Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
Graham sat out practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but was a full participant on Friday. RB Mike Davis (groin) is doubtful to play.
Freeman will miss his second straight game.
Matthews sat out Friday's practice after getting a limited session in on Thursday.
Hali and Bailey were limited all week. Wilson was full-go Friday.
Forte returned to practice Friday on a limited basis.
Hicks and Long were limited Friday. McPhee sat out Friday.
Dennard returned to practice Friday with a limited designation.
Sanders was limited Thursday and Friday but should play.
Patterson sat out Friday after being limited Thursday.
Ramsey told a reporter he does not expect to play Sunday.
Blaine Gabbert will start for Arizona regardless of Stanton's status. Golden and Penny sat out Thursday and Friday.
Thomas and Taylor were limited Thursday and Friday. Brown sat out Friday.
Both were limited Friday.
Bills at Chiefs -- 55 degrees, partly cloudy, winds 10 mph
Titans at Colts (indoors -- roof could be open) -- 46 degrees, clear
Browns at Bengals -- 43 degrees, clear
Buccaneers at Falcons (indoors) -- 53 degrees, clear
Dolphins at Patriots -- 42 degrees, partly cloudy, winds 12 mph
Bears at Eagles -- 47 degrees, clear, winds 12 mph
Panthers at Jets -- 46 degrees, clear, winds 12 mph
Seahawks at 49ers -- 58 degrees, light rain (48 percent chance)
Saints at Rams -- 77 degrees, mostly cloudy
Jaguars at Cardinals (indoors) -- 85 degrees, clear
Broncos at Raiders -- 61 degrees, light rain (49 percent chance), winds 12 mph
Packers at Steelers (SNF)-- 37 degrees, clear
Texans at Ravens (MNF) -- 44 degrees, partly cloudy
What to Watch For
In what could turn into a shootout in Atlanta's shiny new building, Ryan Fitzpatrick could be required to toss the ball a ton into a speedy Falcons defense. The matchup to watch is Mike Evans versus Desmond Trufant. The receiver bounced back from his suspension with a big game last week and gets a stiff test against a stingy Trufant. Evans has earned 10 targets in three of the past four games and should surpass that number Sunday. If Matt Ryan lights up the Bucs secondary, Tampa will need Fitzpatrick and Evans to respond in kind to keep the game close.
Matt Ryan has a juicy matchup against a struggling Bucs pass defense that could help him continue to put his early-season struggles in the rearview mirror. The Falcons QB has completed 67.9 percent of his passes for a 104.9 passer rating and 9-2 TD-INT ratio in the past five games. The bad interception luck early in the season certainly played a role in the offensive problems, but Ryan looks more comfortable with Steve Sarkisian's play-calling in recent weeks. Against a Tampa defense that is giving up 276.3 passing yards per game (31st in NFL), Ryan should find plus matchups with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu when they aren't being covered by Brent Grimes.
Can the Browns get their first win of the season over the instate-rival in what could be the last best chance to get off the schneid? Getting Duke Johnson going will be key for Cleveland's offense versus a Bengals D that is better than their stats indicate. Run game coordinator Kirby Wilson said he wants to get Johnson the ball "as much as possible" Sunday (it took 10 games to realize that?). Johnson faces a good Cincy run defense but has an advantage as a pass-catcher out of the backfield against a Bengals team that has allowed 63 receptions and 455 receiving yards to running backs. If Johnson can break a few long plays, it could be the difference in what stacks up as a low-scoring affair in Ohio.
Injuries have begun to decimate what had been a stout Browns run defense early in the season, allowing the Lions and Jags to go off the past two games. Can the Bengals take advantage? Behind an offensive line that struggles to open holes for Joe Mixon, Cincinnati is averaging 68.0 rushing yards per game (last in NFL), which would be worst for a full season since the 2000 Chargers (66.4 rush YPG) and 2000 Browns (67.8 rush YPG). Mixon has just two games of 50-plus rushing yards and none since the Week 5. With a stagnant offense debilitated by the offensive line, Cincinnati needs Mixon to make defenders miss in the hole Sunday and pop off his first big day as a pro.
