NFL

The Sunday Seven - 7 Key Opta Facts for Week 3

By Sports Desk September 22, 2019

There will be unfamiliar sights for fans of the New York Giants and the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, as their teams begin regular-season games without Eli Manning and Drew Brees respectively.

Manning has been benched as the Giants' starting QB, with Daniel Jones called up in his place, while a thumb injury has ruled out Saints veteran Brees.

The New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins have, like the Giants, begun the season with back-to-back defeats and each face stern tests in Week 3.

We look at some of the key Opta facts for seven of Sunday's games.

 

New York Giants @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

With rookie Jones' promotion, the Giants will start a quarterback other than Manning for just the second time since the start of the 2005 season. Manning has made a franchise-record 232 starts and missed only one game at Oakland on December 3, 2017. The Giants have won six of the last seven meetings with the Buccaneers, including a 38-35 home victory on November 18, 2018. Saquon Barkley rushed for 142 yards and totalled three TDs in that game.

New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks

For just the fourth time in the last 14 seasons, the Saints will play a game in which Brees does not start under center – two of the previous three were Week 17 contests in which Brees was rested in anticipation of the postseason. Anticipated starter Teddy Bridgewater (17-12 career record) will look to become the first Saints QB other than Brees to win a game since 2005. The Seahawks are 2-0 for the first time since 2013, when they won their first four games en route to a victory at Super Bowl XLVIII.

Miami Dolphins @ Dallas Cowboys

The beleaguered Dolphins have been outscored by 92 points across their first two games (102-10), the worst points differential through two contests since the New Orleans Saints in 1973 (also -92). This weekend they face an unbeaten Cowboys side who are gaining 7.62 yards per play in 2019, the best in the NFL. Dallas have also won five of their last six games against Miami, including the most recent three.

Baltimore Ravens @ Kansas City Chiefs

This will be the first game in the Super Bowl era featuring two teams averaging 30+ points and 450+ yards per game (a minimum of two games into the season). The Chiefs have scored at least 25 points in an NFL-record 23 straight games, while Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson last week became the first player in NFL history with 250+ passing yards and 120+ rushing yards in the same regular-season game, achieving the feat against the Arizona Cardinals.

Atlanta Falcons @ Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are 14-2 all-time against the Falcons, the best record by any active franchise against a single opponent (with a minimum of 15 games played). However, this will be the first meeting between the two sides since 2011, when the Falcons won 31-7 in Indianapolis. Atlanta have lost 10 of their last 11 games against AFC teams, including their Super Bowl LI collapse against the New England Patriots.

New York Jets @ New England Patriots

The Jets have lost 10 consecutive games at New England, the longest road losing streak in Jets' history. Overall, the Patriots are 14-2 against the Jets since 2011, the best record by any team in a divisional match-up. Since Week 15 of the 2006 season, Tom Brady is an incredible 64-2 in regular-season home games against AFC opponents.

Carolina Panthers @ Arizona Cardinals

Carolina are trying to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2010, the year before Cam Newton was drafted. Newton is out of this game with a foot injury, meaning Kyle Allen will start at quarterback. The Cardinals are 1-7-1 at home since the start of last season. Kyler Murray has joined Newton and Kirk Cousins as the only active QBs to throw for 300+ yards in each of his first two NFL starts. No quarterback in the Super Bowl era has thrown for 300+ yards in each of his first three career starts.

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    Quique Setien has long been regarded as a strong judge of potential in young players – they said it was one of the reasons Barcelona hired him in January despite leaving Real Betis last year having arguably fallen short of expectations.

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    Why? Because in 2017, just after becoming Betis coach, Setien stepped in and insisted the club not sell Fabian Ruiz to Barca's B team for €1m. A paltry sum in current terms, but at the time the midfielder had only featured a few times for the Verdiblanco's senior side and just spent time on loan at Elche.

    "I refused as we wanted him at Betis. I saw Fabian's potential and we decided to keep him," Setien told Marca last year. His faith was well-placed – Fabian made 34 LaLiga appearances in 2017-18 and was one of the league's standout midfielders, earning a move to Napoli that reportedly cost €30m.

    An impressive first season in Serie A vindicated the fee and marked him out as one of Europe's most promising midfielders, leading once again to rumours of interest from Barcelona, and Real Madrid too, with both apparently seeing him as a candidate to replace ageing midfield options.

    Struggling to adapt to change, or lack of motivation?

    It's not all been plain sailing, however. This season has proven a challenging one for Fabian, who had a quiet start to the campaign before seeing his form drop off dramatically.

    When Gennaro Gattuso replaced Carlo Ancelotti, he retained faith in Fabian despite his issues, though his form didn't improve particularly with the alteration from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3.

    Italian publication Gazzetta dello Sport blasted Fabian just last month, suggesting there was a link between his form and the apparent interest of Barca, before saying his "slowness is embarrassing, almost penalising for Napoli's actions".

    But there's a feeling in Italy that Napoli's signing of midfield competition in Diego Demme and Stanislav Lobotka have coaxed a positive reaction from the Spaniard.

