All the talk prior to the Week 3 contest between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Los Angeles Chargers surrounded the health of Justin Herbert, the quarterback viewed as having ascended to the superstar level of Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen.

By the end of an eye-opening afternoon at SoFi Stadium, the performance Herbert produced while battling fractured rib cartilage was completely overshadowed by that of a man crowned as a future great as early as high school as Trevor Lawrence's blistering start to his second season in the NFL reached new heights.

Freed from the shackles of working with the overmatched and underprepared Urban Meyer, Lawrence has quickly flourished in year two under the tutelage of former Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl-winning head coach Doug Pederson.

And his evisceration of a seemingly improved Chargers defense in a 38-10 rout served as a compelling reminder that – for all the talk of Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones – he is, and always was, the best quarterback from the much heralded 2021 draft class at the position.

Furthermore, even on a day when the Indianapolis Colts shocked the Kansas City Chiefs, it rubber-stamped the Jaguars' status as the most exciting and dangerous team in an AFC South division ripe for the taking.

It is the long-term picture that is more important for the Jaguars, though, and that is suddenly very bright after the clearest demonstration yet of the potential Lawrence has to take his place alongside the NFL's elite quarterbacks.

The raw numbers – a 71.8 per cent completion percentage, 262 passing yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a passer rating of 115.5 – are impressive enough on their own.

Yet they do a poor job of illustrating how accurate, how composed and how devastatingly brilliant Lawrence was in helping deliver a result nobody outside of the Jacksonville facility would have thought possible three weeks ago.

There was little in a slightly underwhelming first quarter and a pair of red zone failures from the Jaguars to suggest Lawrence would outplay Herbert, and certainly not to the extent that he did.

But Lawrence finished the game delivering an accurate, well-thrown ball on 89.5 per cent of his 38 pass attempts, from which he threw just one pickable pass. Only four quarterbacks had a better well-thrown rate in Week 3 as of Sunday.

After twice coming up short from inside the 20, Lawrence then produced some of his best throws from inside the tight confines of the red zone, showing his incredible ability on the move for the Jaguars' first touchdown when he rolled to his right to evade the interior push of Otito Ogbonnia and produced a laser to find Zay Jones in the back of the endzone.

Zay Jones was the recipient of another superb deep throw over the middle on third down on the next drive, aided by Travis Etienne's blitz pickup of Derwin James, before Lawrence then hit Christian Kirk down the right sideline.

Lawrence showed his effectiveness rolling to both sides – a skill beyond many quarterbacks – when he looked to have finished that drive with a pinpoint throw to Evan Engram while moving to his left. Though that touchdown was overturned when a replay deemed Engram to have stepped out of bounds, the second half saw Lawrence punctuate the Jags' dominance in equally spectacular fashion.

James Robinson's 50-yard run put the Jaguars firmly in command and the running back duo of Robinson and Etienne allowed Jacksonville to play ball control before Lawrence hit Kirk on a high-velocity throw on a designed rollout for his second touchdown pass.

The final flourish was the defining moment of Lawrence's display. Having converted a third down by climbing the pocket under duress to deliver a dart to Marvin Jones Jr, Lawrence added the finishing touch on the Jags' final scoring drive by lofting a perfect throw over the head of Michael Davis and into the arms of the same receiver running a corner route to back of the endzone.

Marvin Jones deserves praise for a spectacular catch, but the stunning throw was yet another example of the ease with which Lawrence can dissect defenses with the physical gifts he has at his disposal.

Those attributes were wasted during Meyer's short stint in the NFL but Pederson has swiftly negated any damage done by the false start to Lawrence's career and seemingly put the man seen as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck back on the path to stardom.

Through three weeks, Lawrence has a well-thrown rate of 85.8 per cent that is eighth in the NFL and he has a supporting cast that is quickly silencing critics of the Jags' team-building strategy.

All of Robinson's three touchdown runs have come on carries of 10 yards or more, giving him the most such scores in the NFL. Etienne, meanwhile, is eighth in yards after contact per attempt (min. 10 carries) among running backs with 2.73.

Kirk, after receiving a much-maligned $72million contract from the Jags, is justifying that deal by producing a big play on 45.8 per cent of his targets, the sixth-highest ratio among wide receivers with at least 10 targets, he and fellow free-agent acquisition Zay Jones combining for 37 catches, 22 of which have gone for a first down.

On defense, the Jaguars have registered 21 quarterback hits, a tally topped by just five teams, with the athleticism and versatility of their defensive front causing Herbert and other quarterbacks consistent problems. Edge rusher Josh Allen, a first-round pick in 2019, has registered a third of those hits and recorded two sacks and three tackles for loss while the Jaguars have also succeeded in quickly harnessing rookie first overall selection Travon Walker's freakish athleticism.

At the second level, another first-round rookie, Devin Lloyd, helped make Herbert's life miserable on Sunday with his skills in coverage. Lloyd had three pass breakups and an interception, providing help to a secondary that does not lack depth of talent. 

The Jags' strides on defense are reflected by them allowing opponents to score just six times in 33 drives, increasing Lawrence's room for error on the other side of the ball.

Yet such errors have been few from the former Clemson star and, while ups and downs are to be expected from a quarterback of his still limited experience at the highest level, Lawrence is playing with the confidence and assuredness of a man who may have already been through the worst of his pro career and survived unscathed.

Now with a head coach who understands how to make the most of his outstanding skill set and backed up by a talented if expensive supporting cast, Lawrence looks poised to grow into an even more dynamic and explosive playmaker at the game's most important position. For a franchise desperate to finally climb out of the doldrums, that development is priceless.

The final round of Rugby Championship fixtures are upon us and two teams are realistically left standing in the battle to be crowned 2022 champions.

In what has been the most competitive tournament since Argentina joined a decade ago, all four teams have at one point looked good value to finish top.

New Zealand are level with South Africa at the summit, but they have the advantage in terms of the sides' net points difference, which may be used as a deciding factor.

The All Blacks therefore know a bonus-point win over Bledisloe Cup rivals Australia in a repeat of last week's classic will all but land them an eighth title in 10 years.

South Africa play Argentina, the only side entirely out of the running, later on Saturday and will know what they have to do to have a chance – if any – of overtaking New Zealand.

Here, Stats Perform previews the weekend clashes in round six of the championship using Opta data.


NEW ZEALAND v AUSTRALIA

FORM

New Zealand beat Australia 39-37 in last week's thrilling Test in Melbourne through a hugely contentious late try to make it four wins in a row in this fixture – their best such run since winning seven on the bounce between August 2015 and August 2017.

The All Blacks' record on home soil against Australia is even better, having won each of the last 22 Tests in Auckland by an average margin of 18 points per game. The last time Australia got the better of their neighbours in that city was in September 1986.

Australia therefore have a huge task on their hands at Eden Park as they aim to avoid losing three Tests in a row in the Rugby Championship for the first time since September 2013, with this current run following a streak of six wins from their previous seven matches in the competition.

The Wallabies, who need a bonus-point win and would then hope South Africa fail to get the result required against Argentina, will look to exploit any ill-discipline from their rivals. Their goal-kicking accuracy of 92 per cent on place-kicks this year (33/36) is some 11 percentage points higher than any other Tier One nation.

ONES TO WATCH

Will Jordan has made 10 line breaks for New Zealand across 2022, which is the most of any player from a Tier One nation. To put that into some further perspective, it is double the tally of Tom Wright (five), Australia's best performer in that area.

Australia wing Marika Koroibete could hold the key to breaking down the hosts. The 30-year-old has beaten 23 defenders in 2022 – the most of any player from a Tier One nation and two more than New Zealand's best Rieko Ioane.

 

SOUTH AFRICA V ARGENTINA

FORM

Following last week's 36-20 bonus-point triumph in Buenos Aires, South Africa have won their past five Tests against Argentina. However, a win alone may not be enough on Saturday and the Springboks could find themselves going all out for an emphatic victory in pursuit of New Zealand.

The Boks have some much-needed momentum on their side thanks to two wins in a row – matching the number they managed in their previous seven games in the competition – with those victories coming by a margin of exactly 16 points.

Argentina cannot be written off, though, having already defeated New Zealand and Australia during the first half of their championship campaign. Los Pumas have lost back-to-back matches since then, as many as they lost in their six games prior.

Turnovers could be a huge factor in this contest as Argentina and South Africa have won the most of any teams in this year's tournament with 22 apiece, while also making the most and second-most tackles with 706 and 600 respectively.

ONES TO WATCH

Springbok lock Lood de Jager has played a big part for his country this campaign and is second only to Italy's Federico Ruzza for line-outs won among players from Tier One nations in 2022 with 36.

