The NFL made the right move to increase the regular season to 17 games and an 18-game slate is likely in the future, says Brian Baldinger.

Team owners voted on Tuesday to approve the first expansion to the NFL's regular-season format since 1978.  

Beginning this year, teams will play 17 regular-season games, with the preseason reduced from four games to three. 

Contrary to some proposals in previous years, each team will still have just one bye week.  

The approval came one year after owners expanded the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in two additional playoff games and an estimated $150million in added annual revenue.  

A majority of players had already approved an added regular-season game as a part of the 2020 collective bargaining agreement, which gave ownership the ability to expand as early as this season.  

Earlier this month, the NFL announced a new broadcast rights agreement that secured the league's media distribution through the 2033 season. 

Tuesday's deal allows for additional international games, with each team playing abroad at least once every eight seasons.  

Commissioner Roger Goodell called it "a monumental moment in NFL history that [provides] the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world".

Baldinger, who played for the Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles and now works for NFL Network, agrees the change was a positive one, despite the opposition of some high-profile players.

He told Stats Perform News: "Look, 12 teams every year, 14 teams now, play that 17th game every year, you know, going to the playoffs? 

"To me, the players have always adjusted. They adjusted when it was a 12-game schedule to a 14-game schedule to a 16-game schedule. 

"It's hard on the body, there's no question about it. 

"But these players – they are in so much better condition now than they than they ever have been. 

"And so players will adjust to this and I think it's going to be eventually accepted. 

"They just signed a new TV deal that's off the charts, the amount of money that is coming into this league, the amount of money that it generates, and they're a big part of it. 

"And so they're getting their share I think. 

"There are safety concerns, but really a 17th game, they just have to take care of themselves.

"I think that eventually it's just going to be business as usual once we get used to 17 games, because I think eventually it's going to be an 18-game schedule. 

"Eventually. I mean, I can see that. 

"I'm not predicting anything [for] right now [but] I think that players will adjust to it and the amount of money that had just come in and the labour peace and everything else. It's there. 

"I think it's the right time and I think the league, part of them generating this type of money from the television partners was a 17th game."

Team owners voted on Tuesday to approve the first expansion to the NFL's regular-season format since 1978.  

Beginning this year, teams will play 17 regular-season games, with the preseason reduced from four games to three. Contrary to some proposals in previous years, each team will still have just one bye week.  

Tuesday's approval came one year after owners expanded the playoff field from 12 to 14 games, resulting in two additional playoff games and an estimated $150 million in added annual revenue, according to ESPN.  

The players had already approved an added regular-season game as a part of the 2020 collective bargaining agreement, which gave ownership the ability to expand as early this season.  

Earlier this month, the NFL announced a new broadcast rights agreement that secured the league's media distribution through the 2033 season. Tuesday's deal allows for additional international games, with each team playing abroad at least once every eight seasons.  

"This is a monumental moment in NFL history," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "The CBA with the players and the recently completed media agreements provide the foundation for us to enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans.  

"And one of the benefits of each team playing 17 regular-season games is the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world."

The added game will match inter-conference foes, with AFC teams getting an extra home game in odd-numbered years and NFC teams in even-numbered years.

Some of the most anticipated matchups in the added game in 2021 include a showdown between Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers when the Kansas City Chiefs host the Green Bay Packers, the Indianapolis Colts hosting the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and two former number one overall picks at quarterback squaring off when the Arizona Cardinals visit the Cleveland Browns.  

The season is scheduled to begin on September 9 and end on January 9, 2022.

Despite the NFL Players Association approving a schedule expansion in last year's collective bargaining negotiations, some players have been vocal about their disapproval of the change.  

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara took to social media to call the expansion "dumb…as hell," while Green Bay Packers safety Adrian Amos tweeted: "We really let this happen."

Players will not see an increase in salary in 2021, and their wages will be split over 18 weeks instead of 17 weeks.  

In future seasons, the added revenue from a 17th game will contribute to a rise in the salary cap, providing the possibility for additional compensation for players signing new contracts.  

Ideally, they would have liked more of one of the NFL's most tortured fanbases in the stadium to see it, but the Cleveland Browns will forever reflect on 2020 as the year the drought finally ended.

Kevin Stefanski's first season as head coach resulted in a first playoff berth since the 2002 season, with long-awaited revenge for a Wild Card defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers 18 years earlier coming as the Browns trounced Pittsburgh in their own back yard to clinch their first postseason win since Bill Belichick was head coach.

Little went right for the Browns following their trip to the Divisional Round in the 1994 season, Belichick enduring a losing final year in charge before the team spent three years out of the league following a controversial relocation to Baltimore.

But every sign points to the Browns writing more positive chapters in the history books in the coming years after Stefanski helped a deep roster realise its potential.

What do the Browns need to do to take the next step towards Super Bowl contention? We used Stats Perform data to reflect on a memorable 2020 campaign, analyse their offseason moves so far and look at what should still be on their to-do list heading towards the draft.

Offense

Any doubts around Stefanski's ability to get consistent production out of the Browns' offense were put to bed in his first season at the helm.

