Offensive linemen do not win NFL awards.

For as much as their performance is pivotal to the success of an NFL team, the cold hard truth is the narratives that decide the MVP, Offensive Player of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year awards are not built around those who spend their time in the trenches.

But if there is going to be an end to the wait for the first offensive lineman to win Rookie of the Year, then it may come from Rashawn Slater of the Los Angeles Chargers.

Slater is enjoying a stellar beginning to his NFL career, the 13th overall pick vindicating his draft status and locking down the left tackle spot to allow quarterback Justin Herbert to enjoy an MVP calibre start as the Chargers have gone 4-1 through five games.

With the class of rookie quarterbacks enduring plenty of first-year struggles and few of the highly drafted skill position players delivering results worthy of such significant recognition, Slater should have a better chance of at least receiving some Offensive Rookie of the Year votes.

And ahead of a blockbuster clash between the Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens, Stats Perform assesses whether Slater can take home the prize.

Slater's stellar performance

Though he had difficulties protecting Herbert from Cleveland Browns star Myles Garrett in Week 5, giving up a sack on a stunt involving Garrett and Malik McDowell and another following a spin move from the 2017 first overall pick, Slater has otherwise done a superb job keeping his quarterback clean.

His pressure rate allowed of 5.3 per cent ranks fourth among left tackles with a minimum of 100 pass protection snaps. Digging deeper into his numbers, Slater has lost only 13 of his 110 pass protection matchups, a win rate of 88.18 per cent.

Slater's stunt-adjusted win rate of 87.29 per cent is 13th among tackles with at least 50 matchups and is superior to that of Penei Sewell (76.27), the seventh overall pick of the Detroit Lions.

With his athleticism translating superbly to the highest level, Slater has been similarly effective in the run game, with a double-team adjusted win rate of 85.25 per cent from his 37 matchups.

Rarely would such sound offensive line play even put a rookie in the conversation for an individual award; however, 2021 could prove a unique case.

A lacklustre QB class?

Much was made of the strength of the 2021 quarterback class, yet that has not been reflected in the play of the five signal-callers to be taken in the first round so far.

Truly standout performances from rookie quarterbacks have been thin on the ground to this point, and the fact 15th overall pick Mac Jones leads the group in passing yards (1,243) and percentage of accurate, well-thrown balls (83.2) speaks to the mediocrity of their displays.

Jones has been accurate while struggling to push the ball downfield, with his air yards per attempt average of 7.51 the lowest among rookie quarterbacks.

First overall pick Trevor Lawrence's six touchdowns lead all rookies, yet his well-thrown percentage is a disappointing 75.2 per cent and his pickable pass percentage of 4.85 is well above the league average of 3.16.

The only two rookies to have excelled at avoiding turnover-worthy throws are Justin Fields (1.43 per cent) and Trey Lance (2.13 per cent). However, Fields has yet to put together a game to suggest he could win the award while Lance's one start so far was an uneven performance in which his positive flashes were negated by the poor execution of his offensive team-mates.

With the quarterbacks failing to build a convincing case, the favourite for Offensive Rookie of the Year must be Cincinnati Bengals receiver Ja'Marr Chase.

Chase's 456 receiving yards are seventh in the NFL and he already has five touchdowns to his name. The fifth overall pick is producing a big play on 38.9 per cent of targets, comfortably the best rate among rookie receivers with at least 10 targets.

Such numbers would seem to make him the clear frontrunner, but with the Bengals now 3-2 and facing a more difficult schedule than they have contended with through five weeks, his stock could soon take a dent and open the door for Slater, whose case would be strengthened by a strong performance against a potential Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.

Oweh a significant challenge

The Chargers' ability to move the ball against the Ravens on Sunday may be contingent on how well Slater performs against another first-rounder in Baltimore pass rusher Odafe Oweh.

Oweh already has three sacks to his name and his 14 pressures were second only to Miami Dolphins' rookie Jaelan Phillips among first-year edge rushers heading into Week 6.

Boasting only 12 wins from 54 pass rush matchups, the more granular numbers are not as impressive for Oweh.

But his production to this point in terms of sacks suggests Oweh is a player who is quick to take advantage of opportunities that come his way.

A freakish athlete with elite short-area and long speed, Oweh only started playing football in high school, meaning there is likely plenty more growth to come from a defender who has already developed rapidly in his short time with the Ravens.

Slater, therefore, cannot afford to take the challenge of facing Oweh lightly despite the matchup numbers indicating he should have a clear advantage over his fellow rookie.

Coverage of the sport is such that more focus is given to the plays where the pass rusher beats his man and gets to the quarterback than to the plethora of snaps where the offensive lineman stops a defender from making an impact.

As a result, Slater's Rookie of the Year argument perhaps rests on him completely stopping Oweh from producing any splash plays.

Even if he does so, the prospect of him claiming the honour will be an unlikely one, but a performance that sees him shut down Oweh, help the Chargers to 5-1 and assist Herbert in further building his MVP case will at least be worthy of a wider conversation about recognition for arguably the premier offensive rookie of the class in the opening month of the season.

