The game is won in the trenches. 

It's an old NFL axiom that has rung true regardless of era, regardless of the changes in philosophy that have defined those eras, and it is one that holds particular weight as the season approaches the business end.

If you can win the battle up front in December and January, chances are you will be in a strong position to challenge to go all the way.

Rarely is one player the difference one either side of the trenches. A superstar edge rusher can be taken out of the game if he does not have support, while an offensive line can still collapse even with a dominant left tackle if it does not have the necessary cohesiveness and continuity.

Yet when two position groups are so dependent on the success of the entire unit, it can make it difficult to decipher who is among the elite when it comes to pressuring the quarterback and protecting him.

That is where the numbers provide that crucial bit of added context. Stats Perform's adjusted win rate does just that, looking at how often a pass rusher or pass protector wins or loses a one-on-one matchup and adjusting that percentage based on their success on stunts.

And there are clear and, in some cases, surprising standouts in that metric through 13 weeks of the NFL season.

Menace in the middle

The identity of the best interior pass rusher in the game has rarely been in dispute and, though he likely will not win Defensive Player of the Year in 2021, Aaron Donald is delivering another year to serve as a reminder of his status as the league's best on that side of the ball.

Donald has the highest stunt-adjusted pass rush win rate of any defender in the league (min. 100 matchups). The Los Angeles Rams star has a win percentage of 64.29, no other defender to meet that matchup threshold even comes close to a win rate of 60 per cent.

Indeed, Donald's closest challenger is Washington defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, his win rate of 50.35 surprising given the former first-round pick has seen much of his assistance taken away through injuries to edge rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat.

No defensive tackle with 150 snaps on the interior of the defensive line has more quarterback knockdowns (20) than Allen, the quickness, athleticism and power he has at his disposal in part fuelling the resurgence of a defense helping Washington climb back towards the playoffs.

Living on the edge

T.J. Watt leads the NFL in sacks with 16, yet it is the man most likely to rival him for DPOY who leads the way among edge rushers in terms of win rate.

Myles Garrett has won 62 of his 130 one-on-one matchups in 2021, while his stunt-adjusted win percentage of 48.40 is the best for edge players, dominating opposing linemen at a level to suggest he could have even more than 14 sacks.

Indeed, Garrett's 20 adjusted sacks are the most among edge rushers, his adjusted sack rate of 10.7 per cent also leading the way at the position group (min. 100 snaps).

While Garrett's progression to contender for one of the most prestigious individual NFL awards is a natural one for a first overall pick long since viewed as a home run, fewer will have anticipated the kind of dominance Maxx Crosby has produced this season.

Crosby's stunt-adjusted win percentage of 45.03 is second among edge rushers, while no defender in the NFL other than Donald (87) has more one on one wins than Crosby's 82. 

They have come from 185 matchups, but the fact his team-mate Yannick Ngakoue has won only 39 of his 215 matchups illustrates just how quickly Crosby has ascended to an edge rusher superior to many of his more high-profile contemporaries.

Unexpected pressure

When the New York Giants selected Dexter Lawrence with the 17th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, his impact was expected to come predominantly in the run game.

Yet after Donald and Allen, it is he who is the cream of the crop when it comes to interior defensive linemen dominating opposing offensive linemen on pass-rush snaps.

Lawrence, whose career-high for sacks in college came when he had 6.5 as a freshman at Clemson, boasts a stunt-adjusted win rate of 46.26.

Yet his success in pushing the pocket from the interior has not translated into impressive sack production, Lawrence has only 1.5 on the year to go with five quarterback hits.

Residing in the same division, Micah Parsons' sack numbers are more illustrative of his ability to generate pressure.

Parsons playing on the edge occasionally was something most expected when the Cowboys selected him 12th overall this year, yet nobody could have envisaged just how devastating a player Dallas picked to play off-ball linebacker could be in that role.

He has a stunt-adjusted win percentage of 38.32, just below that of former Defensive Rookie of the Year and San Francisco 49ers star edge rusher Nick Bosa (40.31).

That has translated to a 10-sack season for Parsons, who appears destined to end the year joining Bosa among the group of players to have won DROY.

Parsons' season, regardless of when it concludes, will be fondly remembered and marked by accolades, while Lawrence's efforts will likely be quickly forgotten, that contrast reflective of the difference in their roles and the markedly different directions in which their two franchises are headed.