The Browns narrowly missed out on finishing top 10 in yards per play in 2020, their average of 5.79 putting them 11th.

Unsurprisingly for a coach experienced in running the Shanahan-Kubiak type offense that is en vogue in the NFL, the Browns' success was built around an extremely efficient run game.

Cleveland's yards per rush average of 4.8 was fifth in the league, with the Browns' offensive line doing an excellent job in opening holes for two elite running back talents in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

Chubb (34) and Hunt (29), each finished in the top 10 in rushes of 10 or more yards, with each excelling at picking up yards after first contact by a defender.

Indeed, Chubb's average of 2.5 yards after contact per attempt was tied-second among running backs with at least 50 carries, just behind J.K. Dobbins of the Baltimore Ravens (2.6).

Hunt (2.2) was 10th in the same category, and they each ranked in the top three in broken tackles. Chubb was tied for first with Dalvin Cook on 14, just ahead of Hunt on 13.

The passing game ranked in the top half of the league in yards per play (11th with 6.72), with starting quarterback Baker Mayfield making obvious progress in protecting the football.

Having thrown 21 interceptions in 2019, Mayfield was picked off only eight times in 2020, his touchdown to interception ratio of 3.25 good enough for ninth in the NFL.

Yet the upside of Cleveland's passing game still appeared limited. Mayfield was a disappointing tied for 17th with 43 completions of 20 yards or more.

However, with the Browns' signal-caller ranking sixth in the NFL in passer rating (118.4) on throws of 21 air yards or more among quarterbacks with at least 25 such attempts, there is reason to believe that Cleveland's offense could offer a significantly greater downfield threat if Mayfield and Stefankski are willing to be more aggressive in 2021.

That change in approach may only come if the offense gets better support from the defense.

Defense

A defense blessed with one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL should be better at stopping opposing aerial attacks.

Despite the best efforts of Myles Garrett, named a first-team All-Pro for the first time in his career, quarterbacks had it too easy against the Browns in 2021.

Garrett racked up 12 sacks, sixth-most in the NFL, 18 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles. He was fifth in combined knockdowns and hurries with a total of 70.

But the Browns failed to properly capitalise on the pressure he created across the course of the season.

They allowed 31 passing touchdowns, the eighth-most in the league, with 11 of those scores coming on throws of at least 20 yards. Only five teams gave up more passing touchdowns of that distance.

Injuries in the secondary did not help the Browns' cause - rookie safety Grant Delpit did not play a snap in his rookie year and a nerve injury in his shoulder robbed Greedy Williams of his 2020 campaign.

That meant a stellar season from former fourth overall pick Denzel Ward was somewhat undermined by the lack of talent around him in the secondary, Ward tied second in the NFL with 18 pass breakups.

Where the Browns did excel was in preventing big plays from opposing rushing attacks.

They were tied seventh for the fewest opponent running plays of 10 or more yards, giving up 43, with the average distance of those carries (14.8), the fourth-lowest in the league.

Even with their efforts in keeping running backs in check, the Browns were a lowly 26th in opponent touchdown efficiency, allowing teams to find the endzone on 48 of 165 defensive drives.

The Browns will not legitimately threaten the AFC's elite without an improvement in pass defense, and their offseason to this point suggests they recognise that.

Offseason

Cleveland made one of the best signings of free agency when they inked safety John Johnson to a three-year, $33.75milion deal.

The price may have been slightly rich in a safety market that was predictably slow, but Johnson certainly justified it over the course of his four years with the Rams.

Johnson had 32 pass breakups between 2017 and 2020, tied for the eighth-most among safeties, and that total would almost certainly have been higher had he not missed 10 games through injury in 2019.

Joining Johnson in Cleveland is former Rams team-mate Troy Hill, the cornerback arriving on a two-year deal, while the Browns also took a flier on edge rusher Takkarist McKinley on a one-year deal.

The secondary and the pass rush could still use reinforcement, especially with interior defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi leaving for the Cincinnati Bengals, but it is the middle of the defense that stands out as the most pressing area of concern for the Browns.

Signing Anthony Walker Jr. to a one-year deal and retaining Malcolm Smith and Elijah Lee should not prohibit the Browns from targeting a linebacker in the draft, with a lack of athleticism at that position coming to the fore as Chiefs backup Chad Henne's fourth-quarter scramble effectively sealed their playoff elimination.

Athletic linebackers who can excel in coverage and play sideline to sideline against the run are a must in the modern NFL. The Browns have a deficiency there but, beyond that position, they have few obvious holes and their performance in Kansas City was reflective of a team ready to become a consistent contender in the AFC.

Years of struggle and stockpiling draft picks are finally beginning to bear fruit and, if the Browns can add the final piece of the puzzle on defense and give Mayfield more licence to go downfield in 2021, there is no reason they cannot threaten to go deeper into the playoffs next season.

Trevor Lawrence is heading for the Jacksonville Jaguars and will be the number one pick in the NFL Draft next month barring a late change of heart, coach Urban Meyer confirmed.

The quarterback shone in college football for Clemson and has been tipped as a prospective superstar in the professional game. He threw for 3,153 yards in 10 games for Clemson in 2020.