Urban Meyer is increasingly encouraged by Trevor Lawrence's work in the NFL and hopes his rookie quarterback can lead the Jacksonville Jaguars to a much-needed first win of the year.

The Jaguars are 0-5 heading into Sunday's NFL London game, although opponents the Miami Dolphins have also struggled to 1-4.

This was always likely to be another tough season for the Jags, who went 1-15 last year to secure the first overall pick in the draft.

Jacksonville used that first-round selection on outstanding college QB Lawrence, a key step on their path to turning around a franchise with only one winning season since 2007.

Facing NFL opposition on a poor team has represented a steep learning curve for Lawrence, whose debut against the Houston Texans brought an entertaining, erratic three-touchdown, three-interception display.

Week 2 saw only 14 of 33 pass attempts completed for a passer rating of 37.2 – the fifth-lowest of the season through five weeks.

But there has been steady improvement across the past two games, in which Lawrence has thrown one TD pass, been picked once and rushed for two more scores.

In Weeks 1 through 3, Lawrence completed only 57.7 per cent of his passes, tossed an accurate, well-thrown ball with 71.2 per cent and offered up a pickable pass with 6.3 percent. Among QBs with 10 or more attempts, he ranked in the bottom four in all categories.

Across Weeks 4 and 5, however, with 74.1 completion percentage, 83.3 well-thrown percentage and 1.9 per cent pickable pass percentage, Lawrence has operated above the league average in each metric.

"[Quarterbacks coach] Brian Schottenheimer and [offensive coordinator] Darrell Bevell have had experience with young quarterbacks – from Andrew Luck to Russell Wilson – and they've done really a great job," Meyer said ahead of the Dolphins game.

"I love the progress, I love the chemistry between the coaches and Trevor, and you can see it on the field.

"You can see his familiarity now with the offense and the people around him. It's really exciting to watch him grow."

Coach Meyer, who is also in his first year in the NFL, is seeing "steady progress" from the entire team and said: "We have really good leadership on the team, a really good locker room on this team, and they want to win in the worst way."

Meyer needs a win as badly as Lawrence, having come in for criticism this season. He also apologised following the team's Week 4 defeat after a viral video showed him sitting on a bar stool while a woman, who was not his wife, danced close to his lap.

But Lawrence said of the Jags coach: "I think he has done a good job of handling the situation. He has had conversations with the team, one-on-one and with all of us.

"[It is] just him being the same guy and coming to work, you know, a super hard worker.

"[He] really cares about this team and no one can deny that, so we are in a good spot and we all respect him. We are just ready to go win some games."

Alexander Zverev rued a missed opportunity to win the Indian Wells Masters as he crashed out in the quarter-finals at the hands of home favourite Taylor Fritz.

American Fritz saved two match points to pull off an upset 4-6 6-4 7-6 (7-3) win over Olympic gold medallist Zverev.

Third seed Zverev was aware he had become hot favourite to triumph in California after Stefanos Tsitsipas crashed out to Nikoloz Basilashvili earlier on Friday, with US Open champion Daniil Medvedev already eliminated.

And the German was frustrated with his performance against Fritz, which left him unable to add to the Masters 1000 titles he has already won in Madrid and Cincinnati this year.

"It was just not really my day, to be honest," said Zverev, who had beaten Jenson Brooksby, Andy Murray and Gael Monfils to reach the last eight.

"I was close to winning, but the level of tennis was just not there for me.

"Mentally this is not easy for me. My next tournament is Vienna, so hoping I can deal with it well there, but right now I just want to go home.

"It was a very long season and I have played well but this one hurts because I knew that, after Stefanos lost this morning, I was kind of the favourite to win this tournament, but my tennis wasn't there yet."

Zverev had won 20 of his previous 21 matches on hard courts and led 5-2 in the deciding set.

But Fritz was not to be denied, firing 36 winners to secure the second top-five win of his career, with this triumph adding to impressive victories over Italian duo Matteo Berrettini and Jannik Sinner this week.

Fritz said: "This is the farthest I've ever been in a big tournament. 

"It is easily the best win of my life, against a really tough opponent on arguably the biggest match I could possibly play, so it's great.

"The biggest thing was match point down, I wanted to make him serve it out, so I just fought as hard as I could to hold that game.

"Then I got fortunate in his service game and from there I felt in control and felt really good under the pressure. I kept fighting. The crowd pushing me on meant so much.

"It is amazing. Especially the way that match ended with such high emotions with the crowd. The crowd was amazing and it is a dream come true."

Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker compared Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa to NFL greats Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski after the star pair helped take down the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series (ALCS).

Altuve and Correa each homered for the Astros, who rallied to top the Red Sox 5-4 in Friday's ALCS opener at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

The Astros wiped out a 3-1 deficit behind Altuve's two-run homer in the sixth inning – his 20th postseason home run as he became the fourth player to achieve the feat.

Correa then completed the comeback in the seventh with his 18th playoff homer – tied for seven-most all-time, while he recorded his 55th postseason RBI, the most among active players.

