DeMario Davis delivered a supreme defensive effort and earned plaudits from coach Sean Payton after the New Orleans Saints rallied for a 13-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

The Saints linebacker impressed for the visitors with 10 tackles in all as he and his team-mates had five sacks in the hard-earned victory at Lumen Field.

"We take a lot of pride in our defense," Davis said. "We've got to be able to play complementary football. We have a very high standard for our group and there's no other way that we would take it. Defense on the field with the game on the line. We get excited, and we play with a lot of energy in those situations."

Speaking about the string of sacks, which went 5-2 in New Orleans' favour, Davis said: "That's a credit to the cover guys. We can take away the first read, and he has to hold the ball. Credit to the D coordinator and the D line having a good rush plan for us. And then guys just executing their job.

"It's fun to play on defense when you know that all you have to do is do your job and it's going to work. Guys did their job. I think we were getting pressures early on, but we weren't getting them to the ground, we've got to find a way to get him on the ground."

Payton was full of appreciation as he watched on, with the Saints recovering from allowing a stunning 84-yard pass from Geno Smith (12 for 22 passes, 167 yards and one touchdown) to star team-mate DK Metcalf.

With Davis on his game, Payton savoured watching his team improve to 4-2 for the season, dealing the Seahawks (2-5) a fourth straight loss.

The Saints coach said of Davis: "Man, I just love the way he leads and plays with enthusiasm. He's really developed into not just run but pass as well. He's someone who has good instincts, can close the cushion on a run or a play in space. He tackles well. He's playing well, and I'm sure when we look at the tape, we'll see a lot of good efforts. That was a good hard-fought win."

There had been pre-game talk of a bomb cyclone hitting the Seattle area, but the worst-case weather threat failed to materialise.

Payton said such a forecast "kind of gets your attention", but in the end the storm was relatively tame, and the same could be said for the sniping among the sides.

Davis said of the at-times tetchy atmosphere: "Sometimes guys want to be tough on the field and talk after the play, and this is the most physical sport there is. You've got seven seconds to be as physical as you want to be, you got to prove it between the whistles.

"I'm never going to be the guy to talk after the whistles and doing extra because at that point you're just trying to bully someone. I've always been the guy that's going to bully the bully. And team-mates appreciate it when you have their back like that.

"I try to stay pretty level-headed between the whistles and while I'm on the field, but I'm always going to have my team-mates' back, and I think they appreciate it, and it gives them motivation."

Alvin Kamara's 13-yard touchdown reception gave New Orleans their lone TD of the night. Kamara caught 10 passes for 128 yards, becoming the first running back with eight-plus receptions and 100-plus receiving yards in the first half of a game since 2004.

Kamara said of his own effort: "I didn't know what to expect. Every game has a life in of its own self and the flavour of this week ended up getting a lot of touches."

The New Orleans Saints flexed their defensive muscles in a hard-fought 13-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks in NFL action on Monday.

This was the first meeting where neither future Hall of Famer Drew Brees (retired) nor Russell Wilson (injured) started at quarterback since 2004, per Stats Perform.

Leading the Saints following Brees' retirement, Jameis Winston (19-of-35 passing for 222 yards, one touchdown and two sacks) helped New Orleans improve to 4-2 for the season against the slumping Seahawks – who dropped their fourth consecutive game – in Seattle.

But it was a defensive battle at Lumen Field, where Saints linebacker Demario Davis fuelled the visitors with five sacks and multiple tackles.

The Seahawks set the tone in the opening quarter following a stunning 84-run pass from Geno Smith (12 for 22 passes, 167 yards and one touchdown with five sacks) to star team-mate DK Metcalf.

It was the longest pass TD for the Seahawks since an 87-yard connection from Matt Hasselbeck to Ben Obomanu in 2010 and the third-longest in franchise history.

New Orleans, though, took a 10-7 leading into half-time thanks to Brian Johnson's 21-yard field goal and Alvin Kamara's 13-yard touchdown reception – the team's lone TD.

Kamara caught 10 passes for 128 yards, while he became the first running back with eight-plus receptions and 100-plus receiving yards in the first half of a game since 2004.

After Seattle kicker Jason Myers levelled proceedings with a monster 50-yard field goal in the third quarter, Johnson settled the contest by nailing his attempt two minutes from the end of the game.

The NFL season is heading towards the quarter mark and it's likely desperation time for those fantasy owners who are yet to claim a win.

Thankfully there are several matchups in Week 4 that figure to be very high scoring and deliver huge fantasy performances.

Which players should you be looking at slotting into your lineup for the upcoming slate of games?

Stats Perform looks at four offensive players and a defense that can help propel you to glory this week.

 

Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans @ New York Jets

Tannehill followed up a 300-yard performance in Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks with a three-touchdown display in a win over the Indianapolis Colts.

The Jets' defense is the strength of their winless team but still ranks 17th in the NFL in yards per pass play allowed with 6.79.

Given the ineptitude of New York's offense, which has committed the second-most turnovers in the NFL (7) through three games, the Jets' defense is likely to eventually wear down and provide Tannehill with plentiful opportunities to enjoy another strong fantasy outing.

Running Back: Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers vs. Las Vegas Raiders

The Chargers have their own problems with run defense, allowing the highest rushing average in the league at 5.8 yards.

However, fourth on that list are the Raiders, who have given up 4.81 yards per carry through three games.

Ekeler's yards after contact per attempt average of 2.5 is sixth among running backs with at least 10 carries and he is again a focal point in the passing game having made 15 receptions over the last two games. 

In a game likely to be dominated by high-powered offenses, Ekeler figures to play a pivotal role and, taking the favourable matchup into account, is a must-start in points per reception fantasy leagues.

Wide Receiver: Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers

Lockett has never had a 100-yard game against the 49ers, but caught 12 of 14 targets for 90 yards and two touchdowns in the regular-season finale against San Francisco last year.

