Sean Payton called it a day as head coach of the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday, bidding the NFL franchise an emotional farewell after 15 seasons in charge of the team.

Payton said he had met with team president Dennis Lauscha, owner Gayle Benson and general manager Mickey Loomis to tell them he had decided to go.

"I don't know what's next and it kind of feels good," said Payton in a news conference.

The 58-year-old Payton joined the Saints in 2006 and, in tandem with newly acquired quarterback Drew Brees, began to turn the team into a formidable force, peaking with a Super Bowl XLIV triumph in the 2009 season. Payton's team beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in the NFL showpiece game.

Payton was close to tears as he explained why it was now time to move on. But he had prepared for that eventuality.

"The last thing I did before I went to bed was I Google-searched how not to cry during a speech," Payton said, "and one of the items was drink water and yawn. Well I didn't want to yawn, but it worked a little bit."

He said stepping down had been in his thoughts for some time, and Payton was not minded to go back on his decision.

"Last week I had a great visit, a tough visit with Mickey Loomis and Mrs Benson, and Denis Lauscha, relative to just looking ahead with what I want to do," Payton said.

"Mickey and I are of course now 16 years [with New Orleans] so that was challenging, because of our friendship more than our professional relationship, and then Mrs B was awesome. I love this about her, she said, 'Well go away for two or three months and come back for training camp, and we'll be ready to go'. And I thought that sounded pretty good, actually.

"But I'm glad she told me to spend some time away and give this some thought, because this is a big decision, and it certainly affects a lot of people.

"It's not often you as a coach have the opportunity to possibly leave. We coach, we coach, we coach, and at some point they tell you to leave.

"And as difficult as being fired is, it sure seems easier to thank everyone and move on your merry way."

Payton thanked the "amazing" New Orleans support and recalled having taken charge while the city was still recovering from the damage caused in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina.

Payton will be moving on after a 2021 campaign in which the Saints failed to reach the postseason, finishing with a 9-8 record.

It still marked another fine coaching performance from Payton, who had his team evacuated early in the year due to a hurricane and later had to deal with a number of coronavirus and injury absences.

Brees retired last year, and Payton decided it was time to follow suit.

"He and I never discussed when his last game would be, or when I'd be finished. I just felt like this season it was challenging for everyone, but man I felt like it was time," Payton said, explaining the timing of his departure.

"I knew maybe heading into training camp, but you don't share that with anyone. It's something I've been thinking about. You have close friends in the industry, and I've lost close friends in the industry in the last few years.

"Not many get to choose their terms, and I looked on it as an opportunity to see my kids more, to travel more, to get in better shape.

"I think the attention to details are so important, it can be so exhausting. I felt as this season was winding down it was the right thing."

Payton's career with New Orleans included an NFL suspension for the entire 2012 season after the Saints' 'Bountygate' scandal blew up, with players said to have been rewarded by fellow team members for injuring and knocking opponents out of games.

He returned to lead the team with distinction again, albeit unable to secure a return to the Super Bowl.

From 2017 to 2020, New Orleans achieved regular-season performances of 11-5, 13-3, 13-3 and 12-4, finishing top of the NFC South on each occasion. This season they wound up as runners-up to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Payton, who was under contract through 2024, has a 152-89 regular-season record – the 13th-best of all time (minimum 100 games) – while he is 9-8 in the playoffs.

Sean Payton is stepping down as head coach of the New Orleans Saints after 15 seasons in charge, reports said on Tuesday.

The franchise called a news conference for 15:00 local time (21:00 BST) at which Payton's departure was expected to be confirmed.

Payton will be moving on after a 2021 campaign in which the Saints failed to reach the postseason, finishing with a 9-8 record.

The 58-year-old Payton joined the Saints in 2006 and, in tandem with newly acquired quarterback Drew Brees, began to turn the team into a formidable force, peaking with a Super Bowl XLIV triumph in the 2009 season. Payton's team beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in the NFL showpiece game.

Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season after the Saints' 'Bountygate' scandal blew up, with players said to have been rewarded by fellow team members for injuring and knocking opponents out of games.

