The Buffalo Bills got their 2021 NFL season up and running with a sixth straight win over the Miami Dolphins, who lost Tua Tagovailoa to a rib injury.

Tipped by many to make the Super Bowl this year, the Bills endured an underwhelming start in defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but a 35-0 success in Miami got them back on track.

Buffalo benefited from Tagovailoa's departure early in the game, as he had to be carted back to the locker room after a hit from A.J. Epenesa when he attempted a short-range pass on fourth down.

By that point, the second-year Dolphins quarterback had been sacked twice on a three-and-out opening drive before seeing Devin Singletary run 46 yards for the Bills' first touchdown.

Josh Allen threw to Stefon Diggs for a second score, but Buffalo failed to add to their advantage in the remainder of a chaotic first half, epitomised by Levi Wallace's pick from back-up Miami QB Jacoby Brissett moments after receiving a penalty for taunting.

Allen found his range again at the start of the third quarter as Dawson Knox made a low catch in the end zone – this the QB's seventh consecutive start against the Dolphins with multiple TD passes. Only Philip Rivers (against the Houston Texans) had previously enjoyed such a run against a single team.

Miami were never in the game thereafter and Zack Moss added a pair of rushing scores with two bruising runs, the second after Allen was called just short.

Super Cooper rescues Rams

NFC West rivals the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers survived scares against the Indianapolis Colts and the Philadelphia Eagles respectively, each coming through to move to 2-0.

The Rams were grateful to Cooper Kupp for his nine catches for 163 yards and two TDs – following 108 yards and a score last week – after a botched snap for a punt had gifted the Colts their first lead early in the fourth quarter. Carson Wentz ended the game on the sideline.

Wilson woeful for Jets

Zach Wilson's home debut for the New York Jets was a miserable one as he threw four interceptions in a defeat to the New England Patriots.

Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Bengals paid the price for Joe Burrow's three interceptions from three consecutive passes – including a pick six – against the Chicago Bears, who were not punished for a shaky Justin Fields display after Andy Dalton's injury.

Wilson's Jets predecessor Sam Darnold threw for 305 yards, two TDs and a pick in the Carolina Panthers' win over the New Orleans Saints.

The 2021 NFL season began on Thursday as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers started their quest for a second straight Super Bowlw title with a thrilling victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Having won his seventh ring in his first season with the Bucs playing in front of at best sparsely populated crowds amid the coronavirus pandemic, Brady and Tampa Bay claimed a 31-29 victory in front of a packed house at Raymond James Stadium.

While the return of fans and full stadiums will give this season a different look, once more it is the Bucs and the Kansas City Chiefs who go into the year as the teams to beat.

However, there are a host of other high-profile teams who could be set to improve on their 2020 win-loss records, as well as those who could be poised to decline from postseason contention.

With the help of Stats Perform data, here are some of the more intriguing teams to keep eye on as the NFL makes its much anticipated return.

With Dak back, Cowboys hope to contend

A gruesome ankle injury suffered by Dak Prescott in Week 5 ended Dallas' hopes of challenging last season.

As it turned out, further injuries on the offensive line and a miserable defense would have made it tough for the Cowboys to contend even if Prescott had been on the field to lead the offense, as their wait for a first Super Bowl since 1995 goes on.

But Prescott is back with the security of a lucrative new contract as Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup remain part of an explosive supporting cast and he delivered a compelling reminder of his upside in defeat to Tampa Bay, throwing for 403 yards, three touchdowns and an interception off the hands of Lamb.

Prescott has averaged 8.26 yards per attempt over the last two seasons, third best among NFL QBs, and there are huge hopes for the offense, particularly if the highly rated Lamb (74 catches for 935 yards in 2020) can kick on from a fine rookie season. Despite Lamb's drop leading to a turnover, the early signs were good as he caught seven passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, helping Prescott average 6.95 yards per attempt and post a 101.4 passer rating.

If new Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn can get the defense – which allowed 158.8 rushing yards per game last season (31st in the NFL) but just 52 against the Bucs - somewhere towards the middle of the pack, the Cowboys should soar well clear of their 6-10 mark from 2020 and will be justified favourites to win the NFC East.

Pats look to pressure Bills in AFC East

The Bills and Josh Allen were so good last season that they may decline from their 13-3 mark even without doing too much wrong.

Allen made an astonishing leap from year two to three – posting career highs in passing yards (3,089 to 4,544), passing touchdowns (20 to 37) and completion percentage (58.8 to 69.2), plus eight rushing scores - and was rewarded with a huge offseason contract extension.

Allen's numbers and rate of improvement are hard to sustain, and even a marginal decline could lead to a worse record in a competitive division.

Stefon Diggs was incredible with league-leading figures of 127 catches and 1,535 receiving yards, while Cole Beasley (82 catches for 967 yards) was a crucial complementary piece.

Allen and Diggs played all 16 games last season while Beasley only missed one, so there was good fortune on the health front, while the Bills were able to win close games last season – boasting a 5-1 record in one-score contests – a metric that often reverts to the mean.