The Titans had a season-low 52 rushing yards in Week 11 but face a defense this week that they ran over in Week 6 -- Derrick Henry: 19 carries, 131 rush yards (career high), one rushing TD. Marcus Mariota was hobbled in the last meeting against Indy but still had one of his best passing days. A healthy quarterback should help open running lanes for Henry and DeMarco Murray once again. When last we saw Mariota it wasn't his legs that were the problem, but rather a few airmailed passes and communication issues with receivers. Against a Colts defense that has played better in recent weeks, Mariota must bounce back to keep the Titans within earshot of the Jaguars in the AFC South.
Despite all the chaos swirling around him, Jacoby Brissett has performed admirably this season. The Colts QB is averaging 235.7 pass YPG as a starter. That's more than Marcus Mariota: 232.1 pass YPG (9 starts); Cam Newton: 223.2 pass YPG (10 starts); Eli Manning: 219.18 pass YPG (11 starts); and Dak Prescott: 210.7 pass YPG (11 starts). Brissett also is the AFC South's top passer in yards per game, TD-INT ratio and passer rating. The big-armed quarterback has a prime matchup to torch a Titans secondary ranked 26th in pass DVOA by Football Outsiders. In the previous meeting, Brissett got off to a hot start but fizzled under the pressure packages brought by Tennessee defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Will Brissett display improved recognition and mettle in the face of the pressure this time?
NFL Research stat of the week: Brissett has a higher passer rating in his first 11 career starts (86.7) than Andrew Luck did in his first 11 career starts (76.5).
Going going, back back, to Tryod Tyrod. The Buffalo Bills had little choice but to hand the reins back to Tyrod Taylor after last week's Nathan Peterman test run blew up in their face like an ill-designed fifth-grade volcano experiment. Taylor gives the Bills the best chance to keep their fading playoff hopes alive against a Chiefs defense that has been gutted in recent weeks. The quarterback's mobility should be on display early against a K.C. defense that struggles against running QBs. The threat of Taylor running should also open wide lanes for LeSean McCoy to have a big day versus the No. 32-ranked DVOA run defense.
Since Week 8, Kareem Hunt has earned a meager 156 rushing yards and 206 scrimmage yards after leading the league in both categories in the first seven weeks. The rookie running back gets a prime bounce-back matchup against a Bills defense that has been trampled in the last three games, giving up 212.7 rushing yards per tilt. Despite his recent struggles, Hunt has seen 21-plus touches in three of the past four games. Andy Reid should ride the rookie Sunday against Buffalo. As the weather turns, and Alex Smith reverts to his check-down ways, Hunt can be the reason the Chiefs ride into the playoffs.
NFL Research stat of the week: This season marked the fifth time since 2000 that the Bills were above .500 through eight games. They went 10-24 in the second halves of those seasons (including 2017), missing the playoffs each previous time.
On paper, this is a massive blowout waiting to happen. The Dolphins have been outscored 142-65 during their four-game losing streak. Matt Moore will get the start in place of Jay Cutler (concussion), but isn't a buffo option against a Patriots defense that has found itself allowing 12.5 points per game over the last six outings. Expect Moore to target his favorite receiver, Jarvis Landry, heavily in hopes to pop some big plays. The Dolphins' passing offense has improved since the Jay Ajayi trade, averaging 295.7 yards per game (Miami has also trailed big in each matchup). Landry and Kenny Stills will need to blaze the Patriots' secondary if they want to keep pace with Tom Brady. Moore is willing to let it fly, which can lead to a bevy of interceptions or big plays depending on whether his receivers can make a play on the ball in Foxborough.
Brady is the only QB averaging more than 300-plus pass YPG and leads the NFL in passer rating (110.9). The MVP leader should add to those numbers against a crumbling Dolphins defense that has allowed 27-plus points in their last five games. The Brady-Brandin Cooks connection should fly high once again, especially with Chris Hogan still out. Brady targeted Cooks 20 times over the last two weeks for 223 total yards on 12 catches. Miami's 31st-ranked DVOA pass defense stands little chance of slowing down the growing connection.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Dolphins have never defeated the Patriots in New England in a game Brady started and finished -- only win in New England since 2001 was Week 17, 2005, when Brady only played in first quarter (NE already clinched division). Miami has lost eight straight road games vs. New England (outscored by 146 pts). The Dolphins' last win in New England was Week 3, 2008 -- Chad Pennington (MIA) vs Matt Cassel (NE).
