Seattle Seahawks leading rusher Rashaad Penny’s season is likely in jeopardy after the running back reportedly fractured his left tibia in Sunday’s game at New Orleans.

According to, Penny is expected to need surgery and will undergo further testing Monday to determine if he sustained additional damage.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters after his team’s 39-32 loss that Penny sustained a "serious" ankle injury, but did not elaborate further.

Penny entered the contest with 292 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 49 attempts through four games, and added 54 yards on eight carries Sunday before exiting early in the second half. He had his lower left leg bend awkwardly while being tackled on a third-quarter run and was taken off the field on a cart.

Rookie Kenneth Walker III replaced Penny and recorded 88 yards on eight rushes, including a 69-yard touchdown that gave Seattle a short-lived 32-31 lead with 6:54 remaining.

A first-round pick of Seattle in 2018, Penny re-signed with the Seahawks on a one-year contract in March after setting career highs of 749 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 2021.

The Seahawks took Walker, who won the 2021 Doak Walker Award honouring the nation’s top college running back, after rushing for 1636 yards and 16 touchdowns for Michigan State, in the second round (41st overall) of this year’s draft. The 21-year-old has 146 yards and one touchdown on 23 rush attempts through his first four NFL games.

Dan Campbell vowed to "look at everything" after the Detroit Lions' defense produced a miserable performance in a 48-45 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

While few anticipated the Lions to emerge as contenders in Campbell's second season as head coach, there were expectations of a significant upturn after a talent-poor team stayed competitive throughout 2021, a campaign that was followed by a strong offseason.

Yet such expectations look misplaced after a 1-3 start in which the Lions have scored an NFL-high 140 points but conceded 141, also more than any other team in the league. They are the first team in NFL history to have scored and conceded at least 140 points in their opening four games.

The Seahawks and Lions combined for 93 points and 1,075 total yards of offense (Seattle – 555 yards; Detroit – 520 yards). It marked the second game in NFL history in which two teams combined for at least 90 points and 1,075 total yards of offense, joining the Cincinnati Bengals at the Cleveland Browns in Week 2 of the 2007 season. 

The Lions allowed 10.7 yards per pass play and 7.1 yards per rush in a game in which Seattle converted nine of their 12 third downs.

Campbell showed last season he is not afraid to make mid-season coaching changes, taking over play-calling duties from then offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn after an 0-8 start in 2021.

But he defended defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn despite that unit's ineptitude seeing a sensational offensive performance go to waste.

"I just don't feel our swagger," Campbell said. "I mean, we knew if we could get this team in second-and-long that would go a long way and then, we would — you would need to produce because it's been an area where that team has not been as good. And boy, we didn't make the most of it.

"Now look, they got us in a couple of third downs there late, third-and-longs that we have not been exposed to yet. And they gutted us. They got us good. And it was good designs by them, good play designs and in critical moments, they — it was good. It was real good by them.

"I've got a lot of faith in Aaron Glenn," Campbell said. "I've got a ton of faith in those assistants, and I think it's just — I think we sit down and I think we look at everything together.

"Because really, I think more than anything maybe it's time for a deep dive, a real deep dive into it. Players, everything that we're doing, but I also trust what he's doing.

"And there's a reason why I hired him, and so I want to let him do his job. But certainly, I'm going — I mean, I've got to look a lot deeper than I have."

Week 4 of the NFL season promises plenty of excitement following a blistering start to the 2022 season.

The season has so far been defined by close finishes. Through three weeks, there have been 18 games decided by three points or fewer this season, the most such games through the first three weeks of a season in NFL history. 

A packed crowd at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will hope to see another tight game as the NFL returns to London with the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings facing off.

The Washington Commanders travel to face the Dallas Cowboys in a fierce rivalry and the Philadelphia Eagles will look to extend their winning streak against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

With plenty more on the agenda, Stats Perform has used its data to preview this week's games.

