The new Formula One season is only a single race old, but Charles Leclerc has already matched the achievement of one title-winning former Ferrari star.

Now, ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Leclerc is out to try to repeat a Michael Schumacher feat and set a championship charge in motion.

The Monegasque driver led a Ferrari one-two in Bahrain last week, holding off Max Verstappen before the defending champion's mechanical woes ensured Carlos Sainz joined his team-mate on the top two steps of the podium.

It was the Scuderia's first race win since the 2019 Singapore GP, another one-two when Leclerc finished second to Sebastian Vettel.

The Leclerc-Sainz one-two was Ferrari's 85th in F1 – a record – and signalled a return to form, coming at the end of a weekend they had dominated, with the race winner also qualifying fastest to start from pole position.

Heading into the rest of the season, that should certainly provide Leclerc with encouragement, given the last Scuderia driver to start the season with a win from pole was Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. That was the most recent season in which a Ferrari driver won the title.

Indeed, should Leclerc convert pole again in Saudi Arabia, he would become the first Ferrari man to do so in the first two races of a campaign since Schumacher in his final title-winning season in 2004.

Leclerc and Sainz each discussed their title ambitions following Bahrain, so last week's runner-up will hope to go with his colleague again.

Ferrari have never had a one-two in each of the first two grands prix of a season, while Raikkonen and Felipe Massa in 2008 were their last duo to achieve such a result in consecutive races at any stage of the year.

Meanwhile, if Leclerc hopes to follow in Schumacher's footsteps, Mercedes rival George Russell does not.

Schumacher in 2010, then in the twilight of his legendary career after coming out of retirement, was the only Silver Arrows driver to this point fail to make the podium in his first three races with the team.

A pit-stop error and a puncture saw Russell finish his Mercedes debut in ninth when deputising for Lewis Hamilton at the 2020 Sakhir GP, while he was fourth behind his new team-mate last week.

The Red Bull woe that boosted Ferrari also rescued that three-four result for Mercedes, but team principal Toto Wolff said: "It's too early to look at the championship as it stands. If you look at the pecking order today, it seems a long shot to even be in contention for any of the championships.

"If I look at [Bahrain] as a single race weekend, we probably scored the maximum of points that we could have. And we need to take it from there.

"Every weekend counts and, at the moment, it's singular events because, realistically, when you're third on the road, you can't think about winning it."

Ash Barty stunned the sporting world on Wednesday by announcing her retirement from tennis, bowing out as the top-ranked player in the women's game.

The popular 25-year-old has not featured since winning her home grand slam at the Australian Open in January, becoming the first female Aussie singles champion of the tournament since Chris O'Neil in 1978.

Announcing the news on her Instagram page, Barty cited achieving a lifelong goal of winning Wimbledon last year as a primary factor behind her decision as well as being "spent physically".

But Barty is by no means the first sporting hero to retire at the top of their game. Below we take a look at some other examples of those who have exited as champions.

ALAIN PROST

The 1993 Formula One season was largely dominated by one man – Williams driver Alain Prost. The Frenchman had to battle hard with the iconic Ayrton Senna at the start of the campaign, with them each taking three wins from the first six races of the season. However, a run of four straight victories for Prost were followed by a string of retirements for Senna, ensuring a fourth world title that provided the ideal ending to a glittering career.

ALEX FERGUSON

One of the most successful managers in world football, Alex Ferguson began a 27-year stint at Manchester United after an excellent spell at Aberdeen. The Scot won 28 major trophies at Old Trafford, including 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two Champions Leagues. His final trophy came with top-flight glory in 2012-13, and 17 days later he brought the curtain down.

PEYTON MANNING

Considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Peyton Manning won his first Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts in 2007 and, after an injury-blighted season that raised doubts about his ability aged 39, he added a second with the Denver Broncos in 2016, bowing out on the ultimate high.

RICHIE MCCAW, DAN CARTER

New Zealand became the first nation to successfully defend the Rugby World Cup trophy by beating Australia 34-17 in the final at Twickenham in 2015, adding to their success on home soil four years prior. It proved the end of the line for captain Richie McCaw, who was at the time the most capped player in rugby union with 148 appearances for the All Blacks, as well as mercurial fly-half Dan Carter. Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Kevin Mealamu were also among an influential contingent that opted to end their international careers.

PETE SAMPRAS

In defeating Andre Agassi in the final of the 2002 US Open, the same opponent he overcame to win his first grand slam 12 years prior, Pete Sampras secured his place among the greats in men's tennis. It was a then-record 14th major singles title for a male player for the American, a milestone that has since been surpassed by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, but he did not compete again and announced his retirement almost one year later.

PHILIPP LAHM, MIROSLAV KLOSE

At 31 you still have a number of years ahead of you in football. However, after lifting the World Cup trophy with Germany in 2014, Philipp Lahm decided to call time on his international career and focus on club football with Bayern Munich. The versatile full-back made 113 appearances for his country and was joined by fellow centurions Per Mertesacker and Miroslav Klose – whose tally of 71 international strikes is a German record – in switching focus to domestic matters.

MARION BARTOLI

A first grand slam at Wimbledon in 2013 appeared to be the breakthrough moment for a 28-year-old Marion Bartoli, but reality proved very different. The Frenchwoman defeated Sabine Lisicki – who had overcome pre-tournament favourites Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska – in the All England Club final, but announced her retirement during the Western and Southern Open just 40 days later due to persistent injuries. She attempted a comeback in 2018 but continued setbacks and injuries curtailed those plans.

NICO ROSBERG

Nico Rosberg had engaged in several intense battles with Lewis Hamilton before finally getting the better of his Mercedes team-mate to become Formula One world champion in the 2016 season. Still only 31, Rosberg had potentially several more years in F1 but the German instead opted to depart having reached the pinnacle of his sport.

Somehow, the opening race of the 2022 Formula One season in Bahrain last weekend managed to compare to the drama of 2021.

The first Ferrari one-two finish since Singapore in 2019, wheel-to-wheel duels between race winner Charles Leclerc and reigning world champion Max Verstappen, Mercedes achieving damage limitation with late DNFs for both Red Bull cars, new regulations creating the potential for a huge shakeup in the pecking order – there was a lot that went on at the Sakhir circuit on Sunday.

Ferrari are the biggest story coming into Jeddah this weekend, though.

There was enough to suggest Ferrari would compete with Red Bull and Mercedes coming out of winter testing, but just how competitive remained to be seen.

Despite Verstappen's failure to finish, Leclerc and Carlos Sainz dispelled any doubt in that regard with a maximum points haul. Something that arguably reinforces the point on Ferrari's strength was Sainz admitting he did not have the best of weekends.

"I mean in FP1, FP2 and FP3 I was very far behind, the most far that I've been ever in Ferrari and that's why even with a one-two that we scored I'm not entirely happy with the weekend, because as a Ferrari driver it's been my most difficult weekend," Sainz said.

"It just shows I need to put my head down, understand this car, understand where is Charles making the difference with his driving and the way he's approaching the corners and driving the tyres, also in the race."

For Leclerc, however, there's a belief that he finally has a car accordant to his talent to compete for the driver's title.

"Coming into this season, we surely knew we were going to be in a better position compared to the past two years but we didn't really know where, and now we see that we are actually in the mix to fight for a title, so it's amazing," he said.

Ferrari and Mercedes battle across the grid

The fascinating battle between a resurgent Ferrari and a previously dominant Mercedes will not just be fought between the factory teams this weekend in Saudi Arabia.

Amid new regulations, an interesting detail was the battle below the top teams. Ferrari power units made for five of the top ten positions in Sakhir, and four of the top six.

Meanwhile, apart from Lewis Hamilton and George Russell in the factory cars, Mercedes-powered cars made up the bottom six cars to have finished.