Pass-blocking bullies

Recognition can be tough to come by for offensive linemen, yet it will be a surprise when the dust has settled on the 2021 campaign if these three offensive tackles are not at least able to celebrate a Pro Bowl nod.

The end date of Tom Brady's career is unknown and, after looking close to the finish line in defeat in his final game as a New England Patriot, the injection of life into his career since moving to Tampa Bay has a lot to do with the young blood on the right side of the Buccaneers' offensive line.

Tristan Wirfs, the Bucs' first-round pick in 2020, leads all tackles with at least 100 matchups with an incredible stunt-adjusted win percentage of 95.94. In his second year in the league, he has lost just nine of his 236 one on ones.

Such dominance makes Wirfs' presence integral to the Bucs' hopes of retaining the Lombardi Trophy, and the importance of the man second at his position has rarely been in doubt.

The Cowboys' offensive line was a shambles in 2020 without Tyron Smith, as well as several other missing parts, and he has reaffirmed his value in 2021, losing only nine of 159 matchups for an adjusted win rate of 94.24.

Behind him, Trent Williams (89.91) has been mentioned as an offensive lineman who would be worthy of consideration in a pretty open race for Offensive Player of the Year due to his continued success in pass protection and the monstrous athleticism he demonstrates in blocking for the 49ers' ultra-versatile run game. 

Having traded back with Tampa Bay to allow the Bucs to select Wirfs in the same draft in which they traded with Washington to acquire Williams, there may be some regret in the Niners' front office about that first deal. Hindsight is 20-20, yet with their current issues on the right side of the O-Line, it is hard not to think about just how impressive a front featuring both Wirfs and Williams could have been.

Interior excellence

Joel Bitonio doesn't quite meet the 100-matchup threshold, but an exception should be made in this instance given the exceptional play he is again producing for the Cleveland Browns in providing interior pass protection.

The three-time Pro Bowl guard has lost nine of his 99 matchups, his stunt-adjusted win percentage an outstanding 92.13 per cent. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield may be banged up, but that is hardly the fault of a player who continues to set the standard for protection among interior offensive linemen.

Zack Martin has long since met that standard and the Cowboys' right guard is back to his best after an injury curtailed 2020, boasting an adjusted win rate of 88.78 and losing only 13 of his 100 one on ones.

With Martin and Smith playing at an All-Pro level again, it is no surprise Dak Prescott is enjoying a Comeback Player of the Year season.

Struggles on the offensive line have damaged Lamar Jackson's MVP hopes, but the Baltimore Ravens' star can have no complaints about the protection he has received from guard Kevin Zeitler.

While the play of those around him has declined, Zeitler remains the picture of consistency with an adjusted win percentage of 88.60. In a season where so much about the Ravens has been difficult to trust, Zeitler has offered a much-needed reliable presence in the middle.

Rising to the challenge

Not helped by Wirfs' efficient acclimation to life at the highest level, the rookie returns from 2020 fourth overall pick Andrew Thomas appeared disappointing.

But the Giants' left tackle's progression this season serves as further proof that development is not always linear and can vary greatly from player to player.

This season, he is performing at the standard the Giants anticipated when they made him the first offensive lineman off the board. He has lost 14 of 130 one on ones and boats an adjusted win percentage of 88.64.

New York's patience with Thomas is being rewarded but the Los Angeles Chargers haven't had to wait long for Rashawn Slater to justify his first-round status.

Slater has produced a season worthy of putting him in the mix to be the first lineman to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Whether his efforts in protecting Justin Herbert translate into actual votes remains to be seen, however, no lineman in the NFL has faced more one on ones than Slater's 257, and he has lost only 30 of them.

With a stunt-adjusted win percentage of 88.47, Slater has compiled an outstanding OROY resume, his case furthered by him doing so after a year away from the game in 2020.

Early-career success completely evaded Ereck Flowers, yet he looks to have found a home as the left guard for Washington.

The former Giant is in his second spell with Washington and is proving a pivotal part of a playoff push, coming off worst in just 17 of his 134 one on ones and posting an adjusted win rate of 87.59.

His success is enabling Taylor Heinicke to keep defying the odds at quarterback and put Washington in position for a Wild Card berth.

Slater has settled quickly while Flowers bounced around and took significant time to find his footing. But, at very different points of their careers, both could be rewarded for excellent campaigns with postseason football.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers activated star cornerback Richard Sherman off injured reserve ahead of Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills.

