Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
Miami Dolphins: CB Byron Maxwell (ankle), LB Jelani Jenkins (knee) -- DOUBTFUL; LB Kiko Alonso (hamstring/hand), CB Bobby McCain (knee/hand), DE Mario Williams (ankle), G Jermon Bushrod (shoulder), S Isa Abdul-Quddus (ankle)
Neither Maxwell nor Jenkins practiced all week. UPDATE: Maxwell is not expected to play, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
Buffalo Bills: T Cordy Glenn (back) -- DOUBTFUL; WR Sammy Watkins (foot), TE Charles Clay (knee), LB Preston Brown (foot), RB Jerome Felton (foot), DT Kyle Williams (back), DT Jerel Worthy (shoulder), G John Miller (hip)
Watkins and Clay were limited in practice all this week. UPDATE: Watkins and Clay are expected to play, while Glenn is not, per Rapoport.
Washington Redskins: TE Jordan Reed (shoulder), LB Ryan Kerrigan (elbow), LB Will Compton (knee), DE Chris Baker (ankle)
Reed hasn't practiced all week and coach Jay Gruden was skeptical Thursday afternoon that the tight end would be ready to go against the Bears. UPDATE: Reed is not expected to play, per Rapoport.
Chicago Bears: RB Kadeem Carey (shoulder), DB Bryce Callahan (knee), DB Cre'Von LeBlanc (shoulder), DE Cornelius Washington (back), LB Willie Young (knee)
Chicago will attempt to stop Kirk Cousins with a secondary thinned by injuries, even if LeBlanc and Callahan play.
Franklin and Dunlap returned to practice on Friday in a limited capacity. If they play Saturday, they won't be paving the way for Melvin Gordon, who is out with a hip injury.
Andrew Luck was limited in practice with shoulder and thumb injuries on Wednesday before fully participating Thursday and Friday, but he might be without one of his tackles.
Adrian Peterson won't play after returning from his meniscus injury last week. UPDATE: Smith will be a game-time decision while Diggs is expected to play, per Rapoport.
Green Bay Packers: WR Randall Cobb (ankle), LB Nick Perry (hand), CB Damarious Randall (shoulder), C JC Tretter (knee)
All four were limited this week. Jams Starks will not play as he recovers from a concussion. UPDATE: Cobb is expected to play, per Rapoport.
New York Jets: RB Matt Forte (knee/shoulder) -- DOUBTFUL; WR Brandon Marshall (shoulder/back), DE Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle)
Forte has not practiced this week, while Marshall and Wilkerson have been limited. UPDATE: Marshall is expected to play while Forte is not, per Rapoport.
New England Patriots: QB Tom Brady (thigh), TE Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder), LB Dont'a Hightower (knee), WR Matthew Slater (foot)
Brady is listed as questionable to play against the Jets for the second time this season., but he'll likely suit up. UPDATE: Brady, Bennett and Hightower are all expected to play, per Rapoport.
Oakland Raiders: WR Amari Cooper (shoulder), WR Michael Crabtree (finger), guard Kelechi Osemele (ankle), LB Perry Riley (hamstring), LB Malcolm Smith (hamstring)
Coop and Crab have been limited in practice all week. UPDATE: Cooper, Crabtree and Osemele are expected to play, per Rapoport.
San Francisco 49ers: T Joe Staley (hamstring) -- DOUBTFUL; DT Glenn Dorsey (knee), C Marcus Martin (ankle)
Los Angeles Rams: S Maurice Alexander (concussion), DB Lamarcus Joyner (ankle), WR Michael Thomas -- DOUBTFUL
Joyner and Thomas missed practiced on Friday.
Andy Dalton likely won't be without Green, who said Thursday he feels he's healthy enough to play. But the QB will miss tight end Tyler Eifert, who's out with a back injury. UPDATE: Green is adamant that he will play, but the team may hold him out, per Rapoport.
Miller missed practice on Friday. His absence would be a problem for Tom Savage in the QB's first start. UPDATE: Miller is unlikely to play, per Rapoport.
The wideout was added to the injury report on Thursday. Meanwhile, cornerback Jimmy Smith is out with an ankle injury. UPDATE: Smith is expected to play, per Rapoport.
Pittsburgh Steelers: TE Ladarius Green (concussion), WR Sammie Coates (hamstring) -- DOUBTFUL; WE Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot), DE Stephon Tuitt (knee)
Coates did not participate in practice Friday after being limited on Thursday. UPDATE: Green is not expected to play, per Rapoport.
Wolfe may play, but the Broncos defense will be without the service of linebacker Brandon Marshall and safety T.J. Ward (concussion).
Houston hasn't practiced this week, but he does have a chance to play the Broncos on Sunday. UPDATE: Houston is not expected to play, per Rapoport.