Their divisional rivals, meanwhile, look threatening. The New England Patriots have spent big in free agency to revamp the supporting cast for rookie QB Mac Jones.

New England's tight end situation has been among the league's worst since the departure of Rob Gronkowski, but they doubled down at the position to land Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.

Henry ranks sixth among tight ends with 1,265 yards since the start of the 2019 season, while only five TEs have more than the 11 TDs grabbed by the athletic Smith over that period.

Wide receiver Nelson Agholor arrived after a career year (896 yards) for the Las Vegas Raiders as the pass-catching options were significantly boosted.

A down year for the Patriots – in which their offensive weapons looked woeful and several defensive players opted out - still produced a not disastrous 7-9 record, with four of those losses coming by eight points or fewer.

The Miami Dolphins (3-4 in one score games) are another ascending team in the division after going 10-6 and allowing only 21.1 points per game (ried-fifth in the NFL).

Even the New York Jets, buoyed after selecting BYU QB Zach Wilson at number two overall, look poised to be more competitive than their 2-14 misery a season ago.

From worst to (somewhere nearer) first?

Trevor Lawrence has been billed as a generational talent at QB and there were few questions he would be selected at number one overall in the draft.

With Lawrence being paired with college coaching great Urban Meyer and an intriguing array of pass-catchers including Laviska Shenault (691 scrimmage yards, five TDs last year) and D. J. Chark (1,714 receiving yards since 2019), the Jags could be set for rapid improvement.

Even in their awful season that led to the chance to select Lawrence at the top of the draft, the Jags were 1-6 in one score games and slightly better than their 1-15 record suggested.

By the same metric, divisional rivals the Indianapolis Colts (5-2) and the Tennessee Titans (7-2) claimed many of their victories in close games.

With the Colts negotiating some uncertainty at QB as they look to revive the career of Carson Wentz – who is dealing with a foot injury – and the Houston Texans in disarray and full rebuild mode, the Jags could emerge as surprise challengers to the Titans.

Other teams who could rise and fall

Other teams who look likely to ascend include the San Francisco 49ers (6-10), who were ravaged with injuries last season and now have two viable options at QB with Jimmy Garoppolo and exciting draft pick Trey Lance. Five of their losses last season came by one score or less despite a depleted roster. 

The Denver Broncos (5-11)  have a stacked roster with their only concerns coming at the QB position, where they hope Teddy Bridgewater can provide more stability than the volatile Drew Lock (16 TDs and 15 INTs in 2020), despite coming off a poor season with the Carolina Panthers, who opted to replace him with Sam Darnold.

The New Orleans Saints (12-4) could be trending in the opposite direction, though. While Drew Brees was not at his peak in his final NFL season, a combination of Jameis Wilson and Taysom Hill must now try to replace the future Hall of Famer while keeping pace with the formidable Bucs and an Atlanta Falcons team that has added dynamic tight end Kyle Pitts.

New Orleans' offseason was defined by a roster overhaul enforced by the Saints' salary cap woe, leaving them with a wide receiver depth chart that looks alarming with Michael Thomas (missed nine games in 2020) starting the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

There will be plenty of nerves around NFL locker rooms this week, with career-altering seasons lying ahead.

Many players will get second chances if the coming year does not go as planned, but some will not.

In a league where there are only 32 starting berths for quarterbacks and a further 32 openings for head coaches, the competition is brutal.

Coming off testing campaigns, Stats Perform picks out the QBs and coaches who cannot afford another slip-up in a make-or-break 2021.

Sam Darnold

New Carolina Panthers QB Darnold is still just 24, but so poor were the former third overall pick's performances across three years in New York that the Jets moved him on to take Zach Wilson with the second selection in 2021.

In Darnold's third and final miserable season with the Jets, he threw just nine touchdowns to 11 interceptions – numbers that could have been even worse as he threw 22 pickable passes, his pickable pass percentage of 6.51 the fifth-worst among QBs with 100 or more attempts.

Only the run-heavy Baltimore Ravens averaged fewer net passing yards than the Jets last year (174.8 per game), a metric in which the Panthers ranked a mediocre 18th led by Teddy Bridgewater.

If Darnold cannot even reach those standards, his career as a leading man could be over already. Of course, Carolina start against Wilson and the Jets.

Daniel Jones

Playing in the same city as Darnold, Jones might have got off a little lightly. He is after all eight days older than Darnold, albeit he came into the league a year later.

There were signs of promise for the New York Giants in 2019, but Jones has not progressed as hoped. The clock is ticking, with opportunities elsewhere likely to be scarce given he was a surprise pick at number six two years ago.

Sacked 45 times in 2020, Jones might argue he has lacked protection from a poor Giants offensive line.

Sadly, the QB has looked best running for his life, averaging a league-leading 9.70 yards when the designated ball-carrier – and a slightly above average 4.62 when scrambling – but still scoring only a single rushing TD last year.

Kliff Kingsbury

Appointed in 2019 and handed first overall pick Kyler Murray, Kingsbury's first task in Arizona was to make the Cardinals more effective and exciting on offense – something he achieved by delivering the second-highest season-to-season improvement in total net yards in franchise history (+1,602).