Matias Moroni was among the try scorers for Argentina in last week's loss when finishing off a well-worked set-piece and is among the starters for this latest tussle. He has made dominant contact on seven tackles this year, placing him second only to Italy's Monty Ioane (eight) among elite nations.

Is two games enough of a sample size to glean pertinent information about an NFL team's prospects? Probably not.

Has that ever stopped anyone from making definitive statements about teams and the potential outcome of their season? You already know the answer to that one.

But one thing nobody -- not even the loudest talking head -- can say for certain is that they know who the frontrunner is in the NFC.

In the AFC, plenty are already falling over themselves to crown the Buffalo Bills. An extremely compelling case can be made for the Chiefs and maybe even the Los Angeles Chargers if they can keep Justin Herbert from further injury.

The NFC, though? That's an extremely tough conference to decipher at this early stage.

That is not to say there aren't standout teams. To the contrary, there are six that look to have an excellent shot of representing the NFC in the Super Bowl as they all reside in the top 10 of Stats Perform's power rankings.

Two of them will face off at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Green Bay Packers in what could be the final meeting between Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, who met in the NFC Championship Game two seasons ago. The Super Bowl-champion Los Angeles Rams will visit the San Francisco 49ers in a rematch of last year's title game in Week 4.

But which of that group has the best shot? Stats Perform has used its advanced data to examine the case for each of the six.
 

Philadelphia Eagles

Record: 2-0

Power ranking: 1

The Eagles have firmly lived up to their offseason hype so far, with Jalen Hurts piloting an efficient offense that is the most explosive in the NFL through two weeks.

Indeed, the Eagles are fourth in yards per play on offense while, prior to Thursday's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, no team in the NFL had produced more plays of 10 yards or more than Philadelphia's 39.

A.J. Brown, their blockbuster draft-day trade acquisition, has quickly built a superb rapport with Hurts. The former Tennessee Titans wide receiver has registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, on 14 of his 21 targets and is averaging 8.2 burn yards per route (the league average is 3.6).

The threat Hurts provides in the run game has helped Philadelphia rack up 189.5 yards per game on the ground, second only to the Browns. While a small sample size, the Eagles' early success on the ground is illustrative of just how difficult they are to stop with the diversity of their attack.

There's more reason for doubt on defense, with a three-interception effort against the Minnesota Vikings in which the Eagles allowed only seven points following a 38-35 shootout with the Detroit Lions. Yet a very favourable schedule may not see any defensive failings properly tested until Week 12 against the Packers and allow Philadelphia to move into prime position to compete for the NFC's top seed.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Record: 2-0

Power ranking: 4

Tampa Bay's average margin of victory across two games is 13 points. The Bucs eased past the Dallas Cowboys 19-3 and eventually emerged from a fist fight with the New Orleans Saints as 20-10 victors.

Yet it's tough to declare their start to the season as overly impressive, at least by Brady's lofty standards.

The Bucs have scored only two offensive touchdowns as they have battled injuries at the wide receiver position and struggles on the much-changed interior of the offensive line.

Rather than Brady making a hot start to the season he initially decided against playing, it is the Bucs' defense that has led the way.

There were 182 seconds left in their game with the Saints by the time they surrendered a touchdown for the first time this season, with the Bucs conceding only 4.25 yards per play, the third-fewest in the NFL.

Rodgers and Green Bay will provide an early and stern test of their credentials, but there is evidence to suggest the Bucs will eventually have a recipe for a potential second championship run in three seasons.

For all the protection issues in front of him, Brady has delivered a well-thrown ball on 81.7 per cent of his pass attempts and has thrown just one pickable pass in 60 throws. Given the defense's level of play and the weapons the Bucs still have to return, it stands to reason they will soon be delivering much more complete performances that will greatly enhance their reputation as contenders.

Los Angeles Rams

Record 1-1

Power ranking: 3

Thrashed by Buffalo on the night they raised their Super Bowl banner before having to survive a remarkable late scare against the lowly Atlanta Falcons, the Rams do not look like a team ready to repeat.

They still sit third in the power rankings, but there are plenty of red flags surrounding the Rams in this embryonic season.

It is the pass protection that stands as the most pressing concern, Matthew Stafford was under constant duress in the opener and injuries up front have hurt the Rams' cause further, hindering Stafford to the point where he is averaging almost half a yard under expectation in expected passing situations.

With 58 total points allowed, there are clearly vast improvements to be made on defense, too.

However, Aaron Donald already has a league-leading 17 pressures and Jalen Ramsey came up with the game-clinching interception in the endzone against Atlanta, and that often decisive star power makes the Rams a tough team to count out, especially with a game against an Arizona Cardinals team they have consistently dominated on the horizon in Week 3.

San Francisco 49ers

Record 1-1

Power ranking: 5

The greatest threat to the Rams from inside their own division comes from the team who suffered an injury that would have ended the hopes of most teams in the league.

San Francisco lost quarterback Trey Lance in just his second game of his first season as starter in the 49ers' 27-7 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

Yet, by keeping Jimmy Garoppolo around on a restructured contract, the 49ers gave themselves an insurance policy, one that can keep them firmly in the mix even without Lance.

Garoppolo has helped the 49ers to the brink of Super Bowl glory in the 2019 season and the NFC Championship Game last term and, while the Niners' ceiling without Lance is perhaps lowered, the floor of Super Bowl-calibre roster has been raised by the former New England Patriot's return to the line-up.

Though they suffered an upset at the hands of a Chicago Bears in Week 1, the 49ers have one of the most complete rosters in the league and their defense is off to a magnificent start, allowing the second-fewest yards per play (4.08) in the NFL.

It was anticipated the safety position may be a weakness. Instead, it has so far been an unexpected strength, as has an inexperienced and remodelled offensive line that has won 81.6 per cent of its pass-blocking matchups. It will be tough to identify an obvious flaw on this team if the pass protection continues to excel, with the play in the trenches made even more critical because of Garoppolo's long injury history.

Minnesota Vikings

Record: 1-1

Power ranking: 8

Hopes the Vikings could become one of the most dynamic offensive teams in football under Kevin O'Connell were damaged by Monday's 24-7 defeat to the Eagles.

Despite another vintage primetime meltdown from Kirk Cousins, the Vikings have the makeup of a team that could contend to go deep in the NFC playoffs if things break right.

They demonstrated how dangerous O'Connell's offense can be in their opening win over the Packers, with Justin Jefferson weaponised by the former Rams assistant's complex attack.

Even though he was kept in check by Philadelphia, Jefferson's 8.5 burn yards per target are the fifth-most among receivers with at least 10 targets in the first two games.

The offensive line remains a problem, but the early signs are that the Vikings' defensive front will be one that tilts games in their favour, having already registered six sacks for negative yardage.

Cousins is delivering the ball accurately, posting a well-thrown rate of 86.5 per cent and, though there are questions about his ability to perform under the brightest spotlight, a schedule that features 10 games against 2021 non-playoff teams could give the Vikings the edge of their division rivals in the fight to get to the NFL's postseason pressure cooker.

Green Bay Packers

Record: 1-1

Power ranking: 9

The Packers got the poor start out of the way in a Week 1 loss in Minnesota that left Aaron Rodgers visibly exasperated. Normal service was resumed, however, in the routine Week 2 win over the Bears.

Green Bay's problem is that the Packers have a roster in which several holes can be picked. The offensive line has struggled amid left tackle David Bakhtiari's prolonged absence, while the Packers' hopes of fixing their continually porous run defense have not come to pass as yet. They have surrendered 5.56 yards per play on the ground, the fourth-most in the NFL.

Rodgers has yet to build a rapport with a young receiver corps as the Packers look to put the Davante Adams saga and eventual trade to the Las Vegas Raiders behind them. Though the lack of a connection may be more down to a paucity of faith in his inexperienced wideouts' ability to catch the ball, rather than any worries about their success in creating separation.

Second-round pick Christian Watson has recorded an impressive 14.4 burn yards per target on the small sample size of seven targets. With Rodgers delivering a well-thrown ball on 89.3 per cent of his attempts, it might not be too long before Watson becomes a more integral part of the passing game, though the diversity the Packers gain through having running backs Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon on the field at the same time can keep the offense performing efficiently regardless of how the wideouts progress.

Jones, unquestionably one of the most complete backs in the NFL, has produced a big play on three of his eight targets this season, with defenses forced to respect both the run and the pass when he and Dillon line up in two-running back personnel groupings.

The Packers' secondary, despite being shredded by Jefferson in Week 1, is in the top 12 in open percentage allowed while the strength of their defensive line has Green Bay in the top 12 in pass rush win percentage.

Both the front and the back of the Green Bay defense have the talent to rise much higher on those lists and, if such strides are accompanied by Rodgers developing an understanding with his new weapons, the Packers will likely soon have a compelling case for being the conference's elite.

