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Opinion: Drew Brees’ injuries leave Saints with QB decision that could define season — and beyond



After learning that quarterback Drew Brees could miss extended time with injuries that, according to multiple reports, include multiple rib fractures and a collapsed lung, the New Orleans Saints now find themselves faced with an intriguing decision while preparing to host the NFC South rival Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill?

That’s the question coach Sean Payton must decide. The outcome of the decision could dramatically shape the franchise both for the short and long term.

Payton on Monday afternoon declined to confirm an ESPN report on Brees’ status and also refused to name a starter.

However, by Wednesday when the Saints return to the practice field, players likely will have learned the direction their team is headed in the interim. 

Winston, the 2015 No. 1 overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, signed with New Orleans this offseason in search of further development and redemption following the end of his five-year run as a starter.

Hill, an undrafted fourth-year pro, has distinguished himself as an impactful utility player for New Orleans, lining up at quarterback, tight end, fullback and wide receiver while also playing on special teams.

It marks a second straight year the Saints have found themselves in this predicament. Last season, when a torn thumb ligament in Brees’ throwing hand sidelined him for five games, Payton turned to backup Teddy Bridgewater over Hill, who served as a fixture on offense through his wide range of positions. Bridgewater rewarded the coach by going 5-0 as a starter. 

With Bridgewater having moved on to become the Carolina Panthers’ starter, whichever quarterback Payton chooses this year will try to extend the team’s six-game winning streak and help the 7-2 Saints overtake the Green Bay Packers for the top spot in the NFC.

Both quarterbacks offer different elements.

Winston possesses greater experience having started 70 games for his career. The former Heisman Trophy winner and 2015 Pro Bowl pick also is the more decorated of the two. Blessed with a big arm, Winston last season surpassed the 5,000-yard mark, something only six other quarterbacks have ever done (Brees has done it five times), and recorded 33 touchdown passes. 

As he demonstrated Sunday when he directed three scoring drives (two field goals and an Alvin Kamara touchdown), Winston gives the Saints the ability to execute an offense that resembles a Brees-led attack. Saints coaches simplify what they ask of the quarterback, but they wouldn’t have to overhaul the playbook to position him for success. Starting Winston also enables the Saints to continue to use Hill as the change-of-pace weapon to throw opponents off.

Going to Winston against San Francisco made sense because he had worked behind Brees all week and attended all of the quarterback meetings while Hill bounced from one position group meeting to another in preparation for his usual slash role. Turning to the multi-purpose threat as quarterback would have meant scrapping a chunk of New Orleans’ game plan for the 49ers.

Hill would bring another dimension to the position. The BYU product averages 5.5 yards per carry and, with his capability to execute run-pass option plays, would pose a threat of unpredictability.

However, Hill is a far less accomplished passer, having completed only 10 of 18 passes for his careerwith no touchdown passes and one interception to his name.

With Hill as his starter, Payton likely would have to more drastically change the way the Saints attack, which could prove disruptive. 

The mark against Winston involves his history of poor decision-making. In his final season in Tampa, he threw 30 interceptions — the most by any player in a single season since 1988 — including an NFL record six returned for touchdowns.

Winston chose a backup role with the Saints over a chance to compete as a starter in 2020 because he believed Payton’s expertise with quarterbacks could help him reach his maximum potential. He likened that tutelage to a Harvard education.

But is half of a season enough to transform him into a more disciplined passer? 

It was only a half of football, but Winston certainly seemed more conservative in his approach on Sunday. He completed six of 10 passes for 63 yards without any turnovers .

A move to Winston seems like the no-brainer given his experience and more expansive passing skill set. And many around the league expect the coach to settle on Winston for this week’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.

But the Saints’ fondness for Hill creates some mystique, or at least the illusion of a debate. This offseason, the team signed him to a two-year, $21 million contract that features $16 million in guaranteed money. In 2021, Hill will make more than a handful of top quarterbacks still on their rookie contracts.

Winston, meanwhile, is earning just $1.1 million for this season.

As mentioned, Payton’s decision could help shape the future of the Saints’ quarterback position.

