Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
Alonso, Jenkins and Williams were limited all week; the rest of the gang was full-go.
Watkins should play after being limited in practice. Williams returned to practice on Friday (limited), a positive sign for the D-lineman.
Vereen was limited all week and will need to pass protocol.
Goldman missed practice all week.
The group was all limited on Friday.
Davis returned limited on Friday, which is a positive sign. Fellow linebacker Brandon Marshall (hamstring) was ruled out.
Brown remained limited in practices this week.
Neither Cooper nor Crabtree appears in danger of missing Sunday's action. Osemele is expected to return.
Matthews was full-go on Thursday and Friday and should play.
Casey said he will "for sure" play this week.
Houston returned to practice limited on Friday.
McCoy was full-go on Friday. David was limited.
Bryant should play barring a setback.
Kuechly is finally out of concussion protocol after fully participating in practice all week.
*We're in for chilly temps at most of our 10 outdoor games this week. We will update prognostications for all non-dome contests as we drift closer to game time. *
Dolphins at Jets (Saturday) -- 34 degrees
Packers at Bears -- 4 degrees -- winds up to 16 mph
Browns at Bills -- 24 degrees -- chance of snow (34 percent), winds up to 13 mph
Eagles at Ravens -- 52 degrees -- chance of rain (53 percent), winds up to 14 mph
Titans at Chiefs -- 2 degrees
Lions at Giants -- 51 degrees -- chance of rain (54 percent)
Steelers at Bengals -- 27 degrees -- winds up to 10 mph
Patriots at Broncos -- 32 degrees
Raiders at Chargers -- 64 degrees
Panthers at Redskins (MNF) -- 31 degrees
What to Watch For
Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore makes his first start since the 2011 season on the road Saturday, so expect running back Jay Ajayi to be the center of Miami's offense. Earlier this season, Ajayi plowed through the Jets' front for 111 yards, but has cooled off in recent weeks. Ajayi has earned less than 80 yards per game in each of his past five contests, with fewer than 3.0 yards per carry in two of the last three games. The Jets' run defense was shredded last week, especially on stretch runs. If Ajayi can earn the edge against New York, he could get back on track with a big day, keeping the Dolphins' playoffs hopes alive.
Bryce Petty isn't the long-term answer for the New York Jets' decades-long quarterback search. Against a middling 49ers defense last week, the QB was sacked six times and for long stretches of the game couldn't take advantage of a banged-up secondary. The young quarterback will have to contend with Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh wrecking his world Saturday night. Expect New York's game plan to feature a heavy dose of Bilal Powell in both the ground and pass game against a Miami defense ranked 30th versus the run.
Say what? Stat of the week:Jarvis Landry has accounted for 29.9 percent of his team's receptions this season, the highest percent in the NFL.
Carson Wentz has played well this season when the Eagles' rushing attack is any semblance of a threat, which makes Darren Sproles' and Wendell Smallwood's absences glaring. With Ryan Mathews the only option, it will fall on Wentz to move the ball against the Ravens. Despite some mechanical flaws, Wentz's up-and-down season has more to do with a lack of surrounding talent. Baltimore got torched by Tom Brady last week after corner Jimmy Smith got hurt, but with Jordan Matthews the only viable receiving target for the Eagles, that loss could be mitigated this week.
The Ravens' attempt to employ a dink-and-dunk pass offense that methodically moves the ball is maddeningly inefficient. After weeks of fans and commentators screaming about running the ball, quarterback Joe Flacco finally joined the chorus this week, acknowledging Baltimore must run the ball more in the final three weeks. Kenneth Dixon out-snapped Terrance West 40 to 14 last week. Expect the rookie's role to remain strong Sunday as Baltimore coaches trust Dixon as a dual threat.
Say what? Stat of the week: John Harbaugh has never lost to a rookie quarterback at home (7-0).
In a cruel twist for Cleveland fans, the Browns offense has been noticeably worse with Robert Griffin III at the helm. In two RGIII starts, Cleveland is earning just 271 total yards, 10 points per game and 147.0 passing yards (59.3 fewer than Cody Kessler and 141.7 fewer than Josh McCown). RGIII doesn't seem to trust his reads or his receivers to make plays, and his wayward passes could be magnified in the cold Buffalo weather. The Bills are vulnerable on the outside to big plays from Terrelle Pryor and Corey Coleman, but can RGIII get them the ball? (Shakes Magic 8 Ball) Outlook not so good.
