Week 6 of the NFL season sees the first byes of the campaign, meaning fantasy managers may need to start utilising their bench.

Though the starters picked in the early rounds of the draft often lay the foundations for a championship-winning season, the players selected to fill the void when they are not available can be the difference between claiming and missing out on the title.

With that in mind, this week's edition of fantasy picks features three players who can fill the void for fantasy managers with holes in their line-up.

A second-year wide receiver primed to play an even bigger part in an underperforming offense also features in Stats Perform's look at four players and a defense worthy of fantasy selection this week. 

Quarterback: Taylor Heinicke, Washington Football Team vs. Kansas City Chiefs

If you have a quarterback on a bye, or you are unfortunate to be in a position where the injured Russell Wilson is your starter, then you may be in scramble mode at quarterback.

Heinicke presents a solution to fantasy owners in such a bind. Yes, Washington will be underdogs against Kansas City, but Heinicke has thrown for multiple passing touchdowns in three of his last four games and should have little difficulty moving the ball against a defense allowing 7.08 yards per play, the most in the NFL.

With a high-scoring affair likely on the horizon, Heinicke is a leading option for fantasy owners in need of a quarterback fill-in.

Running Back: Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins @ Jacksonville Jaguars

There isn't much reason to get excited about the Dolphins but fantasy owners of Gaskin should be extremely intrigued by this matchup in the second and final London game of the year.

Gaskin had only five carries for 25 yards last week in the Dolphins' 45-17 loss to the Buccaneers but found the endzone twice as a receiver as he hauled all 10 of his targets for 74 yards.

Against a Jacksonville defense that has been stout against the run but is allowing a league-worst 8.79 yards per pass play, there is scope for another big day for Gaskin as the Dolphins seek their second win of an underwhelming campaign.

Wide Receiver: Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Seattle Seahawks

Claypool has 296 receiving yards and a touchdown over his last three games playing for a Steelers offense that had struggled mightily prior to their Week 5 win over the Denver Broncos.

With Juju Smith-Schuster out for the season, Claypool should claim even more of a featured role in the offense and in Week 6 has the inviting prospect of a matchup with a Seahawks defense ranked 28th in the NFL in opposing pass yards per play (7.49). Claypool is well worthy of being in your starting lineup come Sunday.

Tight End: Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans

Alie-Cox was not able to find the endzone in Week 5 after catching two touchdown passes a week earlier, however, he is averaging 13.8 yards per reception, illustrating his big-play threat.

Facing a Texans defense allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, Alie-Cox should have an opportunity to make a significant impact in Week 6. Alie-Cox could prove an astute pickup for fantasy owners struggling for options at tight end.

Defense: Dallas Cowboys @ New England Patriots

The Cowboys' defense was not expected to be one of the top fantasy units in the league going into the season, however, through five games they have forced 12 takeaways, the second-most in the NFL.

Facing a quarterback in Mac Jones who has thrown a pickable pass on 4.89 per cent of his attempts, well above the average of 3.16, a meeting with the Patriots presents the Cowboys with the chance to add to that total and rack up fantasy points.

Ben Roethlisberger said "I need to be better" as the embattled Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback accepted blame for the team's forgettable start to the NFL season.

Roethlisberger has been criticised and his future questioned amid Pittsburgh's 1-3 start to the 2021 campaign following three consecutive defeats.

The 39-year-old two-time Super Bowl champion was just 26-of-40 passing for 232 yards, a touchdown, interception and two sacks with a 78.3 quarterback rating in last week's 27-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

As Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin continues to field questions on Roethlisberger, the player himself took responsibility for the situation on Wednesday.

"I need to be better," Roethlisberger told reporters ahead of Sunday's clash with the Denver Broncos.

"I need to fight through and figure out how to make better decisions, how to make better throws, how to be a better football player. That's why I just said I'm not going to quit. I'm going to keep doing that.

"I'm not giving up on this season. No one in this building is. It's still early, and there's still a lot of fight left in us."

Roethlisberger's 78.9 passer rating is fifth-worst this season among qualifying quarterbacks, only ahead of Miami Dolphins backup Jacoby Brissett (77.8), Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Trevor Lawrence (66.4), first-year New York Jets QB Zach Wilson (62.8) and Davis Mills (50.4) of the Houston Texans.

His passer rating has decreased from 94.1 in 2020 – the third-largest drop (-15.2) behind Packers star Aaron Rodgers (-20.7) and Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill (-19.6).

