NFL

NFL Fantasy Picks: Back Brady for a bounce-back week after Saints shutout

By Sports Desk December 22, 2021

Only three weeks remain in a fascinating 2021 NFL season that continues to prove extremely tough to call.

That unpredictability has extended to the fantasy season and has been exacerbated by a string of coronavirus outbreaks that have impacted several teams and forced changes to the Week 15 schedule.

So, with most fantasy leagues either at the semi-final or final stage, which players can be relied on in Week 16?

Stats Perform has identified four offensive players and a defense who are deserving of trust at this pivotal stage of the campaign.

Quarterback: Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers

Brady was visibly angry as he and the Buccaneers were shut out by the New Orleans Saints in primetime last week, but the odds of the Panthers doing the same appear extremely slim.

In two games against Carolina last season, Brady completed nearly 69 per cent of his passes for 558 yards, four touchdowns and an interception, averaging 7.54 yards per pass attempt.

With the Panthers limping towards the finish line, Brady looks a certainty for a bounce-back effort here, even with wide receiver Chris Godwin ruled out for the season amid a spate of injuries to the Bucs' offense.

Running Back: Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns @ Green Bay Packers

The Packers are in the driver's seat for the number one seed in the NFC but, though they are one of the NFL's most well-rounded teams, a weakness in run defense has become apparent of late.

Indeed, the last two games have seen Green Bay give up 280 yards on the ground and for the season the Packers are allowing a yards per carry average of 4.53, the eighth-highest in the NFL.

Cleveland may be approaching the last-chance saloon in terms of playoff hopes, yet the Browns possess a ground game capable of exploiting the Packers' deficiencies against the run. The Browns' average of 4.9 yards per rush is the third-highest in the NFL while star running back Nick Chubb leads all players at his position with 17.4 per cent of his carries going for 10 yards or more.

Wide Receiver: Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers @ Houston Texans

A recipient of double-digit targets in six of his last seven games, the heavy workload Allen has received is a recipe for a huge day in Week 16.

The Texans are surrendering the seventh-most yards per pass play in the NFL, while the Chargers - for all their controversial fourth-down issues last week against the Kansas City Chiefs -- are 10th in yards per play through the air with Justin Herbert leading an explosive offense.

Simply put, Allen is a no-brainer start in fantasy.

Tight End: Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals

Regardless of whether it is Lamar Jackson or Tyler Huntley at quarterback, Andrews is likely to be the top target for the Ravens' passing attack in a critical AFC North showdown.

Over the last two games, he has 21 receptions for 251 yards and three touchdowns, a bright spot in successive defeats for Baltimore.

Only five teams have produced more plays of 10 yards or more than the Ravens (193) and Andrews is the lead contender to be on the end of the majority they draw up against a stingy Bengals defense.

Defense: Philadelphia Eagles vs. New York Giants

The Eagles' Christmas present comes in the form of getting to face either Mike Glennon or Jake Fromm as they look to take another step towards securing a Wild Card berth.

Philadelphia's defense has given up fewer than 300 total yards in each of their last three games. Glennon has seven interceptions in his four games this year while Fromm would be making his first career start. Whichever Giants backup the Eagles go up against, their defense is set up for another strong week.

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  • Man Utd CEO promises 'relentless' effort in bid to restore club to former glory Man Utd CEO promises 'relentless' effort in bid to restore club to former glory

    Manchester United are confident change is coming and they will be "relentless" in attempts to bring long-term success back to Old Trafford, according to CEO Richard Arnold.

    United have become accustomed to not challenging for the Premier League title since Alex Ferguson's retirement in 2013, but the 2021-22 season saw them plumb new depths.

    Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, caretaker manager Michael Carrick and then interim manager Ralf Rangnick, United accumulated just 58 points, their worst record in a single Premier League campaign.

    But on top of that, champions Manchester City's haul of 93 points meant United finished the season 35 points adrift of the summit – that is comfortably the furthest off the top the Red Devils have ended a term in the Premier League era.

    It was also the first time since 1989-90 that United failed to finish a league season with a positive goal difference, as they scored and conceded 57 goals.

    United looked to get their preparations for next season started early by confirming the appointment of Erik ten Hag in April, and he has already taken up his role with a view to having a head-start when pre-season begins in late June.

    And CEO Arnold, now in charge following the departure of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, insisted club chiefs share the fans' frustrations but was keen to emphasise the board's confidence in bringing success back to United with their long-term strategy.

    Speaking at an April fans' forum from which the minutes were released on Thursday, Arnold said: "Suffice to say, we are not happy with where we are in terms of performance on the pitch.

