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."

Aaron Rodgers says the Green Bay Packers need to savour the moment after clinching the NFC North division and a playoff berth with Sunday's 31-30 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

The Packers secured the NFC North title for the third straight season with the victory as Rodgers threw three touchdown passes to equal Brett Favre's franchise record.

The win improved the Packers' record to 11-3, well clear of the Minnesota Vikings (6-7) in the NFC North. Green Bay also remain in pole position for top seeding in the NFC ahead of the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals who all have 10-4 records.

"You have to savour these a little bit," Rodgers said at the post-game news conference. "These are special.

"It's just the first step in our goals, but a lot of times the coach-speak - I'm not saying that [Packers head coach] Matt [LaFleur] did this - but a lot of times there might be coach-speak that takes over and says, 'Hey, you know this is just one goal and we have bigger goals and stuff,'.

"I think it's important to keep that perspective on how special accomplishing this is three years in a row and so just to enjoy it, to savour it, savour these moments. These are special moments."

Rodgers completed 23 of 31 attempts for 268 yards, with his third touchdown pass for Marquez Valdes-Scantling bringing him level with Favre with 442 career TD passes for the Packers.

The Packers QB will look to break the record when they host the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field on Christmas Day.

"[Tying the record] means a lot," Rodgers added. "It’s been a special run for me to follow up a legend. Hopefully, I can break that record at home on Christmas next week."

The divisional title is also LaFleur's third having taken over as Packers head coach in 2019.

"We're certainly happy about winning the North again," LaFleur said. "But also understand that there's three very tough games in front of us and we're going to have to continue to work every day to improve in order for us to get to where we want to go.

"We'll always celebrate victories. That was our first goal that we accomplished but I think this team has higher aspirations."

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. 

 

For the second time in three weeks, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh opted to try for a two-point conversion and the win in the final minute of regulation rather than kicking the extra point and hoping to prevail in overtime. 

Just as they had against the Pittsburgh Steelers a fortnight earlier, the Ravens failed to convert Sunday and fell in heart-breaking fashion, 31-30 to the Green Bay Packers. 

Green Bay led 31-17 before Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley, starting in place of the injured Lamar Jackson, ran for a pair of touchdowns in the final five minutes. 

After the second of those, with 45 seconds remaining, Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh opted to go for a two-point conversion that would have put the Ravens (8-6) on top, but Huntley could not connect on his pass attempt to Mark Andrews. 

Harbaugh had told Huntley before the first of those touchdown drives that he planned to go for the win in regulation again if the Ravens found themselves in a similar position to the one they were in against the Steelers, and the coach did not second-guess himself afterward. 

"We were just trying to get the win right there," Harbaugh told reporters. "I think our chances of winning right there were a little bit higher than in overtime, maybe, if you calculate it out. I felt good about it. I thought we had a good play. Again, they made a really good play."

Had the Ravens decided to kick the extra point and tie the game at 31-31, there were no guarantees they would even have made it to overtime, considering Aaron Rodgers would have had some time to work his magic before time ran out. 

That made it a slightly different call than the one Harbaugh made against the Steelers, when the Ravens scored with just 12 seconds to play in the game. 

Either way, Harbaugh said those two failures in quick succession – not to mention a failed two-point try earlier in the fourth quarter in a two-point loss to the Cleveland Browns last week – would not affect his process going forward. 

"It’s situation to situation," Harbaugh said. "To me, in both of those cases, that gave us the best chance to win. Because we didn’t win doesn’t make it not true. It’s still true now, just as true as it was then. So, it doesn’t always work out."

Harbaugh's players backed his decision, with Andrews saying the move fit Baltimore's persona. 

"I think people that second-guessed that are wrong," he said. "I think that was the right thing to do. We’re an aggressive team.”

The Arizona Cardinals were the best team in the NFL the first half of the season and had remained perfect on the road even after stumbling in recent weeks, leaving them in position to clinch a playoff berth with a win Sunday. 

Instead, the Cardinals turned in their most disappointing performance of the season, getting blown out 30-12 by a Detroit Lions team that had entered the game with an NFL-worst 1-11-1 record. 

So it was that an Arizona team that opened the year 7-0 slumped to 10-4 after a defeat no one saw coming. 

"This is an unacceptable loss," Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks told reporters. "We weren't ourselves today."

Added quarterback Kyler Murray: "They were hungrier than us. They played harder than us." 

It was a performance reminiscent of the Cardinals' ugly 34-10 home setback against the Carolina Panthers last month, but all the more galling given the quality of the opposition. 