With the Bills' season on the brink, Sunday sets up perfectly for the sort of offensive day Rex Ryan fantasizes about. The Browns rank 31st in rushing yards per game allowed, giving up 146.2 yards a contest. Buffalo's combination of LeSean McCoy's shiftiness and Mike Gillislee's power should be enough to trample Cleveland on Sunday. Fun fact: In the last three weeks the Browns have allowed fewer than 200 passing yards to Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Andy Dalton. Teams realize they can run all over Cleveland and essentially give the quarterback a day off. With Tyrod Taylor struggling, the Bills should be no different.
Say what? Stat of the week:LeSean McCoy has 100-plus scrimmage yards in eight of his last 10 games this season while averaging 107.8 scrimmage YPG.
Aaron Rodgers is in no danger of missing Sunday's rivalry game, but how mobile will the passer be in the frigid temps after tweaking his calf last week? Rodgers' MVP-caliber play has propelled the Packers back into the thick of the playoff race. The QB has averaged 294.9 yards per game with 22 TDs to 3 INTs in the past eight games. He'll face a Chicago defense that has racked up 33 sacks (T-5th in the NFL). The Bears' pass defense has been stingy for stretches this season, allowing 219.5 yards per game, but haven't faced a combo as good as Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams.
Matt Barkley has performed admirably since taking over the starting quarterback gig, displaying an ability to move the offense with heady passes and eliminated turnovers. Barkley, however, doesn't possess a big arm, so it will be interesting to see how many shots he takes deep to Alshon Jeffery, who returns from suspension. The Packers' defense got burned deep often earlier this season but, with the return of corner Damarious Randall, has given up 13 points or fewer the past three weeks. If a stout Packers run defense keeps Jordan Howard bottled up, can Barkley make enough plays down the field to pull off an upset?
The Steelers simplified the offense in recent weeks. The game plan: Give it to Le'Veon Bell. Since Week 11, the superstar running back has 620 rushing yards, most in the NFL by 184 yards over that span. Bell has four straight games with 100-plus rush yards (longest career streak) and leads the NFL with 161.6 scrimmage yards. Against a Bengals defense that has been gashed on the ground this season (119.1 YPG), Bell will play the starring role in Cincinnati. Vontaze Burfict missed the matchup earlier this season. We can't wait to see how Pittsburgh players welcome back the hard-hitting linebacker after he took out Bell and Antonio Brown last season.
Andy Dalton's play the past two weeks without A.J. Green has been stellar. He's thrown four TDs to 0 INTs with a 121.6 passer rating. Spreading the ball around to Tyler Eifert, Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd has allowed Dalton to get the ball out quicker behind a porous offensive line. The Steelers' defense has rounded into form for a playoff run with Stephen Tuitt wreaking havoc up front and Ryan Shazier cleaning up everything on the second level. With little hope for the running game, Dalton will have to penetrate an improving Steelers secondary if the Bengals are to play spoilers.
Welcome to the Offensive Ineptitude Bowl, sponsored by... Nobody.
Instead of the weekly exercise of pointing out how unwatchable Blake Bortles is, let's point out that Marqise Lee has actually become a viable part of the offense this year. Huzzah! The man once affectionately known as the "Albino Tiger" has not missed a game this season and is the benefactor of Bortles being restricted to throwing short passes. Lee is coming off a 113-yard game against a good Vikings defense and has four or more receptions in 10 of 13 games. His two 100-yard games are one more than Allen Robinson has for the season. Against sticky Houston corners on Sunday, the Jags will look for Lee to utilize his after-the-catch ability often.
Lamar Miller surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his career (first Texans back since Arian Foster in 2014 to do so). To keep their lead in the AFC South, Houston will need to rely on the workhorse. The Jaguars' defense has allowed just 178.2 passing yards per game since Week 9, fewest in the NFL. We aren't under any illusions Brock Osweiler will magically be a different quarterback this week. The Jaguars defense allows 113.2 rushing yards per game (23rd ranked). Expect Miller and Alfred Blue to get the bulk of the work done in a low-scoring affair.
Those with a coastal focus might not consider this an intriguing matchup, but you, dear reader, know better. Sunday's matchup in K.C. will go a long way in determining how the AFC playoff picture shakes out.
In the coldest game Marcus Mariota has ever played, the Titans will attempt to smashmouth their way through the chill. Tennessee already runs the ball on 47.2 percent of plays this season. Expect that number to be higher Sunday with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry providing power between the tackles. Murray sits second in the NFL with 1,135 rushing yards. He'll dive into the heart of the Chiefs defense, where it's been the most vulnerable. The otherwise stout K.C. unit is giving up 122.9 rush yards per game, ranking 27th in the NFL. That weakness plays right to the strength of the Titans' offense.