Baker hailed Altuve and Correa after the Astros drew first blood in the best-of-seven matchup, likening them to Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstars Brady and Gronkowski.

"It's kind of like Tom Brady and [Rob] Gronkowski," Baker said, with Brady and Gronkowski enjoying great success together with the New England Patriots and now the Buccaneers.

"They know how they think. They know probably what they eat for dinner, what they like and what their kids like."

Altuve became the fastest player (68) to reach 20 playoff home runs.

The World Series winner has now scored 11 runs in Houston's five playoff games this season. According to Stats Perform, that is tied with Carlos Beltran (2004) for the most runs in any five-game span in a single postseason.

"He is just so dangerous," Correa said of Altuve. "His track record in the playoffs is insane, and he just inspires me. He inspires me without saying much."

"When I walk into that clubhouse in spring training and I see this guy that has won MVPs, Silver Sluggers, batting titles, Gold Gloves, Hank Aaron Awards," added Correa. "Every single award you can imagine, he has won it, and then he shows up to spring training wanting to work on different things to get even better."

Correa celebrated his fourth career go-ahead home run in the seventh inning or later of playoff games, the most in postseason history.

"He is amazing. He likes this kind of game," Altuve said of Correa. "He wants to go out there and hit big homers. It seems like he expects to go out there and do it, so if you're expecting something, eventually you're going to make it happen, and that's him."

Correa's heroics prompted the Astros star to drop his bat and point to his wrist after homering against the Red Sox.

"It's to my team-mates," Correa explained. "When the playoffs start, they always tell me 'it's your time now to go out there, hit homers.' They told me to hit the watch, when I hit the homer.

"I did it in Chicago [in the ALDS] the first time on my own, and today they told me 'if you hit a homer, hit them with the, it's your time'."

Victoria Azarenka is one win away from becoming the first three-time winner of the WTA Indian Wells Open after rallying past Jelena Ostapenko in the semi-finals.

After dropping the opening set, two-time Indian Wells champion Azarenka stormed back to outlast the 2017 French Open winner on Friday.

Standing in the way of Azarenka and history is Paula Badosa, who eased past Ons Jabeur in the second semi-final in the Californian desert.

 

AZARENKA RETURNS TO INDIAN WELLS FINAL

Winner of the Indian Wells Open in 2012 and 2016, Azarenka is back in the decider thanks to a stirring 3-6 6-3 7-5 comeback against fellow seed Ostapenko.

Former world number one Azarenka was down a set and a break before the 27th seed fought back to prevail over Ostapenko in two hours, 20 minutes.

By seeing off 24th seed Ostapenko, two-time grand slam champion Azarenka celebrated her 33rd match win at Indian Wells – only two women have won more matches at the tournament, Lindsay Davenport (47) and Maria Sharapova (38).

"I think my season has been tricky," Azarenka said. "There were parts where I physically couldn't necessarily bring that extra level, extra fight, which was very frustrating. Then there were parts where I felt that I was looking for something to add, and I didn't necessarily know what it was. It was a lot of searching in the season, a lot of kind of stepping into unknown.

"I feel like right now I'm a bit more settled with a bit more structure, a little bit more discipline, which makes it not necessarily easier but a bit clearer what I need to do. So it doesn't take extra energy on that, so I can kind of focus my energy more on the fighting for every ball."

 

BADOSA UPSTAGES JABEUR

Spaniard Badosa added another scalp to her name by trumping 12th seed Jabeur 6-3 6-3.

Looking to become the first Spanish woman to win the Indian Wells Open, 21st seed Badosa made light work of Jabeur.

Badosa's success means she has beaten four top-20 opponents en route to the final, having stunned Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals.

Having won her first title earlier this year in Belgrade, Badosa will feature in her second career WTA decider.

Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve lifted the Houston Astros to a 5-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series (ALCS).

Correa and Altuve homered as the rallying Astros drew first blood in the best-of-seven series at Minute Maid Park in Houston on Friday.

The Red Sox, who stunned the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Division Series (ALDS), led 3-1 early on the road – Kike Hernandez the architect with a solo shot in the third inning.

But the Astros wiped out the deficit behind Altuve and 6.1 scoreless innings from their bullpen.

Altuve levelled the game with a two-run homer in the sixth inning – his 20th postseason homer as he became the fourth player to achieve the feat.

The Astros star also became the fastest player (68) to reach 20 playoff home runs. Altuve has now scored 11 runs in Houston's five playoff games this season. According to Stats Perform, that is tied with Carlos Beltran (2004) for the most runs in any five-game span in a single postseason.

Correa then completed the comeback in the seventh with his 18th postseason homer – tied for seventh-most all-time, while he recorded his 55th playoff RBI, the most among active players.

It saw Correa celebrate his fourth career go-ahead home run in the seventh inning or later of playoff games, the most in postseason history.

Hernandez – the fourth player to have multiple four-plus hit games in the same postseason, after Albert Pujols (2011), Robin Yount (1982) and George Brett (1985), homered again for the Red Sox in the ninth but it was not enough to prevent the Astros from winning.