Registering a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup on a play where is targeted, on 68.4 per cent of his targets Lockett is second among wide receivers that have been thrown to at least 10 times with a burn yards per target average of 19.29.

Going up against a banged-up San Francisco secondary, Lockett's ability to create consistent separation could prove pivotal in a matchup where Seattle may have to get into a shootout to prevail given the porous nature of the Seahawks' defense.

Tight End: Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Texans

Still the most difficult position in fantasy football to judge, managers can often find themselves in a difficult spot if they do not own one of Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Darren Waller.

However, those lacking a dependable option at tight end may find Knox a worthwhile pickup for this week. He has a touchdown in each of his last two games, hauling in four of his five targets last week against the Washington Football Team, and gets an extremely enticing matchup in Week 4.

The Texans are allowing the fourth-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends and, with the Bills' offense beginning to fire on all cylinders, Knox could prove an extremely astute addition to fantasy lineups if he is still available on your waiver wire.

Defense: New Orleans Saints vs. New York Giants

The Saints' defense had a field day in Week 3, picking off rookie Mac Jones three times, including one interception returned for a touchdown, in a bounce-back win over the New England Patriots.

This week, New Orleans gets to play a game at the Superdome for the first time this season, and the impact of a raucous home crowd will surely only make things more difficult for the Giants' offense and quarterback Daniel Jones.

He has been pressured 53 times already this season, the Giants allowing the 11th-most in the NFL, while the Saints' defense has racked up 56 pressures, putting New Orleans seventh in the league.

While the Giants' signal-caller has only committed one giveaway in 2021, that is a recipe for a disastrous day for a quarterback known for his lack of ball security. Should this go to form, the Saints will make life miserable for a quarterback named Jones for the second successive week.

Jameis Winston starred as the New Orleans Saints opened the season with a "home" game played more than 500 miles away from the Superdome. 

In discussing his team's 38-3 pounding of the Green Bay Packers in Jacksonville, Florida, the quarterback's thoughts kept returning to New Orleans and the surrounding area.

Asked about his feelings regarding Sunday's game, Winston answered by illuminating the challenges facing the Saints' home community in the wake of Hurricane Ida, which forced the team to relocate its operations to Dallas two weeks ago. 

"We did that for them," Winston said. "We knew how much it would mean to get a victory. They've been through so much, and for us to celebrate this victory with them is amazing.

"Hats off to [the people of New Orleans] for their resilience. They inspired us to go out there and ball."

No one balled quite like Winston, who had five touchdown passes in the New Orleans rout as he made his first start for the Saints after serving as the backup to Drew Brees last season.

Winston said the Saints remained composed despite the many distractions thrown their way in recent weeks, and it paid off Sunday. 

"We were prepared. That was the message today," he said. "My trainer texted me this morning that 'pressure is for the unprepared'.

"I think that one thing we consistently did as a unit with Sean [Payton, the head coach] and with [administrative director] Jay Romig, along with our entire organization, is that despite the adversity of being in Dallas and all that we're dealing with at home, our mindset stayed the same.

"We prepared to play against Green Bay and prepared to play the best football that we could, and we did that."

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter from 2015-19, Winston refused to revel in his return to the spotlight after outshining Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. 

"Coach [Payton] says all the time that we're in a race to get better," Winston said. "We are going to celebrate this game today, but there are people dealing with way worse than me right now. There are still people in Louisiana without power.

"I'll probably reflect on it after our season is over, but right now we have to keep getting better. There's some things that I won't like when I watch the film tonight, so we still have to get better."

Next up for the Saints: a true road game Sunday at the Carolina Panthers followed by a trip to New England to face the Patriots in Week 3.

Sunday was eventful for the New Orleans Saints and star cornerback Marshon Lattimore. 

Hours after they opened the NFL season with a stunning 38-3 rout of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, reports emerged that Lattimore agreed to a lucrative five-year contract extension. 

NFL Network and ESPN reported the deal guarantees Lattimore at least $68.3million and could max out at $100m.

The former first round pick quote-tweeted a post about the extension from the official NFL Twitter account, adding only a money bag emoji. 

The news was not all good, though, as Lattimore injured his thumb during the game and reportedly will require surgery that could keep him out for multiple weeks. 

The 25-year-old apparently hurt himself in the first half against the Packers. 

He missed the Saints' first defensive series after half-time but returned to play with his right hand and forearm encased in a protective splint. 

Lattimore has been selected for the Pro Bowl in three of his four seasons with New Orleans and was named Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2017.

He led the NFL with five interceptions that season and has added five more picks over the last three years combined as quarterbacks have thrown fewer balls his way. 

 

Aaron Rodgers is hoping the Green Bay Packers can regroup following a "good kick in the you-know-where" in their blow-out loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Rodgers suffered the heaviest loss of his illustrious NFL career as the Packers – who have reached the NFC Championship Game in each of the last two campaigns – opened their season with a 38-3 rout at the hands of the Saints on Sunday.

After a tumultuous offseason, dominated by Rodgers' desire to leave the Packers, the reigning MVP had one of the worst outings of his career.

The superstar quarterback finished with just 133 passing yards (lowest since 2015), two interceptions and a 36.8 passer rating (lowest since 2014).

That passer rating is the lowest by a reigning NFL MVP in his first game of the subsequent season.

After the 35-point demolition, Rodgers said: "This is a good kick in the you-know-where to hopefully get us going in the right direction."

Rodgers added: "They beat us. They played way better than us. We played bad. I played bad.

"Uncharacteristic of how we've practiced in training camp, obviously how I've played over the years. This is hopefully an outlier moving forward. We'll find out next week."

"I don't even know how many stops we had on their offense the entire day," Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said.

"It was just an all-around poor performance. That starts with myself. Obviously didn't get these guys ready to play."

Just when the Cleveland Browns thought they were in position to open the NFL season with a statement win, Patrick Mahomes did what Patrick Mahomes does. 