Through four games, seven-time Pro Bowler Roethlisberger has 109 completions, 1,033 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions with 10 sacks.

Roethlisberger's completion percentage (64.1) is tied for 21st in the league, while his touchdown percentage (2.4) is the third-worst in the NFL.

"I know that I can play better football," Roethlisberger said. "I believe in myself. I know that no matter what's going on, I'm going to fight my butt off to get a win, and if that's the way I need to lead right now, by showing these guys that I'm going to do everything I can to win a football game, I'll keep doing that."

On Tuesday, Tomlin said Roethlisberger is dealing with a hip issue, and the latter added: "It's pretty sore. If I showed you the picture, you might not be too well to your stomach. It's a little black and blue.

"As a quarterback, there's so much involved in your lower body. People probably think as a quarterback or as a thrower, it's 'how's your arm doing?' Your arm is honestly a small part compared to the whole package. It's your core. It's your lower body.

"I've got to find ways to be better with my lower body. Going back and watching the game, a few times, a lot of throws I missed were missed because my lower body wasn't in sync."

We're at the point of the season where clear opinions can be formed of NFL teams, whether they be real life or fantasy.

Much can change in the coming weeks but, with four weeks in the books, a divide between the contenders and pretenders is starting to emerge in the NFL, and that will also be the case in fantasy leagues around the globe.

But whether you're looking to maintain a strong start or recover from an underwhelming one, the need to make the right lineup decisions remains. This is no time to get complacent or to get too downhearted and take picking your starters more lightly.

With that in mind, Stats Perform has picked four offensive players and a defense who should be starting in Week 5.

 

Quarterback: Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts

Having thrown for over 300 yards and a touchdown against a stout Denver Broncos defense last week, Jackson now gets to come home to face a Colts defense allowing 7.35 yards per pass play.

With the turnover-prone Carson Wentz quarterbacking the Colts' offense, Jackson should find plenty of opportunities to pad his stats. Always a must-start, this is a week to be especially excited about owning Jackson in fantasy.

Running Back: Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions

Held to 34 yards on nine carries on his return from injury last week against the Cleveland Browns, Cook gets a much more inviting matchup in Week 5.

Only two teams, the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs, have allowed more rushing touchdowns than the winless Lions. Don't hesitate if Cook is on your roster, slot him into a starting role and back him to return to the endzone.

Wide Receiver: Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals

There may be some reluctance to start Samuel given the uncertain situation surrounding the 49ers at quarterback and their Week 5 opponent, the unbeaten Cardinals. However, it is not merited.

Samuel leads the NFL in receiving yards with 490, putting him on pace for over 2,000. Maintaining that is unlikely but, averaging 10.5 targets per game, Samuel stands as the clear number one target in the Niners' offense regardless of who is under center.

Each of Trey Lance's touchdowns last week in relief of Jimmy Garoppolo were thrown to Samuel. His target share and the challenge the Niners will likely face in having to keep up with an extremely potent Cardinals offense means any concerns over the quarterback and the matchup should be ignored.

Tight End: Hunter Henry, New England Patriots @ Houston Texans

Henry and Jonnu Smith have yet to deliver on the lucrative contracts they signed with New England in the offseason, but a trip to face the lowly Texans should be just the tonic they need.

Former Los Angeles Charger Henry found the endzone for the first time as a Patriot against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week.

Now he gets the chance to face a Texans defense allowing the second-most fantasy points in the league to opposing tight ends. It's time for the Patriots' investment in him to start paying dividends.

Defense: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos

Not much is going right for the 1-3 Steelers, but their defense, while not at its 2020 levels, is still a tough one to crack and is tied fourth with 29 opponent plays for negative yardage.

With Teddy Bridgewater in the concussion protocol, the likelihood is Drew Lock will get the start at quarterback for Denver. Lock was tied for the league lead with 15 interceptions last season and threw his first of this year in relief of Bridgewater last week versus the Ravens. 

Long story short, start the Steelers' defense.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said under-fire quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is "absolutely" the best option to lead the team's struggling offense.

Roethlisberger struggled again in Week 4 of the NFL season as the Steelers (1-3) suffered a third consecutive defeat, a 27-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

The 39-year-old two-time Super Bowl champion was just 26-of-40 passing for 232 yards a touchdown, interception and two sacks with a 78.3 quarterback rating.

Roethlisberger's 78.9 passer rating is fifth-worst this season, only ahead of Miami Dolphins QB Jacoby Brissett (77.8), Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Trevor Lawrence (66.4), first-year New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (62.8) and Davis Mills (50.4) of the Houston Texans.