Game 2 is back at Minute Maid Park on Saturday.

 

Dodgers at Braves

World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers will open their National League Championship Series (NLCS) at the Atlanta Braves on Saturday.

Seattle Seahawks star Russell Wilson officially landed on injured reserve following finger surgery last week, the NFL franchise announced on Friday.

Wilson injured his right middle finger in the loss to the Los Angeles Rams on October 7 before undergoing surgery.

His10-year run of starts is the sixth longest by any quarterback in NFL history, and the longest of any active QB, but Wilson will now miss the first game of his illustrious career, which has yielded a Super Bowl title.

The eight-time Pro Bowler will sit out at least three games before the 32-year-old is eligible to come off IR.

Seahawks running back Chris Carson (neck) is also on injured reserve ahead of Sunday's clash with the struggling Pittsburgh Steelers.

Despite throwing two interceptions against the Rams, Seattle's three turnovers this season are their fewest through five games in franchise history, according to Stats Perform.

Geno Smith, projected to start for the injured Wilson, has a career interception rate of 4.0, the highest among active QBs with 500 career pass attempts.

DK Metcalf caught the Seahawks' only two touchdowns in the defeat to the Rams, bringing his career total to 25 receiving touchdowns in 40 NFL games (regular and postseason).

Only three other active players had as many or more TD catches after playing 40 NFL games. Odell Beckham Jr. had 34, Rob Gronkowski had 33 and Julio Jones also had 25 (regular and postseason).

Keith Mitchell built a commanding five-shot lead entering the weekend following another impressive round at The CJ Cup.

Mitchell carded an eight-par-under 64 to soar to the top of the leaderboard after the second round in Nevada on Friday.

The one-time PGA Tour champion dazzled with a first-round 62 and the American backed that up by holing an eagle, seven birdies and just one bogey.

Mitchell is the player to beat at the halfway stage after setting a new tournament 36-hole record at 18 under.

"I spent a lot of time in the last few days leading up to this tournament working hard on my game and it's showing," said Mitchell, whose lone victory came at the 2019 Honda Classic.

"I'm very thankful for that. Just shows you that hard work pays off as long as you're doing the right things."

Former world number one Jordan Spieth (65), Kim Seong-hyeon (63), Harry Higgs (67) and Adam Scott (63) are Mitchell's nearest challengers at 13 under heading into Saturday's penultimate round.

Spieth made his move late in the day with four birdies in five holes to earn a share of second position, while another former world number one – Scott – enjoyed a red-hot finish to his day after going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-par-birdie-eagle in his last seven holes.

Scott's second round included a career-high 14 one putts, having played the final seven holes eight under – his best seven-hole stretch to close a round on Tour.

Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy (67) shot his second round in the 60s to move into a tie for 19th position, nine shots behind Mitchell – alongside Abraham Ancer, who made an albatross on the par-five 14th hole, while Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama (70) and two-time CJ Cup champion Justin Thomas (67) are a stroke further back.

American star Brooks Koepka lost ground following his two-under-par 70 which left him seven under, while Dustin Johnson bounced back from his opening-round 74 with a 66.

The unbeaten Arizona Cardinals will be without head coach Kliff Kingsbury on Sunday after he tested positive for coronavirus.

Arizona announced on Friday that Kingsbury had contracted COVID-19, ruling him out of the NFL clash with the Cleveland Browns.

Cardinals quarterbacks coach Cam Turner and defensive tackle Zach Allen will also be sidelined against the Browns following positive tests.

Defensive co-ordinator Vance Joseph and assistant head coach/special teams co-ordinator Jeff Rodgers will share head coach responsibilities in Kingsbury's absence.

The Cardinals lead the NFC West and are the NFL's lone undefeated team at 5-0 as they look to stay perfect this week.

This is the fifth time the Cardinals – an original NFL franchise – have won their first five games but first time since moving to Arizona. They did it twice as the Chicago Cardinals (1922 and 1923) and twice as the St Louis Cardinals (1966 and 1974), per Stats Perform.

Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray has attempted at least 30 passes and completed more than 70 per cent of them in each of his last four games – that matches the longest such streak by a Cardinals player over the last 60 seasons. Kurt Warner had a four-game streak of that kind in 2008.

Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev both crashed out in the quarter-finals on a day of upsets at the Indian Wells Masters.

Tsitsipas – the second seed – suffered a shock defeat to Nikoloz Basilashvili in a memorable outing for the Georgian in the Californian desert on Friday.

Afterwards, third seed Zverev was upstaged by Taylor Fritz in another boilover at the ATP Masters 1000 tournament.

 

BASILASHVILI BANISHES STEFANOS FOR MAIDEN MASTERS SF

In the biggest win of his career, 29th seed Basilashvili conquered French Open runner-up Tsitsipas 6-4 2-6 6-4.

Basilashvili's powerful groundstrokes from the baseline troubled Tsitsipas throughout as he reached his first Masters 1000 semi-final.

Prior to this year, Basilashvili had never won a main-draw match at Indian Wells in four previous appearances.