- We will update prognostications for all non-dome contests as we drift closer to game time. *
Dolphins at Bills -- 33 degrees -- chance of light rain (52 percent) -- winds up to 13 mph
Jets at Patriots -- 40 degrees -- chance of rain (65 percent)
Titans at Jaguars -- 68 degrees
Vikings at Packers -- 30 degrees
Chargers at Browns -- 36 degrees -- winds up to 11 mph
Redskins at Bears -- 32 degrees
Falcons at Panthers -- 51 degrees
Colts at Raiders -- 48 degrees
Cardinals at Seahawks -- 40 degrees
49ers at Rams -- 57 degrees
Ravens at Steelers -- 38 degrees
Broncos at Chiefs -- 53 degrees -- chance of light rain (44 percent) -- winds up to 16 mph
What to Watch For Saturday
Can Matt Moore repeat his stellar performance of last week? After years of playing the good soldier behind Ryan Tannehill, Moore proved his worth last week in a four-touchdown day. Unlike the Matt Cassels of the world, the 32-year-old Moore proved he's far from a liability. Dicing up a vulnerable Jets team that packed it in is different than besting the Bills in Buffalo. Despite some early season struggles, Rex Ryan's pass defense has turned it around lately, allowing 224.8 passing yards per game, eighth in the NFL, and ranks third in sacks. Moore must prove he can fend off the pass rush if Miami's patchwork offensive line falters.
The Buffalo Bills' offensive line often goes overlooked. The crew creates wide lanes for LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee to run through between the tackles. Eric Wood and Co. have their work cut out moving Ndamukong Suh, who was a terror last week. If McCoy can get past Suh and to the second level, the Dolphins are vulnerable on the ground attack, getting gashed for 135.2 rushing yards per game.
The Bilal Powell show heads to Foxborough on Christmas Eve. The Jets running back has averaged 170.5 scrimmage yards over the past two weeks. Powell displays power between the tackles, speed to the edge and shiftiness in space. His ability in the passing game makes him a legitimate every-down workhorse. Even if Matt Forte is in the lineup, Powell should carry the load against a Patriots defense that has solidified down the stretch with young front seven players Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown and Kyle Van Noy improving.
After a slow start to the season, Julian Edelman has 70-plus receiving yards in six straight games. With Rob Gronkowski out, Tom Brady has turned to Edelman with prolific results. The Jets don't have anyone who can stick with Edelman (eight catches for 83 yards in Week 12). The last meeting with the Jets was also Malcolm Mitchell's coming out party, catching two touchdowns against Darrelle Revis. The rookie has earned Brady's trust and could again burn Revis on the outside.
Say what? Stat of the week:LeGarrette Blount became the first ever Patriots player with 1,000-plus rushing yards and 15-plus rushing touchdowns in a season. First player since Arian Foster in 2012 (1,424 rush yards, 15 TD) to accomplish the feat.
Once again the Titans ground strength matches up with their opponent's weakness. The Jaguars are vulnerable to getting gashed on the ground, allowing 110.8 yards per game. DeMarco Murray continues to carry the load without showing signs that he's starting to slow. Murray's 1,224 rushing yards places him second in the NFL. He should add to that nice total on Saturday. I want to see if Marcus Mariota tests stud corner Jalen Ramsey. Mariota usually gets one deep shot to Rishard Matthews a game. Will the duo be able to hook up with Ramsey in coverage?
Much like we saw after the Rams made a coaching change, don't expect the offense to all of a sudden wake up because the head guy got chopped. It's still the same offensive staff and personnel that failed to live up to expectations. Last week in Houston, Blake Bortles earned a pathetic 3.3 yards per attempt (lowest of his career). The Titans' D is stout up front but vulnerable on the back end (266.6 pass YPG allowed). Sadly, Bortles' aim on deep shots is so off the mark he rarely gives his receiver a chance to make a play. Perhaps with the specter of his career spiraling, he'll pull some YOLO balls out of his rear end.
Say what? Stat of the week: The Titans have not been tied for first or in sole possession of first place this late in the season since 2008.
The Vikings can't run the ball and can't throw deep. Even if Adrian Peterson plays, don't expect the run game to perk up. The deep passing attack, however, has a chance to wake up. The Packers' biggest weakness is covering downfield passes. Stefon Diggs had a career-high 182 receiving yards versus Green Bay in Week 2. The wideout has been a lost part of the Vikes' offense in recent weeks, averaging just 41 yards and zero scores over the past four games. With their season on the brink, Sam Bradford should force-feed Diggs the ball. The Packers struggled to get a consistent pass rush last week with Clay Matthews still fighting through injury. If Bradford has time to throw, Diggs should create a few big plays.