The Ferrari-powered Haas and Alfa Romeo have long been lagging at the back of the pack, but now look strong enough to take up the fight to Alpine, as well as the ambitious and Mercedes-powered McLaren and Aston Martin teams.

The midfield battle will be as fierce as the one at the front of the grid, while Saudi Arabia might shed some more light on the McLarens of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.

How quickly Red Bull bounce back?

Red Bull provided the bulk of the late drama in Sakhir, with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez both failing to finish, due to fuel pump failure.

New fuel regulations for 2022 have meant higher engine temperatures on lower fuel, and Red Bull did not do enough low-fuel running during winter testing to encounter what they did in Sakhir.

Meanwhile, Mercedes and Ferrari were able to rectify these problems heading into the season start.

The question is, though the Red Bull is unquestionably strong in terms of race pace, how much will Verstappen have to play catch-up in the drivers' standings as the team sorts their fuel pump problem out?

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 26
2. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 18
3. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 15
4. George Russell (Mercedes) 12
5. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) 10

Constructors

1. Ferrari 44
2. Mercedes 27
3. Haas 10
4. Alfa Romeo 9
5. Alpine 8

Derek Carr has spent his entire career trying to convince the Raiders, and indeed the wider NFL universe that he is good enough.

Few quarterbacks to have been as consistent as Carr have inspired such little confidence, his name rarely mentioned among the top players at the NFL's most important position despite him compiling some impressive numbers since arriving in the league.

Drafted in the second round in 2014, Carr has thrown for 31,700 yards in his career, the fourth-most in the league in that span. His 247 passing plays of 25 yards or more is a tally bettered by only four quarterbacks over the same timeframe.

Yet there are plenty of quarterbacks who excel at compiling stats and, for as tedious as the debate around whether wins should be considered a quarterback stat (they shouldn't) is, part of the reason for Carr's lack of recognition comparative to his contemporaries is that he has not been able to elevate the Raiders, either in Oakland or now Las Vegas, to a playoff win.

In efforts to end that wait, there have been reported dalliances with other quarterbacks by the Raiders, most notably with Tom Brady before he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020.

Las Vegas has also previously been seen as a destination for Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson but, while the Raiders will get to see new Denver Broncos quarterback Wilson up close twice a season, they are firmly tied to Carr, and have this offseason done an excellent job of setting him up for success.

In Josh McDaniels, they have paired him with one of the league's premier offensive minds and, by spectacularly acquiring college team-mate Davante Adams in a blockbuster trade with the Green Bay Packers last week, the Raiders have given Carr the wide receiver many consider to be the class of the league.

With Adams added to an already exciting cast of offensive weapons, Carr has all the tools to definitively prove that, for the Raiders, he has always been the best man for the job.

Carr reaching peak performance

The timing of Carr's reunion with his former Fresno State team-mate Adams could hardly be better, as he is coming off arguably the finest season of his career.

Among quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts, Carr finished third in well-thrown percentage. Trailing only Joe Burrow and Ryan Tannehill, he delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 81.6 per cent of his passes.

None of the eight quarterbacks to average more air yards per attempt than Carr's 8.29 had a superior well-thrown percentage, his ability to blend ball placement and downfield upside further illustrated by his 67 completions of 20 yards or more in 2021. Brady (75) was the sole quarterback to end the season with more.

Carr achieved those feats despite tight end Darren Waller missing six games of the season and the Raiders losing wide receiver Henry Ruggs III after his November arrest.

He deserves great credit for continuing to thrive in a campaign that saw head coach Jon Gruden resign in disgrace, the Raiders playing the majority of the season under the interim leadership of Rich Bisaccia.

Now with McDaniels at the helm, Carr has a head coach to maximise his skill set and, with Adams joining Waller and Co. on offense, undoubtedly the most talented supporting cast of his career. 

A stacked receiver room

It is extremely difficult to overstate the importance of Adams' acquisition.

Over the past three seasons, only one player has racked up more receiving yards than Adams' 3,924. The man who represents his competition for the title of best receiver in the NFL, Cooper Kupp (4,082).

Adams' 34 receiving touchdowns in that span are second to Mike Evans (35), while no player has averaged more receiving yards per game than his 93.4 since 2019.

Producing a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, on 65.6 per cent of his targets, Adams was comfortably above the league average for receivers with at least 100 targets of 62. While his position as the NFL's top wideout may be up for debate, his status as one of its elite separators is not in question.

Only four receivers (min. 100 targets), one of which was Kupp (4), averaged more burn yards per route than Adams (3.5) in 2021.

Second (3.4) and first (3.9) in the same metric in 2019 and 2020, Adams' consistency in creating separation from coverage is unmatched, and he should benefit from playing in an offense stacked with bonafide weapons worthy of defensive attention.

Despite missing time, Waller still ended the 2021 season fifth among tight ends (min. 50 targets) in burn yards per target (11.91) and fourth in burn yards per route (3), his size, athleticism and ability to line up at every receiving position on the field making him a mismatch nightmare for defenses when at his best. Only two tight ends, Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews, have more receiving plays of 20 yards or more since 2019 than Waller (43).

Carr also has an excellent rapport with Hunter Renfrow. They combined for nine touchdowns in 2021, with three of those scores for the diminutive wideout coming on third down.

Yet the nickname 'Third and Renfrow' may have been inappropriately applied. Not because Renfrow isn't great on third down (18 of his 33 third-down targets last year went for first downs), but because team-mate Bryan Edwards might be even better.

Targeted just eight times on third down, six of those throws from Edwards to Carr were completed for a first down. Overall, Edwards had 76.5 per cent of his catches result in a first down last season, the second-best ratio in the NFL.

At 6ft 3in and 215 pounds, Edwards is a still under-utilised physically imposing ball-winner. Between Adams, Waller, Renfrow and Edwards, Carr now has a receiving corps to stack up with any other in the NFL.

Throw in a running back in Josh Jacobs who displayed his ability to overcome substandard blocking by averaging 3.38 yards per carry on runs where there was a disruption by a defender, the sixth-most in the NFL, in 2021, and Carr appears to have everything at his disposal to helm an explosive and dominant offense in 2022. That is presuming, of course, that Carr can re-establish his college connection with Adams.

But there is a risk any potential offensive surge could be cancelled out by the improvements made by the Raiders' rivals in what now looks a hellish AFC West.

Carr’s 'prove-it' year

The trade for Adams was just the latest move in a series of blockbusters from AFC West teams. In respective offseason efforts to end the divisional superiority of the Kansas City Chiefs, the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers each made significant additions to their rosters.

Denver hugely upgraded the quarterback position with a stunning trade for nine-time Pro Bowler Wilson, and the Chargers bolstered their defense with a deal to acquire edge rusher Khalil Mack while also signing cornerback J.C. Jackson and run-stuffing defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day. 

In essence, the Raiders now have to compete with three elite quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes, Wilson, and Justin Herbert, all of whom have seen their teams stack the deck around them.

Carr has previously gone blow for blow with both Mahomes and Herbert and won, most famously in Week 18 last season in the epic overtime game that almost ended in a tie that would have sent both the Raiders and Chargers to the playoffs.

However, with the Chargers pairing Mack with another fearsome pass rusher, Joey Bosa, and the Chiefs retaining Frank Clark on a defensive line that also features Chris Jones, Carr's hopes of getting the best of each of those signal-callers could be compromised by the play of his offensive line.

The Raiders' O-Line ranked 21st in pass block win rate last year, with Carr pressured 285 times, the third-most in the league behind Matt Ryan (319) and Josh Allen (312), and yet that area of the team has gone largely neglected in the offseason.

