Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said a change at quarterback was "not right to speak on" after Baker Mayfield's struggles continued in a 26-16 defeat against the Arizona Cardinals.

Mayfield threw two interceptions in the loss, finishing with a season-low passer rating of 61.9 as the Panthers slipped to 1-3 for the season.

Under Mayfield's leadership, the Panthers have managed a league-low 262.3 yards per game this season, as well as recording the NFL's third-least passing yards per match.

When asked whether Mayfield's status as starter was at risk after the game, Rhule told reporters: "I'm going to refrain from anything big picture until tomorrow.

"At the end of the day, I'm on the headset, I see the things, I know that it's never just one person here, one person there, it's a lot of different things.

"I'll try to give you a really well thought-out answer after watching the tapes.

"All that being said, I believe that we can play better than that. I just feel like we have to expect more from all of us as an offense, and it starts with me first.

"Offensively, we have to score more points. So yeah, we have to get it corrected, but in terms of any one person, I just don't think it's right to speak on it right now."

Mayfield's likely replacement would be Sam Darnold, though he is yet to come back off injured reserve after suffering an ankle sprain in Carolina's preseason.

Darnold started at quarterback 11 times for the Panthers last season, going 4-7 after joining in a trade from the New York Jets.

 

Arizona Cardinals defensive linesman J.J. Watt said he would play against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday after undergoing a heart procedure.

Watt spoke out ahead of his team's game to reveal he had to have his heart shocked back into rhythm after lapsing into atrial fibrillation on Wednesday.

The former Houston Texans man said he was disclosing the news because the information had been leaked.

"I was just told somebody leaked some personal information about me and it’s going to be reported on today," Watt wrote on Twitter.

"I went into A-Fib on Wednesday, had my heart shocked back into rhythm on Thursday and I'm playing today. That's it."

A three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year during his time in Texas, Watt is in his second season with the Cardinals.

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper will be patient with head coach Matt Rhule amid their losing streak, sources say.

Back-to-back defeats to start the season against the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants, both of which were by a single score, have extended the Panthers winless streak to nine games – the longest such run in the NFL.

Despite that run, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport states that sources have informed him a change would only be made in the event of an 'epic collapse or a horribly embarrassing outcome'.

Improvements must be shown, however, and the situation could change later in the season, though for now the hierarchy will be patient amid the push for a turnaround.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield is still settling into the offense following his blockbuster trade from the Browns in July, while Christian McCaffrey is starting to build-up steam and the defense is in the top 10 overall in the NFL.

The Panthers have a tough schedule in the coming weeks, tackling the New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the end of October.

That may see the losing streak extended as a result, with Rhule holding a 10-25 record as an NFL head coach and the Panthers are 1-25 in games where they have allowed 17 or more points.

Rhule signed a seven-year contract with the Panthers upon his arrival in 2020, which shows sights have clearly been set on the long-term picture.

Two weeks down in the NFL and the action has been sensational so far.

Late comebacks were the name of the game last week and Week 3 promises to bring even more excitement.

Sunday sees the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins battle it out to remain undefeated, the Baltimore Ravens will aim to respond to a Week 2 defeat against the New England Patriots, while the Las Vegas Raiders and Tennessee Titans fight to pick up a first win of the season.

There's plenty more on the agenda and Stats Perform has used Opta data to preview the action.

Buffalo Bills (2-0) @ Miami Dolphins (2-0)

The Bills travel to Florida having won their past seven games against the Dolphins, outscoring them by better than a two-to-one margin (258-123). That marks Buffalo's longest winning streak against Miami, beating a run of six consecutive victories from 1987 to 1989.

Buffalo have outscored their opponents 72-17 so far this season to stand 2-0, with the +55-point differential their second-best through the first two games of a season. In 1981, they won their opening two matches by a combined score of 66-3 (+63 points).

The Dolphins overcame a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit (35-14) in last week's 42-39 win at Baltimore, marking the sixth time since 1925 that an NFL team has won a game in regulation time after trailing by such a margin in the fourth quarter. The last such comeback win was in 2010, when the Eagles beat the Giants 38-31 in Week 16, having trailed 31-10.