Everyone is presumably looking forward to more talk of football "coming home" when the World Cup kicks off in November, with England among the favourites to win the tournament for the first time since 1966.

However, the Three Lions have had a stinker of a Nations League campaign in 2022, having failed to win any of their four games in June.

A 1-0 defeat in Hungary was followed by a draw in Germany thanks to a late Harry Kane penalty, before a dull 0-0 at Molineux against Italy and an abysmal performance in their 4-0 defeat to Hungary at the same venue.

Three months on from that chastening loss in Wolverhampton, manager Gareth Southgate picked his squad for the final two Nations League games against Italy and Germany, and while there was a new face in Brentford striker Ivan Toney, it was otherwise more of the same, with some notable absentees too.

In February, Southgate said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph: "I'm very conscious I've got to get the balance right because ultimately my responsibility is to produce a winning England team.

"I never pick on reputation; form has to come into it. You have to look at the opposition and the type of game you're expecting and select the players best suited to that."

It therefore raised some eyebrows when some players who have subjectively been somewhat out of form in the opening weeks of the season, and who were at the scene of the crime in previous disappointing England results, kept their places ahead of others who have stepped up their game domestically in recent weeks.

Stats Perform has taken a look at some who were perhaps lucky to get another call, and others unfortunate to miss out in the last Three Lions squad before the World Cup.

Who made it?

Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw

It makes sense to pair the two Manchester United defenders, as the reasons why they can consider themselves lucky to keep their international places are essentially the same.

Maguire and Shaw received their fair share of blame for United's poor showings in recent years, and it came to a head in the 4-0 defeat at Brentford in the second game of this season's Premier League campaign, having already lost at home to Brighton and Hove Albion.

New boss Erik ten Hag dropped both after that, and United have won four from four in the league since.

Left-back Shaw has been reduced to occasional substitute appearances after losing his starting spot to young Dutchman Tyrell Malacia, while Maguire has been ousted by France centre-back Raphael Varane.

The only game in the past five Maguire has started was at home to Real Sociedad in the Europa League, which United lost 1-0.

That is not to say the duo are solely responsible for the insipid showings from their team, but it also doesn't feel like purely coincidence Ten Hag's men's results immediately improved without them.

 

Jarrod Bowen

This might be a little harsh as Bowen was being championed by everyone to be included on form last season, which he was, featuring in all four Nations League games in June.

However, having scored 18 goals in 51 games in all competitions last season for West Ham, Bowen has managed just two in 10 this season, both of which have come in the Europa Conference League.

The Hammers have struggled for form this season, sitting in 18th place after seven games, so it would be unfair to blame Bowen, but he also failed to make much of an impact in any of his England appearances.

The door certainly should not be shut on an undoubtedly talented player, but it seems odd to see him back with the national team after a noticeable drop in form at a time when others in his position are excelling.

Jack Grealish

Arguably the player who causes most debate in England, Grealish will always feel too talented to leave out.

Comparisons to Paul Gascoigne seem lazy, but it's hard not to resort to them when you see him at his best, able to turn a game on his own if he finds that spark almost all other players lack.

Grealish had a poor first season at Manchester City, though, recording just 10 goal involvements (six goals, four assists) in 39 games.

He scored and played well in the 3-0 win at Wolves last weekend, but it was his first goal involvement in six appearances this season, and while he is clearly capable of being a key part of Southgate's team on his day, his form arguably does not justify inclusion at the moment.

 

Who missed out?

Ben White

The Arsenal defender is a difficult one to champion, frankly, because it's not clear what position you would be arguing for.

White did not really blow anyone away at centre-back in his first season with the Gunners but has thrived at right-back in Mikel Arteta's system so far this campaign.

If Southgate is to go back to his favoured three-at-the-back formation, White on the right of that would make sense, albeit Kyle Walker probably has the shirt right now.

White is improving all the time, though, and has played a big part in Arsenal winning six of their first seven Premier League games, and his versatility would be a bonus.

James Maddison

Possibly the man most justified in feeling miffed at missing out as, unlike the other three in this list, Maddison is rarely ever seen in an England squad, despite his output at club level.

Although he has been named in squads before, Maddison has just one cap, which came when he played 35 minutes against Montenegro in November 2019.

Like Grealish, Maddison can be seen as enigmatic, but his recent form for Leicester City speaks for itself.

He has been directly involved in 24 Premier League goals since the start of last season (15 goals, nine assists). The only English player with more in this time is Harry Kane (33) having made three more appearances than Maddison (44 to 41).

Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford

As their United team-mates were paired up, it makes sense to do the same here, and because their turn around in form has synced up as the Red Devils have won five of their past six games.

Sancho struggled to make an impact in his first season back in England, with just eight goal involvements (five goals, three assists) in 38 games.

However, this season he already has three goals in eight matches, showing glimpses of his Borussia Dortmund form.

Rashford ended a run of 997 minutes without a goal in all competitions for Manchester United when he scored against Liverpool in August, and netted another two against Arsenal as his scoring touch returned at Old Trafford.

The duo were a part of England's squad that reached the final of Euro 2020, but both also played a part in the penalty shoot-out loss to Italy.

That does not mean they cannot be of use in Qatar, and it would seem foolish of Southgate to ignore players already proven at international level who seem to be peaking at just the right time for a mid-season tournament.

 

Ultimately, as Southgate said, it is his job to build a team he thinks can win games. It is hard to argue with a record that has seen England reach the final four of the 2018 World Cup and the final of Euro 2020.

He also said "form has to come into it" rather than it being the be all and end all.

Rather than "reputation", perhaps Southgate is just picking players he knows, therefore allowing him full awareness of what he is going to get if he selects them. Heading into a World Cup is not really the time to be introducing unknown quantities.

The likes of White and Maddison will be well within their rights to blame the former Middlesbrough boss for them continuing to be relatively unknown to him, though.

"Anticipation has the habit to set you up for disappointment."

That refrain from The Arctic Monkeys song 'The View From The Afternoon' applies perfectly to the world of fantasy football, where high expectations are often not reflected by the end result.

While it is too early in the NFL season to be writing off teams and players who have not lived up to their hype as yet, there will already be fantasy owners getting impatient with certain players they drafted to help their team to glory.

Fans of the Las Vegas Raiders will certainly be irritated by their winless start while two offensive stars in the NFC West have yet to deliver much for differing reasons.

Keep that theme and that division in mind as Stats Perform dives into this week's edition of fantasy picks.

Quarterback: Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders @ Tennessee Titans

Is it time to panic in Vegas after an 0-2 start? It certainly will be if the Raiders do not get it done against the also winless Titans.

Recent evidence quite clearly points to the Raiders' quarterback putting Las Vegas in a position to finally get up and running against a Tennessee defense that was shredded by the Buffalo Bills in Week 2.

The Titans are giving up seven yards per pass play, the seventh-most in the NFL, while the six passing touchdowns they have conceded are the third most.

Las Vegas' offense may not be on the same level as that of Buffalo, but the Raiders should have more than enough to consistently take advantage of a Titans defense that has been hit by injuries and reward fantasy players willing to give Carr a shot.

Running Back: Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Commanders

The Eagles' offense is built around quarterback Jalen Hurts, with his ability to thrive running the ball a critical component of their early success this year.

But Sanders' 20 touches in the win over the Minnesota Vikings illustrated that he too is a key part of the attack.

Through two weeks, he is averaging 88 yards per game on the ground and this week gets to face a Commanders defense allowing 7.48 yards per rush, the highest average in the NFL.

Sanders should, therefore, be a high-floor fantasy play at running back this week, though Hurts' involvement in the ground game somewhat limits his ceiling.

Wide Receiver: Allen Robinson, Los Angeles Rams @ Arizona Cardinals

The highly anticipated return to form for Robinson following his move to Los Angeles has yet to come to fruition, though he did find the endzone last week against the Atlanta Falcons.

In Week 3, he has a clear opportunity to build on that showing against a Cardinals team whose failures should not be masked by their incredible comeback win over the Raiders.

The Cardinals have allowed 7.65 yards per pass play in the first two games and seven passing touchdowns, the most in the NFL.

In other words, the Rams should have little problem moving the ball on Arizona, putting Robinson in position to have a big day as a mismatch in the red zone.

Tight End: George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers @ Denver Broncos

The Niners should get Kittle back from a groin injury this week, and the fact the Jimmy Garoppolo has had to step in for the injured Trey Lance is unlikely to have any negative impact on his production.

Kittle's chemistry with Garoppolo is well-established and, though theoretically he has a tough matchup against a stingy Broncos defense, there is room for optimism he will immediately hit the ground running in his season debut.

That optimism stems from the Broncos' performance against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1, when Denver allowed eight catches for 102 yards and a touchdown to tight ends, an average of 12.75 yards per reception.