But the Cards still finished last in the NFC West with only five wins, missing the playoffs for the fourth successive season. A further year down the line, that drought is ongoing thanks to a desperate 2020 collapse from 6-3 to finish 8-8.

With the talent on this team, 2021 needs to bring tangible results. Failure to deliver again could spell trouble for Kingsbury or general manager Steve Keim – an unenviable position to be in at the helm of still the worst team in football's best division.

Carson Wentz

Wentz is slightly different to the other names on this list in that he has enjoyed success in the NFL already. A Week 14 ACL tear in 2017 meant he watched the Philadelphia Eagles' Super Bowl win from the sidelines, but his 33 passing TDs had already set a franchise record.

Those performances felt a long way away in an awful 2020 campaign, though. Statistically, he could hardly have been worse.

Wentz threw a joint-high 15 picks and led the way with 28 pickable passes, making up 6.78 per cent of his attempts while just 68.8 per cent were accurate, well-thrown balls – a league low among QBs with 100 or more passes. Given he also lost 326 yards to his NFL-leading 50 sacks, there was very little that went well when Wentz had the ball in his hands.

The 28-year-old is now on the Indianapolis Colts, reunited with the man who helped inspire his superb 2017 campaign in Frank Reich, but has already suffered with a foot injury and a COVID bout. With Reich as his head coach, Wentz has to return a better player or his days as a starter in this league are done.

Matt Nagy

The mood music around Chicago is not great heading into the new season. The arrival of Justin Fields in the 2021 draft should provide cause for optimism, but it appears unlikely the rookie will play right away to the frustration of fans.

Mitchell Trubisky is at least gone after a dismal run as the Bears' QB – last year comparable to Wentz by a number of advanced metrics but also averaging a below-par 7.94 air yards – but coach Nagy is starting with Andy Dalton, rather than Fields.

Nagy is also calling plays again, having given up that duty as the offense failed last year.

There has been plenty wrong on that side of the ball for the Bears in recent years, but Nagy is running out of excuses. Either his approach has to work or he must adapt fast.

Jameis Winston

Nobody on this list can be as motivated as Winston, who must have feared he had already used up his NFL lives as he watched the versatile Taysom Hill fill in for Drew Brees last season. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Winston's former team, won the Super Bowl.

But the erratic deep passer has won the New Orleans Saints' starting job ahead of Hill this year. His haphazard style might have to change if he is to keep the role, however.

Winston threw 33 TD passes in 2019, but he also had 30 interceptions – that combination a league first. His 10.70 air yards ranked second, yet 46 pickable passes led the NFL by some distance.

His play is at complete odds to the safer approach from the retired Brees, who last year threw to an open target with 81.8 per cent of his attempts and dispatched an accurate, well-thrown ball 81.0 per cent of the time but only averaged 6.41 air yards.

As in Tampa, Winston should be fun to watch. As in Tampa, he will do well to stick around... and a third chance feels unlikely.

Carson Wentz returned to Indianapolis Colts practice on Thursday after being activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list but remained non-committal about getting vaccinated. 

Wentz, center Ryan Kelly and wide receiver Zach Pascal had to spend five days away from the team under NFL protocols because they are unvaccinated and came into close contact with a Colts staffer who tested positive.

The absence was especially unwelcome for Wentz, who missed three weeks of training camp after having foot surgery to address an injury suffered in practice on July 29. 

The 28-year-old quarterback took most of the first-team snaps in Thursday's practice, the team's last workout before reconvening on Monday ahead of their September 12 opener against the Seattle Seahawks. 

"I was frustrated, just like the other guys," Wentz told reporters. "Nobody wants to be out, especially when you're coming in here every day testing negative. I want to be out there, and I'm at home watching meetings from my office and all those things.

"It was frustrating, but I used the time to still get better with my foot, to stay locked in and watch some extra film. I was really excited to get back out there, finally."

Per NFL protocols, if Wentz and the others had been vaccinated, they would have had to sit out only if they also tested positive. 

Most of the questions directed to Wentz were about his vaccination status, and he repeatedly called it a "personal decision" and an "ongoing process". 

"This has been a fluid process for me this whole time," he said. "As a family, we've just been kind of monitoring everything we can, letting it play out as long as we can.

"This is where we're at today. Things could change in the next coming weeks. Who knows? Who knows where this world's going? Who knows where the protocol's going, if that'll change?

"I'm not going to act like I'm an expert on a vaccine or a virus, so that's just where we're at."

His remarks came a day after Colts general manager Chris Ballard said he "absolutely" believes everyone on the team should be vaccinated.

Wentz said that although Ballard and head coach Frank Reich have advocated for the vaccine, they have not pressured anyone. 

"They've been great," Wentz said. "We're all smart. Competitively, of course they all want everyone to get it, and I respect the heck out of both of those guys for trusting me, bringing me in here, all of those things, but it's been a very healthy [conversation].

"They tell us the facts, they tell us their opinion, but there’s no pressure. It's said in the right way.

