Week 6 of the NFL season sees the first byes of the campaign, meaning fantasy managers may need to start utilising their bench.

Though the starters picked in the early rounds of the draft often lay the foundations for a championship-winning season, the players selected to fill the void when they are not available can be the difference between claiming and missing out on the title.

With that in mind, this week's edition of fantasy picks features three players who can fill the void for fantasy managers with holes in their line-up.

A second-year wide receiver primed to play an even bigger part in an underperforming offense also features in Stats Perform's look at four players and a defense worthy of fantasy selection this week. 

Quarterback: Taylor Heinicke, Washington Football Team vs. Kansas City Chiefs

If you have a quarterback on a bye, or you are unfortunate to be in a position where the injured Russell Wilson is your starter, then you may be in scramble mode at quarterback.

Heinicke presents a solution to fantasy owners in such a bind. Yes, Washington will be underdogs against Kansas City, but Heinicke has thrown for multiple passing touchdowns in three of his last four games and should have little difficulty moving the ball against a defense allowing 7.08 yards per play, the most in the NFL.

With a high-scoring affair likely on the horizon, Heinicke is a leading option for fantasy owners in need of a quarterback fill-in.

Running Back: Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins @ Jacksonville Jaguars

There isn't much reason to get excited about the Dolphins but fantasy owners of Gaskin should be extremely intrigued by this matchup in the second and final London game of the year.

Gaskin had only five carries for 25 yards last week in the Dolphins' 45-17 loss to the Buccaneers but found the endzone twice as a receiver as he hauled all 10 of his targets for 74 yards.

Against a Jacksonville defense that has been stout against the run but is allowing a league-worst 8.79 yards per pass play, there is scope for another big day for Gaskin as the Dolphins seek their second win of an underwhelming campaign.

Wide Receiver: Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Seattle Seahawks

Claypool has 296 receiving yards and a touchdown over his last three games playing for a Steelers offense that had struggled mightily prior to their Week 5 win over the Denver Broncos.

With Juju Smith-Schuster out for the season, Claypool should claim even more of a featured role in the offense and in Week 6 has the inviting prospect of a matchup with a Seahawks defense ranked 28th in the NFL in opposing pass yards per play (7.49). Claypool is well worthy of being in your starting lineup come Sunday.

Tight End: Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans

Alie-Cox was not able to find the endzone in Week 5 after catching two touchdown passes a week earlier, however, he is averaging 13.8 yards per reception, illustrating his big-play threat.

Facing a Texans defense allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, Alie-Cox should have an opportunity to make a significant impact in Week 6. Alie-Cox could prove an astute pickup for fantasy owners struggling for options at tight end.

Defense: Dallas Cowboys @ New England Patriots

The Cowboys' defense was not expected to be one of the top fantasy units in the league going into the season, however, through five games they have forced 12 takeaways, the second-most in the NFL.

Facing a quarterback in Mac Jones who has thrown a pickable pass on 4.89 per cent of his attempts, well above the average of 3.16, a meeting with the Patriots presents the Cowboys with the chance to add to that total and rack up fantasy points.

Laremy Tunsil is poised to undergo surgery on a thumb injury and is expected to miss around four weeks of action for the Houston Texans.

The Texans face the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC South battle on Sunday with both teams struggling on 1-4 records and trailing the division-leading Tennessee Titans (3-2).

Houston will look to get their season on track against the Colts without Tunsil, who suffered a torn UCL in his thumb during the 25-22 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 5. He had initially hoped to play through the injury.

Texans head coach David Culley confirmed the surgery for star left tackle Tunsil, who was a Pro Bowler in 2019 and 2020, with the team "not really sure" how accurate the four-week recovery timeline will prove to be.

He also reiterated Tyrod Taylor will be the team's starting quarterback when he returns from a hamstring injury, but rookie backup Davis Mills will again start in his stead against the Colts.

"[Taylor] gives us the best chance to win," Culley said, per ESPN. 

"He's our starting quarterback. He was our starting quarterback when he went down. He was doing an excellent job. When he comes back, he'll still be our starting quarterback."

The Colts, meanwhile, will welcome wide receiver T.Y. Hilton back to the practice field on Wednesday with the hope he can soon be activated off injured reserve.

Hilton had to undergo neck surgery ahead of the 2021 NFL season

"Certainly excited to have T.Y. back in the fold and out on the field," said Colts coach Frank Reich. 

