Matthew Stafford inspired the Los Angeles Rams to move one step closer to securing their second straight NFC West title with a 20-19 win over the slumping Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

The defeat for the Ravens, who were without quarterback Lamar Jackson for the third straight game, leaves them perilously close to slipping out of the Wild Card hunt after their fifth consecutive loss.

Justin Tucker's field goal had put the Ravens up 19-14 with 4:33 left but Stafford launched a game-winning 75-yard drive to overhaul the deficit.

Stafford completed a 15-yard pass to Tyler Higbee and a 24-yarder to Cooper Kupp, before finding Odell Beckham Jr twice in a row, with the latter being the decisive TD.

The Rams QB finished with 26 of 35 passes for two touchdowns but also two interceptions, including a Chuck Clark first-quarter pick six, as well as a sack.

Clark's TD was the Ravens' only for the game, as QB Tyler Huntley completed 20 of 32 passes for 197 yards.

Rams running back Sony Michel had 19 carries for 74 yards including a TD along with wide receiver Kupp with six receptions for 95 yards and one touchdown.

Over a month ago the Ravens had been 8-3 and looking good for the AFC top seed but now they are scrapping for a playoffs spot after a series of narrow defeats and desperate for Jackson's return.

Carlson field goal gives Raiders edge in Wild Card race

The Las Vegas Raiders claimed a crucial last-gasp win from Daniel Carlson's 33-yard field goal in the AFC Wild Card race with a 23-20 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Colts quarterback Carson Wentz cleared protocols for the game but completed 16 of 27 passes for 148 yards and one touchdown, while running back Jonathan Taylor had one TD from 20 carries for 108 yards, with the defeat marking the first this season when he has rushed more than 100 yards.

The Raiders pipped the Colts in the final quarter, trailing 17-13 at the final break with QB Derek Carr hitting Hunter Renfrow on a fourth-down play for a TD, before Michael Badgley squared the game with a 41-yard field goal, only for Carlson to win it with one from 33 yards as time expired. The Raiders improve to 9-7, pulling ahead of the 9-7 Colts in the AFC Wild Card race.

 

Bengals clinch maiden AFC North title

The Cincinnati Bengals clinched their first-ever AFC North title as Evan McPherson kicked a late 20-yard field goal to secure a 34-31 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase set an NFL rookie record and franchise record with 266 yards and three touchdowns on 11 catches, while QB Joe Burrow threw 30 of 39 passes for 446 yards and four touchdowns.

Burrow got the better of opposing QB Patrick Mahomes who completed 26 of 35 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns as the Chiefs, who have already won the AFC West title, moved to 11-5.

 

Brady cool after Brown meltdown

Tom Brady was cool in a crisis after Antonio Brown stormed off the field as the NFC South-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers rallied to win 28-24 over the New York Jets.

Brady completed 34 of 50 attempts for 410 yards and three touchdowns, including leading them on a 93-yard drive in the final minutes to clinch the victory.

The game was marred after Brown's meltdown, storming off the field in the third quarter with the Bucs 24-10 down, with head coach Bruce Arians confirming "he is no longer a Buc" after the game.

Antonio Brown has apparently played his last game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after head coach Bruce Arians declared that the wide receiver is "no longer a Buc".

Arians made the comments following Brown's bizarre walk off during the clash with the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

With the Buccaneers down 24-10 and just over three minutes left in the third quarter, Brown appeared to be talking to team-mate Mike Evans on the sidelines before removing his jersey and shoulder pads, taking off his under-shirt and throwing it into the crowd, and then waving as he jogged towards the tunnel.

The 33-year-old had taken three receptions for 26 yards before leaving the game, which the Bucs went on to win 28-24 and move to a 12-4 record in the NFC.

Speaking after the comeback victory, Arians told reporters: "He is no longer a Buc. That's the end of the story. Let's talk about the guys that went out there and won the game."

Brown had played in just six games this season prior to Sunday, managing 39 receptions for 519 yards and four touchdowns.

The Bucs signed Brown in October 2020 after a short stint at the New England Patriots in 2019, followed by two claims of retirement from the game before changing his mind.

Antonio Brown bizarrely walked off mid-game as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

With the Buccaneers down 24-10 and just over three minutes left in the third quarter, Brown appeared to be talking to team-mate Mike Evans on the sidelines before removing his jersey and shoulder pads, taking off his under-shirt and throwing it into the crowd, and then waving as he jogged towards the tunnel.