"We know what's at stake. We know as a team where we want to go, and we do know some of these things can hinder if we let them.

"That's why we've got to do everything we can to not let it be a distraction and be on top of the protocol."

Carson Wentz is one of three players to be placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list by the Indianapolis Colts, the team announced on Monday.

Quarterback Wentz had only returned to practice last week following surgery to deal with a broken bone in his left foot, an injury that initially seemed set to rule him out for the start of the new NFL season.

"I'm optimistic, but we'll see how it responds," Wentz said after his first appearance on the practice field since July 29, having undergone the procedure on August 2.

"It's going to be up to the doctors, for sure. At the end of the day, as long as there's nothing that I can do to injure myself and make it worse, I know I've played through a lot worse. But it's going to come down to what the doctors say."

The former Philadelphia Eagles signal-caller was due to begin full-team reps as he stepped up his recovery, with the Colts aiming to get a better indication over his health ahead of Week 1 of the regular season, but that plan has now been scuppered.

When exactly Wentz will be available again, along with center Ryan Kelly and wide receiver Zach Pascal, who are the others to be placed on the list, is unclear.

Those players or members of staff who have been vaccinated can return after two negative test results 24 hours apart from each other, per NFL's health and safety protocols.

However, if someone from an NFL team tests positive having not received the vaccine, they will have to serve a 10-day isolation period. Anyone unvaccinated deemed to be a high-risk close contact must isolate for five days, as well as continue to return negative test results.

The Colts start the new season with a home game against the Seattle Seahawks on September 12.

Carson Wentz is optimistic he will be ready in time to make his Indianapolis Colts debut in their season opener with the Seattle Seahawks having returned to practice following foot surgery.

Wentz was given a recovery timeline of five to 12 weeks this month after it was confirmed he would undergo surgery on a broken metatarsal.

But the former Philadelphia Eagles signal-caller was back on the practice field on Monday, raising hopes he could be under center when the Colts face the Seahawks on September 12.

"I'm optimistic, but we'll see how it responds," Wentz said. 

"It's going to be up to the doctors, for sure. At the end of the day, as long as there's nothing that I can do to injure myself and make it worse, I know I've played through a lot worse. But it's going to come down to what the doctors say."

The Colts face a race against time to get Wentz up to speed following his time on the sideline, though his familiarity with head coach Frank Reich should help him catch up.

Reich was the offensive coordinator in 2017 when Wentz was a frontrunner for the MVP award before a knee injury curtailed his campaign and backup Nick Foles improbably led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl title.

The Colts traded a conditional second-round pick, which will become a first-round pick if Wentz plays 75 per cent of the snaps or he plays 70 per cent and Indianapolis reach the postseason, to the Eagles to acquire the 2016 second overall selection.

Last season, Wentz suffered the most sacks in the NFL (50) and was tied-first for interceptions with 15.

Per Stats Perform data, Wentz had the worst well-thrown percentage in the NFL in 2020.

He delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on just 68.8 per cent of his passes and threw an interceptable pass on 6.78 per cent of his attempts, with only three quarterbacks doing so more often.

Should he be unable to feature in the season opener, Jacob Eason or rookie Sam Ehlinger will start for the Colts, with that duo having split first-team reps in his absence.

Carson Wentz will return to Indianapolis Colts practice on Monday, head coach Frank Reich announced.

The quarterback injured his foot during a training camp session on July 29 and had surgery on August 2.

He is set to return to practice just under three weeks before the Colts' September 12 opener against the Seattle Seahawks. 

"You're going to see him out there on the practice field this week," Reich told reporters Sunday. "He'll be out there tomorrow taking some things."

Reich added: "He'll be limited but he will be participating."

The Colts acquired Wentz from the Philadelphia Eagles in March and have yet to see what he can do in game conditions. 

The 28-year-old QB is coming off the worst season of his five-year NFL career, as he completed just 57.4 per cent of his passes and threw a career-high 15 interceptions despite playing in only 12 games as he was benched in favour of rookie Jalen Hurts in December. 

Wentz also was sacked 50 times, the most of any quarterback in the league. 

In Wentz's absence, the Colts have started second-year QB Jacob Eason in both of their pre-season games, and he has turned in solid performances in a pair of wins. 

Eason is 31 of 48 for 315 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. 

Rookie Sam Ehlinger is the only other quarterback to see action and he has thrown three interceptions in 28 attempts. 

Nick Foles made it clear he has not had any talks with Frank Reich about a trade to the Indianapolis Colts, but he sounded distinctly like a man making his pitch for such a move on Monday.

The Colts are in a perilous situation at quarterback after Reich confirmed Carson Wentz, whom they traded for in the offseason to be their starter, would undergo foot surgery and miss five to 12 weeks.

Wentz is therefore in danger of missing the opening two months of the 2021 season, leaving the Colts facing up to the prospect of starting Jacob Eason, a fourth-round pick in the 2020 draft, under center.

Reich was the Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator when Wentz was in the MVP conversation in 2017 before he suffered a season-ending injury and was replaced by Foles, who spectacularly guided the Eagles to Super Bowl glory.