If Kittle is allowed to do similar damage, then arguably the best yards after catch threat at his position could make it a long night for Denver and a great one for fantasy players with him on their roster.

Defense/Special Teams: Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints

OK. Listing the 0-2 Panthers here might elicit a double take, but there's logic behind this pick, believe it or not.

The Panthers may be heading to a complete teardown come the end of the year, but the defense is not the reason behind their struggles.

They have given up just 4.31 yards per play, the fourth-best average in the NFL, and just three offensive touchdowns.

Yes, the Saints are the better team, but they are also starting a quarterback in Jameis Winston who has four fractures in his back.

A low-scoring struggle is the most likely outcome in this NFC South matchup and, for that reason, the Panthers are a defense worthy of streaming for fantasy players in a bind at that spot.

The World Cup in Qatar is now just two months away and the first international break of the season is the final opportunity for squads to convene before coming together for the tournament.

In Europe, the Nations League offers competitive action in the build-up to Qatar, while teams elsewhere will face friendlies.

With a mid-season window and just one break before the action commences in November, it presents a challenge for any new faces to establish themselves in their international side before the squad for the World Cup is selected.

Some have been handed glorious opportunities though and Stats Perform has assessed some of the newcomers.

 

Ivan Toney

England's main striker role is nailed down by skipper Harry Kane but the role of understudy is a competitive one with the likes of Callum Wilson, Tammy Abraham and Ollie Watkins having earned opportunities – and Ivan Toney is the latest to join that list.

Quickly settling into life in the Premier League, Toney netted 12 goals for Brentford in their inaugural campaign last season but has hit new heights in 2022, scoring 13 goals this calendar year.

Toney doesn't just offer goals, though, as he has also contributed seven assists since August 2021, totalling 24 goal involvements (17 goals, 7 assists) in that period, with Kane (31) the only English player to have more in the Premier League.

This season, Toney has five goals and two assists for Brentford, with a tally of seven goal involvements only bettered by Erling Haaland (12) in the Premier League.

Nico Williams

Brother of Inaki Williams, capped once by Spain in a friendly before switching allegiances to Ghana, 20-year-old Nico Williams has been handed a chance by Luis Enrique, who insists the decision is not to ensure he doesn't follow in the footsteps of his sibling.

The right-winger has established himself in Athletic Bilbao's first-team and has made a firm impact this season, scoring twice – including in the recent 3-2 victory over Rayo Vallecano, which marked the first time both he and Inaki had scored in the same match.

Williams' role with Athletic will continue to grow, having only recently become a regular starter for the Basque side towards the end of last season and now starting five of Athletic's six LaLiga matches.

Securing a spot on the plane for Qatar will not be easy considering the vast competition, but Williams may get his opportunity due to his age, with a forward line of the future potentially being created alongside Yeremy Pino and Ferran Torres.

Kenneth Taylor

Only earning his first start for Ajax in the Eredivisie last season, Kenneth Taylor has become a mainstay in the side this term with five starts across six league appearances for the Dutch champions, following Ryan Gravenberch's move to Bayern Munich.

The 20-year-old has grabbed his opportunity with both hands, scoring three goals and contributing two assists in the league. His control on the ball has also been impressive, misplacing 41 of 352 passing attempts in the Eredivisie for an accuracy of 88 per cent.

In the Champions League, Taylor has yet find the net or contribute an assist, but he has caught the eye. In the 2-1 defeat to Liverpool, he won three tackles, the joint-most in the Ajax side, and completed 92 per cent of his passes.

Those performances have earned Taylor a call-up to Louis van Gaal's squad ahead of Gravenberch, who has been capped 10 times by the Netherlands but has found playing time difficult to come by since moving to Bayern.

Enzo Fernandez

Only arriving at Benfica from River Plate ahead of the current season, Enzo Fernandez has quickly made an impression in Portugal, where he was named the Primeira Liga's Midfielder of the Month.

In the third qualifying round of the Champions League, the Argentine struck in both legs against Midtjylland and made a significant impression in the 2-1 group stage win against Juventus – with the most touches (92), pass attempts (71) and accurate passes (68) of his team, as well as the highest pass completion percentage (96%).

He also won 12 duels and won possession on 12 occasions, both tallies that were bettered by none of his team-mates.

His form has already seen him linked with Liverpool, just months after his arrival in European football, and the 21-year-old could be once to watch in Qatar if he secures a seat on the plane.

 

Borja Iglesias

At the age of 29, Borja Iglesias is finally poised to make his international bow with Spain after a sensational calendar year in which he has scored 18 LaLiga goals – with only Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (28) scoring more.

Six of those goals have come in the opening six matches of the 2022-23 season, from which Real Betis have won 15 points to sit behind only Barcelona and Real Madrid in the early-season standings.

Robert Lewandowski (8) is the sole player to score more LaLiga goals than Iglesias this season and he has averaged a goal every 103 minutes, though he is yet to feature in the club's Europa League campaign thus far.

Spain's lack of central striking options may well play into Iglesias' hands in his bid to make the World Cup squad, with the 28-man party for September's Nations League fixtures having only Alvaro Morata as the other natural option through the middle.

Everything appeared to be heading towards Barcelona and Ousmane Dembele parting on poor terms after a largely unsatisfactory association.

"Either he renews, or we look for an exit," Xavi said in January, fielding the latest in a series of questions about the winger.

With Dembele failing to agree to a new Barcelona contract at the start of 2022, director of football Mateu Alemany was even more forthright, declaring: "He must leave the club immediately."

Fast forward eight months, and the unpredictable attacker has emerged as a key cog in a revitalised Barca side, one tipped to compete with Real Madrid after making an unbeaten start in LaLiga.

Having been in the cold since Euro 2020, Dembele is also back in the France squad for their upcoming Nations League matches, with his sights set on claiming a spot in Didier Deschamps' party for the World Cup in Qatar.

Football loves a redemption arc, and that of Dembele in 2022 is up there with the very best in recent memory.

On the eve of his France return, Stats Perform looks at Dembele's journey from €105million flop to the creative hub of Xavi's side, asking whether a World Cup flourish is next for the winger.

Injury woes and the long shadow of Neymar

Barcelona's failings following Neymar's 2017 move to Paris Saint-Germain have been well-documented, with Dembele long viewed as the ultimate personification of the shambolic recruitment policy during Josep Maria Bartomeu's tenure.

The Blaugrana parted with an initial €105m for Dembele, who recorded 30 goal contributions (10 goals, 20 assists) and created 100 chances in his lone season with Borussia Dortmund.

That substantial fee saw Dembele, a talented yet raw 20-year-old, touted as a replacement for Neymar, a pressure that appeared to weigh heavily on the Frenchman; he needed over seven months to score his first goal in LaLiga, finally finding the net at Celta Vigo in April 2018.

While Ernesto Valverde led Barca to a domestic double in 2017-18, Dembele's own contribution was limited by a series of injury setbacks, which represented a sign of things to come.

 

Dembele made just 17 league appearances and 12 starts in his debut campaign, having been ruled out until January 2018 after suffering a serious hamstring injury within a month of his arrival.

In three of Dembele's first five campaigns at Barca, injuries ruled him out for 100 days or more. Between the beginning of 2017-18 and the end of 2020-21, meanwhile, he started just 36 per cent of the club's league games.

On the rare occasions Dembele did stay fit, meanwhile, his output was negligible in a side increasingly reliant on Lionel Messi's brilliance. Dembele's tally of 17 league goals and 14 assists in his first four seasons hardly represented value for Barcelona's mammoth investment, meaning the winger was considered ripe for a sale as the club's economic position worsened.

From contract rebel to key man: Spearheading the Xavi revival 

Even LaLiga's casual observers must have grown tired of discussions over the economic "levers" being pulled by Joan Laporta's regime. But before the sales of future TV rights and production companies, shifting Dembele was touted as a means by which to balance the books after the January arrival of Ferran Torres.

With a loan move for Adama Traore leaving Barcelona's forward line well-stocked, the message could not have been clearer; if Dembele would not agree to fresh terms, he was surplus to requirements.

But with Traore struggling on his return to Spain and Torres regularly deployed centrally, Xavi decided to utilise Dembele once the January transfer window closed. He was richly rewarded after reinstating him on the right of Barca's attack.

Since Xavi took charge in November 2021, Dembele's 17 assists in all competitions is bettered only by Messi (22) and Kevin De Bruyne (21) among players in Europe's top five leagues, while his 15 LaLiga assists during that time is a team-high.

Dembele also leads Barca's charts for chances created (63), chances created from open play (52) and touches in the opposing box (126) under Xavi in LaLiga, finally combining his menacing dribbling ability with genuine threat and creativity.