    With two goals in his past three matches, including excellent performances against Inter and Brescia, Fabian seems to have settled again – and just in time.

    The audition

    Given Fabian's wide-ranging skillset, he has been mentioned as a potential long-term replacement for more than one Barca midfielder.

    Chiefly, it has been suggested he might be the ideal man to push out the increasingly unpopular – among Barca fans, anyway – Ivan Rakitic, as Fabian boasts ability on the ball, incisive passing skills and is a capable striker of the ball. 

    While he may lack some of the industriousness of the Croatian, there's little doubt he would present a more refined technician in the final third.

    However, with Frenkie de Jong already at the club, others feel Fabian could be moulded into a long-term successor to Sergio Busquets, owing to their similar physical attributes and the Betis product's excellent distribution.

    According to Fabian, much of his game has been modelled on former Barca pass-master Xavi, having previously idolised Betis icon Capi – a more attack-minded midfielder – as a youngster, and such influences are clear to see.

    Regardless of Setien's presence – as it's by no means inconceivable to think he won't be at the club next season – it's obvious this tie represents a real opportunity for Fabian to shine against the players he could potentially be brought in to replace.

    How does he compare to Barca's current options?

    Currently, there is no one in the Barca midfield creating goal-scoring chances at the same rate as Fabian, who has laid on 121 opportunities since the start of last season across all competitions - Rakitic (41), Busquets (50), Arthur (41) and Arturo Vidal (47) are all way behind.

    Despite questions about his form, the Spaniard has played 38 key passes in 30 matches in 2019-20. De Jong is proving the most effective in that regard for Barca, but his 24 chances created in 33 outings on all fronts is also still some way behind Fabian.

    Fabian's record of 527 passes into the final third over the past 18 months compares pretty favourably against Rakitic (598), Arthur (374), Vidal (273) and Busquets (717).

    Fabian's average overall pass completion percentage at Napoli stands at 89 per cent, and while that is less than those posted by Busquets (91) and Arthur (93), it's by no means a dramatic drop-off and is the same as Rakitic's record. It suggests Fabian would have no issue acclimatising to Barca's style of play, regardless of whether or not Setien is still at Camp Nou.

    But proving those previous struggles merely came down to a blip in a generally tumultuous season at Napoli and building on his recent revival with eye-catching performances against Barca, in a Champions League tie no less, would suggest he has the mentality as well as the ability to play for the Spanish champions.

  • Messi and Lewandowski must improve – Champions League in Opta numbers Messi and Lewandowski must improve – Champions League in Opta numbers

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    Bayern Munich head to Chelsea in a repeat of the 2012 final that they lost on home soil, and goals certainly appear likely given the previous meetings between the pair.

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    17 - The four previous matches in all competitions between Chelsea and Bayern Munich have produced 17 goals, an average of 4.25 per game.

    18 - Bayern won maximum points (18/18) and had a goal difference of +19 in the Champions League group stages this season, the best performance by a team in the group phase of the competition. However, none of the previous six teams to have won all their group games have subsequently lifted the trophy that same season.

    1 - Chelsea have won only one of their past six Champions League games at Stamford Bridge (D4 L1), a 2-1 victory against Lille last December.

    5 - Chelsea and Bayern scored the joint-most goals from set-pieces in this season's Champions League group stages (5), including three each from corners.

    597 - Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski has scored 10 goals in this season's Champions League, only the second time he has reached double figures in the tournament after 2012-13 with Borussia Dortmund. However, he has failed to find the net in his past 597 minutes in the knockout stages of the tournament, his longest drought.

    Napoli v Barcelona

    2 - Napoli were eliminated in their two previous European Cup/Champions League two-legged ties with Spanish opposition, both times against Real Madrid: 3-1 on aggregate in 1987-88 (first round) and 6-2 in 2016-17 (round of 16).

    0 - Barcelona's last away win against Italian opposition in the Champions League knockout stages came in April 2006, when they beat Milan 1-0, courtesy of a Ludovic Giuly goal; current Napoli boss Gennaro Gattuso played in that game for Milan. Since then, Barcelona have failed to win any of their five such away trips to Italy (D1 L4) and have failed to score in the past four.

    20 - Napoli have only failed to score once in 20 Champions League games at the San Paolo, a goalless draw against Dynamo Kiev in November 2016. They are also unbeaten in their past seven home games in the competition (W5 D2).

    1 - Barca have won only one of their past eight away games in the Champions League knockout phase (D2 L5), a 1-0 victory against Manchester United in April 2019. In those eight games, they have scored only two goals and conceded 17.

    10 - Lionel Messi's total of two goals in five games in this season's Champions League group phase was his lowest for 10 years (since two goals in 2009-10). His only goal on Italian soil in the Champions League knockout stages was in the 2009 final against Manchester United at Rome's Stadio Olimpico – he has failed to find the net (or deliver an assist) in each of his subsequent five appearances.

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    The Cowboys have some interesting decisions to make as starting quarterback Prescott and his number-one target Cooper are both scheduled to hit free agency.

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