The Kansas City Chiefs star threw for a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter as the reigning AFC champions edged the Browns 33-29 on Sunday.

Mahomes completed 27 of his 36 passes for 337 yards and three interceptions as the former MVP made more NFL history.

The 25-year-old broke the record for most passing yards in NFL history through first 50 games, while he also boasts the most passing touchdowns ever through the same amount of appearances.

Cleveland had built a 22-10 half-time lead, with Baker Mayfield directing three scoring drives that led to Nick Chubb finding the end zone twice and Jarvis Landry running in another touchdown before the break. 

Mayfield finished 21 of 28 passing for 321 yards, but had one critical mistake late. With the Browns near midfield and just over a minute to play, the Chicago quarterback scrambled to avoid pressure before throwing a pass up for grabs to the left sideline. Mike Hughes leaped to intercept the ball and the Chiefs ran out the clock from there. 

Mahomes, meanwhile, was poised as ever as he led the Chiefs to their ninth win in the last 11 games in which they trailed by double digits. 

It started with a 14-play drive to open the second half, capped by an 11-yard TD pass to his favourite target Travis Kelce. 

The signature moment, though, was a stunning 75-yard deep strike to Tyreek Hill that brought the Chiefs within two early in the fourth quarter. 

The Browns botched a punt deep in their own territory on the ensuing drive and Mahomes hit Kelce for the go-ahead touchdown three plays later. 

It was the kind of turnaround Cleveland fans have grown all too accustomed to over the years, particularly in season openers. 

The Browns have not won in Week 1 since 2004 and are now 0-16-1 since. 

Winston, Saints crush Packers

Aaron Rodgers dominated the headlines throughout the NFL offseason but he was upstaged in a big way as the season began. 

Jameis Winston threw for five touchdowns as Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers were kept from the end zone altogether in a 38-3 New Orleans Saints rout. 

Rodgers completed just 15 of 28 passes for 133 yards and threw two interceptions. He had only five interceptions all of last season on the way to being named NFL MVP for the third time.

Winston took over the starting role in New Orleans from another future Hall of Famer, the retired Drew Brees, and was brilliant at the Superdome. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 148 yards without an interception or a sack. 

In a matchup of two young quarterbacks, Tua Tagovailoa got the better of his former Alabama team-mate Mac Jones as the Miami Dolphins edged the New England Patriots 17-16 on the road.

While the rookie Jones had the better numbers of the two with 29 of 39 passing, 281 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, the Patriots repeatedly had to settle for field goals. 

Tagovailoa, meanwhile, ran one touchdown in himself and threw for another in the third quarter that provided the eventual winning margin.

The NFL returned in spectacular fashion on Thursday as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers edged the Dallas Cowboys in a thriller.

It is a remarkable appetiser to the main course of Week 1, which sees 14 more games on Sunday and another on Monday between the Baltimore Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders.

There is a mouth-watering playoff rematch to behold at Arrowhead Stadium, while a clutch of rookie quarterbacks will attempt to make sure their first steps in the league are successful ones.

Ahead of what should be an enthralling opening week, Stats Perform looks at some of the most interesting facts from Sunday's biggest games.

Cleveland Browns @ Kansas City Chiefs

Revenge will be on the minds of the Browns in the most enticing matchup of the opening week, Cleveland aiming to upset the odds after falling short against the Chiefs in the Divisional Round of last season's playoffs.

History, though, is firmly against Cleveland. The Chiefs have won three straight games against the Browns dating back to 2013, while Andy Reid is 7-0 in his career as a head coach versus the Browns, one of three teams he is undefeated against. The others are the Chiefs (3-0) and his former team the Philadelphia Eagles (2-0).

Kevin Stefanski led the Browns to an 11-5 record in 2020, his first year as an NFL head coach. It was the most wins in a season by the Browns since 1994 (also 11 wins). The last time the Browns won at least 10 games in back-to-back seasons was 1986 to 1988 (three straight).

The Chiefs set a franchise record with 14 wins in 2020 and played in the Super Bowl for the second straight season, with Kansas City the favourites to be the AFC's representative in the February showpiece yet again. Only three teams have ever made the Super Bowl in three straight seasons – the Buffalo Bills (four, 1990-93), New England Patriots (three, 2016-18) and Miami Dolphins (three, 1971-73).

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Buffalo Bills

The Bills were a game away from the Super Bowl last season and enter this clash between a new AFC heavyweight and a seemingly fading force on a regular-season winning streak.

In a campaign that saw them go 13-3 and post their best record since 1991, the Bills finished the regular season with six straight wins averaging an NFL-best 38.2 points during that span.

Pittsburgh began last season 11-0, then dropped four of their last five games, finishing with an opening-round exit to the Browns in the playoffs. The Steelers were the first team to start 11-0 since the 2015 Carolina Panthers.

And the Steelers will be looking to avoid a third straight defeat to the Bills, who made it two successive wins over Pittsburgh with last season's 26-15 victory in Week 14. The Steelers had won nine of the previous 10 meetings dating back to 1993. 

Green Bay Packers @ New Orleans Saints

The Drew Brees era is over for the Saints, who have selected Jameis Winston as his successor at quarterback. The Packers have a talented defense but the often-erratic Winston's past form suggests he should move the ball against them. Winston has averaged 12.62 yards per completion over his career, the highest mark by any QB who has debuted in the past 30 years (minimum 1,500 completions).

Two perennial NFC powers, games between New Orleans and Green Bay have been consistently high-scoring affairs. The Saints and Packers have combined to average 52.0 points per game in their 26 all-time meetings, the highest average between any two NFL teams who have met at least 20 times.

Green Bay won 13 games in each of the last two seasons but failed to make the Super Bowl in either one. The Packers joined the 2018-19 Saints as the only teams in the Super Bowl era to win 13+ games in back-to-back seasons but miss the Super Bowl in both.

Elsewhere...

It will be a season partially defined by the performance of the rookie quarterbacks, with four of the five drafted in the first round seemingly set to feature in Week 1.