 

And Dembele's 68 dribbles completed in that time – also a team-high – show he has not sacrificed the individual skill that attracted Barcelona's attentions five years ago. 

Three months on from Dembele being booed by his own supporters during a Europa League clash with Napoli, Xavi said: "When he has not been involved, we have noticed."

The former midfield maestro was right. Barcelona won two-thirds of the league games Dembele started last season, and 47.8 per cent of those he didn't.

That impact meant Dembele's belated contract renewal, finalised in July, was received with enthusiasm by everyone at Camp Nou, with the winger subsequently going from strength to strength.

The tonic to Deschamps' blues?

If some thought the arrival of Raphinha might threaten Dembele's place in Xavi's side, he has made them eat their words at the start of the new campaign.

Having tallied the most assists (13) and expected assists (9.2 xA) in LaLiga last season, Dembele has recorded four league goal contributions since the August restart (two goals, two assists), forcing his way back into Deschamps' thoughts.

By the end of August, Dembele had been involved in more shots (15) as a consequence of ball carries than any other player in LaLiga, and his dynamic, unpredictable style may be just what Les Bleus require.

 

Dembele was used sparingly at Euro 2020, with Antoine Griezmann preferred alongside Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe as France won just once in four outings. However, it's easy to see why Dembele's ability to hug either touchline might appeal to Deschamps, offering him tactical flexibility when several other options appear compromised. 

Griezmann's lack of game-time at Atletico Madrid has been subject to much debate in recent weeks, while Kingsley Coman is out of France's latest squad through injury. Benzema's own injury scare, meanwhile, will no doubt have sharpened Deschamps' mind on the need for a plan B.

With France failing to win any of their first four Nations League games this time around, Dembele's Barcelona revival may have come at the perfect time.

Should Dembele carry his club form onto the international stage, potentially contributing to the first successful World Cup defence since Brazil's 1962 win, his 2022 will surely go down as one of football's most emphatic comebacks. 

Since entering the NFL in 2020, Tua Tagovailoa has had more doubters than believers.

With a stellar college career at Alabama ended by a hip dislocation, there were plenty of concerns around Tagovailoa ahead of the 2020 draft, and they persisted after the Miami Dolphins put them to one side to select him fifth overall.

A rookie year in which he rotated with Ryan Fitzpatrick and a surge in the second half of last season fuelled largely by the Dolphins' reliance on the run-pass option did little to dissuade the sceptics, with plenty still questioning his ability to be the long-term answer at quarterback for a franchise that has not had one since Dan Marino rode off into the sunset.

Those doubts evidently existed within the Dolphins' organisation, one which was reportedly very interested in striking a trade for Deshaun Watson last year.

But two games into an undefeated start to a make-or-break year for Tagovailoa it is clear he has the belief of the most important person in the building – his head coach.

And on Sunday, as the Dolphins remarkably stormed back from a 35-14 fourth-quarter deficit to stun the Baltimore Ravens 42-38 on the road, Mike McDaniel's faith in one of the most scrutinised quarterbacks in the NFL enabled Tagovailoa to deliver one of the most incredible results in recent league history.

The Dolphins became the first team to overcome a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit since the Philadelphia Eagles achieved that feat in Week 15 of the 2010 season against the New York Giants.

For those who aren't familiar with that game, it required a 65-yard punt return from Desean Jackson as time expired for the Eagles to complete the comeback and became known as the Miracle at the New Meadowlands. That's how unlikely such turnarounds are.

Yet McDaniel instilled calm in the Dolphins as they went into the second half trailing 28-7, and his relaxed approach and his belief in his quarterback yielded astonishing dividends.

McDaniel's understated inspiration

"I just challenged them to say 'who cares what the score is?' It's about how we play football together, so this is an opportunity, it's a tough one but that doesn't even matter, let's get something out of this game to feel good about in the second half and we'll worry about the score some time in the fourth quarter," McDaniel said.

"I didn't care about the outcome of the game at that point, at half-time it was a huge opportunity for us to show who we are and play good football for each other."

In regards to Tagovailoa, McDaniel was delighted he succeeded in getting his quarterback to play with a short memory in a game where he threw two interceptions in the first half.

"Now maybe Tua will finally listen to me," added McDaniel. "It's awesome to be critical of yourself, it's good. He has a high standard for himself. After the first game I just wanted to see the guy enjoy playing football, and understand that yes 'you want to make the perfect read and the perfect throw every time, but who cares?'

"If you just get better at one thing a game you're going to be pretty good at the end of the season. So let's just press forward.

"The absolute worst thing could have happened for him at the beginning of the game [on the first interception], where we get a contested ball, that's not really his fault, and then he starts pressing and throws it up for a second interception. 

"This is huge because he stopped worrying about the last play and he went and played and took his responsibility seriously to his team-mates about 'hey I'm going to lead this team confidently'.

"It is what you get into sports for. I think it was a moment that he'll never forget, that hopefully he can use moving forward because we basically had to play perfect complementary football to come back from a deficit like that against a really good team. His team-mates learned a lot about him and I think he learned something about himself."

That short memory allowed Tagovailoa to complete 36 of his 50 pass attempts for a career-high 469 yards and six touchdowns. The only other two Dolphin quarterbacks to throw six touchdowns in a game are Marino and Bob Griese.

And, with two of those scores coming on deep shots 48 and 60 yards to Tyreek Hill, Tagovailoa may feel he has gone some way to quieting a narrative that has persisted throughout the build-up to this campaign. 

Deep ball questions answered?

The offseason in Miami was defined in part by questions about Tagovailoa's ability to throw the deep ball. Last season, he had one completion of 20 yards or more for a touchdown. Through two games in 2022, he has three.

In addition to producing an immediate improvement on where he was last year in completing passes downfield, Tagovailoa also made strides from his performance in the opening week of the season against the New England Patriots.

Week 1 saw Tagovailoa deliver an accurate, well-thrown ball on 71.9 per cent of his passes, according to Stats Perform data. Against the Ravens, his well-thrown rate was up to 80 per cent.

Tagovailoa's performance saw him enter the NFL record books as the third-youngest player with six touchdown passes in a single game and the fourth-youngest with at least 450 passing yards and five touchdowns in the same game at the age of 24 years and 200 days.

His success came in part through heeding the words of his coach and getting significantly better in one area than he was in the previous week, but his career day was not simply the product of better accuracy and motivation from McDaniel.

Play-calling mastery

Indeed, it was also a result of having two receivers with the speed to terrify any defense and a play-caller who knows how to deploy them and set his team up for success, as well as two massive coverage mix-ups by Baltimore that allowed Hill to tie the game with two deep receptions.

While he only produced a burn – which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted – on seven of his 13 targets (a ratio of 53.8 per cent that was below the average of 58.7 for the week as of Monday), only five receivers targeted at least five times in Week 2 averaged more burn yards per target than Hill's 14.62.

With fellow speedster Jaylen Waddle winning 13 of his 19 matchups for an impressive burn rate of 68.4, Tagovailoa was targeting two pass-catchers adept at creating separation who presented the perfect duo with which to attack a Ravens secondary battling injuries, Hill and Waddle becoming the first pair of team-mates in NFL history to record at least 10 receptions, 150 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions in the same game.

And McDaniel made the most telling illustration of his impact on the final drive. Schooled in the Kyle Shanahan offense, the first-year head coach showed the value of his long apprenticeship under the league's pre-eminent play-caller on two game-deciding calls.

The first was his call for a split-zone run with Chase Edmonds on second-and-one from the Ravens' 35-yard line with 46 seconds left.

It is a situation where most would have expected another shot at big passing play. Instead, McDaniel created an explosive move with the run, using the snap motion to take the nickel defender at the second level over to the far side of the field, before safety Chuck Clark, playing down in the box, reacted to tight end Mike Gesicki peeling back across the formation to block linebacker Patrick Queen by following him away from the direction of the play, his vacation of his previous alignment and well-executed blocking by Miami creating a huge hole for Edmonds to rumble 28 yards to the seven-yard line.

Two plays later, McDaniel again used motion to help the Dolphins complete the comeback, this time with Waddle going across the field and being followed in man coverage by former Alabama team-mate Jalyn Armour-Davis. At the snap, Trent Sherfield ran a slant that essentially served as a pick play, the collision between Armour-Davis and Daryl Worley leaving the former out of position for long enough for Waddle to create separation with his pivot route and allowing Tagovailoa, having superbly navigated the pocket, to find him with a high throw on the move.

At Alabama, Tagovailoa was playing for college football's powerhouse, a program that serves as a ceaseless production line of NFL talent and the perfect incubator in which a young quarterback can thrive at that level.

In other words, he was in the ideal situation. Across his first two seasons in Miami, he was in anything but.