The 33-year-old wide receiver had taken three receptions for 26 yards before leaving the game.

Brown had played in just six games this season prior to Sunday, managing 39 receptions for 519 yards and four touchdowns, and had been a doubt for the trip to the Jets with an ankle injury, but was able to play until he decided to leave of his own accord.

Tampa Bay had already clinched the NFC South Division title but were still hoping to add to their 11-4 record heading into this weekend as they seek to secure home advantage for the playoffs.

The Bucs signed Brown in October 2020 after a short stint at the New England Patriots in 2019, followed by two claims of retirement from the game before changing his mind.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz has been activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list ahead of Sunday's game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Wentz had to be activated by 4pm eastern time on Saturday to be eligible for Sunday's game where the Colts can clinch a playoff spot with victory.

However, Wentz still has another hurdle to overcome, needing his COVID-19 symptoms to have resolved or improved by Sunday morning.

The unvaccinated QB tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week but under the new NFL protocols players can return after only five days if they are asymptomatic or demonstrate that their symptoms are lessening.

Wentz has thrown for 3,230 yards with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions for the Colts, who have a 9-6 record.

Bruce Arians will be able to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the New York Jets after clearing coronavirus protocols.

Arians and wide receivers coach Kevin Garver have spent the week in isolation following positive tests for COVID-19.

However, both will be available for the Week 17 clash, and the Bucs could also have two cornerbacks back on their active roster.

Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting were each activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list having been placed on it on Tuesday.

They are listed on the injury report as questionable and, should the Bucs deem them ready to play, they will travel separately for the game in New Jersey. 

Tampa Bay head into the game 11-4, a game behind the 12-3 Green Bay Packers in the race for the one seed in the NFC.

The Kansas City Chiefs have ruled out running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire for their clash with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Kansas City can clinch the top seed in the AFC this week if they beat the Bengals on the road and the Tennessee Titans lose to the Miami Dolphins.

But they will attempt to do so without Edwards-Helaire, who did not practice this week because of a shoulder injury.

He was originally listed as questionable on the injury report but on Saturday was downgraded to out.

Edwards-Helaire, a first-round pick in 2020, has struggled to justify his draft status to this point in his brief career.

This season, Edwards-Helaire has averaged 4.3 yards per carry, amassing 517 yards in 10 games. He has scored four touchdowns on the ground and a further two as a receiver.

Dan Reeves, who participated in nine Super Bowls over the course of his 38-year career in the NFL, has died at the age of 77.

Reeves' passing was confirmed by his family in a statement released to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.

"Legendary NFL player and coach Dan Reeves passed away early this morning, peacefully and surrounded by his loving family at his home in Atlanta, GA," the statement read.

"He passed away at age 77 due to complications from a long illness. His legacy will continue through his many friends, players and fans as well as the rest of the NFL community. Arrangements are still to be determined."

Reeves played eight seasons as a running back for the Dallas Cowboys, going to two Super Bowls including a victory in Super Bowl VI.

He then moved into coaching ranks and won Super Bowl XII as an assistant with the Cowboys before taking over as the head coach of the Denver Broncos in 1981.

Reeves led the Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances in 12 seasons before a four-season spell with the New York Giants. 

His final coaching stop was with the Atlanta Falcons, whom he guided to Super Bowl XXXIII in the 1998 season, only to suffer defeat to the Broncos.

Reeves is one of 10 head coaches to win 200 career games (including postseason).

Along with Marv Levy, he holds the record for the most playoff wins (11) without winning a championship. Reeves, Levy and Bud Grant own the record for the most Super Bowl appearances (four) for a head coach without a win.

Marty Schottenheimer and Reeves are the only two eligible head coaches with 200 career wins who have not been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Odell Beckham Jr is relishing the prospect of a postseason run with the Los Angeles Rams after explaining he felt "deprived" during his spell at the Cleveland Browns.

The Rams travel to play the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday leading the NFC West with an 11-4 record, already assured of a place in the playoffs.

Despite some spectacular play over the course of his NFL career, Beckham has only ever played one game in the playoffs – with the New York Giants in 2016 – and has never been on a division-winning team.

Beckham has made four touchdown catches in his last five appearances with the in-form Rams, who are looking to win a fifth straight game against the Ravens.