"I have played really great matches this tournament," said Basilashvili, who is the first Georgian in a Masters 1000 semi-final since Irakli Labadze in 2004. "I was not that happy with how I played today but I was happy with how I managed my stress levels.

"First time in the quarter-finals and it is a big court and Stefanos is a super tough player. I had to keep my physical levels and energy levels in a really good shape because I knew mentally I would be a little bit tight and stressed."

 

FRITZ SAVES MATCH POINTS TO UPSET ZVEREV

Next up for Basilashvili is 31st seed Fritz, who fended off two match points to surprise Olympic Games gold medallist Zverev 4-6 6-4 7-6 (7-3).

Fritz dropped the opening set and rallied from 5-2 down in the decider as he earned his second top-five victory of his career en route to his first Masters 1000 semi-final.

"I was really down and out but I found a way to put myself into it," Fritz said in his on-court interview. "I really wanted to make him have to close me out and I was able to get back into the match.

"Normally you would be so nervous in those situations and in the third set tie-break, but I felt so confident being aggressive, going after my game. It feels really great to play well with the pressure on."

It is the second Masters 1000 tournament of the season to feature three players in their first semi-final – Basilashvili, Fritz and Cameron Norrie – after the Miami Open.

A record-breaking 23 races have been confirmed for the 2022 Formula One season, with Miami included for the first time.

Due to the 2022 World Cup taking place in Qatar next November and December, the FIA's World Motor Sport Council has approved a truncated 36-week season that will run from March 20 until November 20.

The first race will be in Bahrain, with the season drawing to a close in Abu Dhabi.

It is a programme that could present a gruelling test for teams, who have already been stretched in a 22-race 2021 season that does not conclude until December.

Further complicating matters is the presence of two triple-headers. The first takes in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy, and the second presents a much sterner challenge, incorporating races in Russia, Singapore and Japan. 

Due to ongoing coronavirus travel restrictions, there will be no Chinese Grand Prix once again, with Imola replacing it on the schedule.

The Miami Grand Prix is a new addition altogether, meaning the United States will host two races, while Australia, Japan, Canada and Singapore are all set to return after missing the last two seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It remains to be seen if there will be a new defending champion for next year, with Max Verstappen leading Lewis Hamilton by six points heading into the final stages of 2021.

Romain Langasque sits top of the Andalucia Masters leaderboard heading into the weekend after a solid opening two days, while world number one Jon Rahm missed the cut.

The Real Club Valderrama lived up to its infamous reputation as an often-gruelling course a day earlier, with numerous players highlighting the difficulty posed by the windy conditions.

Few struggled like Rahm on home soil as the Spaniard carded a seven-over 78 on what was the worst European Tour round of his career, leaving him 11 shots adrift of overnight leader Julien Guerrier, who was one clear of recent Open de Espana champion Rafa Cabrera Bello on three under.

It was all change for Guerrier and Cabrera Bello on Friday, though, as they went two and three over par respectively for the round.

Rahm dropped three more shots to leave him 10 over for the tournament and heading home early.

Matt Fitzpatrick looked to have stormed to the front of the pack and held the lead before the 18th, but like Guerrier before him, he closed with a double bogey that left him as one of four on three under for the week alongside Laurie Canter, Ryan Fox and Sebastian Soderberg.

Canter was the star of the show, however, enjoying the round of the tournament so far.

His six-under 65 on Friday, which was two shots better than anyone managed the previous day, might have been even better had he avoided a bogey on the 16th.

"The perfectionist in me would like to have played the final three holes better, it sort of took me out of the flow I was in to be honest," he told the European Tour after.

"But up until then it was probably the best 15 holes of golf I've played on tour. I've had lower scores, but in terms of control of the golf ball on a difficult course and quite challenging conditions, certainly on the front nine, it was really, really good.

"On the front nine, I really didn't miss a shot. A couple of holes we deliberately played away from, trying to hit it to 20-25 feet.

"I think the pins were more generous than yesterday, but even so I was obviously delighted to go out in five under, which is great around here."

But it is Langasque who takes a slender one-shot lead into Saturday, with his four-under score for the tournament coming from two rounds of 69, the latest of which including just one bogey and 15 pars as his consistency on the day paid dividends.

On the list of teams built to potentially end the Arizona Cardinals' unbeaten start to the season, the Cleveland Browns are near the top.

However, the Browns are tasked with dealing the Cardinals their first loss of the season without their best offensive player, with running back Nick Chubb ruled out because of a calf injury.

That blow robs the Browns of a runner who is second only to Tony Pollard of the Dallas Cowboys (6.37) in yards per attempt among running backs with 5.81 and is also second with 14 runs of 10 yards or more through five games of the 2021 campaign.

Second to Pollard (4.56) among backs with at least 10 attempts in yards per carry on plays where a defender disrupts the run, Chubb (4.21) stands as arguably the elite running back in the NFL, his remarkable blend of vision, elusiveness, power and speed helping establish him as the focal point of Cleveland's attack.

Yet they may still be able to succeed against the Cardinals' defense without Chubb in their backfield.