It was hoped the reunion between Reich and Wentz could revive the latter's career after his dismal final season with the Eagles but his injury has led to talk of the Colts bringing Foles, now the third-string quarterback with the Chicago Bears, into the mix.

Asked about that possibility, Foles told a media conference: "Frank Reich is one of my favourite if not favourite coaches of all time, he understands me as a player, he understands me as a person.

"I haven't had any talks with him. I'm a Chicago Bear right now. You all watched the 2017 season in the playoffs where he changed the offense and built it around me and y'all saw what happened, he understood my mentality as a player and he was able to build it around me and put me in a successful position.

"That being said they have Carson, and Carson and I have a lot of history. I have a lot of respect for Carson, he's a tremendous player, he's going through adversity once again but he'll bounce back. He might miss a few games but I know he'll be back out there, but we haven't had any talks.

"Right now I'm a Chicago Bear and I'm going to keep slinging it with these third-stringers and we're going to dice 'em up."

On talks with other teams, Foles added: "There was a couple of opportunities that came to me this offseason with a couple of teams but it wasn't the right time.

"It wasn't the right time or the situation with what was going on in my life. You don't just want to go somewhere to go somewhere, you want to go somewhere where you know the people somewhat or you know someone who knows the people that can vouch for the people so you can succeed.

"Listen, I feel great. The version of me right now is much better than the version of me that played in the Super Bowl, I'll tell you that and I'm confident in that, so put that through your mind, I know that.

"I know what this game's about, you have to have the whole package as a team, you have to have everyone in there. Top-down has to be great, if it's not great you're going to be mediocre. I've seen it and I've been a part of it, and unfortunately when you're a quarterback you've got to go through a lot of the baloney.

"That's part of it, that's why we play this position because at the end of the day there might be some kid that's watching this press conference and they say Nick Foles is a three quarterback and he's going out there and his mentality is to dice up that defense and help his team-mates and that's what I will continue to do until I lace up the cleats for the last time."

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz is to undergo foot surgery and could be out for as long as 12 weeks.

Colts head coach Frank Reich confirmed Wentz would have an operation on his left foot after injuring it during last Thursday's training camp practice and will need five to 12 weeks to recover.

Reich told reporters the injury was to Wentz's metatarsal and that the pain stemmed from a previous issue that could date as far back as high school.

The Colts traded for Wentz back in March, sending a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 second-round pick that could become a first-rounder to the Philadelphia Eagles to land the 2016 second overall pick.

Philadelphia will receive a 2022 first-rounder if Wentz plays 75 per cent of the offensive snaps in 2021, or if he plays 70 per cent and the Colts make the playoffs.

However, the prospects of either scenario coming to pass now look slim, with the Colts' hopes of Reich getting Wentz's career back on track dealt a significant blow. 

"Obviously we're optimistic and hopeful that we can be on the front end of that [five to 12 week recovery time]," said Reich.

While Wentz is sidelined, the focus will be on getting Jacob Eason, a fourth-round pick in 2020, ready to start Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks.

"The job is Jacob's right now … and he's gotta earn it," Reich added. "But he's in the driver’s seat."

Reich was the offensive coordinator in 2017 when Wentz was a frontrunner for the MVP award before a knee injury curtailed his campaign and backup Nick Foles improbably led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl title.

The Colts banked on a reunion with Reich helping Wentz rediscover that form following a 2020 season in which he suffered 50 sacks - the most of any quarterback in the league - and was tied-first for interceptions with 15.

As per Stats Perform data, Wentz had the worst well-thrown percentage in the NFL last year. He delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on just 68.8 per cent of his passes. He threw a pickable pass on 6.78 per cent of his attempts, with only three quarterbacks doing so more often.

The Colts will now have to wait to see if he can bounce back and reprise his 2017 form, while Eason has the opportunity to give Reich a headache in the game's most important position.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz is undergoing further tests on a foot injury that has ruled him out of participating in practice.

Wentz, who arrived at the Colts via a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles during the offseason, sustained the injury late during Thursday's session, according to reports.

The 28-year-old has endured several injury problems since making his NFL debut with the Eagles, who drafted him second overall in 2016.

Indeed, he has started all 16 games in a season just twice in his career, while inconsistent form last term saw him benched in favour of rookie Jalen Hurts.

Wentz also missed the Eagles' triumph over the New England Patriots at Super Bowl LII with a torn ACL, left to watch on as back-up Nick Foles led the franchise to glory.

Offensive coordinator Marcus Brady told the media that the Colts are still assessing the extent of the damage.

"He's with the docs, trying to figure what out the process is," he said of Wentz.

"(We are) still evaluating what the next move is, how bad it is. Then we'll go from there."

The Colts, who reached the playoffs last season, step up their preparations for the 2021 campaign next month with pre-season games against the Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions.

They begin the regular season at home against the Seattle Seahawks on September 12.

For a second season running, Frank Reich is turning to a quarterback he knows well.

There has been no shortage of churn in the Indianapolis Colts QB room since Reich became head coach in 2018.