He did not have any TD catches in six games with the Browns before his release earlier this season and had just seven in 23 games across the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

Having joined the Rams on a short-term deal, Beckham is enjoying the chance to play a key role and savouring his team's success.

"It's been great," Beckham said, per ESPN, about his run of TDs. "Over the last couple of years, I've felt deprived. 

"I've definitely missed the end zone for sure, and it just hasn't been as easy and seamless as it could and should be. 

"I'm someone who I feel like I should score once or twice every single game. I feel like I can get 100 yards every single game.

"I came late to the party but still have celebrated like I've been here for the whole time, so it's definitely a special opportunity, not just to win the division but to go for it all. 

"This is the only reason that you put in these hours of work in the offseason, to dedicate and sacrifice our lives for this is for these moments."

Beckham believes his support of teammate Cooper Kupp proves he is a team player even though he has not always been perceived in that way.

Kupp has a chance to make NFL history with a 2,000-yard season and the receiving triple crown of most catches, yards and TDs.

"Man, I find it funny, all the talks about me being a me guy," Beckham added. "People are going to say whatever but they just have no idea.

"When I chose to come here, I'm knowing that Coops on pace to break a record. 

"I didn't come here thinking, 'Oh, I got to get my targets.' That's just not being me - yeah, I want the ball, I'm a competitor, but like I said, I came late to the party.

"It's just funny, all the backlash that I get about the type of person that I am. I think you just see me in an atmosphere where success is around and these people are on pace for history. 

"I want to watch him break [the record] - I told him I want him to get 2K yards so I can come and break your record. 

"That's how it happens - records are meant to be broken – and we're just witnessing something very, very special."

While the Rams could clinch the division title this week, Baltimore is the only franchise in the league against whom they have never won a road game (0-3).

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield paid tribute to Pittsburgh Steelers star Ben Roethlisberger as the two players prepared to do battle in Monday Night Football.

Roethlisberger said this week "all the signs" are that the clash will be his last regular-season game at Heinz Field.

The 39-year-old is anticipated to retire after the 2021 season amid reports he has told former team-mates and people within the franchise that he expects to bring his illustrious career to an end.

The Steelers great, a winner of two Super Bowls, gave a strong indication his playing days are almost over as Pittsburgh strive to sneak into the playoffs without explicitly confirming he would retire.

And Mayfield, who was asked about the comments, revealed he was a huge admirer of Roethlisberger even though he will be looking to deny the veteran's bid for a last postseason appearance.

"There is a lot that I admire about his game and respect about it, to be honest with you," said Mayfield.

"His play, he extends plays, but he also trusts his guys thoroughly. 

"He trusts his receivers, tight ends and all of those guys to make plays for him, and he has done it consistently, no matter who has been out there with him. 

"When it comes to fourth quarter or coming back and sparking drives for a comeback and when a play is needed to be made, he has consistently done that for a long, long time. 

"That is something you can't teach. He has just had that, and that is why he has had success for so long."

Six-time Pro Bowler Roethlisberger has spent an incredible 18 years with the Steelers and has 163 career wins to his name, a record in the NFL for players who have spent their entire career with one team.

Tom Brady is the only quarterback to have won more games with a single franchise, racking up 219 victories for the New England Patriots.

The Browns are 7-8 while the Steelers are at 7-7-1, but neither team are out of contention in a competitive AFC North.

Mayfield added: "With everything in our division and the situation at hand for both teams right now, regardless of Ben's situation, I think it will be a great environment. 

"To add on top of that, just everything that he has given to that franchise over the years and the success he has had consistently for a very, very long time, I have nothing but respect for Ben. 

"I am expecting just an even better environment. Both teams to be playing for the likelihood of the playoffs at hand. 

"It is just one of those things that everything is aligning to where this game matters quite a bit, but for us, we need to handle it like any other game – one play at a time and do our job at the best possible level we can."

Browns coach Kevin Stefanski added about Roethlisberger: "Obviously, he is a great player, but I am really focused on trying to defend him Monday night. He is still playing at a really high level."

Remarkably, the Steelers have won 17 straight home regular season games against the Browns, the third-longest home winning streak against one team in NFL history, though Cleveland did win in the playoffs last season.

Pittsburgh have scored fewer than 20 points in eight of their 15 games this season, the most such games in one season since 2003, when they were held below 20 points nine times. 