Sherman had missed three games after sustaining a calf injury in warm-ups prior to the Week 10 NFL clash with the Washington Football Team.

The Super Bowl champion, who joined the Bucs in Week 4, featured in three games before suffering a hamstring injury at the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6.

But five-time Pro Bowler and three-time First-Team All-Pro Sherman – with 11 tackles and a fumble recovery to his name in Tampa – is set to return when Super Bowl champions the Buccaneers face the Bills (7-5).

The Buccaneers were 11-5 last season and they are 9-3 with five games left this term. This will be the first time Tampa Bay finish with a winning record in each of two consecutive seasons since 2007 (9-7) and 2008 (9-7), per Stats Perform.

Sunday's game will feature two of the four quarterbacks with more than 60 touchdown passes over the last two seasons in Bucs superstar Tom Brady (74) and Bills QB Josh Allen (63). The only other QBs with more than 60 passing touchdowns over that span are Green Bay Packers signal-caller Aaron Rodgers (71) and Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs (63).

Brady has a 32-3 record in his 35 career starts against the Bills. His 32 wins over Buffalo are the most in NFL history against one team by a starting quarterback.

The seven-time Super Bowl champion's 91.4 career winning percentage versus the Bills is the highest in NFL history by a starting QB against one team (minimum: 20 starts).

Rob Gronkowski caught two touchdown passes in the Bucs' victory over the Atlanta Falcons last week.

It was Gronkowski's third game with two TD catches this season and the 20th game with at least two TD receptions in his NFL career, the most among active players.

There is a new leader in the AFC after the New England Patriots' remarkable victory over the Buffalo Bills on Monday, stretching their winning streak to seven games.

But after battling the elements as well as the Bills in Buffalo, Bill Belichick's Pats have a bye in Week 14.

That allows others the opportunity to recover ground – including the Bills, who face New England great Tom Brady on Sunday. It is not a meeting they have enjoyed previously, as Stats Perform explores.

Buffalo Bills (7-5) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3)

Just like Belichick, Brady has enjoyed taking on the Bills – and he had plenty of opportunities to do so with the Pats in the AFC East.

Brady is 32-3 against Buffalo in his 35 career starts, with no starting quarterback in NFL history recording more wins against a single team. His .914 winning percentage in these games represents the highest by a starting QB against one team (minimum 20 starts).

Aged 44, Brady remains one of the best passers around, with a league-leading 74 TD passes over the past two seasons.

Bills QB Josh Allen is joint-third on that list (63 TDs), and Buffalo need his offense to fire, making the most of the platform afforded to him by the defense. After the 14-10 loss to the Pats, the Bills became the first team this season to lose two games in which they allowed 14 points or fewer (also 9-6 at Jacksonville).

Las Vegas Raiders (6-6) @ Kansas City Chiefs (8-4)

The Chiefs are one of three 8-4 AFC teams close behind the 9-4 Pats and will back themselves to tie that record in a matchup they have dominated.

Since 2013, when Andy Reid was appointed head coach, the Chiefs are 14-3 against the Raiders, with only New England against the New York Jets (16 wins) and the Seattle Seahawks against the San Francisco 49ers (15) beating a divisional opponent on more occasions in that span.

This is a time of year in which Patrick Mahomes tends to excel, now on a record run of 19 consecutive regular season wins in QB starts in November or later, but Kansas City's turnaround on defense has been key to their recent improvement.

The Chiefs head into this game having become the first team in NFL history to have a five-game streak allowing 25 or more points and a five-game streak allowing fewer than 20 points in the same season, with the latter sequence ongoing.

Baltimore Ravens (8-4) @ Cleveland Browns (6-6)

Another 8-4 AFC rival, along with the Tennessee Titans, the Ravens again face the Browns in the tightly contested AFC North.

Cleveland's previous game – before their Week 13 bye – was in Baltimore, making them the first team since 1991 to play the same team in back-to-back regular season games, although the Browns beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 17 last year before beating them again the following week in the playoffs.

The Ravens won 16-10 in Week 12 as Browns QB Baker Mayfield completed just 48.6 per cent of his passes, meaning he now has a 2-6 career record when completing no more than half of his pass attempts.

Lamar Jackson was far from convincing in that game, tossing four interceptions, but he had his sixth career game with at least 250 passing yards and 50 rushing yards against the Steelers last week – five of those coming in 2021. The Pittsburgh game was his second loss from those six.