Meyer told NBC Sports that Lawrence is the player the Jaguars are focusing on as they look to reinforce a team that finished with a dismal 1-15 record last season, describing the 21-year-old as fitting the required bill of being a "competitive maniac".

The Jags have had a winning record just once since 2007, losing the AFC Championship Game to the New England Patriots in 2017 following a 10-6 regular season.

Asked about tying up a deal for Lawrence, Meyer said: "I'd have to say that's the direction we're going. I'll leave that up to the owner when we make that decision official. But I'm certainly not stepping out of line that that's certainly the direction we're headed."

Meyer's comments would appear to indicate owner Shahid Khan is in agreement that Lawrence is the standout choice for the Jaguars, ahead of the April 29 big decision.

"Trevor checks all the boxes," Meyer added in the NBC interview.

"The number one common quality of every great player, not just quarterback, is competitive maniac. He's 34-2. Won a national title as a true freshman. Is a winner. I've seen him up close and in person compete.

"And then character. I see him and I witness with my players, when the guys get drafted high, a lot of people ... they have influences in their life. Whether it be social media, whether it be other things that really don't pertain to winning. What I'm really pleased with and I don't want to say surprised, but him, his agent, his family, they're focused on one thing. He wants to become the best version of himself for the National Football League. It is somewhat refreshing."

The Buffalo Bills will look back on the 2020 season as one in which the 2018 gamble they took on Josh Allen began paying the dividends they expected.

After signs of improvement in 2019, one of the most volatile quarterbacks in the NFL took a gigantic third-year leap, the Bills' faith in his remarkable athletic gifts paying off as he blossomed into one of the most prolific and devastating signal-callers in the league.

But Allen's jump to the league's elite at the game's most important position was still not enough to propel the Bills to their first Super Bowl title.

The Bills, like so many teams before them, were undone by the brilliance of the Kansas City Chiefs, losing 38-24 at Arrowhead Stadium as their quest for the Lombardi Trophy ended in an AFC Championship Game defeat.

What do the Bills need to do to finally get over the hump in 2021? We look at the key Stats Perform data from the 2020 campaign and their offseason moves to this point to determine what Buffalo's next steps should be ahead of another run at a maiden title.

Offense

The impact of Allen's development on Buffalo's offense is illustrated by the efficiency the Bills demonstrated in 2020.

Having finished 22nd in yards per play in 2019 with an average of 5.19, they improved to sixth with a jump to 6.13.

They were fourth in yards per passing play (7.42), while only the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers put up more touchdowns through the air than Buffalo's 40.

Buffalo's surge as a passing attack was fuelled by a huge uptick in accuracy from Allen.

Going into the 2020 season, Allen's highest completion percentage in his NFL career was 58.8, set in 2019.

Last year, Allen completed 69.2 per cent of his pass attempts, trailing only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Deshaun Watson.

He was sixth in the league in touchdown to interception ratio, throwing 37 scores to 10 picks, and was fourth in completions of 20 yards or more with 62.

His passer rating of 107.4 on pass attempts of 21 air yards or more was ninth among quarterbacks to have at least 25 such attempts, with Allen's success on deep balls aided by the trade acquisition of Stefon Diggs.

Diggs led the NFL with 1,535 receiving yards after arriving from the Minnesota Vikings, becoming Allen's go-to target as he caught 73 receptions for a first down, a tally bettered by only Travis Kelce (79) and DeAndre Hopkins (75).

What the Bills offense lacked was balance. The running game struggled to get going throughout the year, with Buffalo finishing the year ranked 20th in yards per rush with 4.19.

Devin Singletary's 18 rushes for negative yards was the joint-ninth-highest number in the league, and while the Bills were 13th with 53 rushes of 10 yards or more, 16 of those came from Allen, with rookie third-round pick Zack Moss contributing only 12.

The Bills would have been in the league's bottom five in that category if not for Allen's contributions. While the emphasis was more on what their dual-threat signal-caller can do with his arm in 2020, he also did his best to elevate a running game that will hope to be much more efficient in 2021.

Defense

The Bills were far from the first team to fail to stop the Chiefs and they will not be the last.

But the porous nature of their defensive performance was reflective of a mediocre year on that side of the ball for Buffalo.

The Bills ranked 15th in opponent yards per play allowed (5.5). They were ninth against the pass (6.1) but a lowly 26th versus the run (4.62).

Opponents ran successful plays against the Bills' defense 51.8 per cent of the time, putting them 22nd in the NFL, while Buffalo were middle of the road (15th) in terms of opponent scoring efficiency, giving up either a field goal or a touchdown on 67 of 170 opponent drives.

Tied for 15th in sacks with 38, the Bills were underwhelming in converting their pressures. They had 163 quarterback hurries (17th) and 90 knockdowns (tied for 13th), indicating a need to find a pass rusher who can consistently finish his pass rushes in the offseason.

Where the Bills did excel was in taking the ball away. Their 26 turnovers ranked tied for third while they scored 90 points off takeaways, good for seventh in the NFL.

Cornerback Tre'Davious White led the way for Buffalo with five of those takeaways, three of which were interceptions, in another stellar season for the two-time Pro Bowler.