Andrew Luck retired before the start of Reich's second season, having won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award, Jacoby Brissett stepping into the breach only to miss out on the playoffs. That prompted a move for Philip Rivers, who worked with Reich when the pair were together at the Chargers.

But Rivers also retired after leading the Colts to an 11-5 record in 2020.

Having coaxed a relatively impressive final year out of Rivers, Reich backed himself to get a former star firing again. Indy will have Carson Wentz starting under center this year.

Wentz's performance level has badly tailed off in recent seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles, but his impressive early-career displays came when Reich was the team’s offensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017.

He will now head to the Colts confident he can rediscover his best form and help a team that competed last season even without significant star power, as Stats Perform data shows.

Offense

Wentz has never been better than he was under Reich.

Boosted by the experience of starting from the outset in his rookie season, Wentz was flying by the time year two rolled around. He threw 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions for a passer rating of 101.9 in 2017, earning Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro recognition, but a devastating knee injury kept him from playing a part in the Eagles' Super Bowl success, which came via an improbable run with backup Nick Foles.

There has been a steady decline since Reich departed following that triumph, though, and Wentz led the league in picks (15) and sacks (50) in 2020 despite playing just 12 games.

While the Colts will hope Wentz improves, they do not need the former second overall pick to be an elite QB to maintain last season's standard.

The Colts were unspectacular but comfortably in the top half of the NFL for yards per play (5.86, ranked ninth), yards per game (378.1, 10th) and net passing yards (253.3, 11th) last time out.

The Colts had the second-fewest sacks for negative yardage (19), losing only 133 yards, as the Eagles ranked worst in both regards (61 for 401 yards). Wentz will hope to prove he can perform much better when helped by a superior offensive line.

Rivers was asked only to be solid, though, as Reich preferred a run-heavy approach. Indianapolis kept 44.5 per cent of their plays on the ground last season, compared to Philadelphia's 37.8 per cent.

Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor – with 232 carries (ranking eighth) for 1,169 yards (third) and 11 rushing TDs (joint-seventh) – was relied on consistently in high-leverage situations. Malcolm Brown (28) and Dalvin Cook (27) were the only RBs in the NFL trusted more often on third down (24 carries).

Even the passing offense found a running back – in this case, Nyheim Hines (63 catches) – more often than any other individual receiver.

Defense

Where the 2020 recruitment of Rivers was a low-risk call that ultimately paid off, tiding the team over until the move for Wentz, the Colts went all-in on their big defensive signing.

Happily, that deal has so far been an even greater success.

DeForest Buckner signed a four-year, $84million contract after his trade from San Francisco, where he had been a second-team All-Pro selection and starred in the 49ers' run to the Super Bowl in 2019.

Those standards did not slip in Indianapolis as the defensive tackle led the Colts in sacks (9.5), QB hits (26) and tackles for loss (10).

Buckner's reward was a first-team All-Pro selection for the first time and he was joined in that regard by linebacker Darius Leonard (86 tackles), who is still on his rookie contract. The pair contributed to the Colts allowing the eighth-fewest total yards per game (332.1) and the second-fewest rushing yards (90.5), beaten only by champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the latter category.

They should be set to excel defending on the ground again this coming season, but the Colts might be a little more vulnerable through the air, even with Buckner's all-round talents.

Denico Autry, Justin Houston and Al-Quadin Muhammad - their leading three edge rushers, who combined for 17.5 sacks and 22 QB hits – all entered free agency, Autry signing with division rivals the Tennessee Titans.

Offseason

Free agency has been quiet thus far for Indianapolis, but for good reason.

While the Colts have more than $38m of cap space remaining, the team appear to be wisely saving money to pay Leonard, who will otherwise be an unrestricted free agent in 2022.

On the offensive line, Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith are also due a pay day.

The Colts have already looked after two of their own by bringing back cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who defensed 12 passes on his way to two interceptions and a defensive touchdown, and Marlon Mack, the running back who had eight TDs in 2019 but played only once last year before rupturing his Achilles.

If spending remains as modest as suggested, the Colts will have some gaps heading towards a draft where their first-round pick is at 21.

The potential free agency departures of wideout T.Y. Hilton and tight end Trey Burton mean Wentz's receiving corps needs reinforcements, although the second-round tender placed on Mo Alie-Cox helped in that department.

It remains to be seen what the team will do to replace their edge rushers in the wake of Autry's $21.5m deal in Tennessee.

Should the Colts fail to address that issue and leave the onus predominantly on Buckner to pressure opposing quarterbacks, Indianapolis might be back where they started and it will be down to Wentz to ensure they are competitive again.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz conceded "it wasn't fun" playing for the Philadelphia Eagles before his trade in the offseason.

The Eagles dealt NFL Super Bowl winner Wentz to the Colts in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick and a conditional 2022 first-round selection.

Wentz – who signed a lucrative four-year, $128million contract extension in 2019 – was benched in favour of rookie Jalen Hurts in Week 13.

It spelled the end of Wentz' time in Philadelphia, where the Pro Bowler was drafted by the Eagles with the second pick in 2016.