The Lions were even colder than the Cardinals were hot to open 2021, dropping their first eight games before playing to a 16-16 draw with the Pittsburgh Steelers, then losing two more before finally beating the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago. 

Yet Detroit managed to dominate the proceedings Sunday even though the teams finished the game virtually level in terms of key statistics. 

The Cardinals out-gained the Lions 398-338, while Detroit held a slight edge in time of possession (31:52 to 28:08) and each team had just one turnover. 

Yet Arizona failed to convert on all four red-zone opportunities, most notably turning the ball over on downs at Detroit's three-yard line after a failed fourth-down try late in the first half. 

Goff engineered a 97-yard touchdown drive from there, giving the Lions a 17-0 lead at half-time, and Detroit never looked back. 

Arizona, meanwhile, may have tried to do too much after getting in that hole. 

"There's no such thing as a 17-point touchdown and we've got to approach it that way if we get in this situation again," said head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

Arizona had won all seven of their road games this season by double digits entering Sunday, and they face one more daunting test away from home, a trip to the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys in two weeks' time. 

They can only hope to figure out what adjustments need to be made before facing that challenge. 

"We know who we are," Murray said. "We know the guys we have in the locker room, we've got the talent, we've got the coaches, we've got the leadership. It's about locking in and playing to our capabilities.

"Screw everything else, pretty much. We have to be how we were at the beginning of the season."

Aaron Rodgers hit another career milestone as the Green Bay Packers held off a fourth-quarter charge by the Baltimore Ravens to clinch the NFC North with a 31-30 victory Sunday. 

Division champions for the third consecutive year, the Packers became the first NFL team to lock up a playoff berth. 

Green Bay led 31-17 before Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley, making his second career start, ran for a pair of touchdowns in the final five minutes. 

After the second of those, with 45 seconds remaining, Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh opted to go for a two-point conversion that would have put the Ravens (8-6) on top, but Huntley could not connect on his pass attempt to Mark Andrews. 

That last defensive stand allowed Rodgers and the Packers (11-3) to escape with a win that gave them the division crown as the veteran quarterback completed 23 of 31 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns.

The last of those, an 11-yard strike to Marquez Valdes-Scantling early in the fourth quarter, was the 442nd touchdown pass of the quarterback's career, tying him with Brett Favre for the most in Packers history. 

His opposite number Sunday, the 23-year-old Huntley, was starting with Ravens star Lamar Jackson sidelined by ankle injury. 

Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2020, Huntley had a brilliant game, rushing for 73 yards and two scores while completing 28 of 40 passes for 215 yards and two more scores. 

Andrews was his top target all day, catching 10 passes for 136 yards and both of those TDs, but the tight end could not get his hands on the critical conversion try at the end. 

 

Bengals edge Broncos after Bridgewater injury

Joe Burrow hit Tyler Boyd for a 56-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter that proved the difference as the Cincinnati Bengals picked up a key road win with a 15-10 defeat of the Denver Broncos. 

The lone Bengals TD of the afternoon came about five minutes after the Broncos (7-7) lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a head injury. 

Bridgewater collided with Bengals linebacker Joe Bachie in a scramble out of the backfield and both players went down. Bridgewater had to be carted off the field and was transported to a Denver hospital as a precaution. 

His replacement, Drew Lock, finished the drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Tim Patrick but Denver did not score again. 

Burrow completed 15 of 22 passes for 157 yards for the Bengals (8-6), who are tied with the Ravens atop the AFC North. 

 

Garoppolo, 49ers keep up winning ways

The San Francisco 49ers rolled to their fifth victory in six games, downing the Atlanta Falcons 31-13. 

Jimmy Garoppolo completed 18 of 23 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown and Jeff Wilson Jr. rushed for 110 yards and a score for San Francisco (8-6). 

The victory coupled with division leader Arizona's stunning loss in Detroit earlier Sunday kept the 49ers firmly in playoff contention as they sit third in the NFC West behind the Cardinals (10-4) and Los Angeles Rams (9-4). 

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense showed up in bravura fashion to pave the way for a 19-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field.

Despite the offense struggling, Pittsburgh forced four turnovers against a Titans side who continue to lead the AFC South but slip to 9-5 with this setback.

Linebacker T.J. Watt had 1.5 sacks to reach 17.5 for the season, establishing a new Steelers record as the home team improved to 7-6-1, getting the better of a side that blanked the Jaguars 20-0 last week.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin hailed the effort from his team to overcome their shortcomings and capitalise on their strengths, with Chris Boswell kicking four field goals and Ben Roethlisberger snatching a rare touchdown.