The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with their first-ever number one overall pick. When he lines up against the Houston Texans, Lawrence will be the eighth different QB to start a season opener for the Jaguars since 2010, tied for second most in the NFL behind the Browns (nine). 

Second overall pick Zach Wilson is set to become the 49th starting quarterback in New York Jets history when they face the Carolina Panthers and his predecessor Sam Darnold. No Jets quarterback has started every game of a season since Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2015, which happens to be the last time the Jets had a winning record (10-6).

Trey Lance will likely see sporadic action for the San Francisco 49ers versus the Detroit Lions. However, if Jimmy Garoppolo's spotty injury history continues in 2021, Lance could soon become the undisputed starter. Garoppolo was limited to six games last season. In three of the games, Garoppolo passed for multiple touchdowns with no interceptions. In the other three, Garoppolo had no touchdown passes and at least one interception.

The New England Patriots have used just four starting quarterbacks in their season openers since 2000, with Mac Jones poised to be the fifth as he looks to become the long-term successor to Tom Brady. Only the Packers (two) and Saints (three) have had fewer season-opening starters in that span – the NFL average in that time is 7.5 quarterbacks.

The 2021 NFL season began on Thursday as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers started their quest for a second straight Super Bowlw title with a thrilling victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Having won his seventh ring in his first season with the Bucs playing in front of at best sparsely populated crowds amid the coronavirus pandemic, Brady and Tampa Bay claimed a 31-29 victory in front of a packed house at Raymond James Stadium.

While the return of fans and full stadiums will give this season a different look, once more it is the Bucs and the Kansas City Chiefs who go into the year as the teams to beat.

However, there are a host of other high-profile teams who could be set to improve on their 2020 win-loss records, as well as those who could be poised to decline from postseason contention.

With the help of Stats Perform data, here are some of the more intriguing teams to keep eye on as the NFL makes its much anticipated return.

With Dak back, Cowboys hope to contend

A gruesome ankle injury suffered by Dak Prescott in Week 5 ended Dallas' hopes of challenging last season.

As it turned out, further injuries on the offensive line and a miserable defense would have made it tough for the Cowboys to contend even if Prescott had been on the field to lead the offense, as their wait for a first Super Bowl since 1995 goes on.

But Prescott is back with the security of a lucrative new contract as Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup remain part of an explosive supporting cast and he delivered a compelling reminder of his upside in defeat to Tampa Bay, throwing for 403 yards, three touchdowns and an interception off the hands of Lamb.

Prescott has averaged 8.26 yards per attempt over the last two seasons, third best among NFL QBs, and there are huge hopes for the offense, particularly if the highly rated Lamb (74 catches for 935 yards in 2020) can kick on from a fine rookie season. Despite Lamb's drop leading to a turnover, the early signs were good as he caught seven passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, helping Prescott average 6.95 yards per attempt and post a 101.4 passer rating.

If new Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn can get the defense – which allowed 158.8 rushing yards per game last season (31st in the NFL) but just 52 against the Bucs - somewhere towards the middle of the pack, the Cowboys should soar well clear of their 6-10 mark from 2020 and will be justified favourites to win the NFC East.

Pats look to pressure Bills in AFC East

The Bills and Josh Allen were so good last season that they may decline from their 13-3 mark even without doing too much wrong.

Allen made an astonishing leap from year two to three – posting career highs in passing yards (3,089 to 4,544), passing touchdowns (20 to 37) and completion percentage (58.8 to 69.2), plus eight rushing scores - and was rewarded with a huge offseason contract extension.

Allen's numbers and rate of improvement are hard to sustain, and even a marginal decline could lead to a worse record in a competitive division.

Stefon Diggs was incredible with league-leading figures of 127 catches and 1,535 receiving yards, while Cole Beasley (82 catches for 967 yards) was a crucial complementary piece.

Allen and Diggs played all 16 games last season while Beasley only missed one, so there was good fortune on the health front, while the Bills were able to win close games last season – boasting a 5-1 record in one-score contests – a metric that often reverts to the mean.

Their divisional rivals, meanwhile, look threatening. The New England Patriots have spent big in free agency to revamp the supporting cast for rookie QB Mac Jones.

New England's tight end situation has been among the league's worst since the departure of Rob Gronkowski, but they doubled down at the position to land Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.

Henry ranks sixth among tight ends with 1,265 yards since the start of the 2019 season, while only five TEs have more than the 11 TDs grabbed by the athletic Smith over that period.

Wide receiver Nelson Agholor arrived after a career year (896 yards) for the Las Vegas Raiders as the pass-catching options were significantly boosted.

A down year for the Patriots – in which their offensive weapons looked woeful and several defensive players opted out - still produced a not disastrous 7-9 record, with four of those losses coming by eight points or fewer.

The Miami Dolphins (3-4 in one score games) are another ascending team in the division after going 10-6 and allowing only 21.1 points per game (ried-fifth in the NFL).

Even the New York Jets, buoyed after selecting BYU QB Zach Wilson at number two overall, look poised to be more competitive than their 2-14 misery a season ago.

From worst to (somewhere nearer) first?

Trevor Lawrence has been billed as a generational talent at QB and there were few questions he would be selected at number one overall in the draft.

With Lawrence being paired with college coaching great Urban Meyer and an intriguing array of pass-catchers including Laviska Shenault (691 scrimmage yards, five TDs last year) and D. J. Chark (1,714 receiving yards since 2019), the Jags could be set for rapid improvement.

Even in their awful season that led to the chance to select Lawrence at the top of the draft, the Jags were 1-6 in one score games and slightly better than their 1-15 record suggested.

By the same metric, divisional rivals the Indianapolis Colts (5-2) and the Tennessee Titans (7-2) claimed many of their victories in close games.

With the Colts negotiating some uncertainty at QB as they look to revive the career of Carson Wentz – who is dealing with a foot injury – and the Houston Texans in disarray and full rebuild mode, the Jags could emerge as surprise challengers to the Titans.

