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.

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.

Reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt and the Pittsburgh Steelers' number-one receiver Diontae Johnson were both forced to leave their side's 19-9 preseason win against the Detroit Lions on Sunday due to injury concerns.

Watt appeared to suffer a knee injury when he was on the receiving end of a cut-block from Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson in the second quarter. He remained in the game for the immediate aftermath, before getting pulled shortly after.

Johnson landed awkwardly on his left shoulder after pulling down a 38-yard reception from Mitch Trubisky, and after being evaluated in the medical tent, he also took no further part in the game.

Despite neither player returning to the field, head coach Mike Tomlin said there is "no long-term concern at the moment" on the broadcast, and "if this is a regular-season game, we may see them back in this game".

Watt is in the first season of his four-year, $112million contract extension, while Johnson signed a two-year extension earlier this month worth up to $39.5m.

Both of the Steelers' contenders for the starting quarterback role performed well in the win, as Trubisky completed 15-of-19 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown, while first-round draft pick Kenny Pickett went 10-for-14 for 90 yards. Neither quarterback committed a turnover.

Detroit Lions rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams likely will not be cleared to practice when the team begins training camp in July, head coach Dan Campbell told reporters on Thursday.

Williams, the number 12 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, is still recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee the former Alabama All-American suffered in the College Football Playoff national championship game in January.

"I don't see him being ready for training camp, I don't see that," Campbell said following the Lions' mini-camp practice.

"We're going to do this thing the right way, and when he's ready, he'll be ready. But no, I don't feel like you're going to see him out there day one."

The Lions remain optimistic that Williams will be ready for the team's season opener on September 11, although offensive coordinator Ben Johnson recently acknowledged the possibility of scaling back the young speedster's role early on as he gets acclimated.

Johnson told the Detroit Free Press last week Williams' situation differs from that of fellow wide receiver Josh Reynolds, who joined the Lions midway through last season and immediately was installed into the team's receiver rotation.

Reynolds was a veteran player who had a familiarity with quarterback Jared Goff, as the two were team-mates with the Los Angeles Rams for four seasons.

"It's going to be a challenge because you can't really compare it to the Josh Reynolds situation from last year," Johnson said. "We didn't really know him and what he necessarily did best, but at least there was a comfort level between him and the quarterback, and we don't have that [with Williams].

"That's a real struggle for us. [The aim] is to get him back, to get him healthy, and then as many reps as possible with the quarterbacks so that we know exactly where he's going to be, we can anticipate the throw."

ACL injuries typically require eight-to-nine months to completely recover from, which would have Williams at full strength right around the start of the season.

The Lions were not deterred by the injury, as they traded up 20 spots with NFC North rival the Minnesota Vikings to choose Williams with the number 12 pick. The 21-year-old was one of six wide receivers taken in the first 18 selections.

Williams established himself as an elite prospect during his lone season at Alabama, becoming one of college football's most explosive receivers after transferring from Ohio State. His 15 touchdown receptions in 2021 tied for third in the FBS and he led the Crimson Tide with 1,572 receiving yards on 79 catches.

Nine of Williams' 15 touchdown catches were from 40 or more yards, leading the FBS last season, while his 11 receptions of 40 or more yards tied for second among major college players.

"He's a special talent," Goff said. "I know they're going to make sure he's as healthy as possible, but selfishly, I want him back as soon as possible."

Perhaps the biggest storyline entering the 2022 NFL Draft did not concern a prospect, but one of the premier wide receivers in the NFL. Deebo Samuel of the San Francisco 49ers was not traded during Thursday's first round but, if there were any doubts that wideout is now a premium position, they were extinguished emphatically in Las Vegas.

Six wide receivers came off the board in the first 18 picks amid a flurry of trades, including two involving established receivers who at least have one 1,000-yard season in their first three years in the NFL.

There was mild surprise when the Atlanta Falcons made USC's Drake London the first receiver picked with the eighth overall selection, but significantly more eyebrow-raising moves were to follow.

The New Orleans Saints jumped from 16 to 11 to pick Ohio State's Chris Olave one pick after his former college team-mate Garrett Wilson was taken by the Jets with a 10th pick that was reportedly offered to the Niners as part of a package for Samuel.

It was the Detroit Lions who made the most ambitious receiver trade of the night, jumping 20 spots up the board from 32 to 12 in a deal with the Minnesota Vikings to make Jameson Williams their second selection of the first round despite doubts over when he will be ready to play after tearing his ACL in the final game of his college career.