Tua Tagovailoa threw six touchdown passes, including four in the fourth quarter, against the Ravens last week. Since 2001, the only other player to throw four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter of an NFL game was Sage Rosenfels for the Texans against the Titans in Week 7 of the 2007 season, though Houston lost 38-36.

Baltimore Ravens (1-1) @ New England Patriots (1-1)

The Patriots have a 9-2 record against the Ravens in the regular season, the best record by any team against Baltimore in their history – though they have split four postseason matches.

Lamar Jackson became the first player in NFL history to have a 75+ yard passing touchdown and a 75+ rushing touchdown in the same game during last weekend's defeat to the Dolphins.

In week 2, the Patriots beat the Steelers 17-14. Since Bill Belichick became head coach in 2000, the Patriots are 42-23 in games decided by three of fewer points, the best such record in the NFL.

Nelson Agholor recorded 110 receiving yards in Week 2, becoming the first Patriot with a 100-yard game since Jakobi Meyers in Week 15, 2020. That brought an end to a 20-game streak without a 100-yard receiver for the Patriots, which was the longest spell in the Belichick era.

Las Vegas Raiders (0-2) @ Tennessee Titans (0-2)

The Raiders have won their past three games on the road against the Titans. The last time the Raiders won four straight road games against a single opponent was a six-game streak against the Chiefs from 2007 to 2012.

An 29-23 overtime loss to the Cardinals in Week 2 came despite them holding a 23-7 lead in the fourth quarter, marking the biggest fourth-quarter blown lead for a loss in franchise history.

The Titans are 0-2 for the first time since 2012 and last started a season 0-3 in 2009. The 41-7 loss to the Bills last week was the largest defeat suffered by the Titans under Mike Vrabel.

Both the Raiders and Titans are 0-2 this season after making the playoffs a season ago. Neither franchise has ever started a season with two defeats and rallied to make the playoffs, while the last NFL teams to do so being the Texans and Seahawks in 2018.

Elsewhere…

Chicago host the Texans with just 432 offensive yards to their name so far this season, the worst in the NFL and the fewest yards the Bears have gained in the opening two weeks of a campaign since they had 335 net yards at the same stage in 2003.

Patrick Mahomes rallied the Chiefs offence to a 27-24 victory against the Chargers last week, overcoming a 17-7 second-half deficit, and are eyeing a third-straight win this season against the Colts. Since his first NFL season (2018), the Chiefs have more comeback victories after trailing in the second half (17) than any other NFL side.

The Saints travel to Carolina on the back of a 20-10 home defeat to the Buccaneers last week. Dating back to last season, New Orleans have scored 17 or fewer points in five of their past nine games (1-4). When they have scored 18 or more, they stand at 4-0.

The Cincinnati Bengals have plenty to do offensively against the Jets, with Joe Burrow having been sacked 13 times so far this season and thrown four interceptions. The last QB to be sacked that many times while throwing as many picks in the opening two weeks of a season was Danny White of the Cowboys in 1987.

"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.

Three turnovers in the fourth quarter propelled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 20-10 victory against the New Orleans Saints in a frustrating game for Tom Brady.

The seven-time Super Bowl champion angrily tossed a tablet on the sidelines as both offences struggled to get going, with just a field goal apiece at the end of the third quarter.

A Jamel Dean interception proved to be the turning point though, setting up Brady for an 11-play drive, which was capped off by a 28-yard pass to Breshad Perriman.

Dean struck again in the following drive for the Saints, intercepting Jameis Winston in back-to-back possessions for the Saints and putting the Buccaneers in a solid position on the opposition 29-yard line.

Brady was unable to capitalise, the Buccaneers instead settling on a field goal to extend their lead. The visitors would hold firm despite Michael Thomas giving the Saints hope with a seven-yard touchdown reception.

Having suffered four consecutive regular season losses to the Saints since joining the Buccaneers, Brady's run came to an end, but it was not a vintage performance for the veteran, who completed 18 of 34 attempts for a total of 190 yards.