Roethlisberger (16-of-25 for 148 yards) also went fifth on the all-time NFL passing yards list in this game, jumping ahead of Philip Rivers with a three-yard pass to Najee Harris and boosting his career total to 63,562 yards by the end.

Tomlin said: "It's an exciting victory for us, a very necessary one. They won the battle of field position, their special teams were better than ours, but in spite of all those things I thought the guys continued to fight.

"The turnovers levelled the playing field in the second half. That was the catalyst for us to go ahead and secure victory. I like the way the guys collectively smiled in the face of adversity.

"We'll be thankful for this win. That's a really good football team we played and were able to beat today. Hopefully there's some growth associated with conquering challenges like that, and we are going to need that as we go on the road next week."

The Steelers tackle the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs on December 26, while the Titans are back in action against the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night.

Lions chew up Cardinals

Jared Goff threw three touchdown passes and kept the Arizona Cardinals waiting to nail down a playoff place as the Detroit Lions sprang a huge shock with their 30-12 win.

With just one win, Detroit headed into the game against the Cardinals, who were 10-3 for the season, as heavy underdogs, despite Arizona losing last week to the Los Angeles Rams.

Goff found Amon-Ra St Brown and Josh Reynolds for touchdowns in the first half as the Lions surge to a 17-0 lead at halfway – at that point their biggest advantage at any stage of any game all season and the Cardinals' biggest half-time deficit for three years.

The lead was even wider come the end of the game, with Goff finding Jason Cabinda for another touchdown, meaning Arizona's once-firm grip on first place in the NFC West is now far from that, as the Rams (9-4) lurk.

The NFL said the result marked only the third time since 1970 that a team with the worst record in the NFL had beaten a team with the best or joint-best record, taking into account only games when the sides had already played at least eight times in the season.

It was also the third-largest win all-time by a team with nine-plus fewer wins than an opponent, per Stats Perform.

Cowboys almost there

The Dallas Cowboys moved to the brink of a first playoff appearance since 2018 thanks to a 21-6 win over the New York Giants, improving to 10-4 as they continue to lead the NFC East.

Behind the arm of Dak Prescott (28-of-37 for 217 yards and one touchdown), the Cowboys had just enough to avoid any undue worries, with the scoring all wrapped up by the end of the third quarter.

While Prescott was far from perfect, he was streets ahead of Giants starting QB Mike Glennon (13-of-24 for 99 yards) who was picked off three times by the Cowboys. Trevon Diggs had the third of those interceptions to reach 10 for the season. Glennon was eventually benched to allow Jake Fromm (6-of-12 for 82 yards) a chance to impress.

Prescott lost both of his starts against the Giants as a rookie in 2016 but has now gone 9-0 in subsequent starts against New York.

Frank Reich warned his Indianapolis Colts team they have to "dial it back" despite an impressive victory over the New England Patriots on Saturday.

The Colts scored a 27-17 win against the Patriots at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday to improve to 8-6 on the season, leaving them fifth in the conference standings.

Next time out, the Colts face the high-flying Arizona Cardinals and, while delighted to add another tick in the win column, head coach Reich said there is plenty of work ahead in their playoff bid.

"We're the five seed, we got to win every one of these games," Reich said. 

"What we said in there was, hey, this is a great team win but this counts for one. It counts for one, that's it. 

"So, we got to dial it back in and get ready to play against, obviously, the best team in the NFL next Saturday."

Jonathan Taylor was influential for the Colts, rushing for 167 yards including a 67-yard touchdown with 2:01 remaining on the clock in the fourth quarter to put the seal on the Colts' triumph.

It means Taylor has run for a score in 11 straight games, which matches the Hall of Famer Lenny Moore for the longest streak in franchise history.

"I think it just says we're a team that's going to come in and play 60 minutes, four quarters of hard football and we're not going to give up till the clock hits zero," Taylor said. 

"It was just all out effort."

Speaking about Taylor's sensational 67-yard TD, Reich admitted he almost called for a different play.

"I almost called a pass there because I thought we needed a first down and I talked it over with Marcus Brady and said 'no, let's call one more pass,'" Reich said of discussions with his offensive coordinator. 

"There's no way anybody's catching him."

For the Patriots, defeat means they drop out of the AFC top-seed spot, while their seven-game winning streak was snapped.

A host of sloppy errors left them with a 20-0 deficit from which they were never able to recover.