While the Cardinals have done an excellent job keeping opponents out of the endzone – their 82 offensive points allowed are the third-fewest in the league – they have struggled to contain opposing running backs.

Arizona's defense has allowed an opponent rushing average of 5.39 yards per carry; only the Los Angeles Chargers (5.59) have performed worse in that regard.

And the Browns do have an extremely reliable reserve to call upon to take advantage of that weakness.

Kareem Hunt is averaging 5.36 yards per carry and, reflecting his ability to stay on his feet through attempted tackles, leads all backs with at least 10 carries with 3.10 yards after contact per rush.

Cleveland's success on the ground is a testament to the strength of their offensive line.

Every member of the Browns' starting offensive line has a double-team adjusted run-block win rate of at least 79 per cent, though tackles Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin are both questionable for Sunday.

Conversely, only three members of Arizona's defensive front have a double-team adjusted run defense win rate above 30 per cent.

In other words, the Browns have a clear matchup advantage in the run game and, even without Chubb, have a back with the ability to exploit it.

Cleveland's run game made a huge contribution to them scoring 42 points in a losing effort against the Chargers last week. With MVP candidate Kyler Murray helming an often explosive offense, they may need a similar showing this week to improve to 4-2. Thankfully, Hunt is more than capable of delivering such a performance. 

The Philadelphia Eagles have traded three-time Pro Bowler Zach Ertz to the Arizona Cardinals.

The 30-year-old tight end forged what the team described as a "special legacy" in an eight-year spell in Pennsylvania that included winning Super Bowl LII.

Ertz joined the Cardinals in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick in 2022 and rookie cornerback Tay Gowan, it was confirmed on Friday.

Ertz's defining moment for the Eagles came in the Super Bowl defeat of the New England Patriots three years ago, his 11-yard catch and drive for the end zone late in the fourth quarter helping to secure a 41-33 victory.

A second-round pick in 2013, Ertz made an NFL-record 116 receptions in 2018 and is second only to Harold Carmichael for catches in Eagles history, making 579 in the regular season and 33 in the playoffs.

He signed off in style on Thursday, scoring a touchdown in the 28-22 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lincoln Financial Field in what proved to be his final appearance for the franchise.

"Zach Ertz built a special legacy in Philadelphia," said chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie. "Talented, tough, and passionate, he helped to establish our team's culture and played a vital role in our success over the years.

"Zach created so many memories that will live on forever, from setting numerous franchise and league records, to reaching across the end zone for the game-winning touchdown in our first-ever Super Bowl Championship. He will always be a member of the Eagles family, not only because of what he accomplished on the field, but also because of the wonderful person, dedicated leader, and exemplary role model that he was for nine seasons in Philadelphia. We wish Zach and [wife] Julie nothing but the best."

The Cardinals, top of the NFC West after a 5-0 start, welcomed Ertz as a "talented replacement" for Maxx Williams, who is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.

The Green Bay Packers head into Week 6 on the back of a remarkable overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last time out.

Mason Crosby was the hero with a match-winning field goal, though his successful punt came on the back of three misses, not to mention the Bengals' Evan McPherson twice clipping the post with efforts in both regulation time and overtime.

The win took the Packers to 4-1 for the season, and next up are old rivals the Chicago Bears on Sunday. 

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens (also 4-1) will look to build on their Lamar Jackson-inspired comeback against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday by beating the similarly in-form Los Angeles Chargers, and the Arizona Cardinals will look to continue their perfect start to the season as they travel to Cleveland.

 

Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears

One of the fiercest rivalries in the NFL rears its head in Week 6, with Green Bay travelling to Chicago. The foes share 22 championship titles between them, and this divisional contest in the NFC North is sure to serve up a treat.

The Packers are 21-5 in regular-season games against the Bears since 2008, when Aaron Rodgers became Green Bay's starting quarterback - indeed, Rodgers has started 25 of those meetings and is 11-2 in the 13 games he has started against Chicago since 2014, throwing 33 touchdown passes and no interceptions in 11 wins. There are three other matchups in which one team has beaten the other 21 times since 2008: Baltimore over the Cleveland Browns (22-4) and the New England Patriots over the New York Jets (22-5) and the Buffalo Bills (21-5).

This is the Packers' first road game against a division rival this season. Green Bay won all three of their away games against NFC North rivals in each of the past two campaigns.

Chicago are 3-2 for the season, though they have a league-low 728 passing yards. The Saints, with 904, are the only other team below 1000. If the Bears are to get anything from this game, they may well rely on the defensive prowess of Khalil Mack, who led the team with seven tackles in Week 5's 20-6 win over the Las Vegas Raiders.

Rodgers will be looking to pick out Davante Adams, meanwhile. He caught 11 passes for 206 yards in the win in Cincinnati. It was the third time since 1997 that a Packers player had 200 or more receiving yards in one game. 

Los Angeles Chargers @ Baltimore Ravens

This will be the first meeting between the Chargers and Ravens since the 2018 Wild Card round – Los Angeles claiming a 23-17 win on that occasion.