The Vikings defense got ripped last week by Andrew Luck sans his No. 2 receiver. What will they do against Aaron Rodgers at full force? The Packers' quarterback has thrust himself into the MVP discussion and earned a passer rating of 100-plus in four of the past five games. He doesn't expect his injured calf to bother him this week, which would be a problem for Minnesota. With the emergence of Jared Cook, Jordy Nelson healthy and dominating again, and Davante Adams becoming a playmaker, the Packers present the toughest test for Mike Zimmer's physical secondary.
Say what? Stat of the week:Ty Montgomery is averaging 6.5 yards per carry this season, which leads all RBs that have at least 50 carries.
The Chargers couldn't sustain a rushing attack last week without Melvin Gordon. With the stud running back likely out again, Kenneth Farrow and Ronnie Hillman will look to rebound against a toothless Browns run defense that allows 155.7 yards per game. With teams taking advantage of the ground game, Cleveland hasn't allowed 200 yards passing the past four weeks, but that feels like a mirage that will end soon. If Farrow and Hillman can't take advantage of the soft underbelly on the ground, Philip Rivers will bust that streak through the air.
On paper, this looks like the Browns' last best chance for a win. Cleveland, however, looks worse with Robert Griffin III under center. RGIII has completed just 51.8 percent of his passes for 150.0 pass yards per game, zero TD tosses and one INT for a 60.1 passer rating since returning to the lineup. Unlike Josh McCown or Cody Kessler, RGIII rarely gives his receivers a chance to make a play. The Browns' best chance to puncture the Chargers' D on Saturday is Isaiah Crowell busting some big runs. The up-and-down back needs more than eight carries.
Say what? Stat of the week:Joey Bosa has three straight games with at least one sack. He leads the team with 7.5 sacks despite missing the first four games and leads all rookies in sacks (7.5) and QB hits (17) this season.
The Redskins need to get the ground game back on track. Rob Kelley was held to eight rushing yards last week. The rookie is averaging 42.8 rushing YPG in his last four contests -- he was averaging 107.0 rush YPG between Weeks 8-11. It's not a surprise that Kirk Cousins' numbers have slipped as the running game went in the tank. In the last three weeks, Cousins has completed 63.8 percent of his passes with a 3-3 TD-INT ratio and 85.4 QB rating (from Weeks 3-12, Cousins owned a 107.3 QB rating). The Bears couldn't tackle last week, giving up five runs of 20-plus yards to Green Bay. Washington should similarly probe the Bears' interior.
Much like Kelley, rookie Jordan Howard should see a heavy workload after getting 13 carries and 17 carries the past two weeks, respectively. The Redskins' front seven is their weakest group and was dominated by a suspect offensive line last week, giving up the first 100-yard rushing day to Jonathan Stewart this season. Howard should get the chance to duplicate that performance. I'm also interested to see if Matt Barkley targeting Alshon Jeffrey heavily in the fourth quarter last week carries over -- even if Josh Norman shadows the receiver. With Jeffrey involved, the offense opens up.
Say what? Stat of the week: All three Bears losses in Barkley's starts have been by a combined 12 points.
Julio Jones torched Panthers so bad in Week 4 (300 yards receiving), defensive coordinator Sean McDermott joked this week, that on the flight back to Charlotte he "wanted to open the window and jump." The Panthers defense has stiffened since giving up 571 yards that day. The defensive front, in particular, has been sturdier, compiling a league-leading 40 sacks and allowing fewer than 60 yards rushing the past two weeks. Jones will play after missing the past two weeks. Even at less than 100 percent, Jones will take attention from and create matchups for Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel to exploit.
When Jonathan Stewart is churning out yards, the Carolina Panthers' offense is a different beast. Stewart earned his first 100-yard rushing day of the season last week (Stewart has not had back-to-back games with 100-plus rush yards since Weeks 14 and 15 in 2010). Against a solid but unspectacular Falcons run defense, Stewart needs to churn out yards so the Panthers can keep Matt Ryan and the high-flying Atlanta offense on the sideline.
Say what? Stat of the week:Julio Jones needs 97 receiving yards to set an NFL record (since the 1970 merger) for most receiving yards vs. one opponent in a single season. Jerry Rice: 396 receiving yards vs. Falcons in 1990.
The Colts' offensive line is coming off its best game of the season (years, actually). When Andrew Luck has time to throw, he's deadly, even against good secondaries. The Colts have allowed 109 QB hits this season (second-most in NFL). Saturday they will attempt to keep Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin off Luck's back. If Luck can maneuver around the duo, there are plays to be made against the Raiders' secondary. While Oakland's defense has stiffened of late thanks to better tackling, they remain susceptible to big plays on breakdowns in coverage. Expect several shots from Luck to T.Y. Hilton.