"Obviously that's a big, emotional boost to the team."

The Colts now have a three-week window in which they can activate four-time Pro Bowler Hilton off injured reserve, with the prospect of him facing the Texans not yet ruled out.

Lamar Jackson is honoured to have matched Dan Marino's record for the most wins by a quarterback before the age of 25 in NFL history after inspiring the Baltimore Ravens to a 31-25 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday. 

The All-Pro quarterback, who does not turn 25 until January 7, accounted for all but 19 of Baltimore's 523 yards of total offence, completing 37 of 43 passes for a franchise-record 442 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 62 more.

In doing so, Jackson became the first player in NFL history to post at least 400 yards passing, 50 yards rushing and four TD passes with no interceptions in a single game.

Jackson led four straight touchdown drives to erase a 19-point deficit against the Colts as he overtook Drew Bledsoe (33) to join Marino on 34 wins before turning 25.

"I'm up there with the guys – those legends," Jackson said. "I appreciate that. It's an honour to be up there with those guys, but I'm focused on winning."

Jackson's effort was described as "one of the greatest performances I have ever seen" by head coach John Harbaugh, the 2019 MVP hitting six straight passes on the drive in overtime.

Despite his side falling 22-3 behind with 3:11 left in the third quarter, Jackson insists he was always confident of fighting back to make it 4-1 for the season.

"To be honest, it wasn't a doubt in my mind," he said. "Our team, we hit that peak that we needed at the right time in the second half. We just knew it was one play at a time – that's all we kept saying in the huddle.

"I was just locked in. I was just calm, everything was moving slow. I was just taking it a play at a time."

Jackson is now fifth in the NFL in passing yards this season with 1,519 through five games, while his 241 rushing yards ranks him eighth.

But Monday's performance was not quite flawless, as he threw his helmet so far into the air after the overtime win that somebody else had to help retrieve it.

"I shouldn't have done that – for real," Jackson said. "I've got to have more restraint, but I was just excited. We had an overtime win in the league and stuff like that. It was pretty cool."

The Baltimore Ravens were left struggling for words to describe their star quarterback after Lamar Jackson led his team to a 31-25 overtime victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday. 

Head coach John Harbaugh called Jackson's effort "one of the greatest performances I've ever seen" after Jackson led four straight touchdown drives to erase a 19-point deficit. 

Jackson's career-best 442 passing yards set a franchise record and with 62 additional yards on the ground he accounted for all but 19 of Baltimore's 523 yards of total offence. 

It was a breathtaking effort that left team-mates in awe. 

"He's amazing," said Marquise Brown, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime after hauling in a 43-yard TD to start the comeback.

"I think he's just 24 years old? It's crazy what he can do," said veteran defensive end Calais Campbell. 

A significant part of Jackson's allure stems from his ability to get the team out of jams, as he did once again Monday with Baltimore down 22-3 late in the third quarter and 25-9 with 12 minutes remaining in the fourth. 

"It wasn't easy," Harbaugh told reporters. "I mean, it wasn't like we came out up and down the field. We had to overcome and fight through some things.

"[Jackson] just came alive like all of our guys did. All of the guys made plays, but it starts with Lamar. He deserves the credit."

The quarterback insisted he never doubted the Ravens' ability to come back in the game. It was just a matter of time before they got their offence going. 

"Our team, we hit that peak that we needed at the right time in the second half," Jackson said. "We just knew it was one play at a time – that's all we kept saying in the huddle."

Down by 16 points early in the fourth quarter, Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens rallied to beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-25 in overtime Monday. 

The All-Pro quarterback accounted for all but 19 of Baltimore's 523 yards of total offence in the game, completing 37 of 43 passes for a franchise-record 442 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 62 more. 

Jackson is the first player in NFL history to post at least 400 yards passing, 50 yards rushing and four TD passes with no interceptions in a game.

While Jackson was a one-man show for the Ravens, he did get a bit of help – from Rodrigo Blankenship of the Colts. 

The second-year kicker played through a hip injury Monday and wrapped up a miserable weekend for kickers around the NFL by missing an extra point early in the third quarter before having a field goal blocked late in the fourth and missing a 47-yarder that would have won the game in regulation.