Roethlisberger, though, has a 24-2-1 record in his 27 career starts against the Browns. 

Cleveland's last three games were a 24-22 win against the Ravens, 16-14 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders and a 24-22 loss at the Green Bay Packers on Christmas Day.

It is only the second time in Browns history that they have played three consecutive games decided by no more than a two-point margin following a similar run in 2014. 

A regular season dominated by questions and doubts surrounding the Kansas City Chiefs is likely to end with them in a familiar position as the number one seed in the AFC.

It is a spot they have occupied in each of the past three seasons, though only once has it resulted in Super Bowl glory.

The Chiefs can clinch the top spot in the conference in Week 17, though to do so they must come through a huge test on the road as they face the Cincinnati Bengals.

There could also be a piece of history for superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who is looking to become only the third quarterback to throw for 150 or more touchdowns in a four-season span.

Should he throw three passing touchdowns over the next two games, Mahomes will join Peyton Manning and Drew Brees in that exclusive club.

The Chiefs are on an eight-game winning streak and, while Mahomes may not have produced his brilliant best on a consistent basis this season, he has been one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL since Kansas City's Week 12 bye.

Over the last four weeks, Mahomes is third in yards per attempt (8.54) and passer rating (108.8) and tied fourth in passing plays of 25 yards or more (10).

The only player above him in each of those categories is the player he will look to outduel on Sunday, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.

Burrow is arguably the hottest quarterback in football and heads into the game having thrown for 525 yards and four touchdowns in the Bengals' rout of the Baltimore Ravens.

Cincinnati's signal-caller has delivered the highest percentage of accurate, well-thrown balls in the NFL among quarterbacks with a minimum of 100 attempts. His percentage of 86.5 over three full points better than his nearest challenger Ryan Tannehill (83.1).

He will put the ball in harm's way, though with his pickable pass rate of 3.65 per cent the 14th best among the 32 quarterbacks to have attempted at least 200 throws, Burrow is still on the right side of the ledger when it comes to turnover-worthy throws.

Burrow will need to be careful to avoid giveaways against an opportunistic Chiefs defense that has improved throughout the year. The Chiefs are fourth in the NFL in takeaways (28) and sixth in points off takeaways (90). They are 9-1 in games where they force two or more turnovers.

Even with their dominance last week, the 9-6 Bengals still only hold a one-game lead in a tight AFC North, though they have the tiebreaker over the Ravens, and can ill-afford a slip-up.

The blowout of Baltimore saw the Bengals score 31 points in the first half for the second time in five games. The Dallas Cowboys and the Chiefs are the only teams to score 31 points in a half even once in the same span.

It is a game that is high stakes and should also be high scoring. With two quarterbacks that are both the present and the future of the league in superb form, this critical matchup promises to be a must-watch.

Tom Brady says being on the brink another NFL record is "a credit to everybody" on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster.

Going into the Bucs' game at the New York Jets on Sunday, Brady is within touching distance of making more history.

The veteran quarterback is looking to become just the second player ever to record 40 or more passing touchdowns in consecutive regular season campaigns.

Brady had 40 TD passes on the way to Super Bowl glory last season and sits on 37 this time around with two games to go.

The 44-year-old is looking to equal the record held by Drew Brees, who had 46 and then 43 TD passes across the 2011 and 2012 NFL seasons, but he stressed beating the Jets was his main priority.

Brady said: "All the individual stats and so forth – ultimately, it's a team sport. That's just a credit to everybody.

"Winning is the thing that I concern myself with the most and I feel like the most important thing for any quarterback is to win games.

"Just winning the game Sunday will be what I'm looking forward to. We've got to go out there and earn it."

The Bucs (11-4) have activated wide receiver Mike Evans off the COVID-19 reserve list ahead of their clash with the Jets (4-11).

"Everyone is going to have to play a role with different people in and out of the line-up," added Brady. "We've had a lot of people in and out the last few games.

"At different times you've got to adjust. Different players – Leonard [Fournette], Chris [Godwin], Mike [Evans], A.B. [Antonio Brown] has been out for a while, 'Gronk' [Rob Gronkowski].

"You've just got to try to get guys to play a role and provide the level of production that allows you to go down and score points. 