The Chiefs have the inverse matchup. Tennessee's defense is much better versus the run than pass: Allowing 86.6 rush YPG (third in NFL) and 274.9 pass YPG (31st in NFL). Alex Smith should have plenty of chances to prove last week's deep shots to Tyreek Hill weren't a one-off. The speedy rookie's presence will force the Titans to help deep, which could open things up for Jeremy Maclin to return to form after a one-catch performance in his return last week.
Say what? Stat of the week:Travis Kelce has 100-plus receiving yards in four straight games. With 100-plus receiving yards in Week 15, he will have the longest streak by a tight end in NFL history.
With Donte Moncrief out, will a Colts receiver not named T.Y. Hilton step up to help out Andrew Luck? Philip Dorsett has been a monumental disappointment this season, but Luck will likely have no choice but to keep targeting the second-year player against a stingy Vikings secondary. Xavier Rhodes versus Hilton is an intriguing contrast in style. Rhodes likes to be physical, but Hilton can make corners whiff off the line and burn them deep. With Mike Zimmer bringing pressure right in Luck's face, keep an eye out for any setback to the quarterback's banged-up arm.
Sam Bradford leads the NFL in completion percentage this season (71.2), but averages only 6.4 yards per pass attempt (last in NFL). His short pass attack might gain some traction against a Colts defense that struggles to tackle in space. Bradford should target Kyle Rudolph a lot Sunday in a virtual must-win for Minnesota's playoff hopes. The Colts have allowed 882 yards to tight ends this season, third most in the NFL. Rudolph is a good bet to add to his six TD total this week.
Matthew Stafford owned the most popular digit in Detroit this week. The quarterback's banged-up middle finger led to some struggles last week, but the Lions have downplayed the issue heading to New Jersey. If Stafford isn't able to drive the ball into tight windows, the Lions will struggle to move the ball. Against a physical, good-tackling Big Blue secondary, Detroit's reliance on yards after the catch could become a glaring issue if Golden Tate and Marvin Jones can't escape. The Giants have allowed 16.1 points per game since Week 7, the fewest in the NFL. Stafford's best mismatch will be Eric Ebron. New York has given up 864 yards on 115 targets to tight ends this season, fifth-most in the NFL.
With rain in the forecast, we could be in for a sloppy game at MetLife. The Giants offense has been a mess all year, even in good weather. The running game ranks 31st in the NFL, Eli Manning can't convert on third down (lowest rate in the league) and the Giants are a three-and-out machine. Luckily Big Blue has the best big-play weapon in football. Even against a good corner like Darius Slay, Odell Beckham Jr. should feast. Since Week 6, Beckham leads the NFL in receiving yards (750) and receiving TDs (8). His ability to take a short slant to paydirt could turn the tide again Sunday. Lions DC Teryl Austin has been a master this season scheming around depth issues. It will be interesting to see what the head-coaching candidate busts out to try and slow OBJ. If Detroit pins down Beckham and gets to 10 wins, you could all but pencil in Austin for a head coaching gig somewhere in 2017.
Say what? Stat of the week: When Giants opponents have a chance to tie or take the lead in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime this season, Big Blue has yet to give up a touchdown (one field goal in seven drives with two takeaways). Against King Comeback Stafford, this seems relevant.
Where stats seem to falter: The Saints enter with the No. 1 ranked offense in total yards. The Cardinals own the No. 1 defense. Neither has been great the last few weeks. Drew Brees is coming off back-to-back games with 0 TDs and 3 INTs. The last QB to accomplish that horrific feat: Tyler Palko. (Is that the first time Palko has been compared to a Hall of Fame QB?) With Michael Thomas returning this week, it will slot the Saints receivers back into their natural order and should free up Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead to pick on non-Patrick Peterson corners.
The Cardinals offense has been a mess, but in a lost season, just take the time to marvel at David Johnson. DJ has carried the Cards this season, becoming the second player in NFL history with 100-plus scrimmage yards in each of his first 13 games of a season (Edgerrin James). Johnson should make that mark 14 games Sunday against the Saints. The running back will have an especially good matchup in the passing game. New Orleans has allowed 663 receiving yards to running backs, fourth-most this season.
Say what? Stat of the week: 33-year-old Larry Fitzgerald: 91 receptions this season (second-most in NFL; Antonio Brown, 93).
Carlos Hyde plowed for 193 rushing yards last week. Even with the 49ers facing a limp Falcons pass defense, Hyde will be the central figure in this San Francisco tragedy. Chip Kelly's stretch runs fit perfectly with Hyde's style and the 49ers offensive line has done a better job getting to the second level. The Niners need to keep the high-flying Falcons offense on the sideline by grinding on the clock with Hyde.