Minnesota Vikings (1-2) @ New Orleans Saints (1-2)

A high-scoring affair should be on the cards in London, as the Vikings and Saints have put up 700 points (53.8 per game) over their last 13 regular season matchups dating back to 1995 – more than any other game with at least a dozen meetings.

The Vikings are in very capable hands with Kirk Cousins, who has a career passer rating of 126.7 against the Saints in the regular season, the highest by any QB against a single opponent in the Super Bowl era (minimum 125 attempts).

However, they face a Saints defense that has held opponents to fewer than 250 passing yards and one touchdown pass for nine straight games, a franchise record, while the only team in the last 10 years to enjoy a longer streak was the New England Patriots in 2019.

Chris Olave boasts 268 receiving yards in his first three career games but is yet to score a touchdown, a record which stands as the most since Charlie Wade's 315 yards without a TD in his first three games for the Chicago Bears in 1974.

Washington Commanders (1-2) @ Dallas Cowboys (2-1)

The Cowboys host the Commanders having won both matchups last season, including a 56-14 triumph in Week 14 that stands as the highest margin of victory for either team in the all-time series.

With six sacks in the Week 2 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals and five sacks last weekend against the New York Giants, the Cowboys have recorded five or more sacks in consecutive games for the first time since a four-game streak in November/December 2008.

That will be of particular concern to Carson Wentz, who was sacked a career-high nine times in the Commanders' home loss to the Eagles last week – the most of any QB for the franchise since John Beck was sacked 10 times by the Buffalo Bills in 2011.

Fourth-quarter offense has been a highlight for Washington, though, totalling 455 scrimmage yards (342 passing, 113 rushing) and standing third in the NFL for the most fourth-quarter yards in 2022 behind the Saints (541) and the Indianapolis Colts (456).

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1) @ Philadelphia Eagles (3-0)

The only 3-0 side to play on Sunday, the Eagles have held the Jaguars to under 20 points in the last four matchups between the two sides stretching back to 2006, tied for the second-longest active such run for Philadelphia behind the six-game streak against the Jets.

In the past two weeks, the Eagles have kept their opponents to under 10 points (8 vs Washington, 7 vs Minnesota) and are the only NFL team this season to achieve the feat in consecutive games, while Philadelphia last went three in a row in that regard in 1980.

The Jaguars are 2-1 at the start of the season for the first time since 2018 and have scored 84 points, the third-most by the team in the opening three games of the season in franchise history (98 in 1997 and 89 in 2017).

Both teams rank in the top five in the NFL for total first downs this season, with the Eagles (73) third and the Jaguars (70) fifth.


The Los Angeles Chargers travel to face the Houston Texans having being held to just 26 yards on the ground against the Jaguars last week and have 177 rushing yards in the NFL this season, the fewest in three games in team history.

A total of 572 rushing yards this season places the Cleveland Browns as the NFL's best on the ground this season and they visit the Atlanta Falcons having amassed their highest total through their first three games of a campaign since 1963.

The Seattle Seahawks tackle the Lions boasting seven wins in the last eight matchups against Detroit dating back to 2003, the third-best record by an NFC team against a conference opponent over the past 20 seasons.

The Titans have won each of the last three games against the Colts, including a 34-31 win in overtime last season. A victory this weekend would make this Tennessee's outright longest winning streak against Indianapolis (also three straight wins between 1988 and 1992).

Jimmy Garoppolo is back as the San Francisco 49ers' starter but only after an awful injury to his successor Trey Lance.

Garoppolo looked to be on the way out of the Niners in the offseason as Lance, selected with the third overall pick in last year's draft, was installed as the starter in San Francisco.

Eventually, however, the team agreed to a reworked contract with Garoppolo that would see him stay on as Lance's backup.

And the 30-year-old, who led the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2019 and the NFC Championship Game last year, did not have to wait long for his chance.