Great quarterbacks can overcome shortcomings at other positions and Carr did so last year in leading the Raiders to the playoffs. Though he may have improved help from a defense that looks better prepared to deal with the threat of opposing offenses after the hire of Patrick Graham as coordinator and the additions of veteran edge rusher Chandler Jones and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, the reality is Carr will likely have to raise his game again if the Raiders are to enjoy postseason success.

The Raiders may look to use what draft capital they have left to improve on the offensive side of the trenches yet, regardless of any further moves to come, the onus is firmly on Carr. His is a career that has been spent trying to prove he belongs in the conversation as a top-tier quarterback. He built a compelling case last season but, flanked by offensive talent ready-made to help him keep pace with Mahomes, Herbert and Wilson, 2022 is the year in which he must definitively win the argument.

One of the NFL's most prolific quarterback and wide receiver duos saw their time together come to an end on Thursday as Davante Adams was traded by the Green Bay Packers to the Las Vegas Raiders.

Adams' departure ends his association with MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the apparent telepathy between that duo helping keep the Packers at the forefront of the NFC over the past three seasons.

Since Adams was drafted in 2014, Rodgers had found him for 68 receiving touchdowns. Since 1991, when Stats Perform started collecting data, they are seventh in that category among quarterback and receiver duos.

Arguably the league's premier wide receiver, Adams' impact will be near-impossible to replace, but the Packers do have avenues via which they can attempt to fill the void, especially in a draft where the Packers now have picks 22 and 28 in the first round.

Here, Stats Perform looks at some of the potential additions the Packers could make to minimise the pain of Adams' exit.

FREE AGENCY

Jarvis Landry

Released by the Cleveland Browns having previously been given permission to seek a trade, Landry is coming off a season in which he played only 12 games and produced career lows in receiving yards (570) and touchdowns (two).

However, the advanced numbers suggest he still has plenty in the tank as a wideout who can operate on the outside and in the slot.

According to Stats Perform data, Landry finished the 2021 season with an open percentage of 40, well above the league average of 32.58. His combined open percentage against man and zone coverage was 38.3.

Odell Beckham Jr.

The most high-profile receiver still on the free-agent market is the one the Packers were reportedly interested in before he signed with the Los Angeles Rams following his release from the Browns.

Beckham appeared to voice his displeasure on social media after news of Adams' historic contract with the Raiders emerged, the former New York Giant having also seen the Rams agree to a contract with Allen Robinson in free agency.

His torn ACL suffered in the Rams' Super Bowl win over the Cincinnati Bengals may be complicating matters for the defending champions, and there could be an opportunity for the Packers to take advantage and lure him to Lambeau Field.

With five touchdowns in his final seven regular-season games in 2021 and two in the Rams' triumphant postseason, Beckham showed plenty to suggest he can still be an elite NFL wide receiver; his open percentage against man of 46.97 was 10th among receivers with at least 100 matchups.

Will Fuller

Staying on the field has been a career-long battle for Fuller, who featured in just two games in his lone season with the Miami Dolphins last year.

Yet he could prove an affordable option and give the Packers a speedy downfield weapon if they do not re-sign Marquez Valdes-Scantling.

Among wideouts with at least 50 targets, Fuller was fifth in burn rate – which measures how often a receiver wins his matchup on a play where he is targeted – in 2020, recording a burn on 73.3 per cent of his targets.

He was also fifth in burn yards per target (14.08) and tied 10th in big-play rate (39 per cent).

DRAFT

Chris Olave – Ohio State

There isn't a Davante Adams in this year's draft, but it's still an extremely deep receiver class, in which Olave is near the top.

Possessing an extremely intriguing blend of speed and refined route-running ability, Olave is frequently linked with the Packers in mock drafts.

A big-play threat who can be a significant weapon in the red zone, only DeVonta Smith (37) scored more receiving touchdowns in the FBS than Olave (32) between 2019 and 2021.

Treylon Burks – Arkansas

At 6ft 3in and 225 pounds, Burks would bring significant size to the receiver position for the Packers, as well as plenty of versatility.

Burks was not used in a conventional sense for a receiver of his frame by the Razorbacks, frequently receiving the ball on screens and carries out of the backfield.

Just 169 of his 1,104 receiving yards came at the catch point in 2021, illustrating his prowess after the catch in the open field. Despite not being used as regularly downfield as some might expect, he was still second in the SEC to Jameson Williams (24) with 20 receiving plays of 20 yards or more.

With his experience operating out of the backfield and the potential to use him as a 'power slot' given his size, Burks could add an intriguing different dimension to the Green Bay passing game.

Jameson Williams – Alabama

Speaking of Williams, it will be fascinating to see how far he falls in the draft after his season ended with him suffering a torn ACL in the National Championship Game loss to Georgia in January.

The Packers should at least give thought to using their second pick in the first round on the former Crimson Tide burner, whose devastating combination of track star speed, foot quickness and route-running savvy made him a nightmare for defenders across college football.

It is not clear when Williams would be ready to start building a rapport with Rodgers, but there is no doubt over how potent they could be together.

Williams averaged 19.9 yards per reception last year, while no player in the FBS had more than his nine catches of at least 50 yards, making him a likely ideal match for one of the best deep ball throwers in the NFL.

Barcelona travel to the Spanish capital to take on Real Madrid in El Clasico on Sunday, and for the first time in a long time, they do so with somewhat justified optimism.

As Bob Dylan said, "the times, they are-a-changin'".

That will perhaps be one of the many songs we will hear blaring out at Camp Nou after Barcelona signed a deal with music streaming giant Spotify for naming rights to the iconic stadium from next season.

This is a club that until 2006 thought it uncouth to even have a shirt sponsor, and when they eventually did, it was a philanthropic deal with UNICEF.

Eventually, the increasing need for vast sums of money in order to stay relevant at football's top table led to the Blaugrana signing a deal with Qatar Airways, though their financial situation has famously worsened in recent years.

That, of course, has been largely down to poor decisions in terms of contract negotiations and recruitment, with their transfer strategy on shuffle in the past five years.

On and off the field, it seemed like Barca were getting further and further away from their roots, though they tried to turn that around by bringing in former European Cup-winning defender Ronald Koeman.

The Dutchman replaced Quique Setien in August 2020 and led Barca to Copa del Rey success in his first season, but they finished third in LaLiga and suffered a Champions League last-16 exit, as well as losing the Supercopa de Espana final to Athletic Bilbao.

A shock 1-0 defeat at Rayo Vallecano in late October 2021 spelled the end for Koeman, but the decision to replace him with Xavi felt like it could have been a different colour of the same thinking, that you need someone who 'gets the club' rather than simply an elite coach.

Pep Guardiola had no affiliation with Manchester City before going to the Etihad Stadium, as with Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool or Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea.

However, while Koeman was a former player and European Cup winner, Xavi was a figure from the club's real golden generation, an era the club and their fans are eager to return to.

Barca felt at their lowest ebb after losing Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain due to financial constraints at the end of last season. They were out of the LaLiga title race early on after winning just four of their first 12 games (D5 L3), before arguably the ultimate humiliation of Champions League elimination in the group stage for the first time in 21 years.

Xavi's first game in charge was somewhat appropriately a derby against Espanyol. It was nervy, it was uncertain, but it was at least a 1-0 win.

Ahead of the home game with Elche in December, the 42-year-old suggested part of the problem was some of his players' inability to grasp "juego de posicion" – "the position game" – a structured approach to play with and without the ball in which the great Barca sides thrived.

In a video for The Coaches' Voice while still manager of Al Sadd, Xavi outlined his philosophy, saying: "The most important, the most beautiful and the most precious thing in football is to have the ball, and to attack and dominate the game with the ball.

"It's clear to me that my team has to control the ball. I suffer when I don't have it. It happened to me when I was a footballer and now even more so on the bench.