"Every week is going to be a little bit different. I don't think it's production. It's just a matter of scoring points to me. If we have to go 80 yards, we've got to go 80 yards to get the ball in the end zone. 

"If we get a turnover on the 10-yard line, it's still about scoring points. 

"We don't have to produce as many yards to score points because the defense helped us out a lot. It's really the ultimate team sport in that respect. 

"You have to do the best you can do based on the circumstances and opportunities that you are provided.

"How the defense plays, how the special teams plays, how the other team plays – all of those things factor in differently to the overall outcome of the game."

Brady was visibly angry as he and the Bucs were shutout in a divisional loss to the New Orleans Saints in primetime, but Tampa bounced back with a 32-6 road win over the Carolina Panthers last time out.

The win meant they sealed victory in the NFC South for the first time since 2007 but the Bucs are still looking to improve on their current standing as fourth seeds in the conference ahead of the playoffs.

Brady regularly faced the Jets as a member of the New England Patriots.

He is 30-7 as a starter against them in his career, good for the second-most wins by any QB against a single opponent – behind only a record Brady already holds with 33 wins over the Buffalo Bills.

Brady is 7-0 in his last seven against the Jets, winning by an average of 23.3 points.

The Minnesota Vikings will be without quarterback Kirk Cousins for Sunday's crucial contest with the Green Bay Packers.

Cousins has tested positive for coronavirus and has been placed on the Vikings' reserve/COVID-19 list.

As Cousins is unvaccinated, he will have to isolate for 10 days in line with the NFL's protocols, meaning he could also be a doubt for the Week 18 clash with the Chicago Bears on January 9.

Minnesota (7-8) are second behind the Packers (12-3) in the NFC North and head into Week 17 as the eighth seed in the NFC, one spot off the playoffs.

However, backup QB Sean Mannion previously tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, meaning rookie Kellen Mond looks set to start against Green Bay, with Kyle Sloter the alternative.

Cousins has passed for 3,971 yards and 30 touchdowns this season and looked on course to at least match the respective totals from 2020 (4,265 and 35).

He ranks eighth out of the league's quarterbacks for passing yards this season and tied seventh for touchdowns, while only five players to have made 10 appearances or more have less interceptions than Cousins' seven.

The Vikings are looking to win three straight games against the Packers for the second time this century (also a three-game streak from 2008 to 2009), while a third consecutive victory in Green Bay for the first time since 1993 is also in the offing, though they lost to the Los Angeles Rams in their last outing.

Minnesota are the only team this season without a double-digit loss, and have an average margin of defeat of 4.4 points, the smallest in the NFL.

However, Green Bay have won their last two games by a combined total of three points.

The Packers are 5-1 this season in games decided by a field goal or less – those five wins are tied with the Tennessee Titans for the most in the NFL this season. 

The Baltimore Ravens are in danger of letting their season get away from them after a four-game losing run and things do not appear to get any easier with the Los Angeles Rams visiting on Sunday.

John Harbaugh's men have a positive recent record against the Rams though, and will need to properly utilise the impressive form of Mark Andrews.

The Indianapolis Colts can clinch their playoff spot with a win against the Las Vegas Raiders, while a potentially fascinating encounter in the race for the playoffs between the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos will take place at SoFi Stadium.

Stats Perform takes a look at the standout statistics ahead of the penultimate week of the NFL's regular season.

Los Angeles Rams (11-4) @ Baltimore Ravens (8-7)

The Rams have lost four straight games against the Ravens (outscored 120-29 in those games) and are 2-5 all-time against them - Baltimore the only franchise in the league the Rams have never won a road game against (0-3).

Rams running back Sony Michel ran for 131 yards and a touchdown in last week's win against the Minnesota Vikings, two yards from tying a career-high set in 2018 with the New England Patriots. He has 423 yards in his last four games after a combined 305 in his first 11 games.

The Ravens lost to the Cincinnati Bengals 41-21 last week, allowing 525 passing yards, the most in franchise history. They also finished with just 39 rushing yards of their own, their fewest since a franchise-low 11 in 2016.

Andrews had eight catches for 125 yards and a touchdown last week. He now has three straight games with at least 100 receiving yards and at least one touchdown. He is the only Raven to ever have three such games in a row, and just the second tight end in NFL history (Jimmy Graham in 2013).