He did not get another chance at redemption, as Jackson and the Ravens took the ball in overtime and marched all the way down the field until the QB hit Marquise Brown for a five-yard touchdown pass to win it. 

Before the Baltimore comeback, Carson Wentz and the Colts had built a 25-9 lead with 12 minutes to play in the game. Wentz finished the night with 402 passing yards, including 76- and 42-yard touchdowns in the first half. 

But it was the Ravens who found a way to win once again, improving to 4-1 with their only loss coming in overtime to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 1, while the Colts fell to 1-4. 

Baltimore Ravens star Lamar Jackson called for all quarterbacks to be protected, insisting he is not seeking any special treatment from referees in the NFL.

Jackson was on the end of some late hits during Baltimore's 23-7 win over the Denver Broncos last week.

Former MVP Jackson was 22-of-37 passing for 316 yards, a touchdown and three sacks on the road in Denver, where the Ravens QB showed no signs of a sore back to snap the Broncos' unbeaten start to the season.

"I just feel we should be protecting all quarterbacks in the league, not just myself," Jackson said Thursday, ahead of the Week 5 clash with the Indianapolis Colts.

"Everyone should be included in that, especially while we're in the pocket – our leg area and stuff like that.

"Football is football. Guys get aggressive sometimes. Stuff happens. Probably don't mean it. I'd like the ref to throw the flag, though, if they catch it."

Against Denver, Jackson had his highest passing yardage total since Week 1 of 2019 (324) – the 2019 Pro Bowler has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 13 consecutive home games.

The Ravens have the chase to break the record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games – Baltimore are currently level on 43 alongside the Pittsburgh Steelers (1974-77).

Baltimore have won their last two games against Indianapolis, including a 24-10 road win last season.

The Ravens have never won three straight games against the Colts, the franchise which began in Charm City before moving to Indianapolis in 1984.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz will undergo further evaluation on an ankle injury he suffered in Sunday's home loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

The Colts fell to 0-2 for the 2021 season after a narrow 27-24 loss to the undefeated Rams.

Wentz arrived at the Colts in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles and had a disrupted offseason due to a foot injury that required surgery.

And a frustrating start continued as backup Jacob Eason ended up finishing the game for the Colts after Wentz went down, twisting his ankle when he was tackled by Aaron Donald in the fourth quarter.

"He rolled it up pretty bad," said Colts coach Frank Reich, per ESPN. "I had a sense when he walked off the field. It didn't look good. 

"Sometimes if you go back in right away when it's still warm you can maybe gut out a few more plays. 

"The longer we were off the field, it stiffened up and he tried, but there was no chance."

Indianapolis are on the road against AFC South rivals the Tennessee Titans in Week 3, looking to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2011.

Eason is expected to step in for Wentz – who completed 20 of his 31 passes for 247 yards, one touchdown and one interception against the Rams – if the starter is not fit to play.

"Felt it right away," explained Wentz, already sacked six times this season, after the game.

"I tried to tape it up and do everything I could to finish the game. I've sprained my ankle probably 100 times since I was a kid. This one I just couldn't play on it.

"There was not enough stability to get out there and go. It was definitely not fun to watch the last two-minute drives."

As well as the Titans, there are testing road games against the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens to come in a pivotal stretch for the Colts.

One positive from the Rams loss for the Colts was the play of second-year wide receiver Michael Pittman, who caught eight of his 12 targets for 123 yards, with five of those catches going for first downs.

But Cooper Kupp was the difference maker for the Rams, with nine catches for 163 yards giving him back-to-back 100-yard games.

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.

Trey Lance threw his first NFL touchdown and Jimmy Garoppolo excelled but the San Francisco 49ers were forced to hold off a near-miraculous rally from the Detroit Lions in a 41-33 thriller.

Rookie third overall pick Lance was not able to win the starting quarterback job from Garoppolo, yet he still made his regular-season debut at Ford Field on Sunday, and he took his first snap with the Niners on the Detroit 16-yard line on their second drive of the day.

His second snap saw him hit Trent Sherfield for a five-yard touchdown pass and, though Detroit responded with Jared Goff connecting with tight end T.J. Hockenson, Garoppolo's 314-yard performance, which included a 79-yard touchdown throw to Deebo Samuel, scores on the ground from rookie Elijah Mitchell and JaMycal Hasty and a Dre Greenlaw pick-six appeared to have put the game beyond all doubt.