Lance fractured his right ankle in a tackle on the 49ers' second drive of their Week 2 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

He left the field on a cart and was quickly ruled out of the rest of the game, with coach Kyle Shanahan later confirming the quarterback was set for season-ending surgery.

Garoppolo came in for his first snaps of the year, throwing for 154 yards and a touchdown and rushing for a further score as San Francisco eased to a 27-7 win.

After the game, he said: "It felt good to be back out there.

"I felt terrible for Trey. I've been on that side in this league. It's tough. Every person has their share of injuries, but that sucks for him and I feel bad for him.

"But he's our brother, and we'll pick him up."

Garoppolo has himself been working his way back from shoulder surgery, but he quickly settled back in.

"It was more just about getting the shoulder ready," he said. "Mentally, I knew the scheme.

"Some of the new plays took a little while to learn, there's always some new wrinkles in the offense, but for the most part it was just once my shoulder was good, I was ready to roll."

Trey Lance’s first season as the San Francisco 49ers’ starting quarterback is over after only two games after the 2021 No. 3 overall pick fractured his right ankle in Sunday’s win over the Seattle Seahawks.

Lance’s right leg bent awkwardly when tackled by two Seattle defenders on a designed run on the 49ers’ second drive of the game. He was carted off after having his leg placed in an air cast and quickly ruled out of the contest.

Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed the fracture following his team’s 27-7 victory and announced Lance is set to undergo surgery Monday.

“It’s always tough, especially when it’s a big one like that,” Shanahan said. “It’s a very sad moment, but you don’t have time to sit there and think about it.

“We were real happy about the win, but it was a little somber once you got in the locker room and you see him.”

Lance spent his rookie season as the backup to veteran Jimmy Garoppolo but was declared the team’s starter this offseason. The 22-year-old did struggle in last week’s 19-10 road loss to the Chicago Bears, completing just 13 of 28 passes for 164 yards and an interception in a game played in rain-soaked conditions.

Garoppolo replaced Lance in Sunday’s win and threw for 154 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers on 13-of-21 passing.

“I thought he did a real good job coming off the bench, made some real key throws,” Shanahan said. “I’m real proud of Jimmy and how he came in and was ready for the moment and helped us get a win.

Garoppolo did not practice at all during training camp as he recovered from shoulder surgery and spent the summer the subject of trade rumours. The nine-year veteran ultimately remained with the 49ers on a reworked contract that slashed his 2022 salary from $24.2 million to a $6.5 million base, though he can earn close to an additional $9 million in incentives.

The 49ers have had considerable past success with Garoppolo at the helm, as he owns a 31-14 record in 45 regular-season starts since joining the team in a trade with the New England Patriots during the 2017 season.

Garoppolo helped San Francisco reach the Super Bowl during the 2019 season and led the 49ers to last season’s NFC Championship Game. The 30-year-old threw for 3,810 yards and 20 touchdowns with 12 interceptions in 15 starts in 2021.

What a first week of the NFL season that was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Patrick Mahomes and Saquon Barkley were recognised as the respective AFC and NFC Offensive Player of the Week after flying starts to the new NFL season.

Mahomes led the Kansas City Chiefs to a dominant 44-21 Week 1 win at the Arizona Cardinals.

The 2018 MVP leads the league in passing touchdowns (five), passing yards (360) and quarterback rating (144.2) at this early stage.

Only Joe Burrow matched Mahomes' 22 passes for first downs, while he did not throw an interception and was not sacked, making him an obvious choice as the standout player in the AFC.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, who played a vital role in the Pittsburgh Steelers' wild win over Burrow's Cincinnati Bengals, is the AFC Defensive Player of the Year.

The Steelers safety caught a pick-six from Burrow's first pass of the game and later, crucially, blocked Evan McPherson's PAT to take the game to overtime.

Cade York was more accurate as time expired in the Cleveland Browns' dramatic victory over the Carolina Panthers, kicking the winning field goal to earn AFC Special Teams Player of the Week recognition.