Julio Jones was ruled out with a toe injury. It's the right move for Atlanta, especially after Matt Ryan proved last week, against a better defense, he could move the ball sans the playmaking wideout. Why risk further injury that could linger into January? Ryan ranks first in yards per attempt (9.2) and should buoy that standing against an injured 49ers secondary. Taylor Gabriel has been a game-changer (five receiving TDs in last six games) and should get several deep shots his way Sunday afternoon.
In nine career starts in Denver, Tom Brady is 2-7 with 16 TDs, 9 INTs, and an 84.4 passer rating. With a depleted receiving corps, Brady has no mismatches versus Aqib Talib and Chris Harris. Brady does have a huge advantage in the backfield. The Broncos are allowing 127.2 rushing yards per game and have given up 140 rush YPG five times. This reeks of a LeGarrette Blount shove-the-ball-down-your-throat game. Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall was ruled out and Todd Davis is questionable. Not having the tacklers further hurts the Broncos' leaky run D. Brady will also target his running backs in the passing game prolifically. Most Pats fans fully believe (with reason) that if Dion Lewis played last year, New England would have gone to the Super Bowl. They'll get to shout their point loud Sunday when the shifty back gets free in space against overmatched linebackers.
With zero run game to support Trevor Siemian, the seventh-round pick has posted back-to-back 300-plus pass yard games with zero interceptions. Even behind a porous offensive line, Siemian displays an ability to press the ball down the field, a trait the Broncos offense didn't possess last season. Bill Belichick is a master at shutting down what opponents do best. New England held Demaryius Thomas to three catches in two games last season. If the Pats bracket Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders will need to beat Malcolm Butler heads up. Also, don't forget the A.J. Derby revenge game factor!
Say what? Stat of the week: Martellus Bennett: 134.7 passer rating when targeted this season. Ranks first in NFL among players with at least 50 targets.
Amari Cooper became the first Raiders player with 1,000-plus receiving yards in each of his first two NFL seasons in franchise history. On Sunday he'll likely face off against Casey Hayward, the NFL's interceptions leader. Hayward has been fantastic this season but has allowed a 123.8 passer rating to Cooper and Michael Crabtree. If Hayward attempts to take out Cooper, Crabtree could be in for a big day. Crab has a touchdown versus the Chargers in each of his three career games as a Raider.
With Melvin Gordon (hip, knee) ruled out, Kenneth Farrow is in line for the bulk of the running back snaps for the Chargers. Farrow toted 16 times last week for 55 yards (3.4 YPC) replacing Gordon. The rookie is a downhill runner with ability in the passing game. His pass protection could become an issue after he struggled last week. Against a Raiders defense allowing 120.2 yards per game on the ground, it's a good matchup for Farrow's first start.
Say what? Stat of the week:Derek Carr failed to complete a pass of 15-plus air yards in the Week 14 loss to K.C. It was Carr's first game without a completion of 15-plus air yards since Week 13, 2014.
The Buccaneers have scored fewer than 20 points in three of their last four games. In the past two outings, Mike Evans has earned fewer than 50 receiving yards. Evans has a juicy matchup to end that streak against a Cowboys pass defense that gives up 267.8 yards passing per game. Evans isn't the only one with a great matchup. The Cowboys have allowed 79 receptions to tight ends this season, so expect Jameis Winston to seek out Cameron Brate often Sunday night.
All eyes in Dallas are on Dak Prescott. The wunderkind has fewer than 200 passing yards in each of his last three games. Prescott has particularly struggled on third down, posting a 15.7 passer rating on third downs the past two weeks. Sunday is another stiff test for Dak against a surging Tampa Bay defense. Since Week 10, the Bucs have allowed the fewest points per game (12.8), have the most takeaways (14) and have allowed the lowest passer rating (62.5). Prescott needs Dez Bryant (questionable, back) to bounce back after his Week 14 stinker against an underrated Tampa secondary.
All the talk this week has been about the Josh Norman revenge factor. It'll be interesting to see how much Cam Newton targets his former teammate, but I'm focusing more on whether the Panthers can finally get a run game going. Jonathan Stewart's struggles have been the biggest problem with the Panthers offense. The running back has zero 100-yard rushing games this season. The Redskins allow 112.8 rush yards per game. On a cold night, Carolina needs its best game from Stewart.
Can DeSean Jackson pick on the young Panthers corners? Jackson has a 50-plus-yard reception in three straight games and a TD in three of the past four. Call it an anomaly, but DJax loves playing under the bright lights. The Redskins receiver has 80-plus receiving yards in five straight Monday Night Football games. Expect Kirk Cousins to give Jackson several shots to continue his streak.