Tagovailoa shines in comeback victory

Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens had a fine start against the Miami Dolphins, Devin Duvernay taking the opening kick-off for a 103-yard return and Jackson having three touchdown passes in the first half, as well as a 79-yard rushing touchdown.

When Jackson completed a 75-yard touchdown pass to Rashod Bateman, he became the first quarterback in NFL history to have 75-yard passing and rushing touchdowns in the same game.

Trailing by 21 points heading into the fourth quarter, Tua Tagovailoa threw four touchdown passes to secure a remarkable 42-38 comeback victory – finishing the game with six touchdown passes and 469 yards, completing 36 of 50 attempts.

Jets stun Browns with huge comeback

Victory for the Cleveland Browns at home against the New Yorks Jets would have secured a 2-0 record to start a season for the first time since 1993, and Kevin Stefanski's side looked to be set for a historic win, leading by two scores heading into the final stages.

Nick Chubb had starred with three touchdowns, totalling 87 yards from 17 carries, putting the Browns on the brink, but the Jets responded valiantly to score two touchdowns inside the two-minute warning.

Joe Flacco combined with Corey Davis for a 66-yard touchdown, before the Jets then recovered an onside kick and pulled ahead through a Garrett Wilson touchdown catch to win 31-30.

The worst game of Joe Burrow's NFL career almost turned into a memorable Week 1 win for the Cincinnati Bengals, who instead blew their chance for an overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Bengals went down 23-20 to the Steelers after missing kicks at the end of regulation and in the additional period that would have secured a winning start.

Instead, Chris Boswell kicked the game-winning field goal for the Steelers in the final seconds of overtime.

Burrow had put the Bengals in position to succeed despite his dismal start, looking nothing like the 2021 Comeback Player of the Year who led Cincinnati to the Super Bowl.

The quarterback had four turnovers before half-time – a career high for an entire game – including a pick-six for Minkah Fitzpatrick from his very first pass.

Burrow finished with four interceptions, a lost fumble and seven sacks, but he also threw two touchdown passes, including one for Ja'Marr Chase that appeared to set up a stunning Bengals win.

However, Fitzpatrick blocked Evan McPherson's PAT, and McPherson missed his target again in overtime.

Boswell similarly squandered a chance to win the game, hitting the left post, but he made amends just as it looked as though the NFL would see two ties in the same week for the first time since Week 2 in 1973, with the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts also tied 20-20.

Browns deny Baker's Panthers

The Bengals were the only team not to win in the AFC North – a division that had it all on Sunday. While Lamar Jackson guided the Baltimore Ravens to victory over the New York Jets, the Cleveland Browns celebrated their first Week 1 win since 2004 as former QB Baker Mayfield saw his Carolina Panthers beaten 24-23 by a late field goal.

The Miami Dolphins' 20-7 win over AFC East rivals the Patriots was far more straightforward, with Tua Tagovailoa becoming the first QB to remain unbeaten against Bill Belichick in the regular season having started at least four games against New England.

49ers flounder at sodden Soldier Field

Miserable conditions in Chicago hampered the San Francisco 49ers as they suffered a shock 19-10 loss to the Bears, with Trey Lance's miserable 13-of-28 passing including an awful fourth-quarter interception for a quarterback rating of just 50.3.

Elsewhere in the NFC, Jalen Hurts also did not throw a single touchdown pass in the Philadelphia Eagles' 38-35 victory over the Detroit Lions – he contributed one of four rushing scores – but the QB connected with A.J. Brown for 155 yards on 10 catches. Marquee offseason trade signing Brown had 128 receiving yards before half-time, the most in the first half of a team debut by any non-rookie since at least 1991.

The first week of the 2022 NFL season is here, with all the possibilities a new campaign brings.

Things kicked off on Thursday with the Buffalo Bills beating the Los Angeles Rams 31-10 thanks to a starring role from quarterback Josh Allen, who threw three touchdowns against the defending champions.

There are even more enticing games to look forward to over the weekend, with last season's Super Bowl runners up the Cincinnati Bengals hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers, Patrick Mahomes and the much-fancied Kansas City Chiefs facing Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals, and it will be Aaron Rodgers v Kirk Cousins as the Green Bay Packers go to the Minnesota Vikings.