"Absolutely," Tomlin told reporters on Tuesday when asked whether Roethlisberger remains the right quarterback for the offense.

"What he does and what he's done makes me really comfortable in saying that."

Tomlin added: "It's him some, it's us collectively some. We've just got to keep working. Sometimes it can be attributed to the altering of plans late in the week because of player availability or guys not being available. ...

"We've had some big-play opportunities, we [haven't] cashed in on them. We need to cash in on them.

"They're a big component of moving the ball and scoring, particularly when you're not working as efficiently as you like on possession downs, which we aren't. ... We're also going to work to connect on a higher percentages of these chunk opportunities because that aids us in terms of ringing up the scoreboard, as well."

Through four games, seven-time Pro Bowler Roethlisberger has 109 completions 1,033 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions with 10 sacks.

Roethlisberger's completion percentage (64.1) is tied for 21st in the league, while his touchdown percentage (2.4) is the third worst in the NFL.

Asked if he was concerned about the level of Roethlisberger's safety behind the line, Tomlin said: "Not out of the ordinary. I'm sure if you reviewed the tape and looked at these visits [news conferences] from the first 11 weeks of last year and probably said similar things. He was upright and we were undefeated.

"There's probably a component of just being in your late 30s and playing this game and playing that position and particularly when you're not playing winning football and you get somewhat one dimensional, there's collateral damage that gets associated with that for him and for us."

"Ben used to be able to run really good when he was young," Tomlin said of this week's clash with the Denver Broncos. "Those days are behind him.

"Other than that, I don't see much that's not a discussion in terms of technical alterations or quality of play that can be improved."

Russell Wilson produced a vintage performance to lead the Seattle Seahawks past the San Francisco 49ers 28-21.

Wilson celebrated his 100th NFL victory as the Seahawks (2-2) rallied past the 49ers (2-2) in San Francisco on Sunday.

The Super Bowl champion finished 16-of-23 passing for two touchdowns, while he rushed for another TD on four carries.

Wilson joined Hall of Famer Peyton Manning as the second quarterback in NFL history to win 100 games in their first 10 seasons.

The 49ers – with Jimmy Garoppolo starting under center – took an early 7-0 lead but that was as good as it got for San Francisco on home soil.

Wilson's 12-yard pass to DK Metcalf ensured the scores were tied at half-time before the former dominated in the third period – the eight-time Pro Bowler's 16-yard run putting the Seahawks 14-7 ahead and Freddie Swain then caught a throw to stretch the lead to 14 points.

Trey Lance – who completed nine of his 18 passes for 157 yards and two TDs – replaced Garoppolo (calf) in the second half and the rookie QB kept the 49ers in the contest with a monster 76-yard TD pass to Deebo Samuel during the closing stages of the third quarter.

After an Alex Collins touchdown gave the Seahawks a 28-13 lead early in the final period, Lance combined with Samuel again at the death, but it was too little, too late.

 

Cardinals stay unbeaten behind Murray

Kyler Murray inspired the high-flying Arizona Cardinals to a 37-20 win at the previously undefeated Los Angeles Rams.

Murray passed for 268 yards and two touchdowns, while running for 39 more yards as the red-hot Cardinals improved to 4-0 this season.

Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb guided the Green Bay Packers to a third consecutive win – a 27-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rodgers and Cobb connected for two touchdowns and ran for another score at home to the Steelers.

Packers superstar Rodgers threw his 420th career TD pass – tying Dan Marino for sixth all-time.

Under-fire Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw his 400th career touchdown pass – the eighth player to do so.

Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers are refusing to panic amid their slow start to the NFL season and Ben Roethlisberger's offensive woes.

The Steelers are 1-2 to open the 2021 campaign following last week's surprise 24-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Doubts over two-time Super Bowl champion Roethlisberger have emerged after the 39-year-old quarterback threw two interceptions, finishing 38-of-58 passing for 318 yards and a touchdown.

Through three games, Roethlisberger – a seven-time Pro Bowler – has completed 83 of 130 attempts for three TDs, three interceptions and eight sacks.

Despite the poor start, Steelers head coach Tomlin is refusing to panic heading into Week 4 against the Green Bay Packers (2-1).

"We're not going to push the panic button," Tomlin said during Tuesday's news conference. "What do I mean by the panic button? We're not going to dramatically change who and what we are at this juncture.