"I'm not going to sugarcoat it -- it wasn't fun," Wentz told reporters on Thursday, in his first comments since leaving the Eagles.

"It's not fun when things were going well for years and all those things. ... As a man, you have to look yourself in the mirror and learn from it and become a better man, better player.

"It wasn't fun, it was difficult, but I did everything I could to be supportive of Jalen [Hurts] and my team-mates."

The 28-year-old Wentz ranked 23rd for completions (251), 34th for passing percentage (57.4), 25th for yards (2,620) and tied for 20th for touchdowns (16), while he was equal first for interceptions thrown this past season.

Philadelphia turned to rookie Nick Sirianni after Super Bowl-winning head coach Doug Pederson was fired following a 4-11-1 season.

"I've learned you're not going to make everybody happy," Wentz said amid reports he was not a good team-mate Philadelphia. "As much as you want to, you can't. It's unfortunate people have those opinions.

"I'm going to learn from it and try to be the best team-mate I can be. If there are team-mates who I don't think I was the best team-mate, I apologise, I wish I could be better. Last year was tough for everybody."

Wentz, who reunites with Colts head coach Frank Reich – the former Eagles offensive co-ordinator – added: "A lot of things in life we can't predict. A lot of crazy circumstances where you expect things to unfold. When you're drafted in a place like Philly you have a lot of high expectations and everything, but obviously the year didn't go as planned.

"Excited for this opportunity in Indy and be a part of something special that has already been created here."

Wentz joins a Colts team who are ready to contend in the playoffs, having narrowly lost to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card Round in 2020 after going 11-5 in the regular season.

Colts owner Jim Irsay said: "I can't emphasise how strongly I feel that Carson is the man for the job for the Colts at this time. There's been a lot at the quarterback situation that has happened over the last three years.

"To get someone I really do believe, after looking at this game for 50 years, I really think that he can be that guy that's the centerpiece and the guy who will be around with these teams we put together for the next decade that gives the Colts a chance for greatness."

Carson Wentz is heading to the Indianapolis Colts after the team struck a deal to trade for him from the Philadelphia Eagles.

The quarterback, who was benched for Jalen Hurts towards the end of a miserable 4-11-1 season for the Eagles, is poised to join the Colts, according to widespread reports.

Indianapolis will give the Eagles a 2021 third-round draft pick and a conditional 2022 selection in exchange.

The pick in 2022 is provisionally a second-rounder, but can increase to a first-rounder if Wentz plays 75 per cent of the snaps next season.

It could also convert to a first if Wentz leads the Colts to the playoffs while playing in 70 per cent of snaps.

Wentz will be reunited with Colts head coach Frank Reich, who spent the QB's first two years in the NFL as the Eagles' Offensive Coordinator, with impressive results.

The 2017 season, Wentz's second in the NFL, saw him produce MVP-calibre form and throw for a franchise record 33 TDs before going down with injury and famously being replaced by Nick Foles, who took the team to Super Bowl glory.

Wentz signed a four-year, $128 million contract ahead of the 2019 season.

But he has struggled to replicate his early career form, culminating in the Eagles drafting Hurts in the second-round last year and benching Wentz after Week 13.

The 28-year-old averaged 218.3 yards per game last season, the lowest mark of his career, and threw a career-high 15 interceptions in 12 games.

Philip Rivers' retirement had left the Colts seeking a new QB to lead a roster that appears ready to contend in the postseason.

They narrowly lost to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card round in 2020 after going 11-5.

Wentz is the latest domino to fall in what is proving to be another dramatic offseason on the QB market.

Jared Goff was the number one overall pick in 2016 - one spot ahead of Wentz - but was recently traded by the Los Angeles Rams to the Detroit Lions in exchange for Matthew Stafford and draft picks.

Question marks remain over the future of Deshaun Watson with the Houston Texans and Dak Prescott is still unsigned by the Dallas Cowboys. 

Meanwhile, Trevor Lawrence – billed as a generational talent – leads a star-studded crop of QBs in the draft.

There are suggestions Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Justin Fields could go 1-2-3 in the draft.

Wentz had also been connected with the Chicago Bears, who now continue their search for a 2021 starter.

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said he "can't answer" whether quarterback Carson Wentz will be with the team in 2021.

Sirianni was introduced as Philadelphia's new coach to replace Doug Pederson on Friday and attention has already shifted to embattled Eagles QB Wentz.

Wentz – who signed a lucrative four-year, $128million contract extension in 2019 – was benched in favour of rookie Jalen Hurts in Week 13, raising serious questions over his future in Philadelphia.

The 28-year-old Wentz ranked 23rd for completions (251), 34th for passing percentage (57.4), 25th for yards (2,620) and tied for 20th for touchdowns (16), while he was equal first for interceptions thrown this past season.

"I can't answer that," Sirianni said during his introductory news conference after being asked if Wentz would be back in 2021.

"Again, evaluating everything. Again, there's a lot of things to go through. Evaluating everything."