"I've said it like five times, I can say it another five times," head coach Bill Belichick said. 

"We didn't do anything well enough to win tonight."

Jonathan Taylor dazzled with a 67-yard rushing touchdown as the Indianapolis Colts ended the New England Patriots' winning streak with a 27-17 win on Saturday.

The Patriots, who had won seven games in a row, suffered their first road defeat of the season despite a gallant last-quarter fightback, closing within three points after trailing 20-0.

Taylor's 67-yard touchdown settled the contest with two minutes on the clock, after Patriots quarterback Mac Jones had twice found Hunter Henry for fourth-quarter TDs.

The Colts running back's touchdown marked a franchise record for rushing TDs in a season with 17. Taylor had 29 carries for 170 yards, while QB Carson Wentz completed five of only 12 attempts for 57 yards.

Earlier, Taylor escorted Nyheim Hines into the end-zone to put the Colts ahead, before Matthew Adams blocked Jake Bailey's punt, with EJ Speed swooping on the loose ball for a touchdown.

Darius Leonard intercepted Jones' second quarter pass as the Colts opened up a 17-0 lead. Jones would throw two touchdown passes but had two interceptions, completing 26 of 45 attempts for 299 yards.

The Patriots were left with too much in the final period, despite Henry's second TD with 2:21 left on the clock, and would rue penalties and mistakes.

The Colts improve to 8-6 and remain second in the AFC South, while the Patriots are 9-5.

Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur has no doubt Aaron Rodgers will be "ready to go" for Sunday's clash with the Baltimore Ravens.

Rodgers went through the week with any work in practice as the NFC North-leading Packers prepare to visit AFC North leaders the Ravens in Baltimore.

Reigning NFL MVP Rodgers has been dealing with a fractured left pinky toe, but the Packers are not concerned about his availability.

"He did not do anything today other than our walk-through prior to practice," LaFleur told reporters on Friday, with a win against the Ravens locking up the NFC North title.

"But as far as him playing in the game, we don't have any concerns. Certainly, yeah, you'd love to have him get those live reps just for the timing purposes.

"But again, is it what it is. We'll make the best of it, and there's no doubt in my mind he'll be ready to go."

Rodgers threw four touchdowns and no interceptions against the Chicago Bears last week – it was his 28th career game with at least four TD passes and zero interception, tied with Tom Brady for the most such games in NFL history (including playoffs).

The Packers dropped 45 points on the Bears at Lambeau Field, 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, according to Stats Perform.

The NFL has been forced to move three games for Week 15 due to the COVID-19 outbreak across the league and the United States.

The Cleveland Browns, who could have been without as many as 20 players, were set to face the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday, but that clash has been rescheduled for Monday.

The Washington Football Team were preparing to face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the same day in which the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams were due to do battle, but both games will now take place on Tuesday.

The NFL announced the changes in a statement, which said: "We have made these schedule changes based on medical advice and after discussion with the NFLPA as we are seeing a new, highly transmissible form of the virus this week resulting in a substantial increase in cases across the league.

"We continue to make decisions in consultation with medical experts to ensure the health and safety of the NFL community."

Due to the changes, all six sides involved will have shorter breaks between Week 15 and 16. The Browns head to the Green Bay Packers on Christmas, while the Raiders, Eagles, Washington, Seahawks and Rams all have two days fewer to prepare for their next games.

The fixture alterations come after the NFL announced updated coronavirus protocols on Thursday, which include fully vaccinated players being allowed to return from quarantine a day after testing positive if they produce two negative tests within 24 hours and are asymptomatic.

Indeed, 32 players were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday alone, after reports on Wednesday suggested around 100 NFL players recently tested positive for the virus across a three-day span.

Last season amid the ongoing global pandemic the NFL completed its season on time but had to reschedule 18 games.

In July, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell warned the 32 teams that no games would be rescheduled under such circumstances again and, instead, forfeits could happen.

The Indianapolis Colts pinned their hopes for the 2021 season on a gamble. It was an educated bet, one made in the knowledge that the last time Frank Reich and Carson Wentz were on the same roster, the results were remarkable.

Still, their decision to trade for Wentz, coming off the worst season of his career, represented a substantial risk. He was a quarterback at his lowest ebb, sacked a league-high 50 times while his 15 interceptions also led the NFL, one viewed by many as beyond repair.

Yet the Colts backed Reich, Wentz's offensive coordinator in Philadelphia in the 2017 season when the Eagles won the Super Bowl and the 2016 second overall pick played at an MVP level prior to a serious knee injury, to successfully resurrect his career, and were willing to give up a first-round pick to make that bet.