Williams' appeal is obvious, the former Alabama star a dynamic speedster who registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, on 74.6 per cent of his targets in 2021.

He led all receivers in burn yards per target, his average of 19.34 nearly five full yards better than that of his nearest challenger, Cincinnati's Alec Pierce (14.74), and was also the cream of the crop in burn yards per route (4.9).

But it is the scale of the move up the board that is illustrative of just how determined NFL teams have become to add big-play receivers to their offensive arsenal, and the message was further hammered home as, after the Washington Commanders used the 16th pick on another wideout in Jahan Dotson, the Philadelphia Eagles made the defining move of the first round with their trade with the Tennessee Titans, sending the 18th pick and a third-rounder to acquire A.J. Brown.

Brown, a Pro Bowler in 2020 before injuries disrupted his 2021 campaign, was promptly reported as having received a four-year extension with Philadelphia worth up to $100million, with $47m guaranteed, the $25million average annual value of that deal reportedly what Samuel was looking to be paid before he requested a trade from San Francisco.

The choice for teams wanting to keep a playmaking receiver on the roster seems to be clear. Pay over $20m a year for one or spend a premium pick on a rookie. The Titans, in trading Brown and then selecting a rookie with a comparable playing style in Treylon Burks out of Arkansas, elected to do the latter.

"We got to a spot where it was going to be hard to get a deal done," Titans general manager Jon Robinson said of Brown after the first round.

The Ravens ran into difficulty with his namesake Marquise Brown, who was said to have requested a trade after the season and was also dealt on draft night to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for the 23rd overall pick.

While the Titans caved in and parted with Brown, the Niners remained steadfast in refusing to trade Samuel, even with a top-10 pick seemingly on the table, their resoluteness in itself reflecting the massive value of a player who was the heart and soul of the San Francisco offense as the 49ers made the NFC Championship Game last season.

Also running the ball out of the backfield consistently in a dual role, Samuel labelling himself a 'wide back', the 2019 second-round pick is a unique case. Yet the message that was definitively reiterated through the Niners refusal to part ways with him and the hive of activity surrounding receivers in the first round is clear, receivers who can make field-flipping momentum-changing plays are firmly among the most valued assets in the NFL.

Of the top 10 receivers with the most receptions of 20 yards or more in 2021, only two – Justin Jefferson and Tyler Lockett – did not feature on playoff teams. Four – Cooper Kupp (30), Samuel (23), Ja'Marr Chase (22) and Tee Higgins (17) – played on Conference Championship Sunday, as did the 11th-placed wideout in the category, Samuel's Niners team-mate Brandon Aiyuk (16).

Quarterback is king in the NFL, and tackle, edge rusher and offensive tackle have long since been viewed as next on the hierarchy as 'premium positions'. The 2021 season encapsulated the value of explosive wideouts and, with that campaign followed by an offseason in which Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill were both traded and received mega-deals and Thursday's first-round chaos brought on by the high demand for receivers, there can be little room for argument the position now carries the same importance as those other non-quarterback spots that have traditionally had the highest billing.

The Detroit Lions did make a huge draft-day trade, but it was for wide receiver Jameson Williams rather than a quarterback.

Detroit, having picked Aidan Hutchinson second overall, traded the final pick in the first round (32nd overall) as well as selections 34 and 66 to move up to number 12 in a deal with the Minnesota Vikings, who also sent pick 46 to their NFC North rivals.

Many had thought the Lions might take a swing on Liberty's Malik Willis, the highest upside quarterback in an underwhelming class.

But they instead made the move for the premier deep receiving threat in the draft, showing faith in Williams to return quickly from the torn anterior cruciate ligament the Alabama star suffered in the National Championship Game in January.

A transfer from Ohio State, Williams' sole season with Alabama saw him rack up 79 catches for a team-high 1,572 yards, with his 15 touchdown catches tied for third in the FBS.

Nine of Williams' 15 touchdown catches were for 40 or more yards, while no player in the FBS produced more than his nine receptions of at least 50 yards.

According to Stats Perform data, Williams registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup on a play where he is targeted, on 74.6 per cent of his targets in 2021.

He comfortably led all receivers in burn yards per target, his average of 19.34 nearly five full yards better than that of his nearest challenger, Cincinnati's Alec Pierce (14.74), and was also the cream of the crop in burn yards per route (4.9).