"We're not resistant to change for the purposes of getting better, but we're not going to be so unsteady that we move away from our compass, our identity that we've worked hard to develop.

"We will continue to work hard to develop and the emphasis on the style of play, whatever that may be in all three phases."

Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a franchise-best 11-0 start to the season in 2020 and an AFC North crown before losing to the Cleveland Browns in the Wild Card round.

This season, only Miami Dolphins signal-caller Jacoby Brissett (67.8), Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Trevor Lawrence (60.3) and first-year New York Jets QB Zach Wilson (51.6) have a worse passer rating than Roethlisberger (79.0).

Roethlisberger's completion percentage (63.8) is only good enough for 25th, well adrift of Dallas Cowboys star and NFL leader Dak Prescott (77.5).

"This guy has a body of work over the course of not only what we've done in preparation this season, but over the course of 18 years that has us taking that approach," Tomlin said of Roethlisberger and his ongoing rest days on Wednesday.

"That is a global approach. It rests him and rightfully so. He's an older guy, and the wear and tear of plays affects him differently than younger guys. But also, he's an older guy and he has a volume of plays that most guys can't pull from that probably requires more physical work in an effort to be ready to play.

"Also, you've got to look at the totality of the journey. We're going into Game 4. We've got many games that lay ahead, and I don't want to be fielding questions late in the year about the quality of his throwing arm, for example."

The Kansas City Chiefs have a losing record for the first time in over five years, suffering a second successive defeat as they were stunned 30-24 by AFC West rivals the Los Angeles Chargers.

Kansas City trailed 14-0 in the second quarter at Arrowhead Stadium and were behind 14-3 at half-time, however, a lead is rarely safe against the Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes and, when they went 17-14 ahead with fewer than four minutes left in the third quarter, the outcome seemed inevitable.

But reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert continues to polish his increasingly impressive resume and he outdueled Mahomes in a bewitching fourth quarter that could prove pivotal in their division and the AFC playoff race.

Herbert connected on the first of two touchdown passes to Mike Williams and, after Mecole Hardman found the endzone for the Chiefs, led a field goal drive to tie the game at 24-24.

Mahomes still had over two minutes to work with to potentially win it for Kansas City but threw a critical interception and the Chargers' gamble to eschew a game-winning field goal paid off as Herbert hit Williams for another touchdown and, despite a missed extra point, Los Angeles held on as a late Hail Mary from the Chiefs came up short.

That missed extra point was the second of the day for the Chargers, the first coming after Keenan Allen caught a four-yard pass from Herbert, who then found Austin Ekeler for a 16-yard score.

Harrison Butker's 34-yard field goal was all the Chiefs could muster in the first half but Jody Fortson caught a high two-yard pass from Mahomes to narrow the gap and Clyde-Edwards Helaire scampered into the endzone to give Kansas City the lead on a 10-yard reception.

Herbert and Williams responded quickly but the Chiefs were in front again after Hardman scooted in on a six-yard pop pass. Tristan Vizciano's field goal levelled matters and, after Mahomes was picked off for the second time – Alohi Gilman snatching an ill-advised throw –  the Chargers were rewarded for their aggressive approach.

A fourth down was converted via a pass interference penalty and Herbert then hit Williams on a four-yard back-shoulder throw. Vizciano's errant extra point gave Kansas City a chance but 32 seconds and a timeout was not enough for Mahomes as the Chiefs dropped to 1-2, their first losing record since Week 11 of the 2015 season.

Tucker's record kick gives Ravens remarkable win

The Baltimore Ravens, winners over the Chiefs last week, avoided a stunning loss in the most improbable fashion thanks to the leg of Justin Tucker.

Baltimore trailed the winless Detroit Lions 17-16 with 64 seconds left and faced a fourth down and 19 with 26 seconds left.

However, Lamar Jackson hit Sammy Watkins for 36 yards to keep their hopes alive and Justin Tucker's 66-yard field goal bounced off the top of the crossbar and over, his kick from an NFL-record distance sparing the Ravens in an incredible finish.

Bills roll, Steelers slump

There was no such drama in Buffalo, where the Bills routed the Washington Football Team 43-21 behind quarterback Josh Allen's 358-yard, five-touchdown performance.

The team the Bills lost to in Week 1, the Pittsburgh Steelers, suffered a second straight defeat as they were beaten 24-10 by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Justin Fields was sacked nine times in his Chicago Bears debut, which saw them lose 26-6 to the Cleveland Browns, while Jamal Agnew tied the record for the NFL's longest play with a 109-yard return of Matt Prater's missed field goal but the Jacksonville Jaguars still lost 31-19 to the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt said the door is open for him to face the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3 of the NFL season.