Other teams who could rise and fall

Other teams who look likely to ascend include the San Francisco 49ers (6-10), who were ravaged with injuries last season and now have two viable options at QB with Jimmy Garoppolo and exciting draft pick Trey Lance. Five of their losses last season came by one score or less despite a depleted roster. 

The Denver Broncos (5-11)  have a stacked roster with their only concerns coming at the QB position, where they hope Teddy Bridgewater can provide more stability than the volatile Drew Lock (16 TDs and 15 INTs in 2020), despite coming off a poor season with the Carolina Panthers, who opted to replace him with Sam Darnold.

The New Orleans Saints (12-4) could be trending in the opposite direction, though. While Drew Brees was not at his peak in his final NFL season, a combination of Jameis Wilson and Taysom Hill must now try to replace the future Hall of Famer while keeping pace with the formidable Bucs and an Atlanta Falcons team that has added dynamic tight end Kyle Pitts.

New Orleans' offseason was defined by a roster overhaul enforced by the Saints' salary cap woe, leaving them with a wide receiver depth chart that looks alarming with Michael Thomas (missed nine games in 2020) starting the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

There will be plenty of nerves around NFL locker rooms this week, with career-altering seasons lying ahead.

Many players will get second chances if the coming year does not go as planned, but some will not.

In a league where there are only 32 starting berths for quarterbacks and a further 32 openings for head coaches, the competition is brutal.

Coming off testing campaigns, Stats Perform picks out the QBs and coaches who cannot afford another slip-up in a make-or-break 2021.

Sam Darnold

New Carolina Panthers QB Darnold is still just 24, but so poor were the former third overall pick's performances across three years in New York that the Jets moved him on to take Zach Wilson with the second selection in 2021.

In Darnold's third and final miserable season with the Jets, he threw just nine touchdowns to 11 interceptions – numbers that could have been even worse as he threw 22 pickable passes, his pickable pass percentage of 6.51 the fifth-worst among QBs with 100 or more attempts.

Only the run-heavy Baltimore Ravens averaged fewer net passing yards than the Jets last year (174.8 per game), a metric in which the Panthers ranked a mediocre 18th led by Teddy Bridgewater.

If Darnold cannot even reach those standards, his career as a leading man could be over already. Of course, Carolina start against Wilson and the Jets.

Daniel Jones

Playing in the same city as Darnold, Jones might have got off a little lightly. He is after all eight days older than Darnold, albeit he came into the league a year later.

There were signs of promise for the New York Giants in 2019, but Jones has not progressed as hoped. The clock is ticking, with opportunities elsewhere likely to be scarce given he was a surprise pick at number six two years ago.

Sacked 45 times in 2020, Jones might argue he has lacked protection from a poor Giants offensive line.

Sadly, the QB has looked best running for his life, averaging a league-leading 9.70 yards when the designated ball-carrier – and a slightly above average 4.62 when scrambling – but still scoring only a single rushing TD last year.

Kliff Kingsbury

Appointed in 2019 and handed first overall pick Kyler Murray, Kingsbury's first task in Arizona was to make the Cardinals more effective and exciting on offense – something he achieved by delivering the second-highest season-to-season improvement in total net yards in franchise history (+1,602).

But the Cards still finished last in the NFC West with only five wins, missing the playoffs for the fourth successive season. A further year down the line, that drought is ongoing thanks to a desperate 2020 collapse from 6-3 to finish 8-8.

With the talent on this team, 2021 needs to bring tangible results. Failure to deliver again could spell trouble for Kingsbury or general manager Steve Keim – an unenviable position to be in at the helm of still the worst team in football's best division.

Carson Wentz

Wentz is slightly different to the other names on this list in that he has enjoyed success in the NFL already. A Week 14 ACL tear in 2017 meant he watched the Philadelphia Eagles' Super Bowl win from the sidelines, but his 33 passing TDs had already set a franchise record.

Those performances felt a long way away in an awful 2020 campaign, though. Statistically, he could hardly have been worse.

Wentz threw a joint-high 15 picks and led the way with 28 pickable passes, making up 6.78 per cent of his attempts while just 68.8 per cent were accurate, well-thrown balls – a league low among QBs with 100 or more passes. Given he also lost 326 yards to his NFL-leading 50 sacks, there was very little that went well when Wentz had the ball in his hands.

The 28-year-old is now on the Indianapolis Colts, reunited with the man who helped inspire his superb 2017 campaign in Frank Reich, but has already suffered with a foot injury and a COVID bout. With Reich as his head coach, Wentz has to return a better player or his days as a starter in this league are done.

Matt Nagy

The mood music around Chicago is not great heading into the new season. The arrival of Justin Fields in the 2021 draft should provide cause for optimism, but it appears unlikely the rookie will play right away to the frustration of fans.

Mitchell Trubisky is at least gone after a dismal run as the Bears' QB – last year comparable to Wentz by a number of advanced metrics but also averaging a below-par 7.94 air yards – but coach Nagy is starting with Andy Dalton, rather than Fields.

Nagy is also calling plays again, having given up that duty as the offense failed last year.

There has been plenty wrong on that side of the ball for the Bears in recent years, but Nagy is running out of excuses. Either his approach has to work or he must adapt fast.

Jameis Winston

Nobody on this list can be as motivated as Winston, who must have feared he had already used up his NFL lives as he watched the versatile Taysom Hill fill in for Drew Brees last season. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Winston's former team, won the Super Bowl.

But the erratic deep passer has won the New Orleans Saints' starting job ahead of Hill this year. His haphazard style might have to change if he is to keep the role, however.

Winston threw 33 TD passes in 2019, but he also had 30 interceptions – that combination a league first. His 10.70 air yards ranked second, yet 46 pickable passes led the NFL by some distance.