The Lions may not yet have their quarterback of the future but, after acquiring Williams, they have the receiver they hope will be the favourite target of that as yet unidentified signal-caller.

The Detroit Lions have selected edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson with the number two pick in the NFL Draft.

Hutchinson, 21, set a school record for sacks with 14 in 16 games at Michigan in his senior season and was billed as the likely number one pick shortly after the college football season ended.

The Lions went 3-13-1 in 2021 and struggled mightily to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, ranking 30th in the league in sacks.

Speaking on stage in Las Vegas after his selection, Hutchinson said: "It's great, I'm happy I get to go back to Detroit, the Motor City. I'm fired up."

The Lions pick again at 32 and 36.

The 2024 NFL Draft will be held in downtown Detroit, the league announced on Monday. 

One of the most anticipated events on the sporting calendar, the three-day event will take place around the Campus Martius Park and Hart Plaza site. 

This year's draft will be held in Las Vegas next month, with Kansas City hosting the 2023 edition. 

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said: "The draft has become a prominent offseason event across the country, and we are excited to work with the [Detroit] Lions and their partners to bring the 2024 NFL Draft to the Motor City. 

"With the help of Visit Detroit, the Detroit Sports Commission, and the City of Detroit, the Lions' passionate fan base and all visitors will be treated to an incredible three-day experience." 

Claude Molinari, president and CEO of Visit Detroit, added: "Visit Detroit is looking forward to working with our partners in the hospitality community to welcome enthusiastic football fans from across the country who will make our city a pigskin pilgrimage stop.  

"Hosting the draft is another exciting win for Detroit, and it will deliver a powerful economic impact and highlight the vibrancy of our region." 

The Arizona Cardinals continued their excellent road form as they edged the Dallas Cowboys 25-22 in a potential-playoff preview with Kyler Murray leading the way on Sunday.

The Cardinals improved their season record to 11-5 and their road record to 8-1, snapping a three-game skid, with Texas-born Murray throwing two touchdowns as he completed 26 of 38 attempts for 263 yards.

The Cowboys had trailed 22-7 at the final charge but stormed back into contention as Dak Prescott threw three TD passes for the game but Murray expertly managed the clock late.

Murray found Antoine Wesley for two TDs including a spectacular catch in the third quarter, while Jonathan Ward made a remarkable helmet catch on a fake punt.

The Cowboys lost Michael Gallup to injury upon his second-quarter receiving touchdown and did not return, not helping their cause.

Prescott, who completed 24 of 38 passes for 226 yards along with 20 rushing yards, found Cedrick Wilson and Amari Cooper for final-quarter TDs to tighten the game but he also had a costly fumble at 22-14.

Chargers snap skid as Williams scores 101-yard return

The Los Angeles Chargers snapped a two-game skid with a 34-13 victory over the Denver Broncos to boost their Wild Card hopes as they improve to a 9-7 record.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert threw 22 of 31 passes for 237 yards with two touchdowns, breaking the franchise record for single-season touchdown passes at 35.

Andre Williams scored a 101-yard kickoff return touchdown in the fourth quarter, while Austin Ekeler returned to LA's line-up and was important, with 17 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown, along with three receptions for 54 yards.

 

Lance leads 49ers to key win in Wild Card race

Trey Lance stepped in for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo and provided two touchdown passes as the San Francisco 49ers won 23-7 over the Houston Texans.

Lance completed 16 of 23 passes for 249 yards with the two TDs and an interception to help the 49ers improve to 9-7 in the NFC Wild Card pursuit.

Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell scored the touchdowns as the 49ers scored 20 second-half points to secure the win.

Jared Goff was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday, less than 24 hours after leading the lowly Detroit Lions to a sensational victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

After an awful season, the Lions have shown fight in recent weeks, getting their first win of the year against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 13.

But Sunday's stunning 30-12 defeat of the NFC West-leading Cardinals came as a complete shock.

One-time MVP candidate Kyler Murray continued his uneven form at quarterback for Arizona following his return from injury, but Goff excelled for Detroit.

The former Los Angeles Ram completed 21 of 26 passes for 216 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions – albeit he tossed two pickable passes despite identifying an open target with 25 of his attempts. A passer rating of 139.7 was the fifth-best of Goff's NFL career.

But the Lions' hopes of ending the year with momentum were hit on Monday by news of Goff's move to the COVID list.