Watt is listed as questionable for Sunday's clash after injuring his groin in last week's 26-17 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.

But the three-time Pro Bowler is hopeful of suiting up at home to the Bengals at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

"Doesn't matter how many reps I get throughout the week," Steelers star Watt said on Friday. "I was able to still run around here and do a lot of things that I need to do to keep the door open for Sunday.

"I'm excited to get the rest of today and tomorrow to continue to improve my body and see where I'm at on Sunday.

"... This isn't going around and playing Pee Wee football. This is playing against guys doing this for a living, so trying to be smart.

"At the same time, knowing your body more than anything. I felt like I did a good amount this week to leave the door open for Sunday."

Cincinnati ended a 10-game losing streak to Pittsburgh when the Bengals (1-1) beat the Steelers (1-1) 27-17 in Week 15 of last season.

In the all-time series, the Steelers have 65 wins in their 101 games against the Bengals, which is the most wins by any team against Cincinnati.

The Steelers, meanwhile, were held to 39 yards rushing in their loss to the Raiders, bringing the team's season rushing total to a league-worst 114 rushing yards.

Since Mike Tomlin became head coach in 2007, Pittsburgh have been held to under 40 yards rushing in 20 different games with only the Arizona Cardinals having more such games in that span (22).

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is battling injury which coach Mike Tomlin means they will need to be "adjustable" for Sunday's Week 3 game with the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Steelers veteran was hit 10 times and sacked twice in Pittsburgh's 26-17 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 2.

Roethlisberger was also sacked twice in the Steelers' 23-16 win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 1.

The 39-year-old is nursing a left pectoral injury which will impact his preparation for the Bengals game, and potentially his on-field role.

"We'd better be ready to be adjustable," Tomlin told NFL Network.

"He took too many hits. We can run the ball better. We can get the ball out of his hand quicker.

"We can stay on schedule and not get behind the sticks and get in situations where the line of the game is so far that that that enhances the rush."

Tomlin added that he was unsure how Roethlisberger picked up the pec complaint.

"I don't know specifically when Ben got injured in game. I don't know that he does," he said.

"Sometimes just in the midst of competition, adrenaline and so forth, you just don't know. Sometimes things just come up after."

The Steelers have numerous injuries including T.J. Witt, Alex Highsmith, Devin Bush and Joe Haden.

Trey Lance threw his first NFL touchdown and Jimmy Garoppolo excelled but the San Francisco 49ers were forced to hold off a near-miraculous rally from the Detroit Lions in a 41-33 thriller.

Rookie third overall pick Lance was not able to win the starting quarterback job from Garoppolo, yet he still made his regular-season debut at Ford Field on Sunday, and he took his first snap with the Niners on the Detroit 16-yard line on their second drive of the day.

His second snap saw him hit Trent Sherfield for a five-yard touchdown pass and, though Detroit responded with Jared Goff connecting with tight end T.J. Hockenson, Garoppolo's 314-yard performance, which included a 79-yard touchdown throw to Deebo Samuel, scores on the ground from rookie Elijah Mitchell and JaMycal Hasty and a Dre Greenlaw pick-six appeared to have put the game beyond all doubt.

San Francisco led 41-17 with under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but a Jamaal Williams short-yardage plunge followed by a two-point conversion provided Detroit a glimmer of hope that grew brighter when George Kittle was unable to field an onside kick.

The Lions subsequently drove down the field and Goff found Quintez Cephus for a two-yard touchdown and another two-point conversion. They then had a chance to tie the game following a fumble from Samuel, but Detroit could not complete an incredible comeback to force overtime.

Samson Ebukam's pressure forced Goff into an errant throw, allowing the Niners to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

It was, however, a pyrrhic victory for San Francisco, who lost cornerback Jason Verrett to what head coach Kyle Shanahan believes is a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Though the 49ers took defensive starters out of the game following Verrett's injury with what eventually proved an insurmountable lead, the ease with which the Lions moved the ball late in the game should be of concern to San Francisco, especially with two of their NFC West rivals enjoying excellent days.

The Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks each won comfortably. Kyler Murray threw for four touchdowns and ran for another while defensive end Chandler Jones had five sacks in the Cardinals' easy 38-13 win over the Tennessee Titans, while Russell Wilson had four touchdown passes for the Seahawks as they saw off the Indianapolis Colts 28-16.