He returned to lead the team with distinction again, albeit unable to secure a return to the Super Bowl.

From 2017 to 2020, New Orleans achieved regular-season performances of 11-5, 13-3, 13-3 and 12-4, finishing top of the NFC South on each occasion.

Payton, who was under contract through 2024, has a 152-89 regular-season record – the 13th-best of all time (minimum 100 games) – while he is 9-8 in the playoffs.

Sean Payton is yet to confirm to the New Orleans Saints whether he will remain as head coach for the 2022 season. 

Payton has been at the helm in New Orleans since 2006, but reports in recent days have suggested he is far from certain to return next year. 

In their first season since Drew Brees' retirement, the Saints marginally missed the playoffs with a 9-8 record. 

It still marked another fine coaching performance from Payton, who had his team evacuated early in the year due to a hurricane and later had to deal with a number of coronavirus and injury absences. 

Jameis Winston, promoted to a starting role at quarterback in Brees' place, tore his ACL in October following a promising 5-2 start in which he threw 14 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. 

Payton, who is under contract through 2024, has a 152-89 regular-season record – the 13th-best of all time (minimum 100 games) – while he is 9-8 in the playoffs, winning Super Bowl XLIV. 

The Saints hope he will further improve those totals next season, although owner Gayle Benson knows little more than New Orleans fans at this stage. 

"We don't know," she told FOX 8 NOLA on Monday. "You know, who knows? We'll find out soon enough, I guess. 

"I don't think any of us know. But he'll let us know soon enough." 

The San Francisco 49ers punched their ticket to the postseason as Ambry Thomas' overtime interception clinched a dramatic comeback win over the Los Angeles Rams.

San Francisco went into the Week 18 clash knowing a win would see them reach the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. A loss would allow the New Orleans Saints, who cruised past the Atlanta Falcons, to sneak in and claim the final Wild Card berth.

The latter outcome looked the more likely when the Rams surged to a 17-0 lead and, even though the Niners got a field goal before half-time, San Francisco still faced an uphill battle.

However, Deebo Samuel scored a touchdown on the ground and then threw another to Jauan Jennings on a trick play to tie things up.

A juggling interception of Jimmy Garoppolo by Jalen Ramsey in the endzone followed by a Matthew Stafford strike to Cooper Kupp put the Rams in a seemingly commanding position at 24-17.

However, Garoppolo - playing with a torn ligament in his right thumb - led a five-play, 88-yard drive that finished with him connecting with Jennings, forced overtime at SoFi Stadium.

The 49ers won the coin toss and a 12-play, 69-yard drive on which Jennings featured heavily set up a Robbie Gould field goal to give San Francisco the lead for the first time.

And it was an advantage they held as Stafford's deep shot for Odell Beckham Jr. was plucked out of the air by rookie cornerback Thomas to set up a mouth-watering Wild Card matchup with the Niners' historic rivals the Dallas Cowboys.

For Los Angeles, it is a sixth successive defeat to the 49ers, though they still won the NFC West after the Seattle Seahawks beat the Arizona Cardinals, whom the Rams will host in the opening round of the playoffs.

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.

Jaylen Waddle knew he was nearing a significant NFL achievement after helping the surging Miami Dolphins to another victory.

The Dolphins saw off the New Orleans Saints 20-3 on Monday Night Football, improving to 8-7 with their seventh straight win.

Miami, who have rallied from 1-7, are the only team in NFL history to have a seven-game win and loss streak in the same season.

As his team push for a playoff spot amid a rollercoaster campaign, wide receiver Waddle is also nearing an NFL record individually.

He had 10 catches for 92 yards against the depleted Saints, both game highs, and had the only offensive touchdown.

With 96 receptions since being drafted at number six overall ahead of the 2021 season, Waddle sits just five away from Anquan Boldin's all-time rookie record of 101 set in 2003 with the Arizona Cardinals.

While team wins remain the focus for Waddle, he acknowledged the value of his exploits.

"I'm all for it as long as it comes with some wins," he said.