Stats Perform dives head first into Opta data to preview those games and more of the opening weekend of NFL action.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have won their last three games against the Steelers (27-17 in December 2020, 24-10 and 41-10 last season). It is the Bengals' longest winning streak versus the Steelers since they won six consecutive games from 1988 through 1990.

Mitch Trubisky will be the first quarterback other than Ben Roethlisberger to start a season opener for the Steelers since Dennis Dixon in 2010 (Roethlisberger was suspended). Trubisky is 1-2 in season openers, losing to the Packers twice and beating the Detroit Lions (all when he was with the Chicago Bears).

The Bengals played a league-high seven games decided by exactly three points during the 2021 regular season (won three, lost four), the highest single-season total by an NFL team since the 2012 Steelers (seven). Three of Cincinnati's four postseason games were also decided by exactly three points, including the 23-20 Super Bowl loss to the Rams.

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow completed 67 of 85 passes for 971 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions over his final two games in the 2021 regular season (Week 16 against the Ravens, Week 17 against the Chiefs). Burrow's passing yardage is the second-highest two-game total by one player in NFL history, trailing only Dak Prescott's 974 passing yards over a two-game span in 2020.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Arizona Cardinals

The Chiefs have won their division in six consecutive seasons, which is three more than the next longest active streak (Green Bay). Only two teams in NFL history have had longer streaks (New England - 11, 2009-2019 and LA Rams - seven, 1973-1979).

Patrick Mahomes has won 50 of his 63 career starts as Kansas City's quarterback. The only QB in the Super Bowl era to reach 50 wins in fewer career starts than Mahomes was Kenny Stabler, who earned his 50th win in his 62nd start.

Arizona scored 30 or more points in nine different games in 2022, tied for the most in a single season in team history. Since a 56-14 win over the Vikings in Week 4 of 1963, the Cardinals have gone 903 games without scoring 50 points, which is the longest streak in NFL history (Broncos, 761 straight games from 1963-2013).

Cardinals QB Kyler Murray will not want to be upstaged by Mahomes, and is the only player in NFL history to have at least 70 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing touchdowns in the first three seasons of his NFL career.

Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings

In their 22 road games against the Vikings this century, Green Bay has scored 30 or more points in 10 of them. That is tied for most 30-point games by an NFL team at a single opponent in that time with the Patriots at the Bills.

No NFL head coach has won more games over his first three NFL seasons than Matt LaFleur (39; George Seifert had 38). A win Sunday would make LaFleur the third coach in NFL history with 40 wins through 50 career games as head coach, joining Paul Brown (41) and Chuck Knox (40).

Kirk Cousins has thrown for at least 3500 yards and 25 TDs in seven consecutive seasons, the longest active streak in the NFL. He is the fifth QB in NFL history to have more than five straight, joining Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady.

Since becoming Green Bay's starter in 2008, Aaron Rodgers has thrown 169 TDs against division opponents, compared to 25 interceptions. The Vikings have a total of 121 passing touchdowns and 73 interceptions against the NFC North in that span.

Elsewhere...

When Carolina host Cleveland, with Baker Mayfield starting for the Panthers and Myles Garrett starting for the Browns, they will become the second pair of number one overall draft picks for the same team to go on to play against one another. The others were Jeff George and Steve Emtman in 1995.

The Eagles head to the Lions, with no team targeting their receivers less frequently than Philadelphia last season (239 targets), which led to the acquisition of A.J. Brown. The fourth-year WR has scored a TD on 13.0 percent of his career catches, third-highest rate among active players (min. 150 receptions).

The New Orleans Saints will need to beware of Foye Oluokun, who led the NFL last season with 192 total tackles, becoming the first Atlanta Falcon to lead the league in that category since Jessie Tuggle in 1995 (152). Oluokun's 192 total tackles were the most in a season by an NFL player since Chris Spielman had 195 in 1994 for the Lions.

Tom Brady is back for Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a very brief retirement as they travel to the Dallas Cowboys. The 45-year-old's last two seasons mark the first time in NFL history a QB has had 40 or more TD passes and a passer rating of 100.0 or better in back-to-back seasons.