"How do I set up the team? Regardless of the system, in the end, the most important thing is this philosophy that we talked about. Total control of the ball – it matters a lot to me. I'm obsessed with possession, and not just to have the ball for the sake of having it, but to attack and create chances and hurt the opposition."

Since Xavi's arrival, Barca have taken 34 points from 15 games in LaLiga (W10 D4 L1), a record only bettered by Real Madrid in that time (39 points – W12 D3 L1).

 

They have also not lost any of their nine away league games since the legendary midfielder was appointed (W5 D4), and should they avoid defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu, Xavi would become only the second Barca coach to be unbeaten in his first 10 away games in the competition after Ernesto Valverde.

Results have clearly improved, but what changes has Xavi actually made to the underachieving side he inherited?

Comparing his 24 games in charge so far with the 13 overseen by Koeman at the start of the season – it would be unfair to look at the Dutchman's entire record at the club given he had statistic monster Messi at his disposal last season – the improvements have been slight yet significant.

Interestingly, their average possession has only risen slightly, from 63.8 per cent to 64.5, while the average number of passes per game has gone from 604.4 to 625.8.

Given Xavi's insistence that possession must also lead to chances that "hurt the opposition", it is a slight surprise to see that Koeman actually saw marginally more big chances created (2.23 per game to 2.21), but Barca now have more shots on goal (15.0 per game, up from 11.2) and are averaging a goal every 47 minutes, drastically up from one every 73 under Koeman.

One thing that may cause some surprise is the apparent willingness to go long more often under Xavi, hitting 52.1 long passes per game compared to 43.6 under Koeman. This does not mean they are becoming a long ball team, rather that they appear to be more willing to play riskier balls to try to turn the opposition around with one pass rather than the possession for the sake of possession Xavi spoke of.

 

This could also be a result of the additions the coach has made to the squad, despite obvious limitations in terms of budget.

The former Premier League trio of Ferran Torres, Adama Traore and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang might all be used to playing more direct styles and have impressed since arriving from England.

The return of Dani Alves may have raised eyebrows, but the 38-year-old – while understandably not quite the Alves of old – has restored a certain energy and spirit, even contributing four goal involvements in his eight appearances so far (one goal, three assists).

Xavi no doubt also sees the benefits of having such an experienced head around young stars like Pedri and Gavi, who have both established themselves as vital components of the team being put together.

Another interesting sub-plot to Xavi's brief tenure has been Ousmane Dembele, who still looks like he will be leaving Camp Nou at the end of the campaign once his contract expires.

The club were desperate to move the France international on in January but unable to do so, and it seemed Dembele may just sit in the stands to see out the final months of his deal.

However, Xavi has decided to bring the enigmatic attacker back into the fold, and that call seems to be paying off, with Dembele putting in some star performances in recent weeks, registering five assists in his past four LaLiga appearances, as many as he managed in his previous 45 league games for the club.

The improvement seen at Camp Nou will be put to the test in the Clasico, with Madrid the team to beat in Spain for now.

Xavi will be seeking to change that fact in the coming seasons but first must ensure he continues to get a tune out of his players before the reported €280m Spotify deal kicks in – starting on Sunday.

The NFL offseason is as exciting as it has ever been in 2022 – and several of the biggest moves have centred on the AFC West.

This was already one of the deepest divisions in football, headlined by Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs but also featuring the 2021 fifth seed Las Vegas Raiders and gunslinging Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert in its supporting cast.

But the lineup for next season promises to be even more enticing.

The Raiders have worked to make sure they have not been left behind by the big-spending Chargers, while the Denver Broncos have also made a significant move to climb into contention.

In fact, over the past two weeks, the Chiefs have perhaps been among the big losers – watching on while the rest of their division have been getting busy...

March 8: Russell Wilson (Seahawks to Broncos)

The NFC West was previously the standard-bearer for hugely competitive divisions, but the power shifted as its fourth-placed Seattle Seahawks traded superstar quarterback Wilson to the AFC West's fourth-placed Broncos. With Aaron Rodgers staying with the Green Bay Packers, when a move to Denver had been mooted, a big play for Wilson was vital if the Broncos were to make up a significant gap. The Super Bowl XLVIII champion has ranked fourth for both pass yards per attempt (7.83) and touchdown percentage (6.2) across his NFL career – a significant upgrade on the Broncos' 2021 QBs Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock.

March 10: Khalil Mack (Bears to Chargers)

With Herbert running the offense, the Chargers have moved to improve the other side of the ball – first by trading for edge rusher Mack. A second-round pick in this year's draft was the primary compensation for a six-time Pro Bowler, immediately boosting a unit that ranked 23rd in total defense (360.1 yards per game) and 30th in run defense (138.9) last year. Mack struggled with injuries in his final year with the Chicago Bears but comes in opposite Joey Bosa, who ranks third in the NFL for QB pressures (389) and sixth for sacks (58) since his 2016 debut; Mack is fourth (388) and seventh (57.5) over that same period.

March 14: J.C. Jackson (free agent to Chargers)

As well as draft collateral, the Chargers had salary cap to work with and sent a large chunk of it to cornerback Jackson, allowed to leave by the New England Patriots. Jackson had certainly earned his pay day, leading the NFL in interceptions (25) since debuting in New England in 2018. This playmaking ability was also illustrated by the 26-year-old giving up big plays on only 18.9 per cent of his targets last season, the eighth-best rate among corners with at least 50 targets.

March 15: Randy Gregory (free agent to Broncos)

The Chargers' edge-rushing duo will take some beating, but the Broncos upgraded in that position, too, by giving up to $70million to Gregory, who had been set to re-sign with the Dallas Cowboys. Gregory, who missed almost three full seasons due to violations of the NFL's substance abuse policy, had finally established himself as a starter in 2021 with career highs in sacks (six) and QB hits (17) playing opposite DeMarcus Lawrence. The 29-year-old linebacker will now be paired with Bradley Chubb, despite a return to Denver for Von Miller being floated earlier in the month.

March 16: Chandler Jones (free agent to Raiders)

Having seen their division rivals make big moves, the Raiders responded with a $51m offer to Jones, while trading Yannick Ngakoue to the Indianapolis Colts for corner Rock Ya-Sin. Ngakoue had 10 sacks and forced two fumbles in his sole season in Las Vegas, but Jones (10.5 and six) topped both figures for the Arizona Cardinals in 2021. In fact, since Jones came into the league with the Patriots in 2012, he leads both categories, with 107.5 sacks and 33 fumbles forced. Although now 32, he shows few signs of slowing.

March 17: Davante Adams (Packers to Raiders)

The most stunning move of the lot followed on Thursday, when Adams' refusal to play for the Packers on the franchise tag led to his trade to the Raiders for a first and a second-round pick in 2022 (22 and 53 overall). The deal suddenly gives Raiders QB Derek Carr arguably the best offensive weapon in the NFL – and one he can go to time and time again, given Adams was targeted on a league-leading 35.4 per cent of his routes in 2021, which yielded career highs in catches (123) and receiving yards (1,553). Fellow wideout Hunter Renfrow may now see less of the ball than in his first 1,000-yard season (1,038), but he should also benefit from the attention Adams inevitably draws. The Raiders already ranked sixth in passing offense (268.6 yards per game).

How does Formula One go about following up the epic 2021 season?

Well, until that stunning campaign stole the show, this year was long seen as the one to look forward to with the introduction of new regulations to encourage competitive racing right down the grid.

Lewis Hamilton might have expected a genuine challenge in 2022; instead, in the form of Max Verstappen, it arrived 12 months early.

Excitement for the coming campaign is therefore at an all-time high, with pre-season testing adding to the theory fans should expect the unexpected.

Forecasting the year ahead is tricky, but Stats Perform seeks to identify the key narratives to follow this season ahead of Sunday's 2022 opener in Bahrain.