In the NFC, New York Giants running back Barkley was the standout player on offense, stealing the show against a Tennessee Titans team featuring two-time rushing yards and rushing TDs leader Derrick Henry.

Barkley has the most rushing yards at this early stage with 164 and a score. His 68-yard run in the drive that culminated in his TD was the longest carry of the week.

The fifth-year superstar, who has been hampered by injuries since an outstanding rookie season, also caught a Daniel Jones pass for the decisive two-point conversion in a 21-20 Giants victory.

Also honoured in the NFC were debutant Seattle Seahawks linebacker Uchenna Nwosu and Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Zech McPhearson.

Nwosu sacked the Denver Broncos' former Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and forced a fumble from Melvin Gordon at the one-yard line, while McPhearson fielded the Detroit Lions' attempted onside kick to set up a Boston Scott touchdown in an Eagles win.

Denver Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett says he "definitely" made a mistake opting not to run a fourth-and-five play instead of going for a 64-yard field goal in the closing stages of Monday's defeat to the Seattle Seahawks.

Hackett decided to send on kicker Brandon McManus with 20 seconds left to play instead of allowing quarterback Russell Wilson – playing against his former team – to run a play.

McManus could only drag his long-range effort left and thus allowed the Seahawks to take the knee for a 17-16 opening-round victory.

Since 1960 there have been only two kickers who have converted field-goal attempts of at least 64 yards, while the longest made at Lumen Field stands at 56. McManus is just one-of-five from 60-plus efforts.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, rookie NFL head coach Hackett conceded he got the decision wrong.

"Looking back at it, we definitely should've gone for it," Hackett said. 

"One of those things, you look back at it and you say, 'of course we should go for it, we missed the field goal'.

"But, in that situation, we had a plan. We had a plan, we knew the [46-yard line] was the mark."

Hackett explained how the plan to was to get into the 46-yard range, a target McManus said he was comfortable kicking from, and that he had more of an issue with a play earlier in the drive that saw Javonte Williams lose four yards on first-and-10 from Denver's 49.

"I'm more upset about that play before it, to lose yards," Hackett said. "Getting that there would've definitely been better to be able to call that same play and get extra yards. 

"[Wilson] dumps it out to Javonte, Javonte makes a move, goes a lot farther than I think we had anticipated. We were expecting to go for it on fourth down. 

"And then you hit the mark. The mark that we had all set before we started. We said, 46-yard line was where we wanted to be. And we got there, so we had to make the decision if we wanted to give it to Brandon. And we did. It didn't work. Sucks. But hey, that's part of it.

"Looking back at it, if you miss the field goal, you're always gonna wish you would've gone for it and if you would've gone for it and not gotten it, you wish you would've given him a chance."

The Seattle Seahawks enjoyed a Week 1 win against the Denver Broncos at Lumen Field on Monday, but it was not all good news.

Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams left the game with what coach Pete Carroll later described as a "serious" knee injury.

Adams – who has suffered shoulder and finger injuries in recent seasons – had made three tackles by the time he had to leave the game, which Seattle narrowly won after touchdowns from Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson and a field goal from Jason Myers, all in the first half.

"[Adams] hurt his knee tonight," Carroll said after the game. "Not a typical knee injury. His quadricep tendon got damaged some tonight. He got hurt, it's a serious injury."

Fellow safety Quandre Diggs expressed sympathy for Adams, relating how he had witnessed his team-mate's eagerness to make his mark from close quarters.

"It sucks, man," Diggs said. "This guy's had a hell of a camp, he's had a hell of an offseason, and you hate to see it, especially with Jamal being one of my closest friends.

"It's tough. We kind of had the same offseason where it was just rehab and trying to get back to be the leaders of this team and the leaders of this defense.

"It's just hard to imagine. You go out there and you always have that doubt, like, 'Am I ready? Am I ready to go?'.