Elsewhere...

The Washington Football Team believe again after four straight wins to move into a playoff place at 6-6, aiming to become only the third team to start 2-6 and make the postseason. One of the previous two examples was Washington last year, who won both games against the Dallas Cowboys, teeing up a potential three-game winning streak against this week's opponents – just their third ever.

Aaron Rodgers has claimed he "owns" the Chicago Bears, and the numbers show exactly what the Green Bay Packers QB means. He is 21-5 in the regular season and 1-0 in the postseason against the Bears, who will fear this week's matchup.

The Cincinnati Bengals have painful memories of playing the 49ers, having lost 12 of 16 games against San Francisco, including two Super Bowls. Joe Burrow will hope to get back on track in the latest meeting, however, having led the league with 14 picks to this point. Boomer Esiason, with 22 in 1990, was the only previous Bengals QB to lead the league outright in interceptions.

Mike Tomlin hinted at changes after the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to recover from an awful first half in their 36-28 Thursday Night Football defeat to the Minnesota Vikings.

The Steelers fell to 6-6-1 in Minneapolis, just unable to rally after going scoreless through two quarters and trailing 29-0 in the third.

There had been 1,616 previous occasions of a team falling behind by 29 points or more in the NFL, but Pittsburgh became the first of those to then have the chance to win the game.

Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers back down the field on the final drive but ran out of time at the Vikings' 12-yard line.

Head coach Tomlin appeared to initiate the improvement with some ruthless calls, benching receiver Chase Claypool and inside linebacker Joe Schobert.

And he warned more changes could follow after the Vikings were allowed 176 rushing yards in the first half – a season high for any team before halftime.

Only twice since 1991 – 182 for the Oakland Raiders in 2013 and 179 for the Baltimore Ravens in 2020 – have the Steelers given up more rushing yards in the first two quarters of a game.

Criticism was not reserved for the defensive line alone, though, as Roethlisberger was sacked four times before halftime.

"We were 'JV' again tonight, and I'm talking up front on both sides," Tomlin said. "We've got to be better than we were. We'll turn over every stone to do that.

"We've got a long week coming up between this and our next one. We'll make good use of that time and assess not only what we're doing, but who we're doing it with."

He added: "I'd be remiss – I'd be doing that group a disservice – if I didn't look at all options."

Outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who leads the league with 16.0 sacks, sustained a groin injury in the second quarter, while Alex Highsmith went down with a knee complaint.

But the Steelers afforded themselves no excuses, as defensive end Cameron Heyward said: "The first half was horrendous.

"Guys weren't filling. We weren't getting off blocks. We weren't tackling. You name it – we did it wrong."

Dalvin Cook, just back from a torn labrum and dislocated shoulder, was the man to profit, with 205 rushing yards – one shy of his career high – and two touchdowns.

Both his scores came in that first half – only the second time Cook has had two rushing TDs heading into halftime – along with 153 yards. This was just Cook's second 100-yard first half.

"I'm just happy to be back, happy we got the win," he said. "My coaches know once I tell them I'm good, I'm good.

"There ain't no holding me back, just turn me loose. I just appreciate them for believing in me and just trusting in who I am."

Former Denver Broncos wide receiver and Super Bowl 50 champion Demaryius Thomas has died, aged 33.

Roswell Police Department confirmed to the NFL that Thomas was found deceased in his home on Thursday, with preliminary information suggesting his death stemmed from a medical issue.

In a short statement on its Twitter page, the league said: "The NFL family mourns the tragic loss of Demaryius Thomas and we extend our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones."

Thomas, who officially announced his retirement in June, having last played for the New York Jets in the 2019 season, spent eight and a half of his 10 years in the league with the Broncos.

Among tributes to the four-time Pro Bowler, a Broncos statement read: "We are devastated and completely heartbroken by the sudden, tragic passing of Demaryius Thomas. D.T. was beloved by our entire organisation, his team-mates and coaches, and our fans.

"Recently retiring as a Bronco, we were very much looking forward to celebrating Demaryius for years to come as one of the greatest players in franchise history."

The team added: "Demaryius' humility, warmth, kindness and infectious smile will always be remembered by those who knew him and loved him.

"We have lost an incredible player and a special person in Demaryius Thomas. Our hearts and deepest sympathies go out to the Thomas family and all who are grieving this unimaginable loss."

A first-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Thomas dealt with injuries in his first two seasons with the Broncos but was a starter in Denver thereafter.