As the hugely improbable fightback against the Ravens demonstrated, Tagovailoa – with two game-breakers at receiver and a head coach with the mindset and the play-calling acumen to accentuate the strengths of his quarterback and his surrounding talent – is in a substantially better spot.

McDaniel, Tagovailoa and Co. combined to achieve the near-impossible and, after a fourth-quarter turnaround for ages, the quarterback whom so many were willing to write off should be the subject of burgeoning belief.

It's not often Real Madrid get painted as the good guys, but Sunday's derby clash with Atletico was one of those few occasions.

As Carlo Ancelotti's Los Blancos left the Civitas Metropolitano with a 2-1 win, there was little doubt that they were the better side on the day.

But, strangely for a fixture of such magnitude, the actual football was sadly almost a sideshow as Spanish football's racism problem reared its head once again.

Through no fault of his own, Vinicius Junior had been the chief focus in the build-up after Pedro Bravo, an agent who appears on Spanish football show El Chiringuito, made a racially insensitive comment while on TV.

Referencing Vinicius' harmless tendency to celebrate goals with a little dance, Bravo suggested the Brazilian should "respect your mates and stop playing the monkey", comments that unsurprisingly drew criticism from all over the football world.

It was heart-warming to see how many people rallied around Vinicius in the wake of Bravo's ridiculous outburst. Many of his international team-mates and Brazil great Pele issued messages of support urging him to dance on.

Vinicius himself made a statement vowing to keep dancing, and Arsenal star Gabriel Jesus dedicated a similar celebration to his colleague earlier on Sunday.

That should have been the end of all the pointless debating about whether the celebration is disrespectful or not (it clearly isn't), but unfortunately it wasn't.

As Atletico 'ultras' queued on their way into the stadium before kick-off, offensive chants targeting Vinicius were being sung by hundreds of fans. Not a few, hundreds, and video footage brought the scenes to attention on social media.

What makes those chants even more disappointing is that few would've been hugely surprised. Atletico ultras have a history of disgracing their club. In 2018, 30 of them were apprehended in Bruges for making Nazi gestures, according to Marca; and as recently as April, they were hit with a partial stadium closure in the Champions League due to similar behaviour from fans against Manchester City.

Ultra group Frente Atletico were banned from the club's old stadium the Vicente Calderon in 2014 after clashes with Deportivo La Coruna fans led to the death of 'Jimmy', a member of the latter's Riazor Blues, who was attacked and thrown into the Manzanares river.

Despite that ban, the group's attitudes were never completely banished, and Sunday's pre-match scenes were a grim reminder of Atletico's failure as a club to stamp out far-right ideologies within its fanbase.

Thankfully, though, Vinicius is a brave young man who wasn't about to suppress his personality and mentality to appease some Neanderthals.

As the pre-game chants foreshadowed, Vinicius' first touch was vociferously jeered by Atletico fans. But the Brazilian amusingly responded with the most extravagant six-yard pass he could think of, dragging the ball back with his right foot before flicking it back down the flank to Ferland Mendy with his left all in one motion. Essentially, it was as close to dancing as he could've got in that moment.

It wasn't long before he was dancing for real, though. Vinicius wasn't even involved in the goal, as Rodrygo produced an emphatic finish from Aurelien Tchouameni's gorgeous pass – the scorer then darted towards the corner flag and began to strut his stuff.

Vinicius was quickly on the scene, gyrating with extra exuberance as Atletico fans threw objects on to the pitch around the celebrating Madrid players, most of whom embraced the former Flamengo talent with greater vigour than they did Rodrygo.

There was no mistaking Vinicius' influence just after the half-hour mark, however. The winger left Marcos Llorente in his dust and darted into the left side of the penalty area before prodding an effort goalwards. It fell kindly to Federico Valverde, who smashed in from close range.

Atletico players dished out rough treatment to Vinicius, perhaps as you might have expected as their biggest attacking threat in the absence of Karim Benzema, though he continued to play his natural game, toying with Llorente on several occasions and even attempting an audacious rainbow flick over Axel Witsel, which certainly angered the home support.

In the end he never quite got the moment of personal jubilation many might've hoped he'd have, with Atletico spending much of the second half on top as they tried to produce a comeback.

But Mario Hermoso's shouldered late goal proved only a consolation as Atletico failed to rise to the occasion, with Madrid holding firm enough to continue the excellent start to their title defence.

The action, and even the result, won't be the post-match focus, however. The vile scenes from earlier in the day will be what this match is remembered for – Atletico's response to that is far more important than how they ultimately react to this defeat.

A commanding win over Gennady Golovkin has seen Canelo Alvarez finally put that rivalry to rest five years after the first bout.

The Mexican has achieved plenty during that five-year period, but the discussions around a trilogy bout with GGG were always present, and it was pretty clear that fight remained on the agenda.

Now, though, for the first time in half a decade, Canelo's future can be written without the inclusion of Golovkin. While the Kazakh was open to a fourth clash, Canelo's attention will be focused elsewhere.

With the chapter with Golovkin ending, however, there is some uncertainty. Avenging his defeat against Dmitry Bivol is top of Canelo's agenda, which he made clear after Saturday's triumph in Las Vegas.

"Of course, everybody knows. We'll see, we'll see what happens in that fight," he said post-fight.

"It's very important for my legacy, for me, for my country, for my family, for everything. I will beat him."

A rematch with the Russian may be a way off, however, with Bivol set to face Gilberto Ramirez in Abu Dhabi on November 5 and potentially having further opponents lined up beyond that fight, as Eddie Hearn explained.

"The fact is, to fight Canelo Alvarez, Bivol might have to fight [Joshua] Buatsi and Zurdo [Ramirez]," Hearn said, via DAZN. "That fight's not a definite because we can't just wait until May. It's impossible, and there's so much risk in those fights."

WBC, IBF and WBO light-heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev is also a possibility, with a unification bout likely to be appealing to Bivol if he can successfully defend his belts in November.

This may play into Canelo's hands, though, as he revealed after victory against Golovkin that he entered the fight with a wrist injury and could now take a year out to recover, with surgery on the cards.

"I need surgery. It was really bad, really bad. It's not broken, it's a meniscus, it's a wrist injury, not broken. It's ligaments, like a knee injury or something like that," he explained.

"I'm going to take the time my body needs. Last year I fought four times in 11 months, so that's why. But I need to take my time a little bit, maybe May, September, I need to take my time."

Canelo's absence may open the door for a rematch with Bivol late in 2023, while also having the potential to allow the middleweight division to develop, as there are few who could pose a meaningful challenge right now.

David Benavidez stands as the most likely challenger for Canelo's middleweight titles, unbeaten with 23 knockouts from 26 wins, while Jermall Charlo could be another contender – though he hasn't fought since 2021 and holds a title at 160 pounds.

Neither would be as appealing for Canelo as a rematch with Bivol, however, as he seeks revenge against only the second man to have beaten him in his professional career – the first being Floyd Mayweather in September 2013.

The growing trend of exhibition and celebrity boxing, where the likes of Jake Paul have made a wave, cannot be ruled out entirely for Canelo, but the 31-year-old would be unlikely to make such a move until he has had his shot at revenge against Bivol.

Despite an offseason of considerable change, the New Orleans Saints went into this season with plenty of supporters backing them for a return to prominence in the NFC.

The Saints saw head coach Sean Payton step away from the game and replaced by defensive coordinator Dennis Allen while they also lost key pieces on defense and on the offensive line.

Yet New Orleans had some tipping them not only to win the NFC South, but to go into the playoffs as the number one seed in the conference.

Such predictions did not raise eyebrows because of the quality of the Saints' roster – it remains one of the better all-round groups in the NFC – but because of the number of unknowns surrounding the Saints.

It is a mystery whether Allen will have what it takes to be a successful head coach and whether quarterback Jameis Winston, who saw a promising seven-game stretch ended by injury last year, can finally be a success at the highest level after years of failing to live up to his status as the top pick in the 2015 draft.

The Saints' 27-26 comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1 was far from convincing, but it seemingly removed one key unknown from the equation as Michael Thomas enjoyed a superb return from injury.

One game, one in which the Saints needed a huge fourth-quarter comeback to avoid an upset, is not enough to definitively answer questions about coach or quarterback, though.

A much larger sample size will be needed to make an assessment of Allen, but Winston faces a litmus test of his credentials as the answer for the Saints when he goes against the team that drafted him, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in Week 2.

The Saints have won their last seven regular-season games against the Buccaneers, matching the longest winning streak by either team in this rivalry.

Winston was injured in a home win over the Bucs last year, and his ability to continue that run could provide a significant indication whether he is the man to help the Saints wrest the NFC South from Tom Brady's Buccaneers and put New Orleans on the path to one of the top seeds in the conference.