Steelers stun Bills

While not quite as dramatic as events in Detroit, the Pittsburgh Steelers' win over the Buffalo Bills at Orchard Park was certainly unexpected.

The Bills led 10-0 at the end of the first half, but Josh Allen was sacked three times as the Steelers held a usually explosive offense in check.

And, after a pair of field goals from Chris Boswell, Diontae Johnson's spectacular catch at the back of the endzone in the fourth quarter gave them a lead they would not relinquish.

Ulysees Gilbert III recovered a blocked punt to make it 19-10 Steelers, Mike Tomlin's men going on to close out a 23-16 win that deals an early blow to a Bills team seen as Super Bowl contenders.

Burrow makes winning return

Last year's number one overall pick Joe Burrow made his return from a serious knee injury in the Cincinnati Bengals' clash with the Minnesota Vikings, and it proved a successful one in a thriller at Paul Brown Stadium.

He connected with college team-mate Ja'Marr Chase, the fifth overall pick by the Bengals this year, for a 50-yard touchdown in the first quarter to give Cincinnati a lead that they eventually let slip late in the fourth quarter when Vikings kicker Greg Joseph tied matters at 24-24 with a 53-yard field goal.

That forced overtime, but a Dalvin Cook fumble in Bengals territory handed Burrow and the Bengals the chance to clinch it, and he did just that with a drive that set up Evan McPherson's 33-yard field goal and sealed a 27-24 success.

This year's number one overall pick, Trevor Lawrence, endured a very different day. He threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions as the Jacksonville Jaguars were beaten 37-21 by the Houston Texans.

The NFL returned in spectacular fashion on Thursday as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers edged the Dallas Cowboys in a thriller.

It is a remarkable appetiser to the main course of Week 1, which sees 14 more games on Sunday and another on Monday between the Baltimore Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders.

There is a mouth-watering playoff rematch to behold at Arrowhead Stadium, while a clutch of rookie quarterbacks will attempt to make sure their first steps in the league are successful ones.

Ahead of what should be an enthralling opening week, Stats Perform looks at some of the most interesting facts from Sunday's biggest games.

Cleveland Browns @ Kansas City Chiefs

Revenge will be on the minds of the Browns in the most enticing matchup of the opening week, Cleveland aiming to upset the odds after falling short against the Chiefs in the Divisional Round of last season's playoffs.

History, though, is firmly against Cleveland. The Chiefs have won three straight games against the Browns dating back to 2013, while Andy Reid is 7-0 in his career as a head coach versus the Browns, one of three teams he is undefeated against. The others are the Chiefs (3-0) and his former team the Philadelphia Eagles (2-0).

Kevin Stefanski led the Browns to an 11-5 record in 2020, his first year as an NFL head coach. It was the most wins in a season by the Browns since 1994 (also 11 wins). The last time the Browns won at least 10 games in back-to-back seasons was 1986 to 1988 (three straight).

The Chiefs set a franchise record with 14 wins in 2020 and played in the Super Bowl for the second straight season, with Kansas City the favourites to be the AFC's representative in the February showpiece yet again. Only three teams have ever made the Super Bowl in three straight seasons – the Buffalo Bills (four, 1990-93), New England Patriots (three, 2016-18) and Miami Dolphins (three, 1971-73).

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Buffalo Bills

The Bills were a game away from the Super Bowl last season and enter this clash between a new AFC heavyweight and a seemingly fading force on a regular-season winning streak.

In a campaign that saw them go 13-3 and post their best record since 1991, the Bills finished the regular season with six straight wins averaging an NFL-best 38.2 points during that span.

Pittsburgh began last season 11-0, then dropped four of their last five games, finishing with an opening-round exit to the Browns in the playoffs. The Steelers were the first team to start 11-0 since the 2015 Carolina Panthers.

And the Steelers will be looking to avoid a third straight defeat to the Bills, who made it two successive wins over Pittsburgh with last season's 26-15 victory in Week 14. The Steelers had won nine of the previous 10 meetings dating back to 1993. 

Green Bay Packers @ New Orleans Saints

The Drew Brees era is over for the Saints, who have selected Jameis Winston as his successor at quarterback. The Packers have a talented defense but the often-erratic Winston's past form suggests he should move the ball against them. Winston has averaged 12.62 yards per completion over his career, the highest mark by any QB who has debuted in the past 30 years (minimum 1,500 completions).