This could be the 41-year-old Brees’ last year, so this midseason stretch in his absence could serve as an audition for 2021 and speak to how New Orleans views Winston and Hill. 

A nod to Hill seemingly would suggest that Payton views him as the quarterback of the future and that the coach would be comfortable having him shed his utility role after this season. 

Turning to Winston could indicate that, in addition to believing the former Florida State product gives him the best chance to win now, Payton also wants to evaluate him extensively as a potential long-term replacement for Brees.

That’s not for certain, however. Bridgewater’s five-game stint last season wound up serving as a showcase for the rest of the league rather than New Orleans.

Either way, it all boils down to this: for however long Brees’ injuries sideline him, his replacement will receive a golden opportunity. The next man up will receive the chance to play for one of the game’s best play-callers while surrounded by one of the league’s top supporting casts. He will have the chance to contribute to a playoff run. And the quarterback selected also will receive the chance to solidify his future role.

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Diego Maradona: Argentina legend dies aged 60




Football legend Diego Maradona, one of the greatest players of all time, has died at the age of 60.

The former Argentina attacking midfielder and manager suffered a heart attack at his Buenos Aires home.

He had successful surgery on a brain blood clot earlier in November and was to be treated for alcohol dependency.

Maradona was captain when Argentina won the 1986 World Cup, scoring the famous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in the quarter-finals.

Argentina and Barcelona forward Lionel Messi paid tribute to Maradona, saying he was “eternal”.

“A very sad day for all Argentines and football,” said Messi. “He leaves us but does not leave, because Diego is eternal.

“I keep all the beautiful moments lived with him and I send my condolences to all his family and friends.”

In a statement on social media, the Argentine Football Association expressed “its deepest sorrow for the death of our legend”, adding: “You will always be in our hearts.”

Declaring three days of national mourning, Alberto Fernandez, the president of Argentina, said: “You took us to the top of the world. You made us immensely happy. You were the greatest of them all.

“Thank you for having existed, Diego. We’re going to miss you all our lives.”

Maradona played for Barcelona and Napoli during his club career, winning two Serie A titles with the Italian side. He started his career with Argentinos Juniors, also playing for Sevilla, and Boca Juniors and Newell’s Old Boys in his homeland.

He scored 34 goals in 91 appearances for Argentina, representing them in four World Cups.

Maradona led his country to the 1990 final in Italy, where they were beaten by West Germany, before captaining them again in the United States in 1994, but was sent home after failing a drugs test for ephedrine.

During the second half of his career, Maradona struggled with cocaine addiction and was banned for 15 months after testing positive for the drug in 1991.

He retired from professional football in 1997, on his 37th birthday, during his second stint at Argentine giants Boca Juniors.

Having briefly managed two sides in Argentina during his playing career, Maradona was appointed head coach of the national team in 2008 and left after the 2010 World Cup, where his side were beaten by Germany in the quarter-finals.

He subsequently managed teams in the United Arab Emirates and Mexico and was in charge of Gimnasia y Esgrima in Argentina’s top flight at the time of his death.

World pays tribute

Brazil legend Pele led tributes to Maradona, writing on Twitter: “What sad news. I lost a great friend and the world lost a legend. There is still much to be said, but for now, may God give strength to family members. One day, I hope we can play ball together in the sky.”

Former England striker and Match of the Day host Gary Lineker, who was part of the England team beaten by Argentina at the 1986 World Cup, said Maradona was “by some distance, the best player of my generation and arguably the greatest of all time”.

Ex-Tottenham and Argentina midfielder Ossie Ardiles said: “Thank dear Dieguito for your friendship, for your football, sublime, without comparison. Simply, the best football player in the history of football. So many enjoyable moments together. Impossible to say which one was the best. RIP my dear friend.”

Juventus and Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo said: “Today I bid farewell to a friend and the world bids farewell to an eternal genius. One of the best of all time. An unparalleled magician. He leaves too soon, but leaves a legacy without limits and a void that will never be filled. Rest in peace, ace. You will never be forgotten.”