Despite having a history of holding football grudges, Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield took the high road when addressing Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns, his former team.

Mayfield left the Browns in the offseason, following their move for DeShaun Watson, to join the Panthers, with the two sides to meet in Week 1.

"It's a great storyline," Mayfield said on Wednesday. "Obviously, there's history leading up to this week. [But] there's other games in the NFL that guys are playing their former team. It's just the excitement of leading up to Week 1 that is building that anticipation up. It's the familiarity."

The Browns drafted Mayfield first overall in 2018 but chose to replace him this offseason by acquiring Watson.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Mayfield acknowledged that a game against so many former teammates can be a bit different, but he denied having any resentment towards the Browns organization.

"Any time you're playing guys you know, it makes it just more interesting, more fun," Mayfield said. "You get to smack talk with your buddies that you've been with for a little bit. You know how to poke and prod and get the best out of them.

"I'm looking forward to the opportunity.

"I'm grateful for the time I had in Cleveland," he said. "I started my career there. The fans there, it's a football town. As I mentioned multiple times it ended abruptly and unexpectedly, but we're here now.

"Everything happens for a reason. I'm rolling with the punches. I'm happy to be a Panther."

Mayfield won the job as the Panthers’ top quarterback over last year’s starter, Sam Darnold.

Mayfield was 30-30 starting under center for the Browns and helped give the franchise its first playoff win since the 1994 season.

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

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

Sort of.

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

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

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

Nowhere near

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

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

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

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

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

Entering contention

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

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

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

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

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

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

In their prime

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

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

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

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

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

Last chance saloon

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

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

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

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

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

Missed their chance

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

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

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

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

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

The time is almost upon us. When that first ball is kicked at the start of the Los Angeles Rams' opener against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday, we will be on our way to yet another enthralling season of NFL action.

And there are few better reasons to get excited at the beginning of a new campaign than the promise of a good old redemption story.

These tales may not necessarily revolve around someone who has suffered a fall from grace, though; in some cases, it might just be someone who has taken a smidge longer than expected to blossom.

So, before the thunder and lightning of a new NFL season, Stats Perform has taken a look at five men who could have a touch more motivation to show everything they have to offer in 2022.

Baker Mayfield – Carolina Panthers

Mayfield perhaps leaps out as the most obvious choice.

Big things were expected of the quarterback when he was the number one pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, charged with leading a flailing 0-16 Cleveland Browns.

There were moments of promise in his four years in Cleveland, throwing 27 touchdowns in 14 games in his first season, and in 2020 he played a big part in getting the Browns to the playoffs, unthinkable when he came through the door.

However, in 2021, Mayfield threw just 18 TD passes, the worst season of his career, as a Browns team who were starting to feel like they had outgrown him finished 8-9.

Of quarterbacks to have more than 300 passing attempts, only Sam Darnold (59.9), Trevor Lawrence (59.6) and Zach Wilson (55.6) had a lower pass completion percentage than his 60.5.

After a lot of uncertainty, he finally found a new home after being traded to the Panthers, who are in desperate need of a quality QB after the Darnold experiment failed last year.

It is a risk for both parties, and both need it to work, but you could also argue it could not get much worse for either.

Gabe Davis – Buffalo Bills

There had not been any immediately obvious signs that Davis was going to be a breakout star for the Bills for most of his first two seasons.

Seven TDs in his rookie year – and none in the playoffs from only four catches – were followed by just six in the 2021 regular season.

However, thanks to his explosive performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in last season's playoffs, plenty are excited about what could come from Davis and the much-fancied Bills in 2022.

His four TDs and 201 yards from eight receptions – for an average of 25.1 yards – were still not enough as the Chiefs ultimately won the AFC Divisional Round encounter in overtime, but Davis emerged as a potential new star.

By the end of the campaign, no player had recorded over 1,000 burn yards – yards in situations where a receiver 'wins' his matchup against a defender – from fewer receptions (45) than Davis.

But was this a one-off, or can Davis do it all over again? We will soon find out.