"It sucks the way it happened, and it sucks for him personally, because I know how much work he put in this past offseason and I know mentally he was in great space. He was the most comfortable he's been around here. It just sucks to see. I love him."

Russell Wilson did not begrudge the decision to attempt a field goal late in the Denver Broncos' 17-16 opening game defeat at the Seattle Seahawks on Monday.

Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett opted to send on Brandon McManus with 20 seconds left on fourth-and-5 for a 64-yard attempt, which McManus could only pull to the left, giving the Seahawks the chance to take the knee to victory.

Wilson impressed on his debut for Denver, making 29 of his 42 pass attempts for a total of 340 yards, throwing one touchdown and zero interceptions.

Despite being sidelined for the crucial moment late on, the 33-year-old quarterback believed it was still the correct decision, suggesting McManus could be the best kicker in the game.

"We got the best field goal kicker maybe in the game,'' Wilson said after the loss.

"We got there and unfortunately it didn't go in... I believe in coach Hackett, I believe in what we're doing, I believe in everything.

"I don't think it was the wrong decision."

Wilson – who spent 10 seasons in Seattle prior to his blockbuster trade to Denver – was on the receiving end of some boos from the home fans at Lumen Field, but still paid tribute to his former team.

"This was a special game, just because I got to see and play against some of my closest friends,'' Wilson said. "I wouldn't be where I am today without this place... but I didn't play for just this one game, I've got a bigger mission.

"[The booing] didn't bother me. It was a hostile environment, it always has been. I didn't expect to get a round of applause every once in a while.

"I gave everything I had here every day, every day, and anybody that says anything else, they're completely wrong."

Hackett was pleased with his new man's efforts, even in defeat, saying: "I think he played really well, he took care of the football, he made really good decisions, he had some explosive plays, he was able to distribute the ball all over the field.

"That's what makes me really frustrated for him."

Geno Smith threw two touchdown passes as the Seattle Seahawks won in Russell Wilson's return to Lumen Field with a 17-16 victory over his new side Denver Broncos in Monday Night Football.

Trailing by one point with 20 seconds to play, the Broncos opted to chase victory with a 64-yard field-goal attempt from Brandon McManus, rather than keep the ball in Wilson's hands. McManus' attempt, which would have tied for the second longest field goal in NFL history, had the distance but missed wide left.

Wilson, who was traded by the Seahawks to the Broncos in the offseason, completed 29-of-42 passes for 340 yards with one touchdown for Denver.

Smith was the star for the Seahawks, particularly in the first half, completing 23-of-28 attempts for 195 yards with two touchdowns. The Seahawks were scoreless in the second half but their defense held up.

Seattle scored a TD with their first drive as Smith found a wide-open Will Dissly, who had three receptions for 43 yards.

The Broncos tied it up in the second quarter when Wilson floated to Jerry Jeudy for a 67-yard to reception TD, which was his first in over 600 days. Seattle re-claimed the lead before half-time when Smith threw 25 yards to Colby Parkinson.

After Denver cut the lead to one from a McManus field goal in the fourth, the Broncos came up empty on the goal line twice, before their last-ditch attempt fell short.

Wilson hit up Javonte Williams, before exhausting time and calling a timeout with 20 seconds remaining to allow McManus' attempt.

The win means Seattle have won their last eight Week 1 games at home, dating back to their last loss in 1999. Denver have lost six straight Monday Night Football games.

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

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

Sort of.

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

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

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

Nowhere near

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

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

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

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

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

Entering contention

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

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

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

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

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

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

In their prime

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

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

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

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

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

Last chance saloon

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

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

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

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

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

Missed their chance

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Carroll has heard all the talk that the Seattle Seahawks are in for a season of struggle, but the veteran coach has urged his team to enjoy the thrill of the chase.

Russell Wilson completed a decade as the starting quarterback for the Seahawks before departing in March for the Denver Broncos, and Seattle could find life exceedingly difficult in his absence.