His play is at complete odds to the safer approach from the retired Brees, who last year threw to an open target with 81.8 per cent of his attempts and dispatched an accurate, well-thrown ball 81.0 per cent of the time but only averaged 6.41 air yards.

As in Tampa, Winston should be fun to watch. As in Tampa, he will do well to stick around... and a third chance feels unlikely.

With every NFL season, new stars emerge, thrusting themselves to the forefront of the consciousness with breakout campaigns that put them firmly in the conversation as one of the best players at their position.

Often such years come as a significant surprise, as was the case in 2020 when Justin Jefferson broke the record for receiving yards by a rookie, topping 1,400 having only posted 70 through his opening two games.

But frequently it is possible to project breakout seasons before they happen by looking at the numbers from previous years and the situation a player finds himself in heading into the campaign.

Using its advanced metrics, Stats Perform looks at five players poised to emerge with stellar performances in the 2021 season.

Joe Burrow – Cincinnati Bengals

The fate of the Bengals' season, and perhaps that of head coach Zac Taylor, rests predominantly on how Burrow fares on his return to regular-season action after a serious knee ligament injury curtailed his rookie year.

Burrow, the first overall pick in 2020, being back at his best is far from a guarantee. However, the former LSU star has seemingly grown in confidence in the preseason after some initial struggles in training camp and demonstrated enough in his 10 games last campaign to suggest he can justify his draft status and lift the Bengals from the AFC North cellar.

The primary issue facing Burrow is the lack of talent on the offensive line protecting him, which is a lowly 28th in the NFL per Stats Perform's rankings, with Cincinnati bemusing many by selecting wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase instead of tackle Penei Sewell with the fifth pick in this year's draft.

Yet Burrow does an excellent job of moving in the pocket and finding lanes out of it to escape pressure. He reads the field well and delivers his throws with consistently accurate placement. Burrow ranked sixth in the NFL among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts with a well-thrown percentage of 80.6.

That number dipped to 69.8 when under pressure, but still gave him the best mark of any quarterback in the AFC North, reflecting his poise when the pocket breaks down.

With Chase joining Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd in an impressive wide receiver room, Burrow has the weapons to make a huge leap in year two providing he stays healthy and the offensive line can produce even a slight improvement.

Damien Harris – New England Patriots

While the New England offense disappointed for the most part last year, their running game was efficient, and Harris played a significant role.

He averaged five yards a carry in recording 691 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 10 games. Those latter two numbers may be slightly underwhelming, yet Harris was one of the premier backs in the league when it came to getting to the second level of the defense in a hurry.

A patient back who reads his blocks intelligently, Harris' decisiveness and burst when he identified the running lane to hit allowed him to average 3.11 yards before contact by a defender per attempt, putting him 10th in the NFL.

His rate of 2.05 yards after contact was less impressive but still above the average of 1.91, while Harris was 11th in the NFL with 3.15 yards per carry on rush attempts where there was a run disruption by a defender.

The Patriots possess the third-best run-blocking line in the NFL, according to Stats Perform's rankings, and – though Cam Newton's exit may make their ground game less diverse – Harris could reap the benefits of facing lighter boxes if Mac Jones' impressive preseason translates into the regular season and gives New England's passing attack a much-needed jump.

Brandon Aiyuk – San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers' second first-round pick of 2020 was in a difficult situation as he dealt with sub-par quarterback play between the struggles of the oft-injured Jimmy Garoppolo and backup Nick Mullens before they finished the season with C.J. Beathard.

However, the former Arizona State receiver still excelled in defeating coverage with his route-running ability and showed his potential with the ball in his hands after the catch.

Aiyuk caught 60 passes for 748 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games as a rookie. He added a further two scores on the ground.

His big-play percentage of 33.1 was third among rookies with at least 50 targets behind Gabriel Davis and Tee Higgins. Davis has Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders as competition for targets with the Buffalo Bills while Higgins will have to share the receiving workload with Chase and Boyd.

George Kittle and Deebo Samuel will command a significant number of targets for San Francisco but Aiyuk holds an undisputed position at the top of the wide receiver depth chart, meaning he will likely see enough passes thrown his way in 2021 for him to outperform both Davis and Higgins.

With Garoppolo healthy and Trey Lance lurking as a high-upside successor, Aiyuk is in a much better spot in 2021 to surpass 1,000 yards and establish himself as one of the league's brightest young stars at the receiver position.

Marcus Davenport – New Orleans Saints

Davenport has yet to justify the trade up the Saints struck to draft him in 2018 despite flashes of the brilliance that convinced New Orleans to make such a dramatic move up the board.

His influence was limited by a series of injury issues in 2020 but Davenport still registered a pressure rate of 21.3 per cent that was 11th among edge rushers. His run disruption rate of 15.7 per cent was 12th.

The Saints did spend a first-round pick on an edge rusher in Payton Turner, whose stock rose dramatically late in the process. However, with Trey Hendrickson, who had 13.5 sacks last year, having departed for a lucrative payday with the Bengals, Davenport is in line for a clear uptick on the 374 defensive snaps he played in 2020.

At his best, Davenport is an explosive pass rusher blessed with tremendous power who can drive blockers back with the bull rush but also bend around the edge and flatten to the quarterback with excellent closing speed.

The Saints have not seen his best often enough, yet if he can stay healthy, Davenport can play a crucial role for the New Orleans defense as part of a front that has enough talent to ensure he will regularly have the benefit of one-on-one matchups to help him significantly pad his career total of 12 sacks.

Darious Williams – Los Angeles Rams

There is a strong argument that Williams has already enjoyed his breakout campaign, having racked up 14 passes deflected and four interceptions for the Rams last year.

Despite his superb 2020, Williams is not a player talked about as one of the premier cornerbacks in the NFL. Should he back up last season's efforts with a similarly productive 2021 for a Rams team many expect to contend for the Super Bowl following Matthew Stafford's arrival, that may change.