    "We understand fans are frustrated and want to see change and improvement. I can assure you that we share that frustration very intensely within the club.

    "But we also feel confident that change is coming because of the action being taken to drive long-term success. The appointment of Erik ten Hag was the most visible example of that action, and the most important. We're pleased to have got that done early and we can't wait for Erik to get started.

    "Success won't be achieved overnight but we are determined to get there, and we will be relentless in our efforts to achieve it. The support of fans will be crucial, and we accept that we have further work to do to strengthen that relationship, aided by the work of this forum."

    When things are not going well on the pitch for United, frustrated fans quickly turn their attention to the club's owners, the Glazer family.

    Thousands of supporters protested the Glazers' ownership during United's last three home matches of the season, but Arnold is convinced the club is doing more than most to engage with and listen to fans.

    Additionally, he is hopeful an improvement in on-field matters next season will breed wider positivity.

    "As stated earlier, everyone at the club, from the owners down, accepts that performances this season have been well below what we expect," he continued. "We are taking decisive action to improve things and there is huge commitment and passion across the club to return to where we think we belong: challenging for, and winning, titles.

    "We are very aware of how fans are feeling and understand their concerns and frustration. Football is a game of passion and we fully respect fans' right to make their feelings known, as long as this remains legal and peaceful at all times. We have a duty of care to the fans who come to enjoy games, and to our staff who enable games to go ahead, and their safety will always be our priority.

    "I would very much hope that all fans within Old Trafford approach next season with renewed optimism and confidence as we look forward to a fresh start under Erik ten Hag.

    "We have the best fans in the world and when Old Trafford is at its loudest we have a significant advantage against our opponents. I hope this unrivalled passion will be used to support the team and the new manager as we start this exciting new chapter together.

    "As a club we are doing more than ever before – and more than most of our peers – to engage with fans and listen to your views. We have strengthened and expanded this fans' forum, set up our new fans' advisory board, and continue to engage directly with [fan] groups. We are committed to listening to our fans and working collaboratively to improve the fan experience and keep the club strong and healthy. We need fans to keep engaging with us to be able to do this."

  • French Open: 'I stopped playing for years but never gave up' – rookie Jeanjean revels in Pliskova upset French Open: 'I stopped playing for years but never gave up' – rookie Jeanjean revels in Pliskova upset

    Leolia Jeanjean became the lowest-ranked woman to beat a top-10 player at the French Open since 1988 as the world number 227 stunned Karolina Pliskova on Thursday.

    French player Jeanjean was a promising youngster whose career looked to have been scuppered by knee trouble, but at the age of 26 she is making her grand slam debut in Paris and is through to the third round.

    On Court Simonne-Mathieu, she crushed last year's Wimbledon runner-up Pliskova 6-2 6-2, surprising herself with the way she brushed off the eighth-seeded Czech.

    It made Jeanjean the lowest-ranked woman to beat a top-10 opponent at Roland Garros since a 16-year-old Conchita Martinez upset ninth seed Lori McNeil at the 1988 tournament.

    The then little-known Martinez would go on to win Wimbledon in 1994 and reach number two in the world.

    As a teenager, Jeanjean reached 676th in the world in 2013, but she had slumped to 1,180th by November 2020. A once-promising career looked set to end with Jeanjean sliding into obscurity, but she thrilled the Roland Garros crowds with her dismantling of Pliskova.

    Mixing her studies in finance with college tennis at Lynn University and the University of Arkansas has helped Jeanjean climb inside the top 250 on the WTA Tour, and her big-stage breakthrough has finally arrived in her homeland.

    "I'm very, very happy," she said. "What's happening right now is something I never imagined before. When I stopped playing for four to five years I never imagined I'd be in the third round of a grand slam.

    "The fact I never gave up and always believed in myself is probably why I'm here today. Now I'm 26, and it's my first grand slam. I thought I would have lost in the first round in two sets and I find myself beating a top-10 player.

    "I don't know how it's possible that it's happening."

    It was after Jeanjean sustained her knee injury that she chose to go down the US college route with her career, knowing many tennis stars have come through the system.

    "I wanted to give myself another chance," she said.

    Pliskova lost on clay to a player from outside the WTA top 200 for the first time since going down to Arina Rodionova in qualifiers for a tournament in Fes, Morocco, more than 10 years ago. Irina-Camelia Begu awaits Jeanjean in the third round.

    Pliskova's exit was the latest in a string of shocks which have meant that for the first time at Roland Garros, six or more of the top 10 seeds have been eliminated in the first two rounds. She joined Barbora Krejcikova, Maria Sakkari, Anett Kontaveit, Ons Jabeur and Garbine Muguruza on that list of casualties.