Buffalo possess talent at every level of the defense and, even though the Bills fell short at Arrowhead Stadium, there is plenty of reason to believe the addition of a game-changer up front can spark an upturn in defensive fortunes and put them over the top in 2021.

Offseason

The Bills have quietly enjoyed a productive and impressive offseason. Matt Milano signed a four-year, $41.5million contract that will likely look a bargain if and when Fred Warner signs his extension with the San Francisco 49ers later in the year.

Wide receiver John Brown and tight end Tyler Kroft both departed in free agency but were replaced by Emmanuel Sanders and Jacob Hollister respectively. 

Sanders should provide Allen with a dependable third-down option, as he moved the chains on 61.1 per cent of his third-down targets for the New Orleans Saints last year, putting him 10th among receivers with at least 10 such targets.

Buffalo also landed a capable backup for Allen at a palatable price, former second overall pick Mitchell Trubisky arriving on a one-year deal worth $2.5m.

Yet they head into the draft still with obvious needs to address.

The Bills brought back cornerback Levi Wallace on a one-year deal. However, he has been burnt for eight touchdowns over the last two seasons, meaning Buffalo could certainly benefit from an infusion of competition at the starting spot across from White.

However, secondary play is not what limited the ceiling of the Bills' defense in 2020. A lack of a dominant presence at edge rusher is what held Leslie Frazier's group back last year, and adding one should be their priority with the 30th pick in the first round.

Zach Wilson reflected on a "crazy" draft process after the San Francisco 49ers traded up to number three overall during his pro day.

The BYU quarterback was being put through his paces in front of representatives from NFL teams as news filtered through of the Niners' move.

Originally in possession of the number three pick were the Miami Dolphins, who sent it to San Francisco in exchange for number 12, a third-rounder and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023.

Shortly after, the Dolphins struck a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to go back up to number six. 

To do so, Miami parted with the number 12 pick they received from the Niners, a fourth-round pick and a 2022 first-rounder, while also receiving a fifth-round selection in return from the Eagles.

Wilson has been heavily connected to the New York Jets, who are scheduled to pick at number two.

That is a prospect he revealed would be a dream, with general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh among those watching him.

He also said he had been in discussions with the 49ers, whose GM John Lynch was in attendance at the pro day.

"It would obviously be a dream come true," Wilson said to ESPN when asked about the prospect of New York picking him at two.

"It was great to see those guys out here. Great staff. Love those guys. Joe Douglas is a great guy. It was good to see him out here. They've got a good thing going.

"I have spent some time with them on Zoom meetings, talking back and forth a little bit, but nothing more than any other team. 

"Coming up to the draft there are so many what ifs going in.

"But really I'm just so grateful to be here, grateful for the opportunity and humbled that I am even in this situation

"I'll be happy with whoever gives me the chance in the draft."

Asked about the 49ers' move, Wilson added: "I found out right after the throwing session, you know it is crazy. 

"That's what I was talking about, there are so many what ifs about what is going on, so we will see coming up in April. 

"I've had a couple of conversations with them as well, but we will see what happens coming up to April."

The 2021 NFL Draft will take place on April 29 in Cleveland.

Clemson Tigers QB Trevor Lawrence is expected to be picked at number one overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

As well as Lawrence and Wilson, there are likely to be three other QBs picked in a dramatic first round: Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones.

The Miami Dolphins threw the NFL Draft into further chaos on Friday, trading back up to the sixth overall pick on the same day they moved down from three to 12.

Miami earlier sent the number three pick to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for number 12, a third-rounder and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 according to multiple reports.

Shortly after, it was reported the Dolphins had struck a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to go back up to number six.

To do so, Miami parted with number 12, a fourth-round pick and a 2022 first-rounder, while also receiving a fifth-round selection in return from the Eagles.

Having moved back from a prime spot with which to take one of the top quarterbacks in the class, the Dolphins' moves are a show of faith in Tua Tagovailoa, whom they selected with the fifth overall pick last year.

Tagovailoa was much criticised after a three-interception performance in the Dolphins' Week 17 blowout loss to the Buffalo Bills, which saw them miss out on a place in the playoffs.

The former Alabama star underwhelmed in his first season in the NFL but the belief is the Dolphins have made this pair of moves with an eye towards getting a top wide receiver prospect to make his life easier while netting capital for future drafts.

Philadelphia's decision to move back likely locks in Jalen Hurts, a second-round pick last year, as their starter for 2021.

However, a report from NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, in which he claims the Eagles had tried to move up to number three before the Niners did, suggests they may not fully believe in Hurts.

But they could not come to a deal to move up and have instead decided to drop back and build around Hurts, who went 1-3 after replacing Carson Wentz last year but provided a spark for an Eagles team that finished the year 4-11-1.

The San Francisco 49ers have struck a blockbuster trade with the Miami Dolphins to move into the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

San Francisco had been scheduled to pick 12th overall in next month's draft, but parted with that selection, a third-rounder and their first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 to move up to number three, according to multiple reports.