Williams excels at reading the eyes of the quarterback to break on the football and make plays at the catch point, with his ball skills reflected by his gaudy press breakup and interception numbers.

Only K'Waun Williams of the San Francisco 49ers allowed a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on plays where he is targeted regardless of whether the ball is catchable, at a lower rate than Williams, who did so on 30.3 per cent of balls thrown in his direction.

Williams' big-play percentage allowed of 16 was the 12th-best among all cornerbacks and, though his on-ball production may be a product of playing across from Jalen Ramsey, the fact he so frequently stood up to the test when challenged by opposing passing games indicates he is a player who can continue his ascent in his fourth year.

Drama has not been in short supply among the NFL quarterbacks this offseason.

There have been new names, new deals, new feuds, old feuds...

Now the 2021 season is on the horizon, but not every situation at the sport's most important position has reached a satisfactory conclusion.

There are intriguing QB scenarios to keep an eye on for plenty of teams this season, as Stats Perform explores.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Let's start with a rookie. While fellow first-round picks Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Mac Jones are set for starting roles, Trey Lance has a fight on his hands with the 49ers.

Lance is raw, having played just 19 college games in the FCS, and is set to begin the season behind Jimmy Garoppolo – fit again after becoming one of a remarkable number San Francisco players to suffer with injuries last year, unable to follow up their Super Bowl run.

But Lance's dual-threat ability gives Kyle Shanahan a new dynamic, as evidenced by his 14 rushing touchdowns in 2019 with North Dakota State. Garoppolo has only two career rushing scores.

That is likely to initially put the ball in Lance's hands in the red zone, where his legs should help improve a red zone efficiency of 53.2 per cent from the 2019 season, when a fully fit Niners team ranked 21st in the NFL.

By the end of the year, though, the 21-year-old will undoubtedly be keen for a bigger role, increasing pressure on Garoppolo while the team try to maintain a title challenge.

CHICAGO BEARS

Justin Fields is the second first-round selection starting the year behind an established NFL QB in Andy Dalton.

"There's no need for us to rush Justin," said Bears general manager Ryan Pace last week, explaining they were "very confident" in Dalton. "I just think the more time [Fields] has to learn that and observe, the better off for him," Pace added.

But Fields, who threw for 63 TDs and rushed for a further 15 in two years at Ohio State, is undoubtedly a more realistic long-term solution than Dalton, on his third team in three years.

Fields, like Lance, can run, ranking fifth in the Power 5 among quarterbacks with 7.42 yards per carry last year, but the Bears also need improvement through the air, having ranked 22nd with 228.4 net passing yards per game in 2020.

While the departed Mitchell Trubisky neither threw nor ran the ball well – delivering an accurate, well-thrown ball on just 71.6 per cent of passes and averaging 1.81 yards per carry – Fields (80.18 well-thrown percentage) can do both if given the opportunity.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

It is not only the teams who have spent first-round picks on passers who have a battle under center, with the Saints able to consider two options to replace the great Drew Brees.

Jameis Winston threw only 11 passes in New Orleans last season after leaving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the versatile Taysom Hill preferred when Brees was out injured, making four starts at QB.

But Winston has been confirmed as the starter for the new campaign – at least for now. Whether Sean Payton is willing to stick with an entertaining yet erratic QB for a full season remains to be seen.

The 27-year-old became the first player ever to throw 30 TD passes and 30 interceptions in the same NFL season as the Bucs went 7-9 in 2019.

Winston's 10.70 air yards ranked second, yet his pickable pass percentage of 7.69 was second-worst among those with 100 attempts or more.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

While some teams have multiple reliable options at QB, the Eagles scarcely have one. Having moved on from Carson Wentz, Jalen Hurts is their starter.

Last time out, in his rookie year, Hurts completed just 52.0 per cent of his passes – the worst rate of any QB with 100 or more attempts – and still could not quite keep up with the league's elite running QBs, averaging 6.00 yards per carry.

Yet Philadelphia's response was to trade out of the number six pick in this year's draft and then opt against taking either Fields or Jones, who remained on the board after they moved back up to 10.

Joe Flacco, now 36, is in as the back-up, while a "fired up" Gardner Minshew has arrived from the Jacksonville Jaguars after 37 TDs in two years but is set for a role as a third-stringer.

Unless Hurts makes significant strides, it is difficult to see how the Eagles will not again be in position to take one of the top college QBs in 2022.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers was at the centre of the most compelling offseason speculation surrounding a quarterback this offseason. However, the Green Bay Packers star was not the only former champion at the centre of offseason speculation this year, with Russell Wilson's agent informing ESPN of four trade destinations that would interest the Seahawks stalwart.

Seattle kept their man in the end, but Wilson will be looking for progress from last season, when he complained of "getting hit too much" – "a pretty normal reaction," according to coach Pete Carroll.

Wilson was in the MVP conversation for the first half of the year but was soon left exposed behind a poor offensive line, sacked 47 times to swell his career total to 394 – the most of any QB since he entered the league.

Although left tackle Duane Brown has missed practice as he waits on a contract extension – another development that has frustrated Wilson – the Seahawks have at least traded for guard Gabe Jackson. That move needs to work.

Wilson last year averaged 8.70 air yards while throwing a pickable pass at the sixth-lowest ratio in the NFL (2.64%), but he has to have help if Seattle are to succeed.

Sean Payton has confirmed Jameis Winston has got the nod over Taysom Hill to be the New Orleans Saints' starting quarterback.

Winston has been charged with the task of succeeding future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, who ended his career last season as the all-time leader in passing yards with 80,358.

Hill filled in last season when Brees was absent due to injury and was vying with Winston to start against the Green Bay Packers on September 12.

Saints coach Payton said of Winston on Tuesday: "Both he and Taysom competed their tails off. We feel really good about that (QB) room."

He added: "I can't tell you how much I appreciate how both guys handled it [the battle to be starting QB]."

Payton stated that he has a "clear vision" of how the versatile Hill can help the Saints in the upcoming season.

