Wilson said he considered a PCL injury the "best-case scenario" compared to an anterior cruciate or medial collateral ligament problem, expectations are he will need some time to recover. 

The 1-5 Jets host the high-flying Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) on Sunday. 

Wilson has completed 57.5 per cent of his passes for 1,168 yards with four touchdowns and nine interceptions, the latter tied with Patrick Mahomes for the most in the NFL. 

Time flies when you're having fun, as the old cliche goes, but you don't need to have been enjoying yourself to notice how quickly we got to Week 7 of the NFL season.

Fantasy managers who have enjoyed strong starts may already be casting their eyes towards the playoffs and a run at the title.

Meanwhile, those owners who are mired near the bottom of their league might be wondering where it all went wrong and paying a dwindling amount of attention to their line-up.

Either way, there are plenty of players with matchups this week who can help deliver a win for your squad. Stats Perform looks at four offensive players and a defense who are primed to make a significant impact in Week 7.

 

Quarterback: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons @ Miami Dolphins

The Falcons have had the bye week to rest after their win over the New York Jets in London and now get the chance to exploit another vulnerable AFC East defense.

They face a Dolphins team that will be playing only seven days removed from their game in the United Kingdom, and a defense that gave up 319 passing yards in their loss to the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars.

Ryan has two 300-yard games to his name this year and has thrown for multiple scores in every game after drawing a blank in the season opener.

Atlanta and Miami look like two teams heading in different directions, expect Ryan and the Falcons to take advantage and the 2016 MVP to record a big fantasy day.

Running Back: Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals vs. Houston Texans

Edmonds has been something of a frustrating case so far this season.

He is averaging six yards per carry but has not consistently received the workload to be a viable fantasy option.

That looks likely to change this week when the unbeaten Cardinals face the 1-5 Texans, who are allowing 4.74 yards per rush attempt, the fifth-worst average in the NFL.

With the Cardinals widely expected to get out to a big lead in a hurry, Arizona should be able to take the pressure off Kyler Murray and lean on their backs if the game gets out of hand, meaning Edmonds could be in store for plenty of garbage time yards.

Wide Receiver: Ja'Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens

Chase is a fully fledged fantasy darling having exploded out of the gates as a rookie for 553 yards and five touchdowns.

He might be expected to hit a block in the road against a Ravens defense that only gave up six points to the Los Angeles Chargers last week.

However, Chase is tied for the league lead with eight receiving plays of 25 yards or more and only six teams have allowed more passing plays of 20 yards or more than the Ravens (24).

Keep the faith and look for Joe Burrow and Chase to connect on at least one big one to vindicate his starting spot in fantasy line-ups.

Tight End: Dallas Goedert @ Las Vegas Raiders

With Zach Ertz out of the picture following his trade to the Arizona Cardinals, expect a bump in targets for Goedert, who is averaging 14.4 yards per reception this season.

That increase in his share of the workload could hardly come at a better time for Goedert fantasy owners, as he and the Philadelphia Eagles travel to visit a Raiders team allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends.

Defense: New England Patriots vs. New York Jets

This one isn't too difficult. The Jets have committed nine giveaways this season, tied for sixth-most in the NFL, and four of those came from Zach Wilson interceptions against the Patriots at MetLife Stadium in Week 2.

Wilson and Co. have got themselves in the win column since then, but there is nothing to suggest that a Jets offense still without left tackle Mekhi Becton should succeed in avoiding turnovers in this week's return fixture in Foxborough.

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