It throws the future of current starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo into serious doubt following an injury-riddled 2020 season in which he struggled to silence doubters who questioned his ability to keep the 49ers in contention in the wake of their fourth-quarter collapse in Super Bowl LIV.

Indeed, with the third pick, the Niners are now in a prime position to select one of the top quarterbacks in a loaded class at the position.

Trevor Lawrence will almost certainly be selected first overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars, while the New York Jets are also thought by many to be eyeing a quarterback at number two.

Zach Wilson of BYU is widely regarded as the most likely option for the Jets. Niners general manager John Lynch was in attendance at Wilson's pro day in Utah on Friday.

North Dakota State's Trey Lance and Justin Fields of Ohio State will also be in the mix for the 49ers. Lance had his pro day earlier this month while Fields is scheduled to throw for NFL scouts and front office personnel on March 30.

NFL Network's Steve Wyche reported Lynch told him at Wilson's pro day that Garoppolo is still in their plans but, after making such a dramatic move up the board, the Niners appear ready to find his successor.

Leonard Fournette has joined a host of Super Bowl-winning team-mates in re-signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency.

The Bucs swept aside defending champions the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 last month to end Tom Brady's first season in Tampa with the title.

The team have since worked hard to reassemble the squad to go for another championship in 2021.

Superstar quarterback Brady signed an extension to keep him in Tampa through 2022, while the Bucs franchise-tagged Chris Godwin and agreed a deal with Lavonte David ahead of free agency.

Contracts for Shaquil Barrett, Rob Gronkowski, Ryan Succop and this week Ndamukong Suh followed in the negotiating period. Donovan Smith also secured an extension.

On Friday, it was Fournette's turn.

The fifth-year running back had spent the first three seasons of his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars until he was cut last August and agreed a one-year deal in Tampa.

Fournette is returning for another 12 months in a deal worth up to $4million, according to the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

The 26-year-old ended 2020 as a starter after first-choice running back Ronald Jones II was placed on the COVID-19 list with three weeks of the regular season remaining.

Fournette scored three touchdowns across those three games - his only starts - to improve his tally for the season to six scores off 97 carries for 367 yards.

The former Jaguar kept his place for the playoffs and rewarded coach Bruce Arians' faith with a further three TDs on 64 rushes for 300 yards over four games, including a 27-yard run for a score in the big game.

Jones, who will be an unrestricted free agent in 2022, will now again face competition from Fournette despite a career year that saw 192 attempts for 978 yards and seven TDs on the ground.

Fournette is set to find only familiar faces in the Bucs locker room, with the team yet to sign a single player from a rival outfit in free agency, so far trusting solely in their title-winning squad.

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said he was doing cartwheels while on holiday when he heard star quarterback Dak Prescott had re-signed with the NFL franchise.

Prescott had a long-running contract saga which came to an end three weeks ago, signing a four-year deal reportedly worth $160million after he had been tagged last offseason.

Two-time Pro Bowler Prescott only managed five games in 2020 due to a serious ankle injury as the Cowboys finished outside the playoffs with a 6-10 record.

McCarthy, who enters his second season in charge of the Cowboys in 2021, was holidaying in Florida when he found out Prescott's contract saga had ended and was delighted to secure his future.

"It's a lot easier to do cartwheels on the sand, I'll say that," McCarthy said. "Obviously I was very excited."

He added: "Dak is the keystone of this team. I'm excited about year two on offense. In a lot of ways, we didn't feel like we got to have a year one."

Since taking the starting role as a rookie in 2016 from an injured Tony Romo, Prescott has thrown for 17,634 yards with 106 touchdowns and 40 interceptions.

He has also rushed for 1,314 yards and a further 24 touchdowns.

Though he missed most of last season, Prescott is 10th among qualifying quarterbacks in yards per attempt (7.69) and 12th in passing plays of 25 yards or more since 2016.

The quarterback said earlier this month that he was close to being fully healthy following ankle surgery, well ahead of the September start for the 2021 season.

McCarthy added: "His presence and natural leadership ability is something that will continue to grow. You'll see that in the locker room."

It was another disappointing season for the New York Giants in 2020, despite the arrival of new head coach Joe Judge.

The Giants endured a fourth consecutive losing campaign and have not tasted victory in a playoff game since winning the Super Bowl to conclude the 2011 season.

However, after going 1-7 in the first half of the year, the Giants went 5-3 down the stretch to finish 6-10.

That decent finish, which was helped by a competitive defense, coupled with some high-profile moves in free agency, has at least given Giants fans some reasons for optimism going into 2021.

We have looked at the best Stats Perform data to get a good look at what they need to do to become competitive again.
 

Offense

The offense was a key weakness for Big Blue in 2020, with Judge and new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett struggling to find a solution.

But while it is fair to suggest Daniel Jones does not look like an elite quarterback, it is hard to place much of the blame on his shoulders.

The Giants' offensive line was among the worst in the NFL once more, with number four overall pick Andrew Thomas enduring a rough rookie season as veteran Nate Solder opted out amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While they had a varied group of skillsets at wider receiver, the unit lacked a true number one option.