The Ravens are 3-1 in the regular season at home against the Chargers, though the last three games have been decided by seven points total. Baltimore go into the game on the back of a brilliant comeback win over the Colts. They trailed by 19 points with less than one minute remaining in the third quarter but came back to win 31-25 in overtime - their largest second-half comeback victory in franchise history.

Quarterback Jackson threw for 335 of his 442 passing yards in the second half and overtime, while completing 90.6 per cent of his passes (29/32). Over the last 30 seasons, there have been 635 quarterbacks to attempt at least 30 passes in the second half/OT of a game – he is the only one with a completion percentage over 90 per cent.

Los Angeles QB Justin Herbert, meanwhile, accounted for five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) along with 427 total yards in just his 20th career start in the Chargers' 47-42 win in Cleveland. For any quarterback in his first 20 career starts, Herbert ranks first in completions (535), second in pass yards (5912) and third in total touchdowns (50).

Arizona Cardinals @ Cleveland Browns

The Cardinals' dream start to the season continued with a 17-10 triumph over the San Francisco 49ers. Arizona is the only unbeaten team in the NFL. This is the fifth time the Cardinals, an original NFL franchise, have won their first five games but first time since moving from St. Louis in 1988.

Arizona have won their last four games against the Browns, dating back to 2007. Before this streak, they had never won more than two consecutive games versus Cleveland. The Browns lead the all-time series, 33 wins to 15, with three ties.

The Browns, however, have won their last six games against NFC teams, including wins against the Bears and Vikings this season. Cleveland’s last loss against an NFC opponent was to the Cardinals in Arizona in 2019 (38-24).

Cleveland's Nick Chubb has 4080 yards rushing in his 49-game NFL career, and will likely become the third active player who had at least 4000 rushing yards through his first 50 games in the NFL, joining Ezekiel Elliott (4881) and Le'Veon Bell (4225).

Elsewhere...

The Patriots have endured a difficult start for the season, going 2-3 through the opening five games. The 4-1 Cowboys are next up, though New England have history on their side, having won six straight games against Dallas, a run dating back to 1998.

London calls for the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars, as the Florida rivals go head-to-head at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The Jaguars' 37-19 loss at home to the Tennessee Titans last week extended their losing streak to 20 games. It is just the second 20-game losing streak in NFL history (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost 26 straight between 1976 and 1977).

It has been a difficult week for the Raiders, whose coach Jon Gruden resigned due to the emergence of offensive emails. Las Vegas take on the Denver Broncos, who they have more wins against than any other opponent in their history.

Cincinnati will look to bounce back from their defeat to the Packers when they take on Detroit. They have won six consecutive games against the Lions, going back to 1998, and a win on Sunday would see the Bengals equal a team record for the most successive victories against a single opponent, matching seven-game streaks against the Houston Oilers (1981- 1984) and the Browns (2014-2017).

Kevin Durant is confident a resolution can be found amid Kyrie Irving's refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19 that is preventing him practising or playing with the Brooklyn Nets.

New York City has a mandate in place, which states NBA players must have had a jab to protect against coronavirus.

Irving stated this week he is neither pro nor anti-vaccination and has respect for both sides of the argument, but as yet he has not had at least one shot, which is the minimum required for him to play home games at the Barclays Center and in fixtures at Madison Square Garden where the New York Knicks play.

The Nets decided Irving will have no involvement with the team until he complies with the rules, but Durant – who joined alongside his team-mate as a free agent in 2019 – is optimistic a resolution will be found.

Speaking after the Nets completed their pre-season duties with a 107-101 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Durant said: "I definitely want Kyrie to be around.

"I wish none of this stuff would happen, but this is the situation that we are in. Kyrie made his decision on what he wanted to do and he chose to do what he wanted to do, and the team did the same.

"It's on me to just focus on me, and do my job, and let those two parties handle that situation. I want our whole team together, and I want us to be at full strength, but sometimes it don't work out that way. But I am still positive that things will work out the best for both parties."

Durant is not upset over Irving's decision, though he acknowledged the situation is not ideal for a star-studded Nets team with championship aspirations.

"We still get to do [what] we love to do every day. This is not the ideal situation coming into the season but some of this, it's out of our control," he added.

"So, what we can do is come in and focus on our jobs every single day. What is being mad going to do?

"We are not going to change his mind, know what I'm saying? We'll let him figure out what he needs to do and the team figure out what they need to do.

"I can't be too mad at somebody making a decision for themselves.

"Who am I to get upset at that? Just focus on what we got in this locker room. When [Irving] is ready, I am sure he will talk to [team owner] Joe [Tsai] and [general manager] Sean [Marks] and they'll figure it out and they'll tell us. Until then we are going to keep grinding."

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts says Max Scherzer was his "ace in the hole" after using him in the ninth inning for his first career save in Thursday's 2-1 series-deciding win over the San Francisco Giants.

Scherzer slammed the door on the Giants to clinch a 3-2 National League Division Series victory for the Dodgers after Cody Bellinger's RBI single for Justin Turner to score the go-ahead run in the ninth inning.