As Cam Newton goes, so go the Carolina Panthers. In the seven Panthers wins, Newton has a 102.0 passer rating. In the three losses, Cam has a 47.4 passer rating. With his swagger flying high coming off a bye, it should be another good day versus a Jets defense that is stout versus the run but can be picked on through the air. The return of tight end Greg Olsen should pay immediate dividends for Newton, who has been lacking his security blanket since Week 2. With a monotonous cast of receivers outside of Devin Funchess, Olsen should see a healthy number of targets against a Jets defense that has allowed 523 yards and six touchdowns to tight ends.
Josh McCown's 69.0 completion percentage puts him on pace to set the franchise record (Chad Pennington, 68.9 percent in 2002). Think about this: In the span of three years, Ryan Fitzpatrick and McCown could set Jets quarterback records (mind explodes). McCown has a tough matchup against a Panthers defense that has been laying the wood, raking in the top eight in DVOA versus the run and the pass. The matchup to watch is Robby Anderson versus the Panthers' secondary. The big-play receiver gets his toughest matchup since going up against Jacksonville in Week 4. McCown needs Anderson to make plays versus the Panthers' zone in what could be a low-scoring affair at MetLife.
NFL Research stat of the week: Carolina earned back-to-back games with 200-plus rush yards for the first time in team history.
Hammer, meet iron sled. The Chicago Bears want to run Jordan Howard 20-plus times a game. He's averaging 21.5 carries per tilt and 98.2 rushing yards per game with Mitchell Trubisky in the lineup. Howard -- who needs 14 rushing yards to pass Matt Forte for the most in a player's first two seasons in Bears history (currently at 2,154) -- faces the Eagles top-ranked run defense (71.0 yards per game allowed). If Howard is stymied early, will coach John Fox abandon the run game, or keep bashing his head against the iron wall? Trubisky showed some moxie last week but faces a much better defense this time around. The rookie quarterback has yet to put together a complete game. Asking him to do it against the NFL's top team, on the road, could be a recipe for disaster.
The football world is rightfully fawning over Carson Wentz. But the truly remarkable aspect of the Eagles' offense is the way they spread the ball around. Philly doesn't have a single player ranked in the top 25 in receiving yards -- Alshon Jeffery is T-26th in NFL with 567 receiving yards -- and have no single-game 100-yard receivers. Similarly, the Eagles have only one 100-yard rusher this year -- LeGarrette Blount: 136 rush yards in Week 4 vs. Chargers. Instead of relying on one or two players to move the ball, Philly brings four running backs and allows Wentz to spread the ball to a bevy of receivers and tight ends. The depth makes it incredibly difficult for defenses to matchup with personnel and key on certain players. Sunday against the Bears' secondary should be no different for Wentz & Co.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Eagles have scored 20-plus points in 14 straight games dating back to last season (longest active streak in NFL). They are the only team to score 20-plus points in every game this season and have 20-plus points in 23 of 26 games with Wentz at QB (T-most since 2016).
Should we petition to change the Seahawks name to the "Seattle Wilsons"? Russell Wilson has accounted for 82.8 percent of Seattle's scrimmage yards, the highest percentage of any player in the Super Bowl era. It's not just his magic through the air. Wilson is on pace to be just the fifth QB since the merger to lead his team in rushing yards for a season. It's astounding how much pressure is on Wilson's shoulders each week. While it doesn't seem sustainable for the long-haul, the quarterback should dice up a limp 49ers defense. The matchup bodes well for the Wilson-Jimmy Graham connection to continue its hot streak. The Niners' defense, which has lost two starting safeties, has been torched by tight ends the past five weeks.