Accurate and aggressive

Winston displayed why the Saints were willing to keep the faith in him in the comeback against Atlanta, illustrating his upside as a downfield passer with six completions of 20 yards or more, which as of Friday were the fourth-most in the NFL.

He also displayed impressive accuracy, delivering a well-thrown, accurate ball on 87.1 per cent of his pass attempts, according to Stats Perform data.

The former Florida State star also averaged 9.65 air yards per attempt, with Ryan Tannehill (90.3 per cent and 9.42 air yards) the sole quarterback to average at least nine air yards and record a superior well-thrown rate than Winston.

Winston having success pushing the ball deep is nothing new. His 154 passing plays of 25 yards or more since he entered the league are the 13th-most in the league in that span. Last season, he averaged 9.14 air yards per attempt.

Yet his performance in Week 1 represented a stark improvement in terms of accuracy over what he produced in 2021. Indeed, Winston's well-thrown rate of 75.7 per cent last season was below the league average of 77.9.

Winston also excelled in delivering the ball accurately under duress, with six of his seven pass attempts when pressured considered to be well-thrown.

Whether he maintains that level of play in the face of the Tampa Bay pass rush will reveal a lot about his chances of steering the Saints to a division title.

Holding on too long?

Winston was sacked four times against the Falcons. While on the surface that may appear an indictment of the Saints' offensive line, the reality is that, for the most part, New Orleans did a very impressive job in pass protection.

The Saints ended Week 1 ranked fourth in Stats Perform's pass protection win rate. Two of their sacks were a result of individual brilliance from Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, while one was an effort sack from rookie Arnold Ebiketie and another came on a delayed blitz from the second level by Mykal Walker.

The theme across those plays where the Saints quarterback was brought down in the backfield was clear – Winston holding the ball for over three seconds.

On his seven attempts that came under pressure, Winston held the ball from snap to release for an average of 3.15 seconds.

Against a Tampa Bay defense that registered the seventh-most sacks for negative yardage (45) in the NFL last season and had no shortage of success against Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1, Winston is unlikely to get away with hanging onto the ball for so long. 

Winston's length of time holding the ball is in part connected to his aggressiveness in targeting receivers on deep routes, and he and the Saints will need the offensive line, which lost the services of three-time Pro Bowler Terron Armstead in the offseason, to hold up to facilitate those downfield shots in Week 2.

However, if it does not, Winston will need to efficiently read the field and get the ball out quickly to prevent the Saints' offense from being sunk by a fearsome Tampa Bay defense. Fail to do so, and it may be difficult to take New Orleans seriously as legitimate contenders. Thankfully for Winston, he has weapons who can offer him the safety nets he needs to frustrate opposing pass rushes with the quick game.

Winning weaponry

Having played only seven games across the last two seasons, there were substantial doubts over Thomas' ability to return and perform at the level that saw him set the NFL record for receptions in a season (194) in 2019.

Thomas emphatically answered his doubters with a two-touchdown display, his second score coming on a stunning back shoulder catch that cut the Falcons' lead to two points late in the fourth quarter.

Among wide receivers with at least five targets in Week 1, Thomas was fourth with a big-play rate of 52.9 per cent.

Between Thomas, Jarvis Landry – who went for 114 yards on his Saints debut – and rookie Chris Olave, the first-round pick who caught three passes for 41 yards, the Saints have three receivers who can all create the separation to give Winston easy answers against pressure.

Running back Alvin Kamara had little influence as a pass-catcher in Week 1, but a receiving big-play rate of 21.3 per cent that was fifth among running backs (min. 100 carries) in 2021 is indicative of just how dangerous he can be when he is a featured part of the passing game.

There is no doubt Winston has the offensive talent around him to succeed and he proved what he can do when he harnesses that talent in Week 1, becoming the first Saints player to throw for 200 or more passing yards in the fourth-quarter since 2008 as they won a game after trailing by at least 16 points in the final period for the first time.

He also has the support of defense that last year recorded one of only three shutouts of a Brady team in his 317 regular-season and 47 postseason starts.

Sitting 11th in Efficiency Versus Expected (EVE), which measures yardage gained in expected passing situations against the predicted yardage in those same scenarios, Winston made an encouraging start to what he hopes will be his first full season as the Saints' starter.

But the fact he was required to produce a late comeback against one of the NFL's least-talented teams speaks to an inconsistent offensive performance.

Volatility defined Winston's career in Tampa, but New Orleans will be substantially easier to trust as contenders if he can maintain his level while facing the quarterback who embodies consistency more than any other and help the Saints continue their hoodoo over the Bucs.

Who doesn't love seeing an exciting youth product coming through to the first team?

In Spain, they seem to produce them en masse, with technically proficient youngsters emerging regularly.

The most famous production line is surely La Masia, with Barcelona cultivating the likes of Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and, more recently, Gavi.

It understandably therefore gets overlooked just how many players come through the academy of Real Madrid, their fierce rivals.

La Fabrica – 'The Factory' – has produced some fine players down the years, including Emilio Butragueno, Raul and Iker Casillas.

Perhaps one of the reasons Madrid do not get the same credit as Barca for bringing through youngsters is because, quite often, their best graduates go on to spend their careers at other clubs.

And when Los Blancos make the short trip across the Spanish capital to face Atletico Madrid on Sunday, they will come up against some familiar faces.

Atleti head coach Diego Simeone has at his disposal five players who came through the youth system at Madrid.

Saul Niguez, Marcos Llorente, Mario Hermoso, Sergio Reguilon and Alvaro Morata were all La Fabrica players, although Saul actually moved to Atletico before making the step up to senior football.

In the Madrid squad, meanwhile, only four academy graduates players have made an appearance for Carlo Ancelotti's first team in Dani Carvajal, Nacho, Lucas Vazquez and Mariano Diaz.

This could be seen as a problem, but every player has to come through an academy somewhere, and even if Madrid do not always get the benefits of the talent they prepare, these youngers are often sold on for good money, allowing the club to spend big – a reputation that is far more widely acknowledged.

Madrid are not quite as flamboyant in the transfer market as in the peak years of the 'Galactico' era, but they still invest heavily in players ready to pull on the famous white shirt.

Rather than turn to their Castilla team in recent seasons, Madrid have splashed out on players of a similar age in young French midfield pair Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni, yet La Fabrica has played a key role in raising the funds to make those signings.

 

In 2020, for example, Madrid sold Achraf Hakimi, Reguilon, Oscar Rodriguez, Miguel Baeza, Javi Sanchez and Dani Gomez for combined fees in excess of €90million.

In the transfer window just gone, they moved on Borja Mayoral, Mario Gila, Miguel Gutierrez and Victor Chust for more than €20m.

In the case of Hakimi, he has gone on to thrive, having a tremendous year at Inter before making an even bigger move to Paris Saint-Germain, where he is now considered one of the best full-backs in the game.

Reguilon did not enjoy quite the same success at Tottenham, finding himself out of favour under Antonio Conte before being loaned to Atletico.

One might wonder if Hakimi could have instead been given a chance at the Santiago Bernabeu. He would have competed with or surpassed Carvajal by now.

Reguilon, while less of a sure thing, departed only after Madrid had spent around €50m on Ferland Mendy, leaving no clear path to succeed Marcelo at left-back.

Perhaps it is Madrid's loss, but these two players brought in significant fees, and their willingness to allow potential first-team stars to move on in search of regular football is almost admirable. Other clubs could be accused of hoarding players, allowing them only to leave on loan year after year while still never giving them a chance to make their mark at their parent clubs.

Of Madrid's current crop, Bruno Iglesias, Sergio Arribas, Peter Federico and the wonderfully named centre-back Marvel – write the superhero pun headlines now – appear the ones to watch.

Whether they ever turn out for the first team, or they end up moving on to career paths elsewhere, their education at La Fabrica should at least set them up for success wherever they land.

Who knows? They may even be likelier to be wearing a red and white shirt than a solid white one if they ever make an appearance in a Madrid derby.

It's a bit early in the season to call Napoli's trip to Milan a "title clash" given we're only six games in, but for the Partenopei it is clearly an opportunity to make a statement.

Luciano Spalletti, a former Milan coach, has guided Napoli to 14 points from their first six matches, and they sit top of the fledgling table ahead of Atalanta and the Rossoneri on goal difference.

While Milan have already beaten bitter rivals Inter this term, Napoli haven't had the chance for such a signal of intent – at least, not in Serie A.

But neither Spalletti nor Stefano Pioli will be able to rely on their star men in San Siro on Sunday, adding to the unpredictability of a match that promises excitement.

Sorely missed

Rafael Leao and Victor Osimhen will miss this contest due to suspension and injury, respectively. Both absences are bitter blows to not only the teams, but fans tuning in.