Max vs Lewis again

For now at least, Verstappen and Hamilton will expect to be the title frontrunners, which should mean another classic campaign.

Verstappen had never even led the standings until winning last year's Monaco Grand Prix, the first of five consecutive Red Bull wins – including four for the Dutchman.

That sequence ended at Silverstone, where contact with Hamilton sent Verstappen into the wall and set the tone for the rest of a frantic season, in which the pair repeatedly went at one another, crashing at Monza.

A titanic back-and-forth deserved a better ending than to be decided by a contentious call from race director Michael Masi in Abu Dhabi.

Now, defending champion Verstappen can attempt to prove he is better than Hamilton regardless of that decision, while the Mercedes man seeks to show his class once again as he pursues a record eighth title.

The midfield challenge

The game-changing 2022 regulations sought to enforce "closer racing", meaning both Verstappen and Hamilton could come under threat rather than simply blowing away the competition.

Early signs are encouraging on that front, with the two title rivals name-checking Ferrari's superb pre-season showing in the past week.

A resurgent Scuderia represent an obvious danger to those two, but so too do McLaren, Ferrari's midfield neighbours in recent seasons.

Lando Norris had four podiums last season before tailing off to finish sixth in the drivers' championship – still two places ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who endured a tough first year with the team despite a famous win at Monza.

Having been aided by changes to the car for 2022, it is up to Ferrari and McLaren to close the gap considerably to Red Bull and Mercedes.

George a genuine threat?

Of course, Verstappen and Hamilton might typically expect their biggest challenges to come from those in the same cars.

However, Sergio Perez played the role of supporting Red Bull team-mate brilliantly in some key moments last year, while Valtteri Bottas continued to do his own thing without worrying Hamilton.

How a change in the Mercedes garage alters things remains to be seen. Bottas has been replaced by George Russell, who will hope to quickly make his mark.

Russell deputised for Hamilton for a single race the year before last and impressed, so it will be interesting to see if he now intends to push his legendary colleague all the way or will initially settle instead for helping his title bid.

Impact of refereeing reform

It is not only the cars that have had a makeover this year, with the officiating structure reorganised in the aftermath of the criticism aimed at Masi.

He is out as race director, with two men, Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, taking his place, while other changes include the introduction of a "virtual race control room" to "assist the race director in the decision-making process".

Whether these changes suitably appease the team principals, who grew increasingly furious with each controversy last year, remains to be seen.

All parties would agree they would rather see the championship decided on the track – but it is not always as straightforward as that.

Lewis Hamilton was hurting after the remarkable conclusion to the 2021 season, but he has had time to reset and prepare for another tilt at a record-breaking eighth Formula One drivers' championship.

Hamilton was denied the title in dramatic fashion last year, when a highly contentious decision from then race director Michael Masi gave Max Verstappen the opportunity to pass him on the final lap of the season to be crowned champion for the first time.

Mercedes feared Hamilton would quit the sport as a result, but the man Toto Wolff described as a "lion" in last season's run-in is ready to fight again – starting at this week's Bahrain Grand Prix.

Not that Hamilton is expecting this season to be any more straightforward than the last.

Verstappen has proven he can match Hamilton over the course of a campaign, while George Russell will hope to prove more competitive than Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes seat. The new F1 regulations also mean a potential challenge from the midfield, with Ferrari fast in pre-season.

"We're certainly not at the top," a pessimistic Hamilton said last week, but Verstappen dismissed those comments while acknowledging Ferrari's pace.

The Red Bull superstar suggested Hamilton and Mercedes would quickly turn their fortunes around – and that certainly fits with the Briton's career to date.

"He's an exceptional driver," former Ferrari star Felipe Massa told Stats Perform, "one who is undoubtedly the main man in the sport today because of the records he holds in Formula One.

"No one ever imagined that he would even come close to beating [Michael] Schumacher's records. He overtook pretty much everyone else. One more title is missing to go ahead as a record holder."

That eighth title will remain the goal this year, but Hamilton could move ahead of Schumacher in another sense as soon as Sunday; he has won in 15 consecutive F1 seasons since 2007, meaning victory in a 16th would top the German (1992-2006).

 

Hamilton's happy hunting ground

In pursuit of that new benchmark, Hamilton will be happy to be back in Bahrain, where he has such an outstanding history.

Of the 17 editions of the Bahrain GP, Hamilton has won a record five races, including the past three. No other driver has won three in succession at this event – and that sequence could be extended to four this week.

Mercedes have recorded the most pole positions (six) and podiums (15) at the Bahrain Grand Prix, ranking one ahead of Ferrari in each category.

The Silver Arrows and the Scuderia are tied for Bahrain wins (six) and fastest laps (five) heading into the 2022 race.

We are in a special week for Mercedes, too, as this is the team's 250th grand prix. With 124 victories so far, they could mark the occasion by improving their win rate to an outstanding 50 per cent, the best such performance by any one team.

Red Bull set for reality check?

Verstappen's record at this track is not quite so impressive, even if he almost beat Hamilton last season having started from pole, forced to give his place back after exceeding track limits in passing his rival.

That was Verstappen's seventh Bahrain GP without victory – an eighth fruitless appearance would make this the grand prix he has entered most without winning.

He has retired three times at the Bahrain GP and, including the 2020 Sakhir GP, a career-high four times at this circuit.

The Dutchman at least has the benefit of the confidence of his championship triumph – and a "ridiculously fast" Red Bull, according to Hamilton – but first-time champions have not typically fared well in the first race of their title defence.

Only three of the past 14 first-time defending champions have won on the first weekend of the new season: Michael Schumacher in 1995, Fernando Alonso in 2006 and Sebastian Vettel in 2011.

At least securing pole would mean a positive omen, as Red Bull drivers have gone on to win the title on the four previous occasions they have started the season by qualifying fastest (Vettel in 2010, 2011 and 2013, plus Verstappen last year).

Hamilton in 2015 and 2016 was the last driver to achieve back-to-back Bahrain poles, although only seven Bahrain GP winners have started from the front of the grid.

They say you should never judge a player on one good international tournament.

In fairness, when Bayern Munich splashed out a reported €35million on an 18-year-old Renato Sanches in 2016, he had already impressed at Benfica, but it was his showings at Euro 2016 for eventual winners Portugal that sped up the hype train.

Just over a year later, he was struggling to get game time during a loan move at Swansea City.

Sanches' star had fallen almost as quickly as it had risen, and after being unable to establish himself at Bayern, the midfielder made the move to Lille in 2019.

At the French side he finally settled and became a crucial part of Christophe Galtier's underdogs, who impressively beat Paris Saint-Germain to the 2020-21 Ligue 1 title.

Sanches followed up his championship medal with another comeback, standing out as one of the best players again at Euro 2020.

As football never seems to learn its lessons, hype rebuilt around Sanches following his performances for Portugal in last year's rescheduled tournament, and the 24-year-old has been linked with a transfer to one of Europe's elite pretty much ever since.

Clubs including Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid have all been mooted as possible destinations, but recent reports suggest that Milan could be where Sanches takes the next step of his journey, and potentially where he could finally fulfil that much-discussed potential.

Although Lille have failed to come close to defending their title this season, Sanches has continued to impress when available.

He has played 25 games in all competitions (21 starts), registering one goal and five assists, three more than any other Lille midfielder.

Sanches has completed 57 dribbles, with Jonathan Ikone – more of a forward player and who moved to Fiorentina in January – completing the next most at the club this season (38), and he has created as many big chances (eight) as Ikone having played the same number of games. A big chance is defined by Opta as a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score.

Comparing the same numbers to Milan's midfield, he has created twice as many big chances as the Rossoneri's most creative players (Sandro Tonali and Alexis Saelemaekers – four), and only Saelemaekers has completed more dribbles (58), albeit from more appearances. Sanches averages more completed dribbles than the Belgian per 90 minutes (3.01 to 2.51).