"It would obviously be pretty cool because the NFL is a special league so anything in this league to have a record in is always big.

"As far as importance, I wouldn't say it's like something I got my mind focused on."

On his one-yard TD catch on a flip pass from Tua Tagovailoa as he was motioning to the right, Waddle added: "I know it was like a weird play design, but it was smooth. 

"Liked the play call, it was a great play call. Any time you score, it's hard to score in this league, so any time you score in this league, it's big." 

Testing contests against the Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots are up next for the Dolphins, who are the AFC's seventh seed as things stand.

Their defense was dominant against New Orleans, who were forced to hand fourth-stringer Ian Book his first career start in the absence of Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian.

Rookie Book was sacked eight times and threw a pick-six on his third NFL play as the Saints went 0-for-12 on third downs.

The former Notre Dame player became the first QB to be sacked 8+ times in his NFL debut since the Cincinnati Bengals' David Klingler in 1992 (10).

Coach Sean Payton insisted questions over whether the game should have been postponed due to 20 COVID-19 absences were not for him to answer.

"Our job is to really focus and prepare, get the players ready to go or else pretty soon your energy gets wasted," he said.

"Obviously we didn't do a good enough job. It was frustrating, and I'm sure it was frustrating to watch."

On Book, Payton added: "Impossible to evaluate - just keeping him upright was a challenge.

"He'll be frustrated like all of us with some plays. But certainly it's not going to define his growth or his career. 

"It was kind of one of those perfect storms. It was just a tough spot for him to be in, and I think he's smart enough to understand that."

The Saints are 7-8 and must beat the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons in their final two games to realistically keep their playoff hopes alive.

The Miami Dolphins have extended their winning streak to seven games as they defeated the depleted New Orleans Saints 20-3 in Monday Night Football.

The result keeps the Dolphins' playoffs hopes alive as they improve to 8-7, while the Saints – who were without 22 players on COVID/reserve list – slump to 7-8. This marks the longest Dolphins' win streak since 1985.

The Dolphins also bizarrely become the first NFL team with a seven-game winning streak and a seven-game losing streak in the same season as they continue their remarkable turnaround.

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw 19 of 26 passes for 198 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Tagovailoa has the highest completion percentage of any QB since week 9 with 74 percent.

Debutant Saints QB Ian Book had a tougher time, with his first-quarter pass leading to a pick six from Nik Needham.

Book completed 12 of 20 passes for 135 yards with two interceptions and was sacked eight times. an The fourth-choice Saints quarterback was the first QB to be sacked eight or more times in his NFL  debut since Cincinnati Bengals' David Klingler in 1992 (10).

Needham's touchdown helped the Dolphins lead 10-0 at quarter-time but they had to wait until the third quarter for Jaylen Waddle to cross for their second TD.

Waddle finished the game with 10 receptions for 92 yards, breaking the record for most receiving yards by a Dolphins rookie, going past Chris Chambers' 2001 mark of 883 yards.

Ian Book is used to the big stage.

As the starting quarterback for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Book played in one of the most high-profile environments in college football.

But more often than not during his career in South Bend, Indiana, the cards were stacked in his favour.

On Monday Night Football in Week 16, they will be firmly against him, with Book asked to make his first NFL start against the Miami Dolphins after both Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian were reportedly placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

It means that the Saints' playoff hopes hinge largely on Book's ability to rise to the occasion against one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

The Dolphins have won six straight games to move to 7-7, catapulting themselves into the playoff race in the AFC.

And, with Miami's defense ranked sixth in the NFL with 80 opponent negative plays forced, Book is sure to come under plenty of fire.

The Saints will likely, therefore, look to make use of Book's mobility, perhaps with a similar gameplan to the one they would have drawn up for Hill.

Book rushed for 1,031 yards across his final two seasons with Notre Dame, good for 10th in the FBS in that span.

In his final collegiate season in 2020, Book had a pickable pass percentage of 2.12, the sixth-best among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts.

However, though, he excelled at avoiding turnover-worthy plays in college, the Saints may look to decrease the risk factor substantially.