Two perennial NFC powers, games between New Orleans and Green Bay have been consistently high-scoring affairs. The Saints and Packers have combined to average 52.0 points per game in their 26 all-time meetings, the highest average between any two NFL teams who have met at least 20 times.

Green Bay won 13 games in each of the last two seasons but failed to make the Super Bowl in either one. The Packers joined the 2018-19 Saints as the only teams in the Super Bowl era to win 13+ games in back-to-back seasons but miss the Super Bowl in both.

Elsewhere...

It will be a season partially defined by the performance of the rookie quarterbacks, with four of the five drafted in the first round seemingly set to feature in Week 1.

The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with their first-ever number one overall pick. When he lines up against the Houston Texans, Lawrence will be the eighth different QB to start a season opener for the Jaguars since 2010, tied for second most in the NFL behind the Browns (nine). 

Second overall pick Zach Wilson is set to become the 49th starting quarterback in New York Jets history when they face the Carolina Panthers and his predecessor Sam Darnold. No Jets quarterback has started every game of a season since Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2015, which happens to be the last time the Jets had a winning record (10-6).

Trey Lance will likely see sporadic action for the San Francisco 49ers versus the Detroit Lions. However, if Jimmy Garoppolo's spotty injury history continues in 2021, Lance could soon become the undisputed starter. Garoppolo was limited to six games last season. In three of the games, Garoppolo passed for multiple touchdowns with no interceptions. In the other three, Garoppolo had no touchdown passes and at least one interception.

The New England Patriots have used just four starting quarterbacks in their season openers since 2000, with Mac Jones poised to be the fifth as he looks to become the long-term successor to Tom Brady. Only the Packers (two) and Saints (three) have had fewer season-opening starters in that span – the NFL average in that time is 7.5 quarterbacks.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is excited to run the team's new offense heading into the new NFL season.

Roethlisberger is gearing up for his 18th season with the Steelers after the 39-year-old agreed a new restructured contract in Pittsburgh, where he will make his first preseason appearance against the Detroit Lions.

The two-time Super Bowl champion and seven-time Pro Bowler is relishing the opportunity to work alongside new offensive coordinator Matt Canada and quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan.

"We have a new system," Roethlisberger told reporters of the need to play against the Lions. "There's a new coach to player communication in terms of a new guy. The offense is different. He's up in the box as compared to on the field.

"There is a lot of newness. I think it's prudent to get as much time as I can under those circumstances."

"I would love to get as many reps as I can," said Roethlisberger. "It's been how many months since I've actually stepped on the football field to take a hit? I know it's preseason, but still just meaningful reps. With the newness of it I'd definitely like to get as much as I can.

"I guess it depends on how we're doing, how it feels. I really wanted to try and play last week because it was on the road and that would have been our first opportunity to play on the road and the situation, with circumstances like crowd noise and things like that before we go into a very hostile environment in week one. But coach, I couldn't talk him into it."

Roethlisberger helped Pittsburgh – who have one of the best defenses in the NFL – to an incredible 11-0 start last season.

But they ran out of steam badly down the stretch, losing four of their last five to finish 12-4 before a stunning 48-37 Wild Card playoff defeat to divisional rivals the Cleveland Browns.

Roethlisberger was coming back from a serious elbow injury which saw him miss all but two games of the 2019 campaign.

His play was steady but unspectacular, leading a Steelers offense that averaged 250.5 net passing yards per game, 15th best in the NFL.

Roethlisberger threw for 3,803 yards, 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 games, with a 94.1 passer rating (19th among qualifying QBs).

At 9.65 yards per completion – the lowest rate in the league – the veteran was more of a game manager than the downfield threat of old.

Roethlisberger added: "The challenge of newness. I spent a lot of time at home, going over it, reading it, watching film. I was telling my wife the other night that I think maybe it's even better that there's some new stuff because it almost refocuses you in a way.

"If this was still the same stuff, I would probably go home and be like okay I'll watch the film and be ready to move on. But last night I watched the film, and I went back over everything again to refresh my mind. I think because it's different. I want to make sure that I'm not the reason that we struggle."

Roethlisberger's yards per attempt average of 6.3 was the lowest of his career across seasons in which he has played double-digit games – it was 5.7 in his two appearances in 2019.

He had 43 pass plays that went for 20 yards or more, tied for 17th, though yards after catch was clearly a massive contributor to those plays. Pittsburgh ranked eighth with 50.4 per cent of the Steelers' gross passing yardage made up by yards after the catch.

