NFL

Mahomes, Rodgers headline Pro Bowl rosters

By Sports Desk December 21, 2020

Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers headlined the AFC and NFC Pro Bowl rosters announced on Monday.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Mahomes and Green Bay Packers star Rodgers have dominated this season.

Rodgers leads the NFL for touchdown passes with 40, while no player has more than Mahomes 4,462 passing yards.

With his 40 TD passes, Rodgers became the first player with 40-plus passing touchdowns in three seasons in NFL history, having also achieved it in 2011 and 2016.

The Chiefs, Packers, Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks each had a league-high seven players make the Pro Bowl.

Seahawks star Russell Wilson made the NFC roster, as did Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.

With his performance against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Murray became the fourth quarterback in the Super Bowl era aged 23 or younger to throw for 400-plus yards and have a 125-plus passer rating in a game. The previous three (Dan Marino, Jared Goff and Mahomes) all reached the Super Bowl in that season.

The 2021 Pro Bowl game was due to be played on January 31, but was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Related items

  • New Orleans Saints: Major changes coming up, with or without Brees New Orleans Saints: Major changes coming up, with or without Brees

    The New Orleans Saints are in limbo.

    Until Drew Brees reveals whether his playing career will continue into a 21st season, New Orleans will not be able to finalise a plan of attack for an extremely challenging offseason.

    With or without Brees, the Saints need to make some significant changes, New Orleans left facing a balancing act between staying competitive and getting under a shrinking salary cap.

    They are under that pressure after one of most talented rosters in the NFL again came up short in the postseason, their playoff hopes ended in the Wild Card round by their NFC South rivals and eventual Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    The lessons learned from that failure will dictate how the Saints attack free agency and the draft this year.

    What can be gleaned from another season in which the Saints excelled but ultimately fell short of expectations? We reflect on their 2020 using Stats Perform data.

    Offense

    The numbers tell a very clear story. In 2020, the Saints' passing offense was not the force it has been in previous years.

    After finishing seventh in net passing yards per game (265.3) in 2019, the Saints finished 19th (234.9) in the same category in 2020.

    They also had nine fewer passing plays of 25 yards or more, recording just 24 having put up 33 in 2019.

    Indeed, this was a season in which the increasing limitations of Brees' arm restricted the upside of the New Orleans attack.

    Brees was 14th in passing yards gained per attempt (7.54) in 2020 but his impact as a downfield thrower was minimal.

    He attempted just 21 passes of 21 air yards or more in his 12 games and completed only nine of them, though five went for touchdowns.

    Should Brees retire, head coach Sean Payton may be tempted to go with Taysom Hill as his replacement in 2021 after he filled in for the 42-year-old in four games in 2020.

    Utility man Hill attempted nine passes of 21 air yards or more and completed five of them for 170 yards and two touchdowns with a passer rating of 140.0, offering hope he could be an upgrade on Brees in that area.

    Though there are concerns over the explosiveness of the passing game, there should be no such worries about their ground attack.

    The Saints ranked eighth in the NFL in rushes of 10 yards or more (60), with 27 of those coming from Alvin Kamara.

    Kamara finished fourth among running backs in scrimmage yards per game with (112.5).

    With or without Brees, the Saints need to find a way to maximise the potency of their passing game so not to waste the prime years of one of the top running backs in the league and ensure they have the firepower to compete in the NFC.

    Defense

    One of the main reasons the Saints were able to contend despite the conservative nature of the passing offense was the strength of their defense.

    The Saints were one of the premier defensive teams in football, allowing opposing offenses to move the ball at a rate of 5.01 yards per play, with only three teams bettering them in that regard.

    New Orleans also had one of the most opportunistic defenses in the league, their 26 takeaways tied for third in the NFL.

    The 92 points scored off those turnovers provided a substantial boost to Brees and the offense, with that resulting in the league's sixth-best tally.

    The Los Angeles Rams (2) were the only team to allow fewer touchdowns of 20 yards or more than the five the Saints conceded, while New Orleans was exceptional at keeping opposing run games in check.

    New Orleans forced 50 negative run plays in 2020, the negative yardage total of minus 121 fourth in the NFL behind the New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.

    Between their ability to limit big plays, take away the football and make offenses one dimensional through shutting down the run game, the Saints boasted an elite defense last season.

    With uncertainty at the quarterback position, keeping that group together is likely to be pivotal to the Saints' hopes of staying in contention in 2021.

    But for a team whose salary cap situation is the worst in the NFL, that will be easier said than done.

    Offseason

    Assuming the most optimistic estimate of the salary cap being $185million, the Saints are set to be $65m over it as things stand.

    New Orleans look set to suffer after years of stretching the cap to its extreme, and that pain is coming in a year where they have 22 unrestricted free agents.

    Brees has restructured his contract in advance of his expected retirement, helping the Saints significantly, yet their odds of keeping around defenders such as Marcus Williams, P.J. Williams and pass rusher Trey Hendrickson - who was third in the NFL with 13.5 sacks in 2020 - still look slim.

    Linebacker Kwon Alexander and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who carry a combined cap hit of over $23m and can be released for a dead cap charge of just $4m, stand out as obvious potential casualties of the financial issues facing the Saints.

    Should Brees indeed ride off into the sunset, New Orleans will need to decide whether to gamble on Hill or bring back Jameis Winston on an affordable deal and make him the successor.

    The draft could also be an avenue by which the Saints could find Brees' heir, however, it seems more likely they will use their draft capital to reinforce a defense that could lose talent at all three levels.

    Their decision-making in resolving the issue at quarterback and minimising the impact of the potential departures on defense will define whether the Saints stay at the sharp end of the NFC in 2021.