One assumption would be that Sanches has been earmarked to replace Franck Kessie, who appears likely to be leaving San Siro when his contract expires at the end of the season, though the two are not all that similar as players.

Kessie has six goals this season, two from the penalty spot, but just one assist, and has only created two big chances. Sanches also makes far more dribbles, attempting 91 compared to 38 from Kessie.

Sanches has made almost as many recoveries as the Ivory Coast international (146 to 158) but has attempted fewer tackles than all of Milan's midfielders (20), with the lowest tackle success rate (45 per cent).

His pass success percentage is also worse than Kessie's (81.77 to 88.73). You might think that could be down to the intent of those passes, but Kessie is even more comfortably ahead when it comes to pass success percentage in the opposition half (75.53 to 85.53).

Sanches, of course, plays in a different league, and so how do his numbers compare in this season's Champions League?

While it must be noted that Lille had an easier time of things in the group stages than Milan, who went up against Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and Porto, Sanches did seem to shine on the big stage more than Stefano Pioli's current crop.

Only Ismael Bennacer (39) made more recoveries than Sanches' 38, having played a game more, while no-one at the Serie A side attempted as many as his 209 passes, and none won possession in the opposition's final third more than him (four).

Milan suffered elimination in their group, while Lille won theirs and put up a respectable fight against Chelsea in the first leg of their round-of-16 clash at Stamford Bridge.

Sanches in particular looked good again, though he was unable to prevent the Premier League side taking a 2-0 lead over with them to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Wednesday, where Sanches sadly will not play after picking up a muscle injury in the 0-0 draw with Saint-Etienne on Friday.

"Renato Sanches underwent tests this morning following the injury contracted on Friday during the match between LOSC and AS Saint-Etienne," read a statement from Lille. "The midfielder has suffered an injury to the biceps femoris muscle in his left thigh.

"His unavailability is estimated at three weeks, depending on the clinical evolution of his injury."

And this is arguably the thing that has held Sanches back more than anything, his injury record.

For context, at the age of just 24, he already has two pages of injuries listed on his injury history on Transfermarkt, the vast majority of which have been muscle issues that just do not seem to go away.

In terms of what he has shown on the field in the past couple of years, Sanches seems more than ready for another shot at an elite club.

Whether he can stay fit long enough to do so is another matter.

Ralf Rangnick's tenure as Manchester United interim manager has not been a resounding success.

While United have climbed from seventh in the Premier League when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked to fifth, closing the gap to the top four from six points to one, fourth-placed Arsenal have three games in hand and should expect to qualify for the Champions League.

United's hopes of returning to Europe's elite club competition next year – by which time Rangnick will likely have moved upstairs – might instead rest on success in this year's tournament.

Atletico Madrid visit Old Trafford on Wednesday with their last-16 tie level at 1-1, apparently finely balanced – although the first leg was anything but. United were hugely fortunate to escape with a draw after lacking any real fluency in Spain.

Real Madrid great Cristiano Ronaldo will still no doubt be eagerly anticipating this match following his Tottenham hat-trick, but repeating those heroics represents a tall order. He will need help – and the manager's job is to provide that.

Although Rangnick has so far failed to deliver a coherent side able to produce consistent performances, that is not to say there have not been success stories of his reign.

And perhaps Jadon Sancho, who is definitely one of those, can be the man to lift United and their talisman this week.

Sancho is now finding form after a tough start to life at Old Trafford that was somewhat overshadowed by the various other issues United have faced this season, both before and since Solskjaer's sacking.

At another club, Sancho's struggles would have been front and centre, as he remarkably failed to contribute either a goal or an assist in 14 appearances for Solskjaer in all competitions.

That was certainly not what United envisaged when they paid £73million for an England winger whose 107 goal involvements (50 goals, 57 assists) for Borussia Dortmund arrived every 93 minutes on average.

There would have been relief then when Sancho was the star of Michael Carrick's short stint as caretaker, following his first United goal at Villarreal with a second at Chelsea.

Yet more than two months passed before Sancho scored again, kickstarting a vastly improved spell under Rangnick – a coach belatedly having the transformative effect on the 21-year-old many had forecast.

Rangnick's preference for a pressing game was expected to suit Sancho, whose Dortmund in the Bundesliga last season allowed the fifth-fewest opposition passes per defensive action (PPDA – 11.0) and won the fourth-most high turnovers (329).

Under Solskjaer, United ranked a passive 14th in PPDA (14.4), yet that statistic has not altered as drastically as one might have imagined; since Rangnick's appointment, United are 12th (13.3).

Others who have flourished under Rangnick have still done so by leading the press – Fred (51.8) and Anthony Elanga (51.2) rank first and second for Premier League pressures per 90 by United players since the interim boss came in – whereas the speed of United's attacking once they win possession has suited Sancho.

Opta defines a direct attack as "an open play sequence that starts just inside the team's own half and has at least 50 per cent of movement towards the opposition's goal, and ends in a shot or a touch in the opposition box".

Since the start of February, United have scored four league goals from such attacks – twice as many as any other side. Sancho has been involved in all four, striking on the break against both Southampton and Manchester City while laying on assists for Bruno Fernandes and Fred at Leeds United.

The goal at City may have counted for little on a dark day for United, but Sancho has been flying since scoring on his return to the team against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup on February 4, having been granted a period of leave following a death in his family.

"Jadon Sancho is now getting closer to the Jadon Sancho I've known from Germany," Rangnick said at the weekend. "In the end it's all about confidence. Game time, confidence. Confidence, game time. He was performing at a very high level."

He added: "This is what he should be. The club paid quite a few pounds for him in order to lure him away from Borussia Dortmund, and if you pay that amount of money in a transfer fee for a player, he should perform on this kind of level."

Rangnick was speaking after the win against Tottenham, where there was finally a goal courtesy of his combination play with Ronaldo.

It was suggested earlier in the season the pair could not work together – and the woes of both Sancho and United might agree with that argument – but the rapid run in behind and pinpoint square pass for the second of Ronaldo's three goals were evidence of how this attack can succeed.

Ronaldo can continue to thrive with that sort of service, while Sancho only looks better for having a focal point to play off in the mould of former Dortmund team-mate Erling Haaland.

Now, with 13 goals in his past 15 home games against Atletico, including two hat-tricks in the last four, do not bet against Ronaldo proving the difference again on Tuesday. Also, do not bet against Sancho being the man to supply him.

Free agency was supposed to be the headline act of March in the NFL calendar.

But then a blockbuster Russell Wilson trade, the end (for now) of the Aaron Rodgers saga and the small matter of the unretirement of Tom Brady happened in a whirlwind week for the league.

As such, many of the moves that are reported when the NFL's negotiating window opens may seem insignificant compared to the events of the last seven days.

However, the right acquisition on the open market can have a substantial impact for teams looking to contend for the Lombardi Trophy.

Just look at the Cincinnati Bengals, who were in touching distance of winning the title for the first time thanks in part to the defensive efforts of two free agent signings in edge rusher Trey Hendrickson and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie.

With the salary cap increasing to $208.2million, the first time in league history it has been over $200m, plenty of teams will be ready to loosen the purse strings.

Yet free agency is often not about making the big splash move, it is more a matter of finding the right fit between player and team.

Using advanced metrics, Stats Perform looks at six of the best potential fits for this year's free agency cycle.

J.C. Jackson to New York Jets

Jackson is in for a monster payday after the New England Patriots elected not to place the franchise tag on a cornerback coming off a second-team All-Pro season.

Though they are clearly not ready to contend in 2022, the Jets present the perfect marriage of positional need and cap space, of which they have the second-most in the NFL.

Only four teams allowed more yards per pass play than the Jets (7.11) last season, with the secondary a long-standing problem for New York.