Geno Smith looks to have fended off Drew Lock to emerge as Carroll's preferred QB, but neither looks to possess the quality to plug the gap.

Lock (6.54) and Smith (5.88) were among the five worst quarterbacks (min. 50 attempts) by pickable pass percentage last season, and given Seattle's defense has become one of the league's weakest, it is not without good reason that many expect Seattle to prop up the NFC.

Carroll, who has been head coach of the Seahawks since 2010, is coming up for 72 next week, and his optimism still burns brightly.

His team start at home next Monday, against Wilson and the Broncos.

"I don't care what anybody says. People have been saying stuff about teams for years," Carroll said.

"They don't know. They're just guessing at this point, and then we go and prove it and we see where we are. Win a big game in the opener or struggle and not win a big game in the opener, you've got to come back and get going again and back on track regardless."

Carroll added: "I just think we're chasing instead of being chased, which I think is cool. I think it's exciting."

The coach led Seattle to Super Bowl glory in the 2013 season, but they finished with a 7-10 record last term.

The team's 2022 captains were revealed on Monday, with Tyler Lockett on offense, Quandre Diggs and Al Woods on defense, and Nick Bellore on special teams.

"I love the leadership. I love the speed," said Carroll, quoted by ESPN. "I love our style in all aspects and now we need to go out and show it and live up to what the expectations are. My expectations are very high."

He has no time for preseason pessimism, adding: "I don't see any reason my expectations should change at all."

Geno Smith has been named as the Seattle Seahawks' starting quarterback for their NFL opener against the Denver Broncos after seeing off competition from Drew Lock.

Smith started the Seahawks' 27-26 preseason loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Friday, with Lock subsequently coming in to throw one touchdown pass and three interceptions.

Former New York Jets passer Smith, who moved to Seattle in 2019 after also featuring for the New York Giants and Los Angeles Chargers, looked likely to get the nod after a bout of COVID-19 forced Lock to sit out their second outing of preseason, a 27-11 defeat to the Chicago Bears.

Head coach Pete Carroll confirmed his decision after the loss to Dallas, declaring: "Geno's going to start.

"He's going to start the opener, and he's earned it, he's won the job. With the time frames that got messed up for Drew, he just ran out of time."

Smith, 31, has started all three of Seattle's preseason outings, and said: "Obviously I'm thankful for the opportunity and grateful, but I have a lot of work ahead of me, that was my mindset from the start.

"I'm just getting ready to get out there and win games, and this is just step one in that process. None of this will matter if we don't get out and win the games we're supposed to win." 

The Seahawks' season-opening clash with Denver will see them face their former star quarterback Russell Wilson, whose trade took Lock to Seattle earlier this year. 

The new NFL season is right around the corner and, amid the battle for the playoffs and eventual success in the Super Bowl, there's also the fight that nobody wants to admit they may like the idea of.

The team with the worst record in the NFL in the 2022 season will secure the first pick of the 2023 NFL Draft – theoretically allowing the worst teams to pick the best players, continuing a cycle of maintaining competitiveness across the league.

For the past two seasons, that opportunity has fallen to the Jaguars but, while 2022 may not be a fully enjoyable season in Jacksonville, there is at least hope that they can rise off the bottom after two seasons with a combined record of 4-29.

So, if not the Jaguars, then who? Stats Perform has crunched the numbers and given an assessment of four teams who could be in the hunt for the number one pick.

Houston Texans

There are few teams who head into 2022 with such a bleak picture across the entire team and Davis Mills, the quarterback tasked with helming the offense, has weak wide receiver options and an offensive line unable to provide him with much safety.

Last season, Houston were ranked dead last for the total number of first downs (266), and red-zone drives (37), as well as holding the worst yards-per-game average at 278.1 and the highest percentage of three-and-out drives (28.2)

Their first down efficiency, the percentage of first downs picking up four or more yards, was 42.9 per cent, again the worst across the league.