Goff has missed only one game since moving to Detroit this season, with deputy Tim Boyle in from the start for the Week 11 defeat to the Cleveland Browns, throwing zero TDs and two picks.

The Lions (2-11-1) go to the Atlanta Falcons (6-8) on Sunday.

The Arizona Cardinals were the best team in the NFL the first half of the season and had remained perfect on the road even after stumbling in recent weeks, leaving them in position to clinch a playoff berth with a win Sunday. 

Instead, the Cardinals turned in their most disappointing performance of the season, getting blown out 30-12 by a Detroit Lions team that had entered the game with an NFL-worst 1-11-1 record. 

So it was that an Arizona team that opened the year 7-0 slumped to 10-4 after a defeat no one saw coming. 

"This is an unacceptable loss," Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks told reporters. "We weren't ourselves today."

Added quarterback Kyler Murray: "They were hungrier than us. They played harder than us." 

It was a performance reminiscent of the Cardinals' ugly 34-10 home setback against the Carolina Panthers last month, but all the more galling given the quality of the opposition. 

The Lions were even colder than the Cardinals were hot to open 2021, dropping their first eight games before playing to a 16-16 draw with the Pittsburgh Steelers, then losing two more before finally beating the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago. 

Yet Detroit managed to dominate the proceedings Sunday even though the teams finished the game virtually level in terms of key statistics. 

The Cardinals out-gained the Lions 398-338, while Detroit held a slight edge in time of possession (31:52 to 28:08) and each team had just one turnover. 

Yet Arizona failed to convert on all four red-zone opportunities, most notably turning the ball over on downs at Detroit's three-yard line after a failed fourth-down try late in the first half. 

Goff engineered a 97-yard touchdown drive from there, giving the Lions a 17-0 lead at half-time, and Detroit never looked back. 

Arizona, meanwhile, may have tried to do too much after getting in that hole. 

"There's no such thing as a 17-point touchdown and we've got to approach it that way if we get in this situation again," said head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

Arizona had won all seven of their road games this season by double digits entering Sunday, and they face one more daunting test away from home, a trip to the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys in two weeks' time. 

They can only hope to figure out what adjustments need to be made before facing that challenge. 

"We know who we are," Murray said. "We know the guys we have in the locker room, we've got the talent, we've got the coaches, we've got the leadership. It's about locking in and playing to our capabilities.

"Screw everything else, pretty much. We have to be how we were at the beginning of the season."

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense showed up in bravura fashion to pave the way for a 19-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field.

Despite the offense struggling, Pittsburgh forced four turnovers against a Titans side who continue to lead the AFC South but slip to 9-5 with this setback.

Linebacker T.J. Watt had 1.5 sacks to reach 17.5 for the season, establishing a new Steelers record as the home team improved to 7-6-1, getting the better of a side that blanked the Jaguars 20-0 last week.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin hailed the effort from his team to overcome their shortcomings and capitalise on their strengths, with Chris Boswell kicking four field goals and Ben Roethlisberger snatching a rare touchdown.

Roethlisberger (16-of-25 for 148 yards) also went fifth on the all-time NFL passing yards list in this game, jumping ahead of Philip Rivers with a three-yard pass to Najee Harris and boosting his career total to 63,562 yards by the end.

Tomlin said: "It's an exciting victory for us, a very necessary one. They won the battle of field position, their special teams were better than ours, but in spite of all those things I thought the guys continued to fight.

"The turnovers levelled the playing field in the second half. That was the catalyst for us to go ahead and secure victory. I like the way the guys collectively smiled in the face of adversity.

"We'll be thankful for this win. That's a really good football team we played and were able to beat today. Hopefully there's some growth associated with conquering challenges like that, and we are going to need that as we go on the road next week."

The Steelers tackle the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs on December 26, while the Titans are back in action against the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night.

Lions chew up Cardinals

Jared Goff threw three touchdown passes and kept the Arizona Cardinals waiting to nail down a playoff place as the Detroit Lions sprang a huge shock with their 30-12 win.

With just one win, Detroit headed into the game against the Cardinals, who were 10-3 for the season, as heavy underdogs, despite Arizona losing last week to the Los Angeles Rams.

Goff found Amon-Ra St Brown and Josh Reynolds for touchdowns in the first half as the Lions surge to a 17-0 lead at halfway – at that point their biggest advantage at any stage of any game all season and the Cardinals' biggest half-time deficit for three years.