In the 2013 season, in which quarterback Peyton Manning broke the single-season record for passing yards (5,477) and passing touchdowns (55), Thomas was the team's foremost offensive weapon (142 targets).

The receiver ranked fourth in the league for receiving yards (1,430) and second for receiving scores (14).

That season ended with a Thomas TD in a Super Bowl defeat to the Seattle Seahawks, but he and the Broncos returned to the title game two years later, winning the championship to end Manning's legendary career.

At the time of Thomas' retirement earlier this year, Manning said: "It was an honour and a privilege to play with you, to be your team-mate.

"I always had great respect for your toughness, your work ethic, your fearlessness across the middle, your ability to make big catches in big games.

"I never played with anybody as big and strong and powerful and as fast as you."

The Minnesota Vikings have survived an almighty Pittsburgh Steelers comeback after blowing a 29-point lead to win 36-28 and improve to a 6-7 record in Thursday Night Football.

The Vikings had led 29-0 midway through the third quarter before Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led a remarkable fightback that included three final quarter touchdowns but they left it too late to slump to a 6-6-1 record with only one win in their past five games.

Trailing 36-28 with three seconds on the clock, Roethlisberger threw for Pat Freiermuth in the end-zone but the tight end could not hold the pass under pressure from Vikings safety Harrison Smith despite getting two hands to the ball.

The Vikings had jumped the Steelers with three first-half touchdowns, as Kirk Cousins found Justin Jefferson wide open, before running back Dalvin Cook crossed twice in the second period.

Back-to-back Greg Joseph field goals extended their lead to 29 points in the third quarter before the Steelers responded with Roethlisberger finding Najee Harris in the corner for a TD.

Rookie Harris scored his sixth rushing touchdown of the season early in the last quarter, before Roethlisberger found James Washington down the middle to make it 29-20 with 12 minutes to play.

Minnesota immediately responded with KJ Osborn scoring in a 62-yard play from Cousins, who made 14 of 31 attempts for 216 and two touchdowns, only for Freiermuth to narrow the gap again, with Diontae Johnson completing the two-point conversion to make it a one-play game.

Pittsburgh almost completed a remarkable comeback as Freiermuth could not grasp the last-ditch throw from Roethlisberger who completed 28 of 40 attempts for 308 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has accepted some of the blame for the franchise's decision to fire offensive coordinator Joe Brady.

Brady was dismissed by Panthers head coach Matt Rhule earlier this week in the wake of their 33-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

The Panthers have lost three of their past four games and are 5-7 across the season, sitting second in the NFC South behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3).

Newton, who returned to the Panthers last month for a second stint, has completed 29 of 52 attempts for 289 yards for three touchdowns in his three games for Carolina this season.

The quarterback failed to land any touchdowns with a 23.8 percent completion rate with two interceptions in the defeat to the Dolphins prior to their bye, making five of 21 attempts for 92 yards

"Do I think I had something to do with it?" Newton told reporters on Thursday when asked about Brady's dismissal. "The competitor in me, absolutely, yes. Because the truth of the matter is you don't lose your job because of success.

"Where I'm at now is doing what I can control to make sure that I have a job, too. Let's just be honest."

The Panthers' struggles on offense have been present before Newton's return to Carolina, having gone three straight games without a touchdown with Sam Darnold at QB.

Jeff Nixon has been handed the role as the Panthers' new offensive coordinator.

"I'm not going to lie, I'm proud to be in the position I'm in," Nixon said. "I'm extremely happy Coach Rhule gave me this opportunity. I'm going to try to make the most of it.

"I know in the past there really hasn't been a lot of people who look like me in this position, so I don't take that lightly. I'm going to do my best and try to represent others like me and do the best job I can."

Newton added: "I'm here to win. When we win, everyone else gets promotions. When we don't, people get cut along the way."

Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson expects to make his return from a hamstring injury in Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers.

The 28-year-old one-time Pro Bowler has missed the past three games for the Bears due to a hamstring injury sustained on November 8 in the 29-27 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Bears have lost six of their past seven games, including going down 33-22 to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, with Robinson's absence not helping.

"That's the plan," Robinson told reporters on Thursday when asked about returning to play. "Everything is trending in the right direction."

Robinson has endured a difficult season, troubled by an ankle complaint and managing only 30 receptions for 339 yards for one touchdown in nine games.

"Seasons like this are tough," Robinson said. "They're extremely tough.