Trevor Lawrence – Jacksonville Jaguars

Lawrence could end up being a very similar story to Mayfield. He was also the number one pick for a team with little else going for it.

In his rookie year, Lawrence threw for 12 TDs, but his poor pass completion percentage was set out above.

He remained a busy man regardless, with only six QBs making more than his 602 pass attempts, but the Jaguars could only manage three wins, two more than in 2020.

Whether it was sloppy throwing or feeling the need to take risks with little assistance, Lawrence threw 26 pickable passes, with only four QBs who made over 300 pass attempts seeing a worse pickable pass percentage than his 4.59 per cent (Jimmy Garoppolo – 4.82, Taylor Heinicke – 5.04, Zach Wilson – 5.21, Davis Mills – 5.56).

There is undoubted talent there, hence the hype when he was picked up by Jacksonville in 2021, and it is surely just a case of Lawrence having more help and getting more experience. We will perhaps see this season.

Matthew Stafford – LA Rams

Yes, it's another quarterback, but with a twist. This one just won the Super Bowl, after all.

It may seem strange given the ring he has on his finger, but the situation with Stafford's elbow means he must prove himself all over again.

In terms of numbers, the Rams QB has now established himself among the elite. Stafford ranks in the top 12 all-time in completions (11th, 4,302), passing yards (12th, 49,995), passing yards per game (sixth, 274.7), touchdown passes (12th, 323) and game-winning drives (seventh, 42).

Crucially, he led the team to Super Bowl success last year, too.

But the Rams' hopes of a repeat are pinned on Stafford being fit enough to perform all year long, and there are some worrying noises around an elbow issue heading into the year.

Should Stafford shake off those concerns and combine with Cooper Kupp for another outstanding season – and perhaps another ring – nobody could possibly doubt his legacy.

Kliff Kingsbury – Arizona Cardinals

It is not just players who have something to prove, but coaches, too – and you could argue Kingsbury does more than most.

While undoubtedly a talented coach, Kingsbury is building a reputation as someone who comes up with effective plays to start a season but is less able to adjust to keep ahead of the competition once they figure it out.

After winning their first seven games, the Cardinals raced out to a sensational 10-2 start last season, well ahead of projected results, only to stumble to 11-6 after losing four of their last five in the regular season, before being humbled 34-11 by the Rams in their first postseason game.

The excellent start cannot be ignored, but neither can the fact that it made nine seasons in a row in which a team led by Kingsbury have had a worse second half of the season than the first.

Despite being without DeAndre Hopkins for the first six games due to suspension, Kingsbury has an exciting team in Arizona and it would be no surprise to see them start strongly again.

They just need to figure out a way to maintain it this time.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield has denied saying he wants to "f*** them up" about his former side the Cleveland Browns who they will face in their September 11 season opener.

Mayfield has been given the nod as the Panthers' starting QB after a prolonged battle with Sam Darnold to start the 2022 NFL season.

Mayfield's exit from the Browns, who took him with the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, occurred after they traded for quarterback Deshaun Watson.

As a result, Mayfield requested that the Browns trade him, joining the Panthers in July, although he has been reluctant to criticise his former franchise publicly.

NFL Network analyst Cynthia Frelund claimed on Monday night's Around The NFL podcast that Mayfield echoed the remark to her, albeit innocuously, after last week's preseason finale against the Buffalo Bills.

"First, I didn't say it," Mayfield told reporters. "Everybody is going to write whatever story they want.

"There's history because I played there the last four years. I'm an extremely competitive person. Everybody knows that. If I wasn't wanting to win, then there would be a really big issue of me being the quarterback here.

"I want to win in everything I do. That'll never change. But it's not how I phrased it. It's not even what I said, so let's leave it at that."

He added: "I didn't even say anything. All I did was, 'Great, hope we win.' Pretty plain and simple. I'm competitive. I want to win. I don't think that should be harped on.

"That's the extent of it. It's obviously a bigger story because I haven't given the media what they've wanted me to give them this year in this offseason."

Mayfield conceded that the season opener against his former side meant something to him although he did try to downplay the narrative.