Defensively, things were not much better. When it came to stopping big plays where opponents gained 10 or more yards, the Texans were bottom of the class with 257 given up and allowed the most successful plays in the red zone with 55.9 per cent.

The Texans' opponents averaged 384.4 yards per game in 2021, which was the second-worst tally in the NFL - and Houston also ranked 31st for the average margin of defeat (17.15 pts).

Atlanta Falcons

Having traded away the greatest quarterback in their franchise history in Matt Ryan, the Falcons head into unchartered territory in 2022, but the signs are far from promising.

Marcus Mariota, entering his seventh year in the NFL, has been named as the Falcons' starting quarterback for the forthcoming season ahead of rookie Desmond Ridder, but has enjoyed limited playing time in recent years.

Getting up to speed with the offense will be even harder without Calvin Ridley, handed an indefinite suspension for betting during the 2021 season, though tight end Kyle Pitts and rookie receiver Drake London offer him two physically imposing targets.

Atlanta have also had problems retaining the ball, with the Falcons recording 30 fumbles last season, the most in the NFL - conceding possession on 11 occasions.

Things are worse on defense. In the 2021 season, the Falcons gave up an average of 364.4 yards per game and conceded an average of 27 points per game - the third-worst mark in the NFL behind only the New York Jets (29.6) and the Detroit Lions (27.5). Atlanta's is a talent-poor roster that looks primed to put them in contention for the first pick and a potential shot at a franchise quarterback.

New York Jets

The Jets' situation looks bleak before even diving into the stats, with the franchise 0-6 against division opponents in 2021 and having an overall record of 4-13 last season – only the Jaguars and the Lions held a worse return.

Positive moves were made in the 2022 NFL Draft, New York landing cornerback Ahmad 'Sauce' Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson and defensive end Jermaine Johnson in the first round – but getting immediate contributions from all three may be asking too much.

The Jets were comfortably the worst defensive team in the NFL last season, conceding an average of 397.6 yards per game, the highest in the NFL, and 29.6 points per game totalling 504 overall – the most by some distance ahead of the porous Lions (467).

Vulnerabilities were present across the field, with the Jets giving up an average of 138.3 rushing yards per game in 2021, the fourth-highest in the league, and 259.4 receiving yards per game, the third-highest total.

The Jets will be desperate to improve a turnover differential of minus 13. Doing so will be contingent on 2021 second overall pick recovering from his preseason knee injury and staying healthy and avoiding the poor decisions that were prevalent in his rookie year. He threw 11 of the Jets' 20 interceptions last season. 

If Wilson fails to make those strides, the Jets could be debating whether to replace him with one of 2023's top quarterback prospects with the number one pick.

Seattle Seahawks

Losing Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos is a hit likely to send the Seahawks to the NFC cellar, as their 2012 third-round pick was responsible for moments of magic that kept Seattle's head above water in recent years.

The strength of Pete Carroll's defense had defined his reign in Seattle, but the Seahawks have gradually declined to become one of the league's worst teams on that side of the ball. Seattle conceded an average of 379.1 yards per game in 2021 – the fifth-most in the league.

Seattle have particularly struggled defending the pass, giving up 265.5 yards per game through the air in 2021 – putting them behind only the Baltimore Ravens.

Neither of Wilson's replacements have previously shown any indication of elevating an offense to a level to mitigate the defensive struggles as the franchise legend did so often during his storied spell in Seattle.

Indeed, neither Drew Lock nor Geno Smith can be considered capable of filling the void left by the nine-time Pro Bowl QB.

Lock's interception percentage of 2.8 since entering the NFL in 2019 is the ninth-worst in the league in that time. Both Lock (6.54) and Smith (5.88) were among the five worst quarterbacks (min. 50 attempts) by pickable pass percentage last season.

Simply put, the Seahawks do not possess the quarterback play to allow for the defense to be as bad as it is. It's a transition year in Seattle, and the Seahawks could soon be transitioning to Wilson's long-term replacement with the top pick.

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