Las Vegas Raiders (8-7) @ Indianapolis Colts (9-6)

The Raiders were 7-2 in their first nine games against the Colts but have gone just 2-6 since then (dating back to 2004). They won 31-24 in their last trip to Indianapolis in 2019 but lost at home the following season.

After beating the Broncos last week, the Raiders have won back-to-back games despite scoring 17 points or fewer in each. It is the first time they have done so since 1991 – those victories came against the Broncos and the Colts.

The Colts beat the Arizona Cardinals 22-16 last week, improving to 8-2 in their last 10 games after starting the season 1-4. Their 31.2 points per game since Week 6 leads the NFL.

Jonathan Taylor had 108 rushing yards in his last outing, his ninth display this season with at least 100 yards – the Colts have won all nine of those games. Indianapolis has not won a game in which he has been held under the century mark this season.

Denver Broncos (7-8) @ Los Angeles Chargers (8-7)

The Broncos beat the Chargers 28-13 in Week 12, their largest win over them since a 23-7 triumph in the 2005 season. Fourteen of the last 21 games between these teams have been decided by one possession (eight points or fewer).

Drew Lock is expected to start at quarterback again after starting his first game of the season last time out. Since the start of 2020, Lock has the lowest completion percentage among the 29 quarterbacks with 500 or more pass attempts (57.6 per cent).

The Chargers allowed 189 rushing yards in a 41-29 loss to the Houston Texans, who entered the game ranked last in the NFL in rushing yards per game. The Chargers are allowing 140.3 rushing yards per game, on pace for their worst mark since the 1987 strike season (144.7).

Justin Jackson had a career-high 162 scrimmage yards against the Texans while filling in for Austin Ekeler. He has 261 scrimmage yards in his last two games, which Ekeler has done just once in a two-game span this season (264 yards from Weeks 4-5).

Elsewhere...

Atlanta Falcons (7-8) QB Matt Ryan will look to add to his 3,555 yards thrown overall this season when he faces the Buffalo Bills (9-6). It is his 12th consecutive season with at least 3,500 passing yards. He joins Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady in an exclusive club to achieve the passing milestone in that many straight campaigns.

The Patriots (9-6) have lost at least two December games in each of the last four seasons (3-2 in 2018, 2-3 in 2019, 1-3 in 2020, 1-2 in 2021). New England, who host the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13), have more December losses over the last four seasons (7-10) than in the previous 15 seasons combined (56-9, 2003-2017).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4) star Brady is 30-7 as a starter against the New York Jets (4-11) in his career (including postseason). That is the second-most wins by any QB against a single opponent behind only his own record against the Bills (33). Brady is 7-0 in his last seven against the Jets, winning by an average of 23.3 points. 

The Kansas City Chiefs - who can clinch the AFC's top seed if they avoid defeat against the Bengals and the Tennessee Titans lose in Miami - have lost their last five games in Cincinnati, with their last win there coming in September 1984.

Only two weeks of the NFL's longest regular season remain, and the playoff picture could become significantly clearer during the penultimate slate of games.

Seven teams can clinch a postseason berth in Week 17, though a crowded fight for the Wild Card spots in both conferences makes the final playoff lineup difficult to predict.

That is where Stats Perform's rest-of-season projection comes in. It allows us to forecast what the playoff picture will look like come the end of Week 18.

Every future game is projected to give a predicted win percentage for each team across its remaining games. Rather than being a simulator of future games, the projections are calculated by looking at each team's quarterback and performance in terms of yards added in expected passing situations as well as team values for pass protection/pass rush, skill position players/coverage defenders and run blocking/run defense.

The projected win percentages are then aggregated to produce the forecasted standings, which, if they come to pass, would produce a potential reunion of former New England Patriots quarterbacks in the opening round.

 

AFC

Division Winners: 1. Kansas City Chiefs, 2. Tennessee Titans, 3. Buffalo Bills, 4. Cincinnati Bengals

Wild Cards: 5. New England Patriots, 6. Indianapolis Colts, 7. Los Angeles Chargers

Week 16's results had no significant impact on the Chiefs' position as the favourite for the first-round bye, with Kansas City (12.6 projected wins) looking at a 13-4 finish that would see them claim the one seed by a comfortable margin ahead of two 11-6 teams in the Tennessee Titans (11.2) and the Buffalo Bills (10.6).