A healthy dose of running back Alvin Kamara should be anticipated. His big-play rate of 19.5 per cent as a receiver is the third-best for backs with at least 50 targets.

Kamara's versatility should be a significant help to Book, as will the coaching of Sean Payton, who has his team in the hunt despite a raft of injury issues, and the play of a defense that shut out Tom Brady last week. 

Book is a player used to having it all on his shoulders at the collegiate level, however, for the Saints to move to 8-7 on Monday, they will surely try to attempt to take the pressure firmly off their fourth-round pick.

For the first time in 15 years, a Tom Brady-led team got shut out Sunday. 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' ugly 9-0 home loss to the New Orleans Saints kept the defending Super Bowl champions from clinching a return to the playoffs as their NFC South foes maintained their recent dominance in the rivalry. 

It was the seventh straight regular-season win in the series for the Saints, the last four of them coming since Brady's arrival. 

Brady's meeting with the media afterward lasted longer than some others this season, but the quarterback did not have many answers after a defeat that saw the Buccaneers fail to generate an offensive threat.

"I don't think we were much good at anything tonight," Brady told a news conference. "I wish it was just one thing; it was a lot of things.

"We've got to do better in every facet of offensive football to score points. We're not gonna win scoring no points."

The Buccaneers actually out-gained the Taysom Hill-led Saints 302 to 212, but Brady committed the only two turnovers of the game with a fumble in the third quarter and an interception late in the fourth. He also was sacked four times, all on third down. 

Brady completed just 26 of 48 passes for 213 yards as he was shut out for just the third time in his NFL career and the first time since the New England Patriots fell 21-0 to the Miami Dolphins on December 10, 2006, when the 29-year-old quarterback threw for just 78 yards. 

He was more effective than that Sunday, though his play-makers kept falling by the wayside throughout the game. 

The Buccaneers (10-4) lost receivers Mike Evans (hamstring) and Chris Godwin (knee) to injuries in the first half and neither returned, then saw running back Leonard Fournette (hamstring) depart in the third quarter.

Asked about Tampa Bay's failure to clinch the division Sunday, head coach Bruce Arians said: "It hurts more losing all the players we lost. We lost about seven starters in this game, so I'm more concerned about that right now."

Arians said he had no updates about the severity of any individual injuries, but that the Bucs would have to figure things out before facing the Panthers in Week 15. 

"Whoever's up got to go play a little better," he said. "It doesn't matter who's available. We've got to get we got to get ready to go beat Carolina."

Brady echoed that sentiment, declining to use the Buccaneers' injuries as an excuse. 

"A lot of guys got banged up tonight but that's part of football, so we've got to try to figure out who can go in and fill out some roles and play great football," he said. 

"We just didn't execute great, obviously, just a tough night, didn't do much of anything right. So we've got to get a lot better. Got to get back to work. There's a lot of football left and see if we can go get a win next week."

A New Orleans Saints team missing its head coach still found a way to embarrass Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champions Sunday. 

In a touchdown-free affair with little aesthetic appeal, the Saints stunned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-0 – the first time a Brady-led team has been shut out in 15 years. 

Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen served as the Saints' head coach with Sean Payton absent after testing positive for COVID-19, and his unit played an inspired game against the future Hall of Famer. 

Brady completed just 26 of 48 passes for 213 yards and had the only two turnovers of the game with a fumble in the third quarter and an interception late in the fourth. He also was sacked four times, all on third down. 

It was just the third shutout loss of Brady's NFL career and his first since the New England Patriots fell 21-0 to the Miami Dolphins on December 10, 2006, when the 29-year-old quarterback threw for just 78 yards. 

The Buccaneers (10-4) lost receivers Mike Evans (hamstring) and Chris Godwin (knee) to injuries in the first half and neither returned, then saw running back Leonard Fournette (hamstring) depart in the third quarter, depriving Brady of play-makers as the game went on. 

On the other side, Taysom Hill did just enough to keep the Saints from losing, avoiding turnovers as he completed 13 of 27 passes for 154 yards and led the team with 33 yards rushing on 11 carries.