A succession of injuries also meant the Giants rarely had all their key pass-catchers on the field at the same time. To make matters worse, star running back Saquon Barkley was lost for the season with a torn ACL in Week 2.

Jones played better than his headline statistics - 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions from 14 games, an 80.4 passer rating and 29th-ranked passing offense (189.1 net passing yards per game) - would suggest. 

The lack of a top supporting cast is highlighted by a total of 751 yards proving enough for Darius Slayton to be Jones' leading target, while with 423 yards on the ground, the QB was the team's second-highest rusher.

The Giants had just 36 passing plays of 20-plus yards, the second-lowest in the NFL.

But Jones thrived when they did open the offense up, providing hope for when he has better receivers to throw to and some more aggressive play-calling.

In passing attempts with 21-plus air yards, Jones had a passer rating of 135.4 – best in the NFL – completing 19 of 38 for five touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Despite his success in that category, there were 21 other QBs who threw more deep passes, with Tom Brady topping the list with 86 attempts, statistics that should give Garrett food for thought.

Without Barkley as the O-line often struggled, the Giants had 46 runs of 10-plus yards and averaged 110.5 YPG, both figures which were below the league average.

Defense

The Giants' defense, though, was a surprising positive for the season.

Despite going into the year with concerns over a lack of star power and talent, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham put together a competitive unit.

Cornerback James Bradberry was a Pro Bowl selection after signing in free agency, while Leonard Williams enjoyed a strong season on the defensive line.

The Giants were ninth in points allowed (357) over the whole season. Even more impressively, they allowed just 138 points over the final eight games, the best total in the NFL over that span.

They were 12th in yards allowed per game (349.3) while 5.34 yards allowed per play was ninth in the NFL.

New York allowed only 52 big plays of 20-plus yards (ranked 6th) and just six of those went for touchdowns (equal 3rd).

They were better than league average with 22 takeaways and 40 sacks too – 11.5 of which went to Williams, who was playing on the franchise tag and also had 30 QB hits and 14 TFL.

Offseason

All of that meant the Giants went into the offseason with improving on offense as a priority and plenty to build from on the defense.

That defense got even stronger with the addition of former first-round pick Adoree' Jackson after his release from the Tennessee Titans, giving the team what looks like a strong cornerback pairing with Bradberry.

With Jabrill Peppers and last year's highly rated second-round selection Xavier McKinney at safety, the secondary looks strong.

Linebacker is a weakness, though the Giants are still looking good up front after Williams was retained on a three-year, $63million deal.

While that looks like a huge overpay, it does at least ensure the defensive line is well placed despite the departure of Dalvin Tomlinson, with Dexter Lawrence, their first-round pick in 2019 still in place. 

An elite edge rusher would complement those big bodies well and may well be an area of focus in the draft.

Offensively, the big splash was Kenny Golladay, seen as the top wide receiver to hit the open market, on a four-year, $72m deal. 

A low-cost flier was taken on speedster John Ross after the release of Golden Tate, while veteran Kyle Rudolph joined Evan Engram in the tight end room.

The offensive line remains a concern, particularly with guard Kevin Zeitler released, though Solder is back for 2021 on a restructured deal and there will be hopes of an improved sophomore year from Thomas.

With the number 11 pick in the draft, and many of the other teams near the top of the order eyeing a QB, the Giants are in a good position to land a key contributor at a position of need. 

If the Giants go receiver and bring in either Ja'Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle to pair with Golladay and possession receiver Sterling Shephard, Jones will surely greet the move with delight.

Gregory Rousseau is among the options if the Giants look to fill their need at edge in the first round, while tackle Rashawn Slater could prove tempting if the Giants try to swing again for an offensive lineman.

Regardless of the route they go down, Jones' supporting cast has already been significantly improved. 

It is fair to say he has not had a great situation either during his college career at Duke or in his first two years as an NFL quarterback.

But going into his third season, Jones now has a platform to succeed and must show enough this year to prove he can be the man who is capable of bringing the Giants back to the top. 

If he cannot, both he and general manager Dave Gettleman will be facing an uncertain future.

Winning the NFC East in 2020 is unlikely to take pride of place on many CVs.

The Washington Football Team came through the worst division in football with a 7-9 record before falling at the first hurdle in the playoffs, battling hard before being beaten by eventual Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But as well as scraping together the most wins, a strange season provided Washington with greater cause for optimism than their divisional rivals.

Ron Rivera's team were particularly strong on defense, as a lack of top-level production at the quarterback position prevented them from being anything more than the best of a bad bunch.

That is evidenced by Stats Perform data, but Washington's offseason moves to date suggest they should get better in 2021.

Offense

Washington had three different starters at quarterback last year, rarely the sign of an effective offensive unit.

And none of Dwayne Haskins (six starts), Alex Smith (six) or Kyle Allen (four) are set to line up under center in the coming campaign following the recruitment of Ryan Fitzpatrick. The new QB ended 2020 as a backup on a non-playoff team in Miami but still undoubtedly offers an upgrade, having played some of the best football of his career in recent seasons.

 

Washington ranked 25th for net passing yards per game (216.6), albeit that still had them second in the division in that regard.