"But being able to compartmentalize all of it, putting certain things to the side and trying to focus on the main thing, continuing to improve, figuring out how to get better, figuring out how to possibly change the result and figuring out how to continue to put yourself in a position to ultimately do what you want to do, and that's win the game. It's tough when you have seasons like this. But again, the season's not over."

The Bears, who are 4-8, are likely to also get quarterback Justin Fields back after missing two games with broken ribs.

Seattle Seahawks star Jamal Adams will miss the remainder of the NFL season as the safety prepares to undergo shoulder surgery.

Adams hurt his shoulder in Sunday's 30-23 win over the San Francisco 49ers, an injury that will sideline the three-time Pro Bowler for the rest of the 2021 campaign.

It is same shoulder that required surgery last offseason and a major blow for the struggling Seahawks (4-8).

"Jamal Adams is going to have surgery, I think it's tomorrow [Thursday], on his shoulder," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said on Wednesday.

"Unfortunately, he got hit just the wrong way, and he's going to have to get fixed up.

"He's been through this before, and he's really rocked by it of course. We're all pulling for him to get out of this thing and get back as soon as possible. Really disappointed for him as well as us."

Carroll added: "He was really emotional about it last night, just because it means so much to him to keep playing, and he's been through this before and to have to go through it again." 

Adams – who signed a four-year, $72million contract extension in August, making him the highest-paid safety in the NFL – was acquired from the New York Jets in a 2020 trade.

In his first season with the Seahawks, he recorded 9.5 sacks in 12 games – a record for defensive backs, to help Seattle to the NFC West title.

Through 12 appearances this season, the 26-year-old ranked third on the team in tackles (87), second in tackles for loss (four), fourth in passes defenced (five) and second in interceptions (two).

"You lose all of the fire that he brings and explosive plays, big hits," Carroll said. "He's had a couple of picks. He's been doing everything except for we haven't gotten the sacks that we got a year ago, but other than that he's been playing really hard and tough, and he's got a lot of energy for us, it's been very positive."

Seattle have a chance to win back-to-back games for the first time this season when they face the lowly Houston Texans (2-10) on Sunday.

The last time the Seahawks went a whole season without back-to-back wins was 1992 (franchise worst 2-14 record that season), according to Stats Perform.

Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers said he has no regrets after taunting the Chicago Bears with the comment "I still own you!" as he prepares to renew his rivalry with the NFL franchise.

Rodgers was at his brilliant best as the reigning MVP claimed his 22nd win over the Bears 24-14 in October, the veteran quarterback throwing two touchdowns and running for another at Soldier Field.

His 22-5 record against the Bears ranks third-best for winning percentage (81.5) by a quarterback against a single opponent since 1950 (minimum 25 starts), behind Tom Brady (91.4 per cent against the Buffalo Bills) and Ben Roethlisberger (87.0 per cent against the Cleveland Browns).

As he left the field, Rodgers could be heard taunting Chicago supporters: "All my f****** life, I own you. I still own you. I still own you."

The two teams meet again on Sunday, this time at Lambeau Field and Rodgers was asked about those remarks.

"I don't know that you can question a whole lot of what I said," Rodgers told reporters on Wednesday.

"We have gotten the better of them the last, I don't know, 27, 28 times we've played them for the most part ... A lot of times in situations like this, the trash talk is only going to be used if you're getting after that individual that was trash-talking.

"So in order to trash-talk, you have to have a lot of confidence in what you accomplished and what you're going to accomplish in the future.

"At some point, what I said will be used against me -- that's just part of it. But I have no regrets for saying what I said, and obviously I think the record kinda speaks for itself. But I get it. "At some point that will be used against me. It is what it is. I don't regret saying it at all."

Rodgers heads into his fourth straight game with no, or very limited, practice time due to a fractured toe.

"I don't want him to take anything away," Rodgers said regarding head coach Matt LaFleur. "I don't think there will be any restrictions on anything come Sunday [against the Bears].

"It might be on Matt's mind, but every time we've talked, I always tell him that everything's in. There's nothing that we need to hold out."

The series is the most played in NFL history with 201 games between the Packers and Bears.

Rodgers threw for two touchdowns with no interceptions in Green Bay's 36-28 win over the Los Angeles Rams last time out. He has the best career touchdown to interception ratio (4.68, 435 TDs to 93 INTs) of the 201 quarterbacks in NFL history with at least 1500 career attempts, per Stats Perform.