  • Fernandes success would not have been easy for Pogba, says Nani Fernandes success would not have been easy for Pogba, says Nani

    Bruno Fernandes being hailed as the signing who turned around Manchester United's fortunes would have been difficult for Paul Pogba to take, according to Nani.

    Fernandes has received rave reviews for his incredible performances since arriving at Old Trafford from Sporting CP just over a year ago.

    The attacking midfielder has recorded 40 goal involvements – 23 goals and 17 assists – in 41 Premier League appearances, leading him to be touted as the player who can lead United back to the top.

    Former United winger Nani, a four-time Premier League winner, thinks every United squad member would have had to take stock after Fernandes' stunning impact.

    And adapting would have been particularly tough for Pogba, who was previously established as the star man.

    Nani feels Pogba and the rest of the United players have adjusted well over the past year to increasingly incorporate Fernandes' individual brilliance into better team performances and results.

    But he believes the connection between World Cup winner Pogba and Portugal international Fernandes must get stronger still.

    Nani told Stats Perform News: "There are different [types of] players on the field - you have Bruno Fernandes, a smarter attacking player, and Pogba who can do a little bit of both [attacking and defending].

    "Pogba can handle the game a bit for Bruno to go a little bit up [the pitch]. They have to try to have the connection. 

    "It is not easy, when you [Pogba] are the player for the club, the midfield star, and another player arrives to the team and starts performing so well.

    "And then [it is not easy] that everyone starts talking just about the player and, 'He made the team change, he made everything'. 

    "All of that could have a little bit of an impact in every head on the team. 

    "But what I see in the last games, the players adjust to that. They have confirmed [in ther minds] a little bit what Bruno can give to the team.

    "And Bruno is part of the team so now they look like more of a strong team. 

    "So I'm very confident about the next games until the end of the season. I think there will be a surprise to the end of the season because they are still in the Europa League. Let's see."

    Pogba has just over one year left on his current contract and agent Mino Raiola said in December his client wanted to leave United.

    While Raiola later backtracked somewhat during the January transfer window, he insisted he would still push for a transfer at the end of the season, though the club have talked about a new deal.

    Nani was asked whether Pogba's continued presence in the headlines meant he had become a distraction for United.

    "At this moment, I see him as one of the important players at Man United," Nani said about Pogba.

    "But I don't know what he has on his mind, if he wants to leave or if all this news is making some problems in his head.

    "I don't know if he has full concentration on the team, on the games, on the goals of the team. 

    "I saw him when he was struggling with some injuries and then he came back and started playing, he was improving his performance. He was doing well. 

    "He was helping the team, but we know Pogba can do much better, he can do much more because he is a top player in this position. He's not using all his strength, all his qualities. 

    "But if he wants to stay at the club, for sure he will perform much better very soon. He needs to continue to improve his game, his confidence and try to help the team in the way he can."

    Pogba has been out of action for a month since suffering a thigh injury in the dramatic 3-3 draw with Everton.

    While United are unbeaten in seven games without him, four of those contests have been draws, including Wednesday's goalless encounter at Crystal Palace.

    That was their sixth goalless Premier League draw of the season, their joint-most ever in a season, along with 2004-05 and 2016-17.

    It is also the first time United have drawn three consecutive matches 0-0 in all competitions since October 2015, when they were playing under Louis van Gaal.

  • Dortmund to make late decision on Sancho and Guerreiro ahead of Der Klassiker Dortmund to make late decision on Sancho and Guerreiro ahead of Der Klassiker

    Jadon Sancho and Raphael Guerreiro will be assessed before a decision is made on whether they can play any part in Borussia Dortmund's Bundesliga showdown with rivals Bayern Munich.

    England international Sancho hobbled off the pitch two minutes after scoring what proved to be the winning goal in Tuesday's 1-0 DFB-Pokal quarter-final win against Borussia Monchengladbach.

    He watched the final 22 minutes from the bench with an ice pack on his upper leg, with interim head coach Edin Terzic confirming after the match the 20-year-old had sustained a muscular issue.

    Guerreiro, used 29 times in all competitions this season, limped off in the opening five minutes of the cup tie and both players are now doubtful for Saturday's Klassiker at the Allianz Arena.

    "Jadon and Raphael were examined immediately after the Gladbach game and we have to carry out further examinations," Terzic said at a pre-match news conference on Thursday.

    "It could be tight for both of them, but we're not giving up hope that they will fly to Munich with us tomorrow."

    Being without Sancho would be a major blow for Dortmund, who are looking to avoid losing a fifth league game in a row against Bayern for the first time since between 1968 and 1970.

    After a largely underwhelming first half to the campaign, the attacking midfielder has been directly involved in 12 Bundesliga goals in 2021, finding the net six times and setting up six more.

    Only Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski has scored and assisted more this calendar year (13 in total – 11 goals, two assists), with Eintracht Frankfurt duo Filip Kostic and Andre Silva next on the list with 10 goal involvements apiece.

    Lewandowski has 28 Bundesliga goals to his name in total this campaign - just 12 short of Gerd Muller's long-standing record in a single season - for a Bayern side on a 36-game run since last failing to score in the league.

    No team in Europe's top five leagues has found the net more times than Bayern (67) in 2020-21 and Terzic, who will be replaced by Marco Rose at the end of the campaign, acknowledged his side will have to be alert at the back this weekend.

    "It is clear that the toolbox of the opposition is very large," he said. "We will try to support each other and block the flanks and cover the posts. 

    "They score a lot of goals. It would be best if we don't let them get into the final third of the field.

    "There will be phases where we have to suffer. That counts when you play in Munich, but it does not rule out being brave yourself and being dangerous. Small things will make the difference in such close matches."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.