Boca Juniors, where Maradona enjoyed two spells and finished his career, gave “eternal thanks” to their former player.

Paris St-Germain and Brazil forward Neymar posted a photo of him as a youngster with Maradona, calling the Argentine a “legend of football”.

England captain Harry Kane and forward Marcus Rashford also paid tribute.

Barcelona was the first club outside of Argentina that Maradona played for. He scored 22 goals in 36 appearances between 1982 and 1984.

Another of Maradona’s former clubs, Napoli, paid tribute. He played for the club between 1984 and 1991, making 188 appearances.

‘It was in football he found his peace’ – analysis

He was an everyman Argentine, who lived out a national fantasy with the way he scored his two goals in that 1986 quarter-final win over England.

Scoring those goals, against that opponent, turned Maradona almost into a deity in the eyes of some of his compatriots – with disastrous consequences. Living the aftermath was not easy.

Without the discipline of football, the second half of his life was a chaotic affair.

But it was in football that he seemed to find his peace. As a fan he would turn up at the stadium of his beloved Boca Juniors, take off his shirt, swirl it around his head and lead the chanting.

For many his spontaneity and fallibility were part of the appeal.

His admirers thrived on the way he would fall down only to get back up again. It humanised a figure whose epic life was as mazy as one of his left-footed dribbles.

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic suffers a hamstring injury and faces a month out of action




If AC Milan’s 3-1 victory away to Napoli on Sunday really made people sit up and begin to take the Rossoneri seriously as Scudetto contenders, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s hamstring injury suffered in the same match has done just as much to temper expectations within the club.

The Swedish forward has been the talisman for the Italian giants for pretty much all of the time since he returned to the club in January, however he now faces a month on the sidelines through injury.Fortunately for Stefano Pioli, Ibrahimovic isn’t thought to be at risk of missing the top-of-the-table clashes with both Lazio and Juventus, which are due to be played on December 23 and January 6, but there will need to be a certain amount of reshuffling to replace a player who has already found the net 10 times in six Serie A matches this term.

He left his mark on the match with Napoli by scoring a brace, and he brings so much leadership to the team, as well as goals.His hamstring will be reassessed in 10 days’ time, but the usual recovery timeframe for these injuries is around 3-4 weeks.Whilst the Juventus match shouldn’t be impacted, Ibrahimovic will miss crucial Europa League matches against Lille and Celtic, whilst Fiorentina will relish facing Milan without the Swede on November 29

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FC Barcelona to hold election on January 24




FC Barcelona’s presidential elections will be held on January 24, 2021, as decided by the club’s interim managerial board on Thursday evening. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, voting will be decentralized rather than being held solely in the club’s usual Camp Nou ground.

Speculations about the date had occurred in the last few weeks, with some reporting the elections would take place on January 15.

This comes after scandal-ridden ex-president Josep Maria Bartomeu quit on October 27 to be replaced by current interim president Carles Tusquets.

Bartomeu’s departure came ahead of a censure motion planned for the weekend following his exit. He stated his decision to leave the position was due to coronavirus concerns over the possible vote of no confidence.

Ten pre-candidates will be announced for members to choose from, seven have already been confirmed officially whilst three others are expected to in the coming days.

Decentralized voting

Although decentralization has been agreed, the exact voting process remains to be decided.

Telematic voting has been virtually ruled out. The two leading options would be setting up different polling stations across Catalonia or extending the voting period over two days.

In the end, the club will be forced to adapt to the evolving Covid-19 situation in the area, and they will meet at the weekend with the Catalan health and sports ministers to further discuss the issue.

The date of the start of the electoral campaign has, however, yet to be revealed. It is expected that once it begins, this will cut out around half of the possible presidential candidates, as they all need 2,257 endorsements to make the cut.

New hope

Much hope is being placed on the presidential election after a string of bad events for the men’s football team. In the Champions League, the club suffered their worst defeat, 2-8 against Bayern Munich in August.

This was followed by the surprise announcement by football star Leo Messi that he wanted to quit the club last September, although he did not quite following a legal back and forth with Bartomeu.

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