Over the past three seasons, no player in the NFL has record more interceptions than Jackson's 22. His closest challenger is Xavien Howard (16).

Jackson finished 2021 having allowed a big play on 18.9 per cent of his targets, the eighth-best rate among corners with at least 50 targets.

Pairing him with a corner in Bryce Hall who had the best combined open percentage (14.61) across man and zone coverage of any player at his position in the NFL last season (min. 100 coverage matchups) would go a long way to shoring up the Jets' defensive backfield.

Terron Armstead to Cincinnati Bengals

It almost makes too much sense. The Bengals are in obvious need of help on the offensive line and will have the seventh-most cap space of any team in the NFL with which to acquire it, making Armstead an obvious fit.

Though injuries limited him to eight games for the Saints last season, Armstead remains one of the premier left tackles in the NFL.

Armstead's stunt-adjusted pass block win rate of 91.93 per cent was third among tackles with at least 100 pass protection one-on-ones in 2021.

That is exactly the kind of excellence in protection the Bengals need to ensure Joe Burrow can keep them in contention for Super Bowl titles in the coming years.

Tyrann Mathieu to Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers have been mentioned as a potential destination for several free agents, which is unsurprising given they are in the top half of the league in terms of cap space and have a premier quarterback on a rookie deal in Justin Herbert.

They have already shown a desire to be aggressive in striking a trade to pair edge rusher Khalil Mack with Joey Bosa on the defensive line, yet there is no doubt the secondary would also benefit from an infusion of experience and added quality.

Mathieu would bring just that if the Chargers were able to lure him from the division rival Kansas City Chiefs. With free safety Nasir Adderley having so far struggled to live up to his status as a second-round pick, Mathieu's arrival would allow the Chargers to rotate him and former first-round pick Derwin James, who each possess the versatility to play free and strong safety and one on one with wide receivers and tight ends in man coverage.

Last year, Mathieu finished ninth among defensive backs with at least 100 coverage matchups across man and zone with a combined open percentage allowed of 20.3.

With another three interceptions added to a career tally that now stands at 26, there is no doubt Mathieu still has the playmaking ability and coverage skills to be an asset to any defense.

Von Miller to Denver Broncos

Everybody loves a reunion, and this would be a quick one after the Broncos dealt Miller to the Los Angeles Rams last season, with the veteran edge rusher going on to win his second Super Bowl title.

And after the Broncos struck a stunning trade to acquire Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks, bringing back Miller to boost a defense that will be run by former Rams secondary coach Ejiro Evero would be an ideal next move to make for a team clearly eyeing an immediate run at a Lombardi.

Miller ranked fifth among edge rushers with a stunt-adjusted pass rush win rate of 43.4 per cent in 2021, with that ability to generate pressure highly valuable to a defense that was a disappointing 30th in win percentage last year.

The Broncos are set up to contend, and a return to Denver would potentially give Miller the chance to compete for further titles while ending his career where it started.

Cordarrelle Patterson to San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have a host of more important needs than a wide receiver-turned-running back, and given San Francisco possesses the gold standard in that regard in 'wide back' Deebo Samuel, signing Patterson would be a luxury move rather than a necessity.

Yet the thought of head coach Kyle Shanahan having both Samuel and Patterson to work with is an extremely enticing one.

Among running backs with at least 150 carries in the regular season, only James Conner (22.7) produced a higher percentage of big plays on targets in the passing game than Patterson (22.6).

Putting him with the play-caller who arguably does the best job of getting offensive players in space would be a match made in heaven.

Christian Kirk to Indianapolis Colts

It's not clear who will be playing quarterback for the Colts in 2022 following the Carson Wentz trade to the Washington Commanders, but that signal-caller will need receiving help beyond 2020 second-round pick Michael Pittman Jr.

With T.Y. Hilton on the downswing of his career and injuries preventing Parris Campbell from making any sort of discernible impact, the Colts are light on legitimate pass-catching weapons.

Kirk could stock the cupboard in that regard, giving Indianapolis a legitimate deep threat who fell 18 yards shy of 1,000 receiving last season and has 11 touchdowns over the past two campaigns.

He registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, on 66.4 per cent of targets (the average for receivers with at least 100 targets was 62).

Among receivers to meet that target threshold, Kirk was fourth in the NFL in 2021 with a burn yards per target average of 13.2, with his ability to separate much needed by an offense that heads into the offseason in questionable shape.

Tom Brady had seemingly played his last Super Bowl.

The quarterback extraordinaire confirmed on February 1 that he had decided to retire after completing a second year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But less than six weeks later he has made a stunning U-turn, announcing in a tweet that the 44-year-old is coming back for a 23rd season in the NFL.

It means he could yet go on to extend his record for the most Super Bowls to eight, with the NFL great apparently unwilling to declare on seven.

Brady could have walked away after capturing a sixth Lombardi Trophy with the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII three years ago with his legacy as the greatest of all time secured.

But whether it was down to a desire to outstrip Michael Jordan's six NBA titles, win a Super Bowl without Bill Belichick or simply because of his love of competing and winning, Brady felt the need to keep going further into his 40s in search of a seventh.

That came in emphatic fashion in his first season since leaving Belichick and the Patriots, as the Buccaneers routed the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 at Raymond James Stadium 12 months ago.

The man who entered the NFL as a skinny sixth-round pick in 2000 proved yet again that it is foolish to doubt him, and now he has gone about surprising everyone yet again by deciding that, actually, his time isn't up.

With Brady back for more, Stats Perform ranks his seven wins on the grandest stage.

7. Super Bowl LIII

Brady's last triumph with the Patriots was probably his least impressive, at least in the vacuum of the game itself.

An uninspiring defensive struggle with the Los Angeles Rams unsurprisingly fell in Belichick's favour as he outcoached Sean McVay in a 13-3 win. Brady did, however, connect with Rob Gronkowski for the telling blow, a 29-yard pass that set up Sony Michel for the game's only touchdown. 

Boosting Brady here is the fact he led the Patriots to victory over Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, but that's not enough to move it off the bottom of the list.

6. Super Bowl XXXIX

The 2021 Super Bowl was the second in which Brady dealt a defeat to Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, but the 39th edition of the Greatest Show on Earth was a much tighter affair as Brady guided the Patriots to back-to-back Lombardi trophies.

However, Reid, who in this February 2005 game was coaching the Philadelphia Eagles, perhaps bore as much responsibility for the Patriots' victory as Brady. Reid was significantly criticised in the aftermath of the Eagles' 24-21 loss for a lack of time management, their final scoring drive taking up nearly four minutes and making New England's task in closing out the game much easier.

Reid's shortcomings in that regard do not take away from Brady's performance or the achievement in winning successive Super Bowls, one that has not since been repeated. But, in terms of memorable performances, this is not one that ranks highly.

5. Super Bowl XXXVIII

Brady's second Super Bowl win is one that deserves more recognition than it gets as the Patriots held off an underdog Carolina Panthers team that refused to lie down. 

After the Panthers overturned a 21-10 deficit to lead in the fourth quarter, Brady led an 11-play drive to restore the Patriots' advantage and, after Carolina responded in kind, orchestrated a game-winning field goal in the final 58 seconds of regulation to secure a 32-29 triumph.

It was a perfect encapsulation of Brady's ability to deliver when the moment is the biggest, one which he has demonstrated time and again with all the marbles on the line.

4. Super Bowl LV

Brady's first Super Bowl win outside of New England may have been one of the most unexpected, but it doesn't quite crack the top three.

There is so much Brady deserves credit for. From taking the chance to leave his familiar surroundings and successfully adapting to a new offense to the manner in which he dissected the Chiefs defense in the first half.