A first-rounder in next year's draft will head the Eagles way should Wentz play 75 per cent of the offensive snaps or if he plays 70 per cent of the snaps and the Colts make the playoffs.

As of Week 14, Wentz has 97.5 per cent of the snaps and the 7-6 Colts would be in the playoffs as an AFC wild card if the season ended today. Put simply, the Eagles are getting a first-round pick back for a player they were desperate to get off the books.

So with the Colts firmly in the mix for a postseason berth and the Eagles, who themselves are in the hunt for a Wild Card spot in the NFC, set to have three first-round picks come April, it begs the question, who is winning the Wentz trade?

A substantial turnaround

The raw numbers hint at a successful renaissance for Wentz, whose 22 passing touchdowns are the 10th-most in the NFL.

Meanwhile, he has done a much better job of taking care of the football, throwing just five interceptions. Of quarterbacks to have started double-digit games this season, only Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson (4) have thrown fewer.

He has thrown 12 interceptable passes this season, according to Stats Perform data, but his pickable pass percentage of 2.99 is the sixth-best among quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts.

While obvious improvements have been made in his ability to limit turnover-worthy players, the reality is that Wentz still struggles for accuracy.

Big moments proving too much

Wentz's completion percentage has improved to 63.3 from a dismal 57.4 last season. Yet that is still some way short of his 2018 zenith of 69.6, which is a clear outlier for a quarterback who has never at any other point sniffed the 70 per cent mark.

He is 25th among qualifying quarterbacks in that category, his disappointing numbers reflective of an inability to produce accurately thrown passes consistently.

Indeed, his well-thrown percentage of 76.1 is below the average of 78.4 for quarterbacks who meet that 200-throw threshold, with the Colts' success this season arguably more a product of a dominant run game than any career revival by Wentz.

The Colts lead the league in rush yards per attempt with 5.15 while registering the fifth most carries (383) in the NFL, with 15.1 per cent of those going for 10 yards or more. Only the Cleveland Browns (16.3 per cent) and the Eagles (15.3 per cent) have done a better job at creating explosive runs.

Indianapolis' prowess running the ball has minimised Wentz's shortcomings. Yet in the situations where the pressure is in his face or on his shoulders, those failings are magnified.

His well-thrown percentage dips to 66.2 when under pressure from the opposing pass rush (the average is 69.3), and when asked to deliver in tight games Wentz has been unable to rise to the challenge.

Wentz and the Colts are 1-4 in one-score games this season, with all five of his interceptions coming across three of those defeats. He also lost a fumble in losses to the Baltimore Ravens and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his three turnovers critical in a 38-31 reverse at the hands of Tampa.

The evidence in that sense points towards Wentz's improved 2021 being a product of his situation, rather than his own merits. When the team has needed him to elevate them to victory in tight games, he has fallen short. There are plenty of quarterbacks who fall into the same bracket, but they did not come at the cost of a first-round pick that could prove key to the Eagles turning things around.

Eagles have crucial flexibility

The Eagles could be deemed unfortunate in potentially having three first-round picks in a draft class that is not regarded as being anywhere near as strong at quarterback as the 2021 crop.

Yet the progress 2020 second-round pick Jalen Hurts, who took over for Wentz last year, has made in his second season gives them the flexibility to potentially use that capital to either build around him or parlay those selections into a blockbuster trade for another quarterback.

Hurts' numbers as a quarterback - 60.1 completion percentage, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions - are nowhere close to those of Wentz. Yet a 79.9 well-thrown percentage points to him having superior accuracy to that of his predecessor, while he adds significantly more as a runner.

Only Lamar Jackson (767) has more rushing yards among quarterbacks than Hurts (695), who leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns for players at the position with eight.

With a quarterback whose diverse skill set matches the direction of the modern game, the Eagles can use their premium picks to fill the holes on the roster around him to improve Hurts' situation or package him with some of that draft capital to land a quarterback who can quickly turn them into contenders again.

Indianapolis' room for manoeuvre comes in the form of close to $60million in salary cap space, yet they are in a position where they will be building around a quarterback playing well enough to deserve to be the starter in 2022 but with an obvious ceiling.

The Colts are in the better spot in the race for this year's playoffs and have the better team right now, yet the ultimate impact of the Wentz trade could be that it puts the Eagles in a position to leapfrog Indianapolis and their former franchise quarterback in the ranks of contenders.

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.

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