"Obviously, there's a lot of attachment there," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and be a robot and say it doesn't mean anything. It will.

"It's a great storyline. It really is because I wasn't expected to be out of Cleveland. But after Week 1, there's 16 more that really, really matter. That's how I'm approaching it."

Mayfield started 59 games in his four seasons in Cleveland and helped lead the Browns to their first playoff victory since the 1994 season in 2020. The QB went 29-30 in 59 regular-season starts with the Browns.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold is expected to miss four to six weeks after suffering a high left ankle sprain in Friday's preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, according to NFL.com.

Panthers coach Matt Rhule told reporters on Saturday that Darnold's injury is "significant", and the former first-round pick will undergo further testing to determine a timetable for a return.

"We're not sure we have the exact length," Ruhle said. "We've sent images to specialists to try to gauge it. But again, that does look like a significant injury that could take some time."

Darnold was carted off during the third quarter of Carolina's 21-0 win after landing awkwardly when hit by Buffalo defensive tackle C.J. Brewer.

The fifth-year QB was slated to be the primary backup to offseason addition Baker Mayfield, whom Ruhle declared the starter earlier in the week.

Ruhle acknowledged Darnold could begin the season on short-term injured reserve, which would keep him out for at least four games. 

With both Darnold and rookie Matt Corral out, P.J. Walker is expected to serve as the number two QB for the September 11 opener against Cleveland.

Corral, a third-round pick in this year's draft, sustained a season-ending Lisfranc injury in last week's game at New England. 

"We have two quarterbacks [and] normally we would go into the season with two," Ruhle said. "Sam, I think he will be back. It's just a matter of how many weeks it is."

Ruhle also said kicker Zane Gonzalez will be sidelined indefinitely with a groin injury that also took place in the third quarter of Friday's game.

"He's going to be seen by a specialist, and that will lead to any future decisions that have to be made," Ruhle said. "But it is a significant injury to his groin.

"He's a warrior. He'll find a way to battle back, and we'll find out exactly what the length of that is."

Gonzalez is coming off a strong 2021 season in which he converted 20 of 22 field goal attempts and 22 of 23 point-after tries. 

A few days after losing the Carolina Panthers starting job, Sam Darnold was carted off the field with an ankle injury in the third quarter of Friday night’s preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. 

Darnold was hit by defensive lineman C.J. Brewer as he was throwing the ball away. His left ankle appeared to become twisted as he landed awkwardly on the turf.  

He is believed to have suffered a high-ankle sprain based on initial evaluation, according to sources. He will have an MRI on Saturday to determine the severity and if there is other damage.  

Carolina coach Matt Rhule announced earlier this week that Baker Mayfield would be the team’s starting quarterback for the season opener against the Cleveland Browns on September 11.  

Darnold was five-of-11 for 49 yards and ran for a one-yard touchdown before exiting. 

If Darnold is out for any length of time, P.J. Walker would likely move into a backup role behind Mayfield. Rookie quarterback Matt Corral suffered a season-ending injury when he tore a ligament in his foot in a 20-10 loss to the New England Patriots last week.  

The Carolina Panthers are expected to be without Matt Corral for the entire 2022 season after the rookie quarterback sustained a torn ligament in his left foot during Friday night's 20-10 preseason loss to the New England Patriots.

Carolina head coach Matt Rhule said Corral tore his Lisfranc ligament and appears headed for surgery, which would likely end his season.

"I would assume it would be a while; I would assume it would be a significant amount of time,'' Rhule said on Saturday. "I'm pretty sure it will be a long-term injury.''

The Panthers made a trade to move up in April’s draft and selected Corral in the third round out of Mississippi. The 94th overall selection was expected to serve as Carolina’s third-string quarterback behind Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold.

Rhule has yet to pick Mayfield or Darnold as his starter, and both sat out Friday’s game as Corral and P.J. Walker alternated quarters.

Corral finished nine of 15 for 58 yards, but had his foot stepped on late in the fourth quarter.

''I hate it for him,'' Rhule said. ''I thought he was playing well too. ... I thought I saw a lot of really nice signs early in the game where he found some guys that were open and did some really nice things.''

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