The Saints (7-7) needed all of those yards, as Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram combined for just 28 on 20 carries. 

 

Sean Payton, head coach of the New Orleans Saints, has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss their game on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Saints are still in the hunt for a playoff place at 6-7 but must now take on Tom Brady and the Buccaneers - who are 6-0 at home and 10-3 for the season so far - without their head coach on the sideline.

The Saints released a statement on Friday confirming the length of Payton's absence due to contracting COVID-19 and revealing that the 57-year-old's vaccination status.

"Saints Head Coach Sean Payton tested positive for Covid-19 and was immediately isolated," the statement read. "He has been fully vaccinated.

"Per NFL protocols, Payton will be out for 10 days unless he meets the league requirements for a fully vaccinated individual to return to the team environment.

"Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen will assume the duties of head coach for the December 19th game at Tampa Bay. Payton will return to coach the December 27th game against the Miami Dolphins."

Payton follows Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski in returning a positive test. The Browns have been hit by a major COVID outbreak and their game with the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday is reportedly in doubt.

Buccaneers quarterback Brady has not beaten the Saints in the regular season since joining Tampa Bay and will be hoping to capitalise on Payton's absence on Sunday.

The Green Bay Packers will clinch the NFC North title if they avoid defeat against the wounded Baltimore Ravens, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could win the NFC South in Week 15.

AFC North leaders Baltimore will be striving to avoid a third consecutive defeat when they face the Packers but have this week been managing quarterback Lamar Jackson's ankle sprain.

Tampa Bay can seal the division title provided they are not beaten at home by the New Orleans Saints on Monday, while the New England Patriots are among the teams looking to book a playoff spot ahead of their showdown with the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday.

Stats Perform previews the standout games and the best of the rest.

Green Bay Packers (10-3) @ Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

The Ravens have lost back-to-back games for the first time this season, losing by one point against the Pittsburgh Steelers and by two at the Cleveland Browns. It is the first time in franchise history the Ravens have lost consecutive games by two points or fewer.

Green Bay scored 45 points in a win over the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field last week, their highest scoring output since 2014 against the Philadelphia Eagles (53-20 win). The Packers are averaging 30.7 points per game at home but 20.6 points on the road, the third-largest differential in the NFL.

Aaron Rodgers threw four touchdowns and no interceptions against the Bears. It was his 28th career game with at least four TD passes and no interceptions, tied with Tom Brady for the most such games in NFL history including the postseason.

Davante Adams is Rodgers' top target and has gone over 100 receiving yards in three straight games. He is now tied with James Lofton for the most 100-yard receiving games in Packers history with 33.

New England Patriots (9-4) @ Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

The Patriots have conceded 13 or fewer points in each of their past five games. That is the longest such streak in Patriots history and the longest by any NFL team since 2008 (Pittsburgh, five games). 

Mac Jones and the Patriots attempted only three passes last time out in their 14-10 Week 13 win at Buffalo. Since 1950, there have been only two other instances of an NFL team attempting no more than three passes in one game: the Kansas City Chiefs (three) in a 24-10 win against the Oakland Raiders in 1968, and the Buffalo Bills (two) in a 16-12 victory over the New York Jets in 1974.

But Indianapolis know how to run the ball, too. They have gained 996 yards rushing over their previous five games, their highest total over a five-game span since gaining 1,024 in 1976. The Colts have scored 12 rushing TDs in the stretch, matching their best five-game total in the past 30 seasons. 

Through the air, Carson Wentz has had five interceptions from his 420 pass attempts this season. His interception rate (1.2 per cent) is the third-lowest among the 32 qualifying NFL quarterbacks. 

New Orleans Saints (6-7) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3)

The Bucs have won four consecutive games and are due a victory over the Saints, having lost the past six clashes between the two teams.

Brady reached yet another landmark last week, with his 58-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman taking his tally of touchdown passes in the NFL to 700. The only other quarterback with at least 600 is former Saint Drew Brees (608).