C.J. Beathard is coming off his best performance of the season before the bye -- 76.0 completion percentage, 288 yards passing, 123.4 passer rating, two TDs, one INT-- and gets a chance to double down versus a banged-up Seattle defense. Without Richard Sherman (who lines up primarily on the offense's right side), the Falcons targeted the right side of the field more than any other section in Week 11 (37.0 percent of pass attempts). It's folly to assume Beathard will have similar success considering the cast of pass-catchers he's throwing to. With Carlos Hyde facing a stingy Seahawks run game, the 49ers' best bet is to let Beathard try to pick on the injured secondary. Hitting Marquise Goodwin for a couple of big plays -- or a few DPIs -- is the best recipe for Beathard to move the ball.
NFL Research stat of the week: Wilson is on pace for 4,482 passing yards and 602 rushing yards. He would become the first player in NFL history with 4,400-plus passing yards and 500-plus rushing yards in a season.
Against a Rams defense that got gashed on the ground in Minnesota last week, expect the Mark Ingram/Alvin Kamara combo to find running room up the gut. Ingram and Kamara are combining for 192.5 scrimmage YPG this season, powering a potent Saints attack. As we saw last week, when the Saints can always activate the Drew Brees card and flip the switch to a pass-first plan if necessary. The Rams own the No. 3 DVOA pass defense, but are slightly banged up, which could give Michael Thomas free lanes to roam. The second-year receiver is quietly having a stellar season, ranking eighth in the NFL in receiving yards (753). If Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips sells out to slow Ingram and Kamara, Thomas could explode Sunday.
Head coach Sean McVay's offense hit a snag last week against the Vikings. He faces a Saints defense that ranks third in scoring since Week 3 (16.4 PPG). New Orleans will be without corner stud rookie Marshon Lattimore and starter Ken Crawley, however, which could cripple the secondary. With receiver Robert Woods out, the pressure is ramped up for Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp to fill the void on intermediate routes. Given the Woods injury and the matchup against the Saints 26th-ranked DVOA run defense, I expect McVay to ride Todd Gurley heavily. The running back was shut down last week but should burst out. Handing the ball to Gurley 20-plus times will move the chains and help protect the Rams' defense.
After washing out as the Jaguars' No. 10 overall pick, Gabbert returns faces his former team with a chance to show his growth. Against a smothering Jags defense, however, it could be Jacksonville fans who get the last laugh. The Jaguars have allowed nine or fewer points in six games (most in NFL) -- no other team has more than three such games. Jalen Ramsey doesn't expect to play, but Jacksonville has enough defensive weapons to overcome Gabbert. The key matchup for the Cards will be Larry Fitzgerald versus slot corner Aaron Colvin. Gabbert displayed a willingness to force the ball to Fitzy last week, and it will be his best option against a fast, sack-happy Jags defense once again. Oh, and speaking of revenge games: Calais Campbell returns to the desert to face his former team, which badly misses the game-wrecking defensive lineman.
Facing a pass-funnel Cardinals D, can Blake Bortles win another road game placed on his shoulders? Going head-to-head (proverbially) with Gabbert is an interesting circumstance for the maligned Bortles, who has played better for spurts this season, but remains inconsistent. With Patrick Peterson likely shadowing Marqise Lee, Bortles will need to continue to grow his connection with rookie Dede Westbrook, who has a favorable matchup versus the Cards' No. 2 and 3 corners. Westbrook had a solid debut last week and could be in for an explosive day if Bortles can find the range.
It's finally Paxton Lynch's turn. After getting beaten out by Trevor Siemian this summer and then suffering an injury, the woebegone Broncos turn to their first-round pick to try and find a spark. While getting beaten out by Siemian says plenty about where Lynch was in his development this offseason, it's the right time to give him a shot. The second-year pro looked lost in limited reps last year, but his athleticism will be a net positive behind a porous offensive line. He also faces an awful Raiders pass defense that has a new defensive coordinator. Oakland's 72.3 opposing completion percentage and 113.3 opposing passer rating are both the second-highest allowed since the 1970 merger. Speaking of coordinator changes, how will Bill Musgrave (the Raiders former play-caller) change the playbook after taking over for firedBroncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy?