But the Buccaneers' victory was a team performance built as much on a swarming defense that continually had Mahomes running for his life as it was on Brady's prowess leading the offense.

Brady was a deserved winner of the Super Bowl MVP but, without the Bucs' pass rush, this would have been a very different game, one in which the Chiefs' offense may have been able to change the outcome.

3. Super Bowl XXXVI

Brady was not close to being the quarterback he would become, and that is what makes his first Super Bowl still so incredible.

In his second season in the NFL, Brady came in and successfully filled the void after starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffered a chest injury in Week 2 of the 2001 season and led them to an 11-5 record, but he was not expected to go blow for blow with the vaunted St. Louis Rams offense.

As it happened, he received significant help from an excellent defensive display by New England, but the defining moment came in the final 90 seconds, with legendary commentator John Madden calling for the Patriots to play for overtime. Belichick had the faith in Brady to go the opposite route.

He promptly delivered a nine-play, 53-yard drive that began the legend, setting up Adam Vinatieri for a 48-yard field goal that clinched a 20-17 win for the Patriots and their first title. For a player of his relative inexperience to deliver in a situation of that magnitude, it remains one of Brady's most remarkable achievements.

2. Super Bowl XLIX

It gets lost with the fact that Brady and the Patriots would have lost this game to the Seattle Seahawks if not for Malcolm Butler's goal-line interception, but his fourth quarter in a 28-24 classic was one of the finest periods produced by any quarterback in the Super Bowl.

The Patriots trailed by 10 points midway through the fourth quarter, but Brady fearlessly and precisely led them on two touchdown drives against one of the best defenses in NFL history to turn the tide in their favour.

Of course, this game will always be remembered for the Seahawks' inexplicable decision to attempt a pass on the one-yard line with victory in their grasp, but the game never gets to that point without what was at the time Brady's greatest comeback effort in the Super Bowl.

1. Super Bowl LI

It was always unlikely Brady would ever top this performance, his Super Bowl piece de resistance.

All seemed lost for Brady when the Patriots trailed 28-3 to the Atlanta Falcons in the third quarter, but what followed was an accumulation of all the clutch moments he has produced in his unparalleled career.

The Falcons were reduced to near helpless spectators as Brady masterfully instigated the biggest fightback in Super Bowl history.

When the Patriots won the coin toss to start overtime, their 34-28 triumph was inevitable. Everyone knew what was about to happen, with the Falcons as powerless to stop it as the Chiefs were last year.

It was a revival that added immeasurably to Brady's aura, his desire to collect Super Bowl rings unsurpassed in the sport's history.

Could another be on the way?

Just two months after his announcement that he would retire from the NFL after 22 seasons, Tom Brady has decided to return for next season.

It means Brady's final game in the sport will not be the dramatic Divisional Round loss to the Los Angeles Rams, in which he had led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a remarkable late comeback.

That display, at the end of a season in which Brady led the league in passing yards (5,316) and touchdown passes (43), had elements of everything that made him the greatest of all time.

Brady's decision to return also means there is even less prospect of any other QB coming close in the near future, however, as Stats Perform examines the stunning numbers behind his record-breaking career.

THE BREES BATTLE

Brady's seven Super Bowls counted for more than any other statistic ever could, but there was still intrigue around his battle with Drew Brees for a number of all-time passing marks.

Brees was drafted by the San Diego Chargers the year after Brady was selected by the New England Patriots, forever pitting the pair against one another.

But the long-time New Orleans Saints QB did not quite have Brady's longevity, retiring a year earlier, and allowed the gap between the two men's achievements to widen in 2021.

Brady leads the NFL with 84,520 passing yards, ahead of the second-placed Brees and his 80,358.

In terms of touchdown passes, it is a similar story. Brady's 624 top the charts, with Brees his nearest challenger on 571.

Brees also ranks second for seasons with 20 touchdown passes (17) and team points per game among quarterbacks with at least 100 starts (27.4). Brady (19 and 28.3) is the main man in both categories.

WINS, WINS, WINS

There is an enduring debate over whether wins are a quarterback statistic, but one would have a hard time arguing otherwise in Brady's case. Even after benefiting from Bill Belichick's coaching for 20 years, the veteran headed to Tampa and won right away.

Brady finished with 243 QB wins, meaning an incredible margin to second-placed pair Peyton Manning and Brett Favre on 186.

In fact, Brady has 69 wins in the month of December alone. In terms of a single month, Favre is next, with 52 wins also in December.

It should come as no surprise then that Brady has the best record among QBs with at least 100 starts, his .769 again comfortably ahead of the next-best performance, Roger Staubach's .746.

Of course, Brady has kept winning as each season has extended into the postseason.

He has 35 playoff wins, too many to compare to one rival QB alone. Among all NFL teams excluding Brady's Pats and Bucs, the Baltimore Ravens have won the most playoff games since 2000. They are on 16.

STILL GOING STRONG

Brady's 2021 performance made his decision to quit something of a shock. Even in his mid-40s, there had been no signs of slowing.

Last season was Brady's 19th different season with 3,000 passing yards – clear of Favre's 18 – and his fifth 4,000-yard season just since he turned 40.

Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, Staubach and Steve Young combined for three seasons with 4,000 passing yards for their careers.

Just two months after his announcement that he would retire from the NFL after 22 seasons, Tom Brady has decided to return for next season.

It means Brady's final game in the sport will not be the dramatic Divisional Round loss to the Los Angeles Rams, in which he had led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a remarkable late comeback.

That display, at the end of a season in which Brady led the league in passing yards (5,316) and touchdown passes (43), had elements of everything that made him the greatest of all time.

Brady's decision to return also means there is even less prospect of any other QB coming close in the near future, however, as Stats Perform examines the stunning numbers behind his record-breaking career.

THE BREES BATTLE

Brady's seven Super Bowls counted for more than any other statistic ever could, but there was still intrigue around his battle with Drew Brees for a number of all-time passing marks.

Brees was drafted by the San Diego Chargers the year after Brady was selected by the New England Patriots, forever pitting the pair against one another.

But the long-time New Orleans Saints QB did not quite have Brady's longevity, retiring a year earlier, and allowed the gap between the two men's achievements to widen in 2021.

Brady leads the NFL with 84,520 passing yards, ahead of the second-placed Brees and his 80,358.

In terms of touchdown passes, it is a similar story. Brady's 624 top the charts, with Brees his nearest challenger on 571.

Brees also ranks second for seasons with 20 touchdown passes (17) and team points per game among quarterbacks with at least 100 starts (27.4). Brady (19 and 28.3) is the main man in both categories.

WINS, WINS, WINS

There is an enduring debate over whether wins are a quarterback statistic, but one would have a hard time arguing otherwise in Brady's case. Even after benefiting from Bill Belichick's coaching for 20 years, the veteran headed to Tampa and won right away.

Brady finished with 243 QB wins, meaning an incredible margin to second-placed pair Peyton Manning and Brett Favre on 186.

In fact, Brady has 69 wins in the month of December alone. In terms of a single month, Favre is next, with 52 wins also in December.

It should come as no surprise then that Brady has the best record among QBs with at least 100 starts, his .769 again comfortably ahead of the next-best performance, Roger Staubach's .746.

Of course, Brady has kept winning as each season has extended into the postseason.

He has 35 playoff wins, too many to compare to one rival QB alone. Among all NFL teams excluding Brady's Pats and Bucs, the Baltimore Ravens have won the most playoff games since 2000. They are on 16.

STILL GOING STRONG

Brady's 2021 performance made his decision to quit something of a shock. Even in his mid-40s, there had been no signs of slowing.

Last season was Brady's 19th different season with 3,000 passing yards – clear of Favre's 18 – and his fifth 4,000-yard season just since he turned 40.

Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, Staubach and Steve Young combined for three seasons with 4,000 passing yards for their careers.

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