"You look at a lot of rosters and they don't have any quarterbacks, right, that they feel really good about. We have two. That's unbelievable to have two quarterbacks who have played and that have played well," he added.

"I couldn't have watched more tape on Carson Wentz in 2018. When Frank and I got back together, when we were installing our offense with the Indianapolis Colts, we watched a lot of Chargers tape, and we watched a lot of Philadelphia Eagles tape from 2017.

"Man, what an impressive player. He's got so much talent, and from what I've heard from everybody, great person. Good talent, good person, it takes your game to really high levels. So excited.

"Jalen got his snaps last year and was able to play last year and he played good football in meaningful games. Not a lot of people have that luxury of having two quarterbacks that have experience, so super excited to be able to work with them because, obviously, we all know how important that position is to a football team."

The Eagles have turned to rookie head coach Sirianni after NFL Super Bowl-winning boss Pederson was fired following a tumultuous 2020 campaign.

Sirianni spent the past three seasons working for the Indianapolis Colts – the 39-year-old former offensive coordinator also previously spending time with the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers in various roles.

After moving to Indianapolis in 2018, Sirianni and the Colts twice reached the playoffs – beaten by the Buffalo Bills in this season's Wild Card clash.

But Sirianni will step into his first head-coaching job, tasked with restoring a struggling franchise, who ended the season 4-11-1 having won their first Super Bowl in 2017.

Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie denied Carson Wentz was the reason for Doug Pederson's departure, though he did not commit to the embattled quarterback returning next season.

The Eagles sacked Super Bowl-winning head coach Pederson on Monday following a tumultuous 2020 NFL campaign.

Pederson, who was appointed in 2016, led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl title in his second season at the helm but Philadelphia struggled this term after a 4-11-1 finish.

Wentz's form resulted in the franchise quarterback – who signed a lucrative four-year, $128million contract extension in 2019 – being benched in favour of rookie Jalen Hurts in Week 13, while it raised serious questions over his future in Philadelphia.

While doubts remain over Wentz, Lurie insisted the 28-year-old was not behind Pederson's exit.

"My first allegiance is, what will be best for the Philadelphia Eagles and our fans for the next three, four, five years. It's not based on does someone deserve to hold their job or deserve to get fired; that's a different bar," Lurie told reporters on Monday.

"It's not about, 'Did Doug deserve to be let go?' No, he did not deserve to be let go. That's not where I'm coming from, and that's not the bar in the evaluation process."

"I don't think any owner should decide that [whether Wentz returns in 2021]. Carson, to me and to I think virtually everyone in our organisation, is a quarterback that in his first four years was in many ways elite, comparable to some of the great quarterbacks the first four years in the league," Lurie added on Wentz. "The fifth year, obviously not satisfactory for whatever reasons, there are probably multiple reasons for that.

"I think the way I look at it is, we have an asset and we have a talent. He's a great guy. He wants nothing but to win big and win Lombardi trophies for Philadelphia. This guy is tireless. He has his heart in the right place. He is really dedicated offseason, on-season. He's just what you want. And it behoves us as a team with a new coach and new coaching staff to be able to really get him back to that elite progression where he was capable of, and understand at the same time that there have been many quarterbacks in their fourth and fifth year, if you trace this, you can come up with many, many quarterbacks that have a single year where it's just, 'Whoa, the touchdown-to-interception ratio is not what you want.' And we're talking some great ones like Peyton [Manning] and Ben [Roethlisberger] and guys like that."

Wentz ranked 23rd for completions (251), 34th for passing percentage (57.4), 25th for yards (2,620) and tied for 20th for touchdowns (16), while he was equal first for interceptions thrown in 2020.

"So I take more of a longer view of this was not the best season for our offense," Lurie continued. "It was a poor season. And we also had a poor season from Carson, in terms of what he's been able to show in the past; very fixable, and I fully expect him to realise his potential."

Pederson compiled an overall 46-39-1 record over five seasons with the Eagles, including four playoff victories.

The 52-year-old, who oversaw three consecutive postseason appearances from 2017 to 2019 before dropping to the bottom of the NFC East this year, had not won 10-plus games since Philadelphia's run to Super Bowl LII.

"It has been an absolute honour serving as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. As difficult as it is to say goodbye, I will always look back on my time here with appreciation and respect," Pederson said.

"Thank you to Jeffrey Lurie for the opportunity, and to Howie Roseman and Don Smolenski for their partnership and support over the last five seasons. To all of our coaches, players, and staff, thank you for believing in me and allowing me to lead us on this journey. The memories we made here, together, will always have a special place in my heart.

"To the City of Philadelphia, thank you for embracing me and this team. I truly appreciate that passion you bring every single day – at home, on the road, and in the community. No matter what, you were always right there with us.

"Although I am disappointed that this chapter of my career has come to an end, I am extremely proud of what we accomplished together. Through all the ups and downs, one thing remained constant about our team – an unwavering commitment to battle through adversity and to achieve our goals not as individuals, but as a collective unit. There is no better example of that than when we celebrated the first Super Bowl Championship in Eagles history together with our city. That is a memory we will all cherish forever."

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