Tennessee's regular-season win over the Bills gives them the tiebreaker and two seed, setting up a matchup with a seventh-seeded Los Angeles Chargers team (9.1) predicted to squeak into the playoffs even after their meltdown against the Houston Texans.

The movement is in the AFC East, where the Bills' dominant win over the New England Patriots (10.3) has put them in an excellent position to claim the division title and a home playoff game. However, as the three seed, that would come against the surging Indianapolis Colts (10.0) and a ground game that gashed the Bills for 264 yards in Week 11.

New England, meanwhile, would face a road game with the Cincinnati Bengals (9.5) and arguably the hottest quarterback in football, Joe Burrow delivering a well-thrown ball on an astonishing 95.7 per cent of his passes in a Week 16 win over the Baltimore Ravens that saw him rack up 525 yards and four touchdowns.

The forecast has the Miami Dolphins (8.8) missing out despite their seven-game winning streak, though their superior record in common games means they would win a tiebreaker with the Chargers if both finished 9-8.

NFC

Division Winners: 1. Green Bay Packers, 2. Los Angeles Rams, 3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4. Dallas Cowboys

Wild Cards: 5. Arizona Cardinals, 6. San Francisco 49ers, 7. Philadelphia Eagles

The Green Bay Packers (13.4) appear to be surging towards the top seed in the NFC, though they are forecast to do so while dropping one of their last two games, against the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions, and winning a three-way tie with the Los Angeles Rams (12.5) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12.5).

Los Angeles' regular-season win over the Bucs would give them the second seed and a Wild Card matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles (9.3). Eagles signal-caller Jalen Hurts has the best well-thrown percentage (80.4) of any quarterback (min. 10 attempts) to average at least nine air yards per attempt.

A potential showdown between Tom Brady and the man formerly seen as his heir apparent with the Patriots, Jimmy Garoppolo – or Trey Lance depending on how his likely start against the Houston Texans goes – would beckon with the San Francisco 49ers (9.4) projected to end the year as the sixth seed and visit the Bucs despite their Thursday Night Football collapse against the Titans.

The Arizona Cardinals (11.0) have failed to score 20 points in each of their last two games and their recent slump is predicted to set up a road playoff game with a Dallas Cowboys (12.2) attack that exploded for 497 total yards and six touchdowns in their blowout Week 16 win over the Washington Football Team.

Crowds came flocking back in force, we had the full complement of golf majors and tennis grand slams, and sport almost ran smoothly over the past 12 months.

To boot, there were sensational moments, featuring both the biggest names in sport and some that few had heard of at this time last year.

Here, Stats Perform looks back at some of the biggest stories of the year, and the numbers that made them so remarkable.

Jacobs, the shock Tokyo Olympics sprint king

Entering 2021, Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs had a career-best of 10.03 seconds for the 100 metres. By most standards that is staggeringly quick, but at the very elite level of sprinting it ranks as only middling. To put it into some context, 34 men ran quicker than 10.03 seconds in 2021. Jacobs finished only 19th at the 2019 World Championship and few outside of athletics circles knew the name. The former long-jumper grabbed a little attention when he produced a world-leading 6.47 seconds to win the 60 metres at the European Indoor Championships in March, then he ran 9.95 for the 100m in Savona in May, but he still headed to the Tokyo Olympics as a big outsider, not expected to be a factor. Jacobs made a mockery of his lowly billing, as he powered to personal bests in the heats and semi-finals before doing so again in the final, dashing home first in 9.80 seconds to grab gold and leaving rivals gasping in astonishment. He led Italy to sprint relay gold too, a glorious double in that country's remarkable year of success.

Emma Raducan-who? From A level exams to US Open top marks

Twelve months ago – no, make that barely six – London-based Raducanu was simply not a factor in grand slam discussions. Fresh out of school, she had to fight to earn a wildcard for Wimbledon when organisers initially baulked at the idea, but they were persuaded and Raducanu went on to reach the fourth round. The teenager who was born in Canada and has a Romanian father and Chinese mother had arrived, but it was at the US Open that she roared into the history books. There was no wildcard in New York for the British youngster, but Raducanu won three qualifying matches and then raced through the main draw, defeating 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez in the title match. She did not drop a set in 10 matches and became the first women in the Open era to win 10 main-draw matches in her first two grand slams. It made her the first qualifier to win a slam and the first US Open women's singles winner since Serena Williams in 2014 to triumph at the tournament without dropping a set along the way. The $2.5million in prize money was followed by endorsement offers from across the world as Raducanu became an instant superstar. The tennis world waits to see what comes next.