Haskins, a first-round pick in 2019, was released in December after he was pictured partying without a mask at a strip club following a defeat to the Seattle Seahawks and then completed just 50.0 per cent of 28 passes, with no touchdowns and two interceptions, against the Carolina Panthers, earning a wretched passer rating of 36.9.

Among qualifying QBs - 224 attempts for the season - only Nick Foles (5.94) trailed Haskins in yards per attempt (5.97), while his passer rating of 73.0 was third-worst behind Sam Darnold (72.7) and Carson Wentz (72.8).

Haskins was only playing against Seattle and Carolina because Smith, back from his awful, life-threatening leg injury, was out again. Smith won his final five starts of 2020 but finished the year close behind Haskins, with a seventh-worst 6.28 yards per attempt and fifth-worst 78.5 passer rating, and has since been cut.

For Fitzpatrick, this is a low bar to clear.

But the former Dolphins QB should also have the benefit of greater talent on the end of his passes, with wide receiver Teddy McLaurin carrying the load for Washington in 2020 with 87 catches on 134 targets for 1,118 yards and four touchdowns.

McLaurin ranked 14th in the league for receiving yards per game (74.5), with Logan Thomas the team's next best performer in 64th (41.9).

On the ground, Antonio Gibson found more help, effectively protected by his offensive line as he rushed for 170 carries, 795 yards and 11 TDs.

But Washington's total offense put up just 317.3 yards per game and 4.83 per play, ranking 30th and 31st. Improvement should come easy but is desperately required.

Defense

If those offensive yardage numbers effectively sum up Washington's woes on that side of the ball, the figures going the other way do a similar job.

Washington allowed a meagre 304.6 yards per game and 4.85 per play, totals only undercut by the Los Angeles Rams' outstanding defensive unit. Opponents scored just 329 points, the fourth-fewest in the NFL.

Blessed with the star performers that were absent elsewhere in the team, the defense made light work of the other similarly poor NFC East offenses.

Washington have found incredible value up front, where defensive ends Montez Sweat and Chase Young and defensive tackles Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen are all still on their rookie contracts.

Sweat led the team in sacks (9.5 for 83.0 yards), QB hits (20) and tackles for loss (12) and scored a defensive TD on his only pick, while Young was not far behind (7.5 sacks, 12 QB hits, 10 TFL, four forced fumbles and three recovered). Payne had 3.0 sacks, eight QB hits and seven TFL, as Allen had 2.0, 14 and three.

Sweat, Young and Payne also combined to stuff 16.0 runs, contributing to Washington's impressive record in forcing stoppages. Only Pittsburgh's defense (25.0) allowed a lower percentage of conversions on fourth down (37.5).

These players will have to be paid eventually if a talented quartet of the future is to stay together, but these are not worries for this year.

The big defensive offseason questions instead lay elsewhere, notably how would Washington replace cornerback Ronald Darby's production with 16 passes defensed? The signing of William Jackson III has already answered that query.

Offseason

Jackson's three-year, $40.5million signing has been Washington's biggest outlay in free agency, his 11 passes defensed ensuring they should again have a top performer at corner.

The team clearly recognised they could not afford to weaken the strongest area of their roster.

Another safety could yet be of use, although Kamren Curl (63 tackles, three interceptions and a defensive TD) and Landon Collins, recovering from a torn Achilles, are both on the books.

On the offense, Fitzpatrick's one-year, $10m deal showed exactly how Washington see his signing. The 39-year-old is neither a long-term solution nor a game-changer but should instead do enough to keep his new team at the top of the division.

To help the veteran - and McLaurin - the team made a big pick-up at receiver in the form of Curtis Samuel, a second-round draft pick during Rivera's time with the Panthers.

He arrives for three years and $34.5m, having posted a career-high 1,051 yards (851 receiving, 200 rushing) in 2020, along with five TDs.

But Washington still have not quite gone all in - not that they need to.

Even if they do not look a genuine contender at this stage, the team's defense will keep them in most games.

With $20.9m of cap space remaining and their first-round pick at 19, Washington are instead well positioned to seize on any unexpected opportunities that come their way.

It might only take a crazy trade from a team in turmoil or a lucky bounce in a big game to bring the NFC East champions to the fore.

The Philadelphia Eagles have signed veteran quarterback Joe Flacco on a one-year contract, the NFL team confirmed on Tuesday.

Flacco is in line to back up second-year QB Jalen Hurts, who appears set to start for the Eagles following Carson Wentz's trade to the Indianapolis Colts.

The 36-year-old Flacco moves to Philadelphia for his 14th NFL season after appearing in five games for the lowly New York Jets last campaign.

Flacco went 0-4 as a starter for the Jets, replacing Sam Darnold in October and November after the latter suffered a shoulder injury.

A Super Bowl winner and MVP with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, Flacco had an 80.6 passer rating and a 55.2 per cent completion rate last season.

Since making his debut for the Ravens in 2008, Flacco has 3,744 completions for 40,931 yards, 224 touchdowns and 144 interceptions in 176 games, with a passer rating of 84.1

Flacco joins a new-look Eagles team, who have turned to rookie Nick Sirianni after Super Bowl-winning head coach Doug Pederson was fired following a 4-11-1 season.