Taysom Hill had multiple rushing touchdowns for the fourth time in his career last week and added 73 rushing yards. The only other Saints quarterback to rush for at least 50 yards and multiple TDs is Archie Manning (52 yards, 2 TDs on October 17, 1971 against the Dallas Cowboys).

Expect a fast start from Tampa. The Bucs have outscored opponents by 70 points in the first half of games this season, behind only Indianapolis (73) for the best mark in the league.

Elsewhere...

The Los Angeles Rams (9-4) are closing in on the playoffs and will have home advantage when they face the Seattle Seahawks (9-4). The Rams have won six of the past eight matchups between these teams, including a 26-17 win in Seattle in Week 5 this year.

Heinz Field will stage a battle between the Steelers (6-6-1) and a Tennessee Titans (9-4) side scenting the AFC South title. The Titans shut out an opponent for the second time in 20 seasons with a 20-0 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars last week. 

The Cowboys (9-4) travel to lock horns with the New York Giants (4-9) with the NFC title within their grasp. Dak Prescott lost both of his starts against the Giants as a rookie in 2016 but is 8-0 in his starts against them since then. Ron Jaworksi, from 1977 to 1981, was the last QB to win nine starts in a row against the Giants.

Darrell Bevell has stepped in to take over as the Jaguars' interim head coach after Urban Meyer was fired on Wednesday. Jacksonville start life after Meyer attempting to avoid a record-breaking eighth consecutive loss to the Houston Texans, with both sides a dismal 2-11 this season.

Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis has confirmed the Allegiant Stadium will host Super Bowl LVIII for the first time in 2024.

The Raiders moved to southern Nevada from Oakland in 2020 to play in the new Allegiant Stadium, with the expectation that the 65,000-seater venue could one day host NFL's showpiece event.

That has now come to fruition, with the 58th NFL championship game heading to Las Vegas after it was moved from Caesars Superdome in New Orleans for scheduling reasons.

New Orleans will now host the finale in 2025, after the league's move to an 18-month regular season meant the Super Bowl final would clash with Mardi Gras celebrations in the Louisiana city.

Davis announced the widely-expected news in a statement on Wednesday, as the Raiders owner said: "The Raiders are thrilled the National Football League has selected Las Vegas to host Super Bowl (58) LVIII in February 2024.

"Hosting the 2022 Pro Bowl, the 2022 NFL draft and now the 2024 Super Bowl are just some of the ancillary benefits resulting from the public-private partnership we created with the state of Nevada to bring the Raiders to Las Vegas and build Allegiant Stadium. It's only the beginning."

The Allegiant Stadium will also host the 2022 Pro Bowl and NFL Draft, which was originally scheduled to be in Las Vegas in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic enforced changes.

The next two Super Bowls are scheduled to be played in Inglewood, California, at SoFi Stadium on February 13, 2022, and in Glendale, Arizona, at State Farm Stadium on February 12, 2023.

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.

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy is hopeful of returning to the sideline sooner rather than later after testing positive for COVID-19.

McCarthy watched Thursday's 27-17 win over the New Orleans Saints while isolating in a hotel room in Frisco following his positive test.

Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn filled in to lead the side to victory over the Saints but McCarthy admitted he found it hard to watch and was eager to return.

"I’m hopeful to be in there sooner than later," McCarthy told the team website.

He added: "It was brutal just not to be a part of it. I just hope there’s no one next door, that’s for sure. That’d probably be a good story.

"But I think the emotion of it is like any true fan, I would assume. You’re rooting for your team. You’re rooting for your guys."

The Cowboys are not in action against until Sunday December 12 against the Washington Football Team, with McCarthy needing to test negative twice at least 24 hours apart to be permitted to return.

McCarthy praised Quinn and the coaching staff who filled in in his absence.

“I thought the staff did an incredible job under the leadership of Dan Quinn and [assistant head coach] Rob Davis," McCarthy said. “It’s all about the communication and the urgency of keeping your pace of operation intact.

"That’s the way we train, and that’s the way you want to ultimately play when you get to the game. I thought the dots definitely connected. Just very impressed and very thankful for the job the staff did."

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