Leao has been an especially key figure for Milan over the past year or so. Since the start of last season, he has played in 40 out of a possible 44 matches, with only Alexis Saelemaekers and Sandro Tonali (both 41) appearing more regularly.

Their win percentage with him stands at 70, while they average 2.3 points with Leao on the pitch. Of the four games he has missed, Milan have only won two.

Over the same period, Osimhen has missed 12 league games for Napoli. Their win rate increases from 58.3 per cent to 65.6 per cent when he plays, and their goals average goes up to 2.2 from 1.5 per game. Similarly, he's the only current Napoli player to score 10 or more Serie A goals (16) in that time.

The opportunity is there for others to step up in their absence.

 

At home on the road

As their position at the Serie A summit suggests, Napoli have enjoyed a fine start to the season, and their Champions League demolition of Liverpool made even more people sit up and take note.

Any successful team cannot just rely on a vociferous home support, however, and Napoli have made decent early strides in that regard, amassing seven points from their first three away Serie A games.

If they can avoid defeat on Sunday, they'll be unbeaten after the first four away games in an Italian top-flight season for the third campaign in succession, a feat no team has ever achieved before.

Granted, Milan's recent home form is decent, having won six on the trot in San Siro, which is their best run since 2013 (eight successive wins). But it was Napoli who ended that run, and the Partenopei are also hoping to rack up three consecutive away league victories over Milan for the first time in 43 years.

Party up front, business in the back

Yes, that's not quite how the saying goes, but this altered phrase is more applicable to Napoli. They have been exciting to watch going forward this term, with Osimhen, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Andre-Franck Zambo Aguissa and Piotr Zielinski all catching the eye on the offensive.

But credit where it's due to Spalletti's side when they're not on the attack, as Napoli have been solid defensively.

Stretching back into last season, they have kept six clean sheets in their past nine Serie A games, including three in six this term.

Even when they have conceded, Napoli possess the necessary mentality – and ability – to fight back, with their six points gained from losing positions second only to Milan's seven in 2022-23.

 

Milan unbeaten, Napoli with everything to prove

Milan's title success last season was helped massively by their exceptionally strong end to the campaign.

They finished 2021-22 with six successive wins and went on an undefeated run that stretched back to January 17 when they suffered a shock 2-1 loss at home to Spezia.

Milan have since stretched that unbeaten streak to 22 league games, which is their longest such run since a 27-match undefeated run ended in January 2021.

That form highlights the task that Napoli face on Sunday, though by the same token, being the team to halt such a sequence would surely show Spalletti's team mean business.

After last weekend's postponements, round seven of the Premier League is finally upon us, but continental fixtures midweek could throw a spanner into team selection.

Now over a month into the season, things are beginning to take shape as managers make it clear who is in and out of favour, while struggling teams may feel the need for drastic changes in an effort to get back on course.

Whether they start every game, or they have worked their way into consideration, this is the time of the year when players can stake their claim as key contributors for the long season ahead.

This week's Opta data points out a couple of playmakers who have shined coming off the bench, as well as some safe prospects in the back half who are at the centre of their teams' plans, and could make the difference in your Fantasy Football plans.

 

Nick Pope (Newcastle United v Bournemouth)

Newcastle United goalkeeper Nick Pope is in fine form, boasting the most saves in the league this season with 28, while also owning the best save percentage (82.35 per cent) and being tied for the lead in clean sheets (three).

It is not just a small sample size, either. Since the beginning of the 2019-20 season, only Ederson (58) and Allison (45), widely considered the league's best two shot-stoppers, have kept more clean sheets than Pope's 38.

Also working in Pope's favour is the fact Bournemouth are one of six teams this season to average less than one goal per game, and have been held scoreless by Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Wolves.

Neco Williams (Nottingham Forest v Fulham)

Full-backs have always been a bit of a cheat code in fantasy football due to their ability to bank both clean sheets and a healthy dose of assists compared to centre-backs, and Nottingham Forest's Neco Williams is emerging as a quality creator of chances.

No Forest player has created more chances than the 21-year-old's nine – among defenders, only Trent Alexander-Arnold (13), Kieran Trippier (11) and Diogo Dalot (10) have crafted more. 

Williams has also played every minute of his side's six games so far. 

Bernardo Silva (Manchester City v Wolves)

Manchester City's Bernardo Silva is enjoying a rich run of form, with four goal involvements (two goals and two assists) from his past four matches.

City are the highest-scoring team in the Premier League this season with 20 in six games, and after coming off the bench in the first two fixtures of the season, Silva has now made four consecutive starts.

Silva's goal contributions have come from 1.33 expected goal involvements, with only team-mate Erling Haaland, Brentford's Ivan Toney and Liverpool's Roberto Firmino have outperformed their expected figure by more.

Richarlison (Tottenham v Leicester City)

After spending £60million this past transfer window to secure the 25-year-old from Everton, Tottenham awarded Richarlison with his first start in their last top-flight game against Fulham, and he came through with an assist and a disallowed goal.

It was his second assist from his past three games, after coming off the bench against Forest and teeing up Harry Kane.

Leicester City have been a team the Brazil forward, who scored his first two Spurs goals in a Champions League win over Marseille earlier in September, has feasted against during his time in the Premier League, with his five goals against the Foxes matching his best total against any team (also five against Southampton and Wolves).

Lots of eras have ended in 2022.

Tennis has now seen two in a short period of time, as Serena Williams' decision to step away from the court after the US Open was followed by Roger Federer announcing on Thursday that he will do the same after next week's Laver Cup in London.

Federer has had one of the most decorated careers an athlete could hope for, winning 20 grand slams, including eight men's singles titles at Wimbledon.

No player has claimed more than his 369 match wins at grand slams, with Novak Djokovic second on 334.

Following the Swiss star's announcement, Stats Perform has taken a look at five key moments from a truly remarkable career.

Taking of the torch

It felt like a big moment at the time, but with hindsight it was more like something from a Hollywood movie.

Pete Sampras had dominated at Wimbledon from 1993 to 2000, winning the men's singles title seven times in eight years.

Then, in the fourth round at SW19 in 2001, a pony-tailed teenager from Switzerland rocked up and beat him.

Federer had won the boys' championship at Wimbledon in 1998, but here he became a man, beating Sampras in a five-set thriller, to the delight of the crowd.

It denied Sampras an eighth title, which would ironically be a feat achieved by Federer years later.

First grand slam win

It was, of course, Wimbledon where Federer lifted his first grand slam. Two years after his win against Sampras it was time for him to fulfil his potential, and he did just that in 2003.

Going into the tournament as number four seed, he defeated the likes of Mardy Fish, Feliciano Lopez, Sjeng Schalken and Andy Roddick to reach the final.

There, he met big-serving Australian, Mark Philippoussis, and won 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 7-6 (7-3).

People said it could be the first of many, which was somewhat of an understatement.

Five alive at Flushing Meadows

Having already mastered Wimbledon by winning it five years in a row between 2003 and 2007, Federer wanted to dominate other grand slams, which he certainly did in the United States.

After winning his first US Open title in 2004, he went on to win it again and again, culminating in repeating his Wimbledon trick by making it five consecutive in 2008.

Having earned passage to the championship match with a hard-fought four-set victory against Djokovic in the semis, Federer ended up easing to a win in the final against Andy Murray, beating the Scot 6-2 7-5 6-2 to secure number five on the hard courts of New York.

A clay clean sweep

Federer had more than proven himself on grass and hard court, but while he still won the vast majority of his matches on clay, he struggled to get over the line in the same way, particularly thanks to the presence of a certain talented Spaniard.

Rafael Nadal beat him in three consecutive French Open finals from 2006 to 2008, with Federer unable to even force a fifth set in any of those defeats.

However, in 2009 he did not have to face Nadal in the final. Instead, he came up against the man who had shocked Nadal in the fourth round, Robin Soderling.

Federer found the Swede an easier proposition in the final, beating him 6-1 7-6 (7-1) 6-4 to win his first title at Roland Garros, and complete his set of grand slams, having also won three times at the Australian Open by that point (2004, 2006 and 2007).

The final trophy lift

In what turned out to be his last grand slam success, Federer absolutely cruised through the field at the Australian Open in 2018, not dropping a set until the final.

While he had continued to go far in tournaments and wowed the crowds with his trademark rallies and forehand winners, Federer had only won three grand slams since 2010.

Federer had won the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2017, and many thought that might have been his one last hurrah, but he arguably saved an even better showing for the first tournament of the following year.

He was made to earn it in the final, before ultimately overcoming Marin Cilic 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 3-6 6-1.

It brought his overall total of grand slam victories to 20, and though that has since been passed by Nadal (22) and Djokovic (21), Federer will go down as one of the all-time greats.

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