San Francisco led 41-17 with under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but a Jamaal Williams short-yardage plunge followed by a two-point conversion provided Detroit a glimmer of hope that grew brighter when George Kittle was unable to field an onside kick.

The Lions subsequently drove down the field and Goff found Quintez Cephus for a two-yard touchdown and another two-point conversion. They then had a chance to tie the game following a fumble from Samuel, but Detroit could not complete an incredible comeback to force overtime.

Samson Ebukam's pressure forced Goff into an errant throw, allowing the Niners to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

It was, however, a pyrrhic victory for San Francisco, who lost cornerback Jason Verrett to what head coach Kyle Shanahan believes is a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Though the 49ers took defensive starters out of the game following Verrett's injury with what eventually proved an insurmountable lead, the ease with which the Lions moved the ball late in the game should be of concern to San Francisco, especially with two of their NFC West rivals enjoying excellent days.

The Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks each won comfortably. Kyler Murray threw for four touchdowns and ran for another while defensive end Chandler Jones had five sacks in the Cardinals' easy 38-13 win over the Tennessee Titans, while Russell Wilson had four touchdown passes for the Seahawks as they saw off the Indianapolis Colts 28-16.

Steelers stun Bills

While not quite as dramatic as events in Detroit, the Pittsburgh Steelers' win over the Buffalo Bills at Orchard Park was certainly unexpected.

The Bills led 10-0 at the end of the first half, but Josh Allen was sacked three times as the Steelers held a usually explosive offense in check.

And, after a pair of field goals from Chris Boswell, Diontae Johnson's spectacular catch at the back of the endzone in the fourth quarter gave them a lead they would not relinquish.

Ulysees Gilbert III recovered a blocked punt to make it 19-10 Steelers, Mike Tomlin's men going on to close out a 23-16 win that deals an early blow to a Bills team seen as Super Bowl contenders.

Burrow makes winning return

Last year's number one overall pick Joe Burrow made his return from a serious knee injury in the Cincinnati Bengals' clash with the Minnesota Vikings, and it proved a successful one in a thriller at Paul Brown Stadium.

He connected with college team-mate Ja'Marr Chase, the fifth overall pick by the Bengals this year, for a 50-yard touchdown in the first quarter to give Cincinnati a lead that they eventually let slip late in the fourth quarter when Vikings kicker Greg Joseph tied matters at 24-24 with a 53-yard field goal.

That forced overtime, but a Dalvin Cook fumble in Bengals territory handed Burrow and the Bengals the chance to clinch it, and he did just that with a drive that set up Evan McPherson's 33-yard field goal and sealed a 27-24 success.

This year's number one overall pick, Trevor Lawrence, endured a very different day. He threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions as the Jacksonville Jaguars were beaten 37-21 by the Houston Texans.

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.

Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich is optimistic T.Y. Hilton's neck injury is not season ending but admitted he will miss NFL games.

Hilton – a four-time Pro Bowler – re-aggravated the neck issue during Wednesday's final training camp ahead of their NFL season opener against the Seattle Seahawks on September 12.

Reich said the wide receiver would undergo further evaluation on the issue with a timeline to be confirmed after those results are received but admitted the 31-year-old will miss the season start.

"He will miss some games, we don't know exactly how many," Reich told reporters on Sunday. "We're optimistic it's not season ending. We don't know exactly how many games."

He added: "He was experiencing some discomfort during the trip to Detroit. So we took scans, it was a disc issue, so that's a complicated issue. More meetings, more evaluation to come, more opinions to come.

"Obviously want to do our due diligence there. We got all the right people on it. We'll just continue to meet with the doctors, work with their cue and move forward accordingly."

Hilton played 15 games for the Colts last season, with 762 receiving yards from 56 receptions and five touchdowns.

"When you're talking about a guy like T.Y. Hilton, him missing games, that's an obvious big blow because he's not only a great player but he's a great leader," Reich said.

"But it's just unfortunate — I had said several times to Chris [Ballard, Colts general manager], I really thought T.Y. was looking as good this training camp as I've seen him.

"He looked as fast as ever and as instinctive as ever. Even in the short time that he and [quarterback] Carson [Wentz] worked together, I could tell — instant connection. And I could feel that talking to Carson. So that's unfortunate. But the good news is we got good depth and the guys will step up."

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.

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