In the battle of two of the most disappointing teams in the NFL, the Raiders' offense needs to wake out of a season-long funk. Oakland has lost two of their last three games by 20-plus points and scored fewer than 20 points in each of their six losses. There are few favorable matchups for Derek Carr's offense, even against a Denver defense that has dipped of late. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree have struggled against Broncos cornerbacks. The Denver run defense is a poor matchup for Marshawn Lynch. The best matchup for Carr to move the ball is tight end Jared Cook, who faces a Denver D allowing 758 yards (second most in the NFL) and seven TDs to tight ends. If Carr can get Cook going early, as he did in the Week 9 win, it could open the rest of the offense. I also want to see if the Raiders deploy Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington in the passing game, similar to the way the Patriots burned the Broncos' defense.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Broncos' defense has fallen from the NFL's No. 4 scoring defense (in 2016) to tied for 27th (in 2017). Coach Vance Joseph's defense also ranks T-18th in sacks per game (T-3rd last year), 28th in passer rating allowed (first in 2016), and 31st in takeaways per game (T-7th).
The Brett Hundley rollercoaster chugs on to Pennsylvania in prime time against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Only one QB has a higher interception rate than Hundley (4.4 percent): DeShone Kizer (5.0 percent). Pittsburgh's defense owns the third-highest INT rate (3.8 percent) and ranks second in sacks. It could be a long night for the Packers QB, who continues to struggle with pressure. As bad as the interceptions and sacks have been for Hundley, he does show an ability, at times, to know where to go with the ball pre-snap. Hundley must get the ball out quick versus the Steelers menacing interior pass rush or it will be another dismal day for the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers.
Sunday night shapes up as another smash spot for Ben Roethlisberger against a porous Packers pass defense, which ranks 23rd in DVOA. With JuJu Smith-Schuster ruled out, expect Roethlisberger to force throws toward Antonio Brown. The All-Pro receiver leads the NFL with 70 receptions and 1,026 receiving yards. Coming off a three-touchdown game, Brown is a good bet to find pay dirt again in prime time. With JuJu out, it will be interesting to see how much trust Big Ben puts in Martavis Bryant. The maligned receiver has let down his quarterback repeatedly this season, but against this Green Bay secondary, perhaps the light will turn on for the athletic deep-threat.
NFL Research stat of the week:Le'Veon Bell's 3.8 yards per carry would be his lowest average since his rookie season (4.7-plus in each of last three seasons). Bell has earned fewer than 4.0 yards per carry in four straight games. His 3.8 yards per carry average would be the lowest average by any player to lead the NFL in rushing yards since the 1970 merger. If he stays at this rate, Bell would be the first player to lead NFL in rushing while averaging fewer than 4.0 yards per carry since Floyd Little in 1971 (3.99 with DEN).
Tom Savage versus the ball-hawking Ravens defense, which pitched their third shutout of the season last week, is a recipe for disaster. The one saving grace for the turnover-prone quarterback is his willingness to target DeAndre Hopkins regardless of the coverage. Hopkins leads the NFL with nine receiving TDs. His matchup versus the pick-happy Ravens secondary is the one to watch. If Baltimore smothers Nuk, the Texans' operation could implode under the bright lights.
Joe Flacco is on the list of most disappointing veteran quarterbacks this season, and he has yet to throw for more than 261 yards in a game. Flacco owns one of the league's lowest-rated passers (74.4), ahead of only DeShone Kizer (54.0), Brett Hundley (63.3) and C.J. Beathard (70.8). Flacco's 5.44 passing yards per attempt is the lowest by a qualified QB since Blaine Gabbert (5.36) in 2011. Facing a Texans secondary that has been torched by opposing quarterbacks, the Ravens need Flacco to have his best game of the year. Expect Jeremy Maclin to see a bevy of targets, as Houston has been diced up by slot receivers. Mike Wallace should likewise see a few deep shots against a Texans defense often burned deep. First, the Ravens will need to block game-wrecker Jadeveon Clowney.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Ravens are the first team since the 2000 Baltimore squad to record three shutouts over the first 10 games of a season. The 2000 Ravens and 1991 Redskins (both won Super Bowls) are the only other teams in the last 30 seasons with three shutouts over the first 10 games.