Depending on how your fantasy league is structured, it's either the final week of the regular season or the first week of the playoffs.

Regardless of which category you fall in, if you're still in contention for the title, it is crunch time.

There's no room for error, and those line-up selections must be right.

Stats Perform is here with a helping hand once again, identifying four offensive players and a defense worthy of starter consideration in Week 14.

 

Quarterback: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks @ Houston Texans

After a shaky start, Wilson looked more like himself in the Seahawks' surprise win over the San Francisco 49ers last week.

There was a big-play connection with D.K. Metcalf and he also found Tyler Lockett for what proved the game-winning touchdown to keep Seattle's faint playoff hopes alive.

Having prevailed despite three turnovers from the Seahawks' offense, Wilson gets to try to continue his upward momentum against a Texans defense ranked 24th in the NFL by yards per play allowed.

Running Back: Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos vs. Detroit Lions

Williams was a workhorse for the Broncos against the Kansas City Chiefs in the absence of backfield mate Melvin Gordon.

He carried the ball 23 times for 102 yards while also catching six passes for 76 yards and a touchdown in Denver's loss at Arrowhead Stadium.

With Gordon back in practice ahead of Week 14, the same share of the touches appears unlikely for Williams.

But for a rookie running back averaging 4.8 yards per attempt, that may not matter against a Lions defense that has given up 42 rushes of 10 yards or more, tied for seventh-most in the league.

Wide Receiver: Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers @ Minnesota Vikings

Trusting the Steelers' offense has been a difficult thing to do in what is expected to be the final year with an evidently declining Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.

Yet one Steelers player fantasy managers, especially those in points per reception leagues, have had no problem believing in is wide receiver Johnson.

Johnson has double-digit targets and at least seven catches and 80 yards in each of his last four games. His 51 targets over that span are the most in the NFL.

He has topped 100 yards in two of those games and caught a pair of touchdowns in last week's win over the Baltimore Ravens.

Only six teams have given up more passing touchdowns in 2021 than the Vikings (21). If their pass coverage is as soft as it was on the final drive of their shock loss to Detroit, Johnson should thrive.

Tight End: T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions @ Denver Broncos

Back to those aforementioned Lions, for whom the pressure is off after they finally claimed that elusive first win in Week 13.

That extra freedom might see them look to open up the passing game against Denver, and Hockenson would likely be a beneficiary of such an approach.

He has a touchdown in each of his last two games and at least eight targets in five of his last seven. That could be enough for a productive fantasy outing even against a stingy Denver defense.

Defense: New Orleans Saints @ New York Jets

Injuries look like being too much to overcome for Sean Payton and the 5-7 Saints, but the Jets are an ideal opponent to face for teams looking to stay in the mix.

Even if quarterback Taysom Hill continues to struggle throwing the ball, the Saints can win this one on the defensive side. 

Their defense has forced a turnover in three successive games while no offense has committed more giveaways than the 25 racked up by the Jets.

This one is simple. If you own the Saints defense or are in a position to pick it up on the waiver wire, slot this group into your starting line-up.

Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick requires hip surgery and is set to miss the rest of the 2021 season, it emerged on Tuesday.

The news, reported by the NFL's official website and elsewhere, means Fitzpatrick's active involvement with Washington may already be effectively over.

Fitzpatrick had three completed passes from six attempts for 13 yards against the Los Angeles Chargers before injury struck him down in the Week 1 clash.

The 39-year-old has not been involved since that 20-16 defeat, which saw him replaced by Taylor Heinicke.

Heinicke has been the stand-in that Washington have deployed in the starting role since, with the 28-year-old throwing 18 touchdown passes and achieving a pass completion rate of 67.9 per cent, the ninth highest in the NFL.

He had not started a game since 2018 until being summoned to step in for Fitzpatrick.

Tuesday's reports said Fitzpatrick would undergo arthroscopic surgery.

His contract with Washington was for only one year, and it remains to be seen whether an extension will be considered.

Fitzpatrick has previously played for an array of NFL teams, including the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins.

There was no official word from Washington regarding Fitzpatrick, who has been labelled 'Fitzmagic' by admirers during his NFL career, which began in 2005 with the St. Louis Rams.

Washington did issue a squad update on Tuesday, with linebacker Khaleke Hudson added to the reserve/injured list and Milo Eifler joining from Miami's practice squad as a replacement.