Hurts replaced 2017 Pro Bowler Wentz in Week 13, tallying 77 completions for 1,061 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions in four starts.

The 22-year-old – drafted in the second round in 2020 – also rushed for 354 yards for three TDs on 63 carries.

What shaped up to be a year of enormous positivity ended in disappointment and a dilemma for the Miami Dolphins.

The Dolphins were 5-11 at the bottom of the AFC East in 2019 before turning their fortunes around to finish 10-6 last year. That was not quite enough to make the playoffs, though.

Victory over the Buffalo Bills in Week 17 would have clinched a postseason berth, as indeed would defeats for any of three AFC rivals. Every result went against Miami.

Worse than just being edged out of the postseason picture, they were beaten by 30 points in Buffalo as Tua Tagovailoa – the fifth overall pick supposed to be the Dolphins’ franchise quarterback – endured a dismal end to his rookie season.

The signs had been there prior to that desperate three-interception showing, which actually included a career-high 361 passing yards, but the costly defeat firmly formed Miami’s big offseason question: Do they need to make a move at QB?

There have been and continue to be interesting options, but the front office looks to be taking its time in making the right calls to turn this team into contenders.

Stats Perform data shows how far away they are right now.

Offense

Tagovailoa would likely have been given some respite in that fateful Bills game had backup Ryan Fitzpatrick not been ruled out after testing positive for coronavirus.

The Dolphins had turned to Fitzpatrick in Week 16 against the Las Vegas Raiders and he duly rescued a 26-25 comeback win, completing nine of 13 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown.

The change was evidence of coach Brian Flores’ faltering faith in Tagovailoa. The result was justification.

Among players to throw 200 attempts in 2020, only Washington pair Alex Smith and Dwayne Haskins Jr. trailed Tagovailoa’s 1,814 yards. Even when he put up big numbers in the Buffalo defeat, his 6.22 yards per attempt were 0.04 yards down on his extremely modest year average.

This plodding pace was the reason for Flores turning so often to Fitzpatrick, who was picked on eight of 267 passes (3.0 per cent) but gained 7.83 yards per attempt.

Neither quarterback was helped by the limited receiving options, with only wide receiver DeVante Parker (63 catches for 793 yards and four TDs) and tight end Mike Gesicki (53 catches for 703 yards and six TDs) offering any real quality in that sense.

The rushing offense was no better. Perhaps again partly due to a reluctance to trust Tagovailoa, they ran on 41.9 per cent of plays (14th-most in the league) but registered only 105.5 rushing yards per game (22nd-most).

Criticism of Tagovailoa was understandable, but the entire offense was shaky last year.

Defense

With the deficiencies on the other side of the ball, Miami’s defense had to be shoulder much of the burden in 2020. 

Although opponents racked up 251.5 passing yards per game, the Dolphins allowed just 315 points across the season, the fourth-fewest in the NFL.

The cornerback duo of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones were particularly effective. Howard had 10 interceptions after managing 12 across the first four years of his career.

Up front, Emmanuel Ogbah (9.0 sacks and 21 QB hits), Kyle Van Noy (6.0 sacks and 10 QB hits) and Shaq Lawson (4.0 sacks and 18 QB hits) were productive in pressuring the quarterback.

Firmly in the middle of the pack when it came to stopping the run, the Dolphins allowed 116.4 rushing yards per game, but theirs was a stingy defense that proved its upside by forcing a league-leading 29 total takeaways.

Offseason

Although the Dolphins have been busy in free agency already, their spending has been unexceptional.

Van Noy was released and re-joined the New England Patriots, with whom they swapped defensive linemen as Davon Godchaux and Adam Butler traded places.

Butler's contract with the Dolphins cost half as much as Godchaux's in New England, but the new acquisition had four sacks in 2020, more than the man he is replacing managed in his entire Miami career.

Those deals are indicative of what so far appears to be a cost-cutting one-in, one-out approach. Fitzpatrick left for the Washington Football Team, where he will collect $10million, while Jacoby Brissett – a new backup quarterback – arrived from the Indianapolis Colts on a contract worth $5m.

The biggest splash to date saw Will Fuller arrive after a career year catching Deshaun Watson passes, including eight touchdowns, in Houston.

The most significant development of the offseason is yet to play out, though, as the identity of the man throwing the ball to Fuller this year remains far from certain.

Fuller could serve as a pivotal boost to Tagovailoa's options and enable him to develop his game in year two, but the Dolphins also have the ability to put together a very enticing package for a prospective trade, as they possess the third and 18th picks in the first round of this year's draft.

Fuller’s wantaway former team-mate Watson is the most obvious possible target in a move that would change the complexion of the AFC.

The arrival of one of the league's elite quarterbacks could quickly turn Miami into contenders, but it would depend on the Texans taking back their own draft pick, sent to the Dolphins in return for Laremy Tunsil in 2019.

Whether they stick with Tagovailoa, make a blockbuster move for Watson or unexpectedly take one of the draft's top signal-callers, an intriguing offseason in Miami will be defined by a crucial decision at the game's most important position.

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