His passer rating of 81.0 on throws of at least 21 air yards was 18th among quarterbacks with 25 such attempts and he completed only 30.2 per cent of those attempts (22nd of 28 QBs with a minimum of 25 attempts).

"Some of the new concepts I'll have it and I'll go home and I'll look at it and I'm like wait, what is this guy…if you think about it on every pass play for instance, I have to know what five guys are doing. It's not just one guy or just what I'm doing," he continued.

"So, I have to know who the hot is and what each specific guy is doing so there'll be times that I know what maybe three of them are doing and will be like, 'Wait, what's this guy doing again.' I just have to just try and refresh in my mind."

The Dallas Cowboys remain hopeful Dak Prescott will be ready for the season opener despite a shoulder injury that knocked him out of training camp, but they got a look at their other quarterback options as they opened the NFL pre-season on Thursday. 

Garrett Gilbert and Cooper Rush turned in solid performances even though they were unable to lead a touchdown drive in a 16-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.

Gilbert got the start and completed nine of 13 attempts for 104 yards and a 93.1 passer rating, while Rush came on in the second quarter and was eight-of-13 for 70 yards and a 75.8 rating.

Gilbert twice drove the Cowboys into the red zone but Dallas was left to settle for two field-goal tries, with Hunter Niswander making only one of them.

Niswander missed another field goal at the end of the first half, this one a 52-yarder, and Rush saw another of his drives end in a lost fumble by Malik Turner.

Despite those miscues, Dallas out-gained Pittsburgh 217-123 in the first half while racking up 13 first downs to Pittsburgh's six.

"The performance was decent," Gilbert told reporters. "We did some good things.

"Personally, I was a little sloppy with a couple of things, but it was good to knock the rust off. As an offense, we did a nice job overall of getting the ball moving."

Head coach Mike McCarthy concurred, saying he was pleased with the way his offence moved the football, but called for better finishing in the red zone.

They can expect that aspect to improve under Prescott, who did not travel to Canton for the game.

He told Fox Sports from California during the half-time show that he remains optimistic about being able to start the September 9 season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"We're being cautious," Prescott said. "We're taking it day by day, obviously. It's five weeks before the season opener, so I've got a lot of time. And I'm going to use that time to get myself ready for that game."

The Pittsburgh Steelers have bolstered their pass rush with the signing of veteran Melvin Ingram on a one-year deal.

Knee injuries limited the edge rusher to just seven games in the 2020 season, his final campaign with the Los Angeles Chargers.

He did not register a sack last year but the 32-year-old Ingram has been a consistently productive pass rusher in his career.

Ingram is one sack shy of 50 at the NFL level and should be in a good spot to reach that milestone playing for a Steelers defense that features one of the league's best pass rushers in T.J. Watt.

Watt led the NFL in sacks with 15 last season and was first among edge rushers with a pressure rate of 25.8 per cent.

The attention Watt commands could free up Ingram to regularly wreak havoc in the backfield and revitalise his career in Pittsburgh.

Ingram told ESPN's Josina Anderson: "I definitely feel like it's the place for me.

"I met with coach [Mike] Tomlin. You can tell he's very involved and a players' coach. That's what stood out to me.

"He wants to win and that is what I am on. My role is my role. He just told me to come in and be me. Everyone knows how I play."

T.J. Watt refused to discuss the subject of his contract negotiations with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Tuesday as he enters the final year of his rookie deal.

The star edge rusher is set to be a free agent in 2022 and, regardless of whether he remains in Pittsburgh beyond 2021, is primed to receive a lucrative contract following a stellar start to his career.

A first-round pick in 2017, Watt has 49.5 sacks to his name since entering the league, with that tally third behind three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald (57.5) and Chandler Jones (50).

Still only 26, Watt can likely expect a deal in the region of the five-year, $135million extension signed by Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa in July last year.

But, as the Steelers continued their preparations for the 2021 campaign with their mandatory minicamp, Watt decided against discussing his talks with Pittsburgh.

"With respect to the process, I'm not going to be talking about any contract stuff today, " Watt told reporters.

Watt missed out on the Defensive Player of the Year award despite a 2020 season that saw him lead the league in sacks with 15. Donald was second with 13.5, though his pressure rate (28.2%) was superior to that of Watt (25.8).

However, Watt is not thinking about being snubbed for that prize.

"I don't think it's driving me. [The] big thing for me is realizing all the plays I didn't make last year," he added. 

"Yeah, there's a lot of good from last year, but there's still a lot to improve on."

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