The 37-year-old right-hander, who had started Game 3 for 10 strikeouts across seven innings, was handed the ball to save the game on this occasion after warming up in the bullpen. It was Scherzer's first career save in his 432nd appearance.

"It was seeing the flow and how the game was going to play out, knowing we have an ace in the hole and trying to find the ultimate leverage spot to use him," Roberts told reporters after the game. "How the game played out, it made a lot of sense."

Roberts had used five pitchers before Scherzer's introduction, starting Corey Knebel before Julio Urias took over in the third inning, tossing down five strikeouts across four innings.

The game was tied at 1-1 leading into the ninth inning when Bellinger, who has had a season to forget, drove in Turner.

Bellinger, the 2019 National League MVP, hit at .165 with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs during the regular season, but he has batted at .294 with three RBIs in the postseason.

"Even for me, it's like going into that at-bat prior where he punched, he saw close to 10 punches, he grinded and competed, that last at-bat there was fight in there," Roberts said about Bellinger.

"It wasn't about mechanics, it was about a fight. It was me versus you. Cody versus [Giants pitcher] Camilo Doval.

"He got a huge hit. Like I said, Cody has grown a lot from adversity. For him to come up with the big hit, I'm very happy for him."

The result means the Dodgers have reached the National League Championship Series, where they will face the Atlanta Braves. The Dodgers are through to this stage for the fifth time in six seasons.

LA had to overcome the Giants, who boasted the best majors regular season record at 107-55, but Roberts said they were not content with that.

"I think what great ball clubs have the ability to do, is understand the gravity of a moment and a series in this case," he said. "Give everything you have to that series, which we did.

"It was a huge series but we also understand our job is not done. Now our focus turns to the Braves."

Tom Brady had no problem with his thumb as the superstar quarterback guided the Tampa Bay Buccaneers past the Philadelphia Eagles 28-22 on Thursday.

All eyes had been on Brady pre-game after the seven-time Super Bowl champion hurt his thumb in last week's rout of the Miami Dolphins.

But Brady looked fine on the road in Philadelphia, where the 44-year-old threw two touchdowns as NFL champions the Buccaneers held off the fast-finishing Eagles.

"I feel great, awesome," said Brady, who finished 34 for 42 for 297 yards, two touchdowns and an interception without being sacked.

"It's football season, so I'm just prepared to play football. I feel great, I really do."

It was Brady's 10th career win on three days' rest, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Peyton Manning for the most by any quarterback since the 1970 merger.

Brady's performance helped the Buccaneers – who lost Richard Sherman to injury in the opening half having played without Rob Gronkowski – win their third straight game as they improved to 5-1 for the season.

It marked just the fifth time in franchise history the Buccaneers have won five of their first six games. In each of the other four – including the 2002 Super Bowl campaign – they went on to make the playoffs.

The Buccaneers had to withstand a rally from the Eagles, who were 28-7 down before fighting back to close within six points of the visitors.

"It was a good win. You know, it's tough to win on the road. Obviously, we didn't play our best, so we gotta get back to work," Brady said.

"We gotta good little break here, use it and get back to work, see if we can get better."

World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched their spot in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) for the fifth time in six seasons after a 2-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants in the winner-takes-all showdown.

The Giants suffered ninth-inning heartbreak in Game 5 of the Division Series decider after Cody Bellinger drove in the go-ahead run, while the MLB playoff concluded in contentious fashion on Thursday.

Dodgers ace Max Scherzer – in his 432nd career appearance – got his first professional save for the Dodgers after former NL MVP Bellinger continued his bright postseason by driving in Justin Turner for the decisive run in the ninth.

The Dodgers, who became the first team in MLB playoff history to have their relievers pitch 8.0-plus innings with 12 or more strikeouts and no walks in a game, will now face the Atlanta Braves in the best-of-seven NLCS, starting on Saturday.

After five scoreless innings, the game came to life in the sixth with Corey Seager landing an RBI double from starting pitcher Logan Webb to drive Mookie Betts home to give the Dodgers the lead.

Betts finished the game with four hits, becoming the first player in Dodgers history to achieve the feat in a winner-takes-all playoff contest.

But the Giants responded immediately with Darin Ruf crushing a solo homer to level the game up at the bottom of the sixth inning.

Giants ace Webb finished with seven strikeouts across seven innings, while Julio Urias came on in the third inning, tossing down five K's across four innings.

At the top of the ninth inning with two runners on, Bellinger hit Camilo Doval low into right centerfield with an RBI single.

Bellinger delivered the game-winning RBI in a serious-clinching victory for the fifth time in his career – the most by any player in MLB postseason history, according to Stats Perform.

The game ended on a controversial call for Wilmer Flores' check swing from Scherzer's slider called a swing and third strike to end the Giants' campaign following their remarkable 107-55 regular season.

 

Red Sox at Astros

The opening game of the American League Championship Series (ALCS) takes place on Friday as the Houston Astros host the Boston Red Sox. Framber Valdez and Chris Sale will start on the mound for the respective sides.

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