    The 30-year-old Pliskova said Jeanjean's variety made her an awkward opponent, and suggested the courts played slowly.

    "I think this court is a bit too brutal,," Pliskova said during a news conference. "My serve was not working. I don't have a horrible feeling but, of course, like you lose, so of course I'm not happy about it, but I just want to give credit to her, I think she played a great match."

  • Champions League final: Only Klopp stands between Ancelotti and immortality on night of destiny in Paris Champions League final: Only Klopp stands between Ancelotti and immortality on night of destiny in Paris

    There is a debate to be had that, even if Real Madrid lose Saturday's Champions League final at Stade de France and Carlo Ancelotti never lifts another trophy again, the Italian will still be able to stake a claim as being remembered as the greatest coach of all time.

    After all, he has already won 22 trophies across a managerial career spanning 27 years that has seen him coach 10 different clubs in five different countries. Indeed, he this month became the first coach to win each of the Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and LaLiga.

    There is no questioning Carlo's credentials, then, but victory against Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool in Paris really would take the 62-year-old into 'GOAT' territory as the outright most successful coach in terms of major European honours.

    Ancelotti is currently level with Alex Ferguson and Giovanni Trapattoni in that regard with seven UEFA club competition triumphs – three Champions Leagues, three Super Cups and one Intertoto Cup, a much-derided competition that is now defunct.

    Many would suggest a better barometer of determining the true Greatest of All Time would be to simply look at how many Champions Leagues or European Cups, as it was formerly known, a manager has won. In that case, Ancelotti is level with Bob Paisley and Zinedine Zidane with three apiece.

    Triumphing for a fourth time in UEFA's showpiece competition, having previously done so with Milan in 2003 and 2007, and Madrid in 2014, would therefore set Ancelotti apart from the rest.

    The hugely experienced coach has a great record when it comes to Champions League finals, too, with victories in three of his previous four such matches. The only exception to that? In 2004-05 when Liverpool famously beat Milan on penalties in a game they trailed 3-0 at half-time.

    CARLO'S CUP PEDIGREE

    The glitz and glamour of a Champions League final was far from Klopp's mind in that campaign when in his fourth season in charge of Mainz. The 2004-05 season was just as memorable for the German club's supporters as Liverpool's, though, as they finished 11th in what was their first top-flight campaign.

    Seventeen years on, Klopp now has a shot at becoming one of 17 multiple-time winners of the European Cup/Champions League, level with the likes of Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and even Manchester United great Ferguson.

    He went all the way with Liverpool in 2019, triumphing over domestic rivals Tottenham, but his previous two finals in the competition ended in disappointment, with defeat against Bayern Munich as Dortmund boss in 2013 and against Zidane's Madrid as Liverpool manager in 2018.

    Zidane may have been replaced by Ancelotti in the Madrid dugout, but this weekend presents Klopp – and indeed Liverpool – with a shot at redemption. Having won two trophies already with the Reds this season, Klopp's cup final record looks a lot better than it did just a few months ago.

    He has now won eight of his 18 finals, which compares to 16 victories from 22 finals for Ancelotti across all competitions. In percentage terms, Klopp has won 44 per cent of finals he has contested, while Ancelotti has won 73 per cent.

    A FAMILIAR FOE AWAITS

    Ancelotti and Klopp are no strangers to one another, of course, with Saturday's showdown set to be their 11th meeting in all competitions. Ancelotti edges the overall record from the previous 10 encounters with four wins to Klopp's three.

    Despite managing an Everton side far inferior to Klopp's Liverpool, Ancelotti lost just one of his three Merseyside derbies during his season-and-a-half in charge of the Toffees.

    That includes three successive games without defeat, culminating in a 2-0 win in February 2021 – Everton's first Anfield victory since 1999 and their first win either home or away over Liverpool since 2010.

    Ancelotti certainly had Klopp's number in the most recent of their battles, although the results of his two finals against English clubs in European competition have been mixed – the aforementioned shoot-out loss in 2005 and a 2-1 win two years later, both during his time with Milan and both against Liverpool.

    The Italian has certainly stood the test of time, with his 70 per cent win rate in his second stint with Madrid bettered only by the 75 per cent enjoyed the first time around in the Spanish capital, and now a shot at history – a fourth Champions League and an eighth European trophy – awaits.

    Against a familiar opponent in both Liverpool and Klopp, and in a city where he helped grow Paris Saint-Germain into a force to be reckoned with just over a decade ago, the stage is set for Ancelotti to further strengthen his claim as being the greatest of them all.

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