Winston ended his Tampa Bay Buccaneers career in 2019 with a season that epitomised his frustrating inconsistency.

He led the league in passing yards with 5,109 but became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. His seven picks returned for touchdowns set a league record, too.

It could have been substantially worse for Winston. Per Stats Perform data, he ended the 2019 season with 46 pickable passes, with his interceptable pass percentage of 7.69 the highest of any quarterback with at least 100 attempts.

Meanwhile, Payton says the Saints are prepared for the prospect that they could be forced to operate away from New Orleans for as long as a month due to Hurricane Ida.

He revealed they have explored several college facilities that could be used for off-site preparations for at least four games at the start of the 2021 campaign.

The New Orleans Saints do not know where they will open the NFL regular season, but they are doing all they can to stay focused after Hurricane Ida ravaged the city on Sunday. 

Ida made landfall on the Louisiana coast as a powerful Category 4 storm, 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region. 

The entire city of New Orleans lost power on Sunday but Gayle Benson, who owns the Saints and the NBA's Pelicans, said in a statement Monday that her teams' facilities suffered only superficial damage.

The Saints relocated operations to the Dallas area over the weekend at the invitation of the Cowboys, and head coach Sean Payton said they will remain there at least through Wednesday. 

They are scheduled to host the Green Bay Packers in the regular-season opener on September 12, but Payton told reporters all options are on the table if playing at home is not feasible. 

"Obviously we’ll have a plan B," he said. "And, you know, there are a lot of other things probably from a priority standpoint that are more important for our city.

"But that all being said, we fully anticipate starting the regular season with Green Bay and then the question would be where that game's at."

Speaking to reporters before practice on Monday, Payton noted his team's concern over their homes and belongings left behind. 

"Left behind are obviously apartments, condominiums, homes. Those are all physical things. Nonetheless, they're still home for so many people," Payton said. "I think to some degree that going out and being able to practice today is going to be good for everyone, because from afar, there’s only so much you can do."

The Saints cancelled their final pre-season game, which was to be played at the Superdome against the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday.

NFL rules mandate teams give players this weekend off from practice, and Payton indicated he did not expect the Saints to be back at their home facility when work resumes next Monday. 

Benson said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has accepted the Saints' offer to use their facilities and will stage assistance efforts out of the NFL and NBA teams' practice facility in suburban Metairie. 

Benson also said she will donate $1million to a relief fund that will help the region recover from the storm. 

"Our team is safe and focussed on preparing for, and winning, the first regular game against the Green Bay Packers," Benson said. "We look forward to returning to New Orleans to continue those preparations as soon as our government leaders say it is safe to do so.

"Fortunately, the Caesars Superdome received only minor damage and will be prepared to host games as soon as the city's infrastructure will allow."

The New Orleans Saints have reportedly decided on their starting quarterback, with head coach Sean Payton going with the reclamation project over the relative unknown.

According to multiple reports, Jameis Winston will be the Saints' starter under center when they face the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 on September 12.

Winston has won the job over Taysom Hill, who started four games at quarterback last season when Drew Brees was out injured.

But it is Winston who has the unenviable task of succeeding future Hall of Famer Brees, who ended his career last season as the all-time leader in passing yards with 80,358.

Winston is the owner of an unwanted record following his last season as a starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019.

He undoubtedly offers more upside than a 42-year-old Brees would have, but Payton's challenge in turning Winston's career around is a sizeable one.

30 for 30

Winston ended his Buccaneers career in 2019 with a season that epitomised his maddening inconsistency.

He led the league in passing yards with 5,109 but became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. 

The former number one overall pick tossed 33 scores, but his final throw for the Bucs was his 30th interception that was returned for a touchdown. His seven picks returned for touchdowns set an NFL record.

It could have been substantially worse for Winston. Per Stats Perform data, he ended the 2019 season with 46 pickable passes, with his interceptable pass percentage of 7.69 the highest of any quarterback with at least 100 attempts.

Winston's well-thrown percentage of 70.2 was fourth-worst in the NFL. By contrast, Brees produced an accurate, well-thrown ball on 84.6% of his passes in 2019, the highest rate in the NFL.

Payton will obviously hope to minimize Winston's penchant for turnovers and make the most of his abilities as a downfield thrower. He was second in air yards per attempt (10.70) in his final year for Tampa Bay. Brees' average of 6.83 that year was the fifth-worst in the league and he declined to 6.41 per attempt last season.

Winston led the league with 1,158 passing yards on 94 attempts of 21 or more air yards in 2019 and, while his average of 12.32 passing yards on those attempts was only eighth among quarterbacks with 50 such throws, he is a signal-caller who can raise the ceiling in a manner beyond the Brees of 2020 or backup Hill.

Hill's unconvincing audition

Hill went 3-1 in his four games in relief of Brees last year, though one of those victories came against a Denver Broncos team fielding wide receiver Kendall Hinton at quarterback following a coronavirus outbreak.

And there was little in his audition last year to convince he is worthy of a promotion from backup and utility player to starting quarterback.

Indeed, Hill threw a pickable pass on 5.93 of his 118 attempts, the eighth-highest rate in the NFL, and delivered a well-thrown ball just 72.9% of the time (fifth-worst).

He did so while averaging only 7.1 air yards per attempt. Only nine quarterbacks in the league averaged fewer in 2020.

Payton will have made his decision based on Winston and Hill's respective performances in training camp and preseason. However, Hill's play last season showed he lacks the accuracy of Brees and brings no added upside as a downfield thrower.

The path to the playoffs will be more difficult for a Saints team that has lost several key players on both sides of the ball in the offseason.

But Payton has decided their best route is with Winston as the starter and Hill reprising his role as a part-time quarterback whose athleticism can help him make an impact lined up in the backfield and as a receiver.

Whether Payton is vindicated remains to be seen, but all the numbers suggest his bet on Winston over Hill is the right call.

Page 1 of 3
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.