They are 6-6 for the season, having won their last four games to shake off a slow start.

Quarterback Mac Jones hailed his offensive line after the New England Patriots overcame the Buffalo Bills in a tight game in tough conditions at Highmark Stadium.

In an AFC East first-place showdown, it was the Patriots who came out on top 14-10 thanks to a 64-yard rushing touchdown from Damien Harris and two Nick Folk field goals.

New England have now won seven games in a row – the franchise's longest winning streak since they celebrated eight successive games to start 2019 – and move to 9-4, having been 2-4 after six games this season.

Rookie QB Jones only threw two-for-three passing for 19 yards and no touchdowns, while tallying another five carries for minus three yards, but the 23-year-old was pleased with the overall performance of the offensive line in very windy conditions.

Bill Belichick's team ran the ball whenever they could, with Harris tallying 111 rushing yards from 10 carries, while Rhamondre Stevenson was handed the ball 24 times for a total of 78 yards.

"For the offensive line to do what they did was incredible, they deserve all the credit in the world," Jones told reporters after the win. "And [offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels] for calling the plays that he called, knowing the environment. And knowing that, we knew we were going to be able to run the ball.

"The running backs ran hard; Rhamondre, Damien and B [Brandon Bolden]. You couldn't ask for better effort from those guys.

"It was just a crazy game to be a part of. We knew if we didn't turn the ball over, we'd be good. It was just a weird day."

Harris' touchdown was the longest rushing TD by a Patriots player since Hall of Famer Curtis Martin (70 yards) in 1997.

Meanwhile, Bills QB Josh Allen, who had 15-of-30 passing for 145 yards and a TD, made no excuses, saying: "I don't know if [the weather] affected us too bad, maybe a throw here or there, but, again, that's why I'm here, to play in those types of conditions. Gotta find a way."

The New England Patriots stayed hot in the NFL on Monday after extending their winning streak to seven games after prevailing 14-10 against the Buffalo Bills.

Not even wild and windy weather could stop the red-hot Patriots, who are the AFC's number one seed thanks to their success away to the Bills.

Entering the matchup, New England had won six straight games – the franchise's longest winning streak since they celebrated eight successive games to start 2019.

Bill Belichick's Patriots continued where they left off at Bills Stadium, where the team improved to 9-4 despite rookie quarterback Mac Jones only throwing two-for-three passing for 19 yards and no touchdowns, while tallying another five carries for minus three yards.

It was a gruelling battle between the top two teams for fewest points allowed this season – Buffalo had conceded just 182 points, with New England giving up 190.

An eventful opening quarter saw the Patriots and Bills trade touchdowns after Buffalo's Gabriel Davis caught a 14-yard pass from Josh Allen (15-of-30 passing for 145 yards and a TD), having seen Damien Harris complete a dazzling 64-yard run.

Harris' touchdown was the longest rushing TD by a Patriots player since Hall of Famer Curtis Martin (70 yards) in 1997.

The game was eventually decided by the kickers – Nick Folk converting a field goal in each of the second and fourth quarters to sink the Bills (7-5).

Los Angeles Chargers star Keenan Allen landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the NFL franchise announced on Monday.

Allen is now in doubt for Sunday's clash with the New York Giants after testing positive for coronavirus.

The Chargers consider the four-time Pro Bowler "day-to-day" as they prepare to host the Giants at SoFi Stadium.

Allen is closing in on his fifth 1,000-yard campaign – the wide receiver has 86 catches for 929 yards and four touchdowns this season.

"Keenan's a guy that has many talents. This guy's a scratch golfer and all that," Chargers head coach Brandon Staley told reporters. "I haven't seen him on the basketball court yet, but he's a guy that can do a lot of things.

"He's got a high-level skill set. He's telling me that he can play DB, we'll see if that works out some day. In junior college we did that a lot, with guys going both ways. We'll see if that happens for him in the NFL.

"I think when you run those plays, you want to run them with people you trust. I feel like he's a guy you trust because there's an element of like, 'What if it was covered,' or, 'Hey, what if, what if, what if?' You want the ball in the hands of someone that can make a good decision and Keenan certainly did that for us."

The Chargers are 7-5 after topping the Cincinnati Bengals 41-22 behind Allen's two touchdown receptions, while he also threw a pass to quarterback Justin Herbert for a two-point conversion.

Staley's Chargers are second in the AFC West and occupy the second Wild Card spot.

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