No country for old men as US win Ryder Cup

The youngest Ryder Cup team ever assembled by the United States torched European hopes at Whistling Straits in September, scoring a 19-9 victory. That was the widest margin of victory by either side since Europe, rather than Great Britain and Ireland, became the USA's opposition in 1979. Dustin Johnson bounced back from losing four of his five matches in the 2018 edition to finish with a 5-0 record, just the third player in US v Europe battles to finish with a perfect record (after Larry Nelson in 1979 and Francesco Molinari in 2018). Johnson, at 37, was the oldest player on the team. European veteran Lee Westwood matched Nick Faldo's record of 11 appearances in the match, while Sergio Garcia stretched his points record from 25.5 to 28.5 as he and Jon Rahm combined well, but it was emphatically an event that belonged to the host Americans.

Veteran Mickelson still had his day 

He might have been absent for the US team's Ryder Cup triumph, but Phil Mickelson's name was up in lights again as he became the oldest winner of a men's golf major, landing the US PGA Championship title in May. At the age of 50, Mickelson caused a huge upset at Kiawah Island, scooping his sixth career major when he held off Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen on the final day. It was his only top-10 finish of the year on the PGA Tour.

Federer bagelled, Djokovic denied Golden Slam

Strange things happened in men's tennis in 2021, not least the sight of Roger Federer suffering a 6-0 'bagel' at the end of a straight-sets Wimbledon quarter-final defeat. That happened against Hubert Hurkacz in July, and it was the last match Federer played in the year. He wants to play again, and the 40-year-old believes he can, but knee surgery will keep him out of action until mid-2022 at the earliest, by his own reckoning, and that Centre Court defeat to Hurkacz could turn out to be how his eight-title Wimbledon career ends. Novak Djokovic joined Federer and Nadal on a joint-record 20 grand slam titles by cleaning up at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, and he has now spent a record 353 weeks at number one, passing Federer this year. But Djokovic could not make it a Golden Slam, losing to eventual champion Alexander Zverev in the Olympic Games semi-finals, and a Grand Slam was just beyond him too, Daniil Medvedev winning his first major when he swept the Serbian in straight sets in the US Open final.

Another year, more records for Brady

At the age of 43, Tom Brady was MVP in the Super Bowl as he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in February. He now has seven Super Bowl wins behind him, another outright record, and has been MVP in the game on an unmatched five occasions. Brady, having turned 44 in August, is in the hunt for another Super Bowl ring and perhaps outright NFL MVP honours this season, although Aaron Rodgers will likely deny him the latter accolade. Still, the records keep coming for Brady. He has moved in front of Drew Brees to have the most pass completions in league history (7,200 and counting), become the first ever 15-time Pro Bowler, and in December became the first quarterback to throw 700 career touchdowns.

England's Ashes surrender calls for Root and branch review

Joe Root became the first England captain – or player, indeed – to suffer nine defeats in Tests starting in a single calendar year, in a strange 12 months for the Yorkshireman. His form with the bat has been up there with the best of his career, the 31-year-old scoring 1,708 Test runs to go third on the all-time single-year list, with only Mohammad Yousuf and Viv Richards ahead of him. Even in the Tests that England have lost, Root has made a number of handy contributions with the bat, scoring 648 runs at an average of 38.11. Overall he has scored 26 per cent of England's Test runs across the year, the highest proportion of any player for their respective team in 2021. Yet the Ashes were lost by lunch on day three of the third Test, an outrageously dismal result. Root top-scored in England's two innings in Melbourne, typically, but he cannot get a tune out of many of his team-mates, so ends the year with his future as skipper in doubt.

Curry still hot as NBA records fall

In January, LaMelo Ball became the youngest player to post a triple-double in the NBA, as the 19-year-old Charlotte Hornets prospect grabbed 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over the Atlanta Hawks. Come December, the Memphis Grizzlies set two records in the same game, scoring a franchise-high number of points and winning by the biggest margin in NBA history, as they handed out a 152-79 thrashing to the Oklahoma City Thunder. December was also the month when Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors set a new three-pointer record, becoming the first man to make 3,000 threes in a career after going past Ray Allen's previous NBA record of 2,973.

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