The lead was even wider come the end of the game, with Goff finding Jason Cabinda for another touchdown, meaning Arizona's once-firm grip on first place in the NFC West is now far from that, as the Rams (9-4) lurk.

The NFL said the result marked only the third time since 1970 that a team with the worst record in the NFL had beaten a team with the best or joint-best record, taking into account only games when the sides had already played at least eight times in the season.

It was also the third-largest win all-time by a team with nine-plus fewer wins than an opponent, per Stats Perform.

Cowboys almost there

The Dallas Cowboys moved to the brink of a first playoff appearance since 2018 thanks to a 21-6 win over the New York Giants, improving to 10-4 as they continue to lead the NFC East.

Behind the arm of Dak Prescott (28-of-37 for 217 yards and one touchdown), the Cowboys had just enough to avoid any undue worries, with the scoring all wrapped up by the end of the third quarter.

While Prescott was far from perfect, he was streets ahead of Giants starting QB Mike Glennon (13-of-24 for 99 yards) who was picked off three times by the Cowboys. Trevon Diggs had the third of those interceptions to reach 10 for the season. Glennon was eventually benched to allow Jake Fromm (6-of-12 for 82 yards) a chance to impress.

Prescott lost both of his starts against the Giants as a rookie in 2016 but has now gone 9-0 in subsequent starts against New York.

Depending on how your fantasy league is structured, it's either the final week of the regular season or the first week of the playoffs.

Regardless of which category you fall in, if you're still in contention for the title, it is crunch time.

There's no room for error, and those line-up selections must be right.

Stats Perform is here with a helping hand once again, identifying four offensive players and a defense worthy of starter consideration in Week 14.

 

Quarterback: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks @ Houston Texans

After a shaky start, Wilson looked more like himself in the Seahawks' surprise win over the San Francisco 49ers last week.

There was a big-play connection with D.K. Metcalf and he also found Tyler Lockett for what proved the game-winning touchdown to keep Seattle's faint playoff hopes alive.

Having prevailed despite three turnovers from the Seahawks' offense, Wilson gets to try to continue his upward momentum against a Texans defense ranked 24th in the NFL by yards per play allowed.

Running Back: Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos vs. Detroit Lions

Williams was a workhorse for the Broncos against the Kansas City Chiefs in the absence of backfield mate Melvin Gordon.

He carried the ball 23 times for 102 yards while also catching six passes for 76 yards and a touchdown in Denver's loss at Arrowhead Stadium.

With Gordon back in practice ahead of Week 14, the same share of the touches appears unlikely for Williams.

But for a rookie running back averaging 4.8 yards per attempt, that may not matter against a Lions defense that has given up 42 rushes of 10 yards or more, tied for seventh-most in the league.

Wide Receiver: Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers @ Minnesota Vikings

Trusting the Steelers' offense has been a difficult thing to do in what is expected to be the final year with an evidently declining Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.

Yet one Steelers player fantasy managers, especially those in points per reception leagues, have had no problem believing in is wide receiver Johnson.

Johnson has double-digit targets and at least seven catches and 80 yards in each of his last four games. His 51 targets over that span are the most in the NFL.

He has topped 100 yards in two of those games and caught a pair of touchdowns in last week's win over the Baltimore Ravens.

Only six teams have given up more passing touchdowns in 2021 than the Vikings (21). If their pass coverage is as soft as it was on the final drive of their shock loss to Detroit, Johnson should thrive.

Tight End: T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions @ Denver Broncos

Back to those aforementioned Lions, for whom the pressure is off after they finally claimed that elusive first win in Week 13.

That extra freedom might see them look to open up the passing game against Denver, and Hockenson would likely be a beneficiary of such an approach.

He has a touchdown in each of his last two games and at least eight targets in five of his last seven. That could be enough for a productive fantasy outing even against a stingy Denver defense.

Defense: New Orleans Saints @ New York Jets

Injuries look like being too much to overcome for Sean Payton and the 5-7 Saints, but the Jets are an ideal opponent to face for teams looking to stay in the mix.

Even if quarterback Taysom Hill continues to struggle throwing the ball, the Saints can win this one on the defensive side. 

Their defense has forced a turnover in three successive games while no offense has committed more giveaways than the 25 racked up by the Jets.

This one is simple. If you own the Saints defense or are in a position to pick it up on the waiver wire, slot this group into your starting line-up.

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