The Raiders' rushing offense has powered Oakland the past three weeks as Derek Carr struggles with consistency. The combination of Latavius Murray and Jalen Richard has gashed opponents. The Raiders earned 130-plus rushing yards in three straight games for the first time since 2011. Outside of the ground game, Oakland's offense has had problems, especially punching it in the end zone. In the past two weeks, Oakland has averaged 16.0 points per game, 154.5 passing yards, 294.5 yards per game and 4.4 yards per play (compared to 28.8 PPG, 277.1 PY, 391.7 YPG, 5.93 YPP in previous 12 contests). Saturday they face a bend-but-don't-break Colts defense that ranks 27th in yards per game allowed (370.9), but is fourth in red zone defense.
Less than a fortnight ago, the Bucs defense shut down Drew Brees and the high-flying Saints. On the back of some fantastic play from Keith Tandy and the Bucs secondary, Tampa forced three Brees interceptions and gave up just 257 yards passing. The Bucs defensive front also kept the ground game in check, allowing just 46 yards rushing. Doubling down on that performance will be a tougher task in the Superdome. The Saints will have Michael Thomas on the field this time around. The stud receiver leads all rookies in every major receiving category this season and is on pace for 1,019 receiving yards this season. Thomas is the red zone weapon New Orleans missed the last meeting.
The Bucs need to get Doug Martin going. The running back has gone 14 straight games under 100 rush yards and is averaging 2.9 yards per carry this season -- lowest average in NFL (min. 70 carries). The pint-sized bulldozer has had to break tackles in the backfield often this season. While Dirk Koetter was perfectly comfortable feeding Jacquizz Rodgers earlier this season, the offense hasn't done similarly with Martin since he returned from injury. With their playoff hopes on the line Saturday, Tampa needs to ride Martin to victory lane.
Say what? Stat of the week: Third down machine: Mike Evans has 26 receptions on third down this season (T-most in NFL with David Johnson). All 26 receptions on third down have resulted in 1st down.
When these teams faced off in Week 7, a slugfest ensued wherein zero touchdowns were scored and the game ended in a tie after each team's kicker missed a chip-shot field goal. The Cardinals' offensive line was a massive problem in that game, as it has been all season. Carson Palmer was sacked four times in the last meeting. Expect similar results Saturday. David Johnson has powered the Cards offense all year. In the October matchup, the running back had 171 total yards. Johnson is the first player in NFL history with 100-plus scrimmage yards in each of his first 14 games of a season. Expect Bruce Arians to keep that streak alive, feeding DJ the ball a ton in Seattle.
Look for Russell Wilson to exploit the troubles the Cardinals have experienced in the secondary. With Tyler Lockett becoming a consistent deep threat now that he's healthy, the Seahawks' offense is more wide open than at any other point in Wilson's career. Expect another big day from Lockett. He won't get the Patrick Peterson treatment and the other Cards corners and safeties have a tendency to get beat deep.
Say what? Stat of the week: Seattle has allowed 10 points or fewer in five games this season (most in NFL). The next-closest teams have three such games (six teams tied).
It will be interesting to see how Chip Kelly evaluates Colin Kaepernick after the season. The quarterback has had his share of horrific moments peppered with flashes of long-lost playmaking ability. He's also playing with a trove of No. 3 and 4 receivers. One matchup I'm interested in seeing is rookie guard Joshua Garrett take on Aaron Donald and the Rams' interior. Every week my eyes seem to find Garrett. The rookie has struggled in pass protection at times but has improved weekly, especially in the run blocking. You can see his athleticism is a perfect fit for Chip Kelly's system when he's pulling and getting to the second level. Garrett sat out Week 1, so this will be his first taste of All-Pro candidate Donald.
If the Rams are going to head into the offseason with any positive feelings about their offense, Saturday is the perfect place to start. Yes, the 49ers shut down the Rams in Week 1, but San Francisco has put about 75 players on IR since then. Jared Goff faces off against a banged-up 49ers secondary that just lost another defensive back (Jimmie Ward) and owns an on-again, off-again pass rush that ranks in the bottom third of the NFL in sacks. Todd Gurley, one of the biggest disappointments of the season, faces the worst run defense in the NFL, allowing 176.3 yards per game. Goff and Gurley are the future of the Rams. Fans need to see some hope Saturday.
Say what? Stat of the week:Todd Gurley is on pace for 890 yards this season. Only six of 23 players in NFL history have failed to reach 1,000 rushing yards in 14-plus starts in their second season after rushing for over 1,000 yards in their rookie year.
Andy Dalton and the Bengals cratered in the second half last week. Now they travel to Houston to face an even stingier Texans defense. A.J. Green's return should provide a huge boost for the Bengals. While Dalton has done well to spread the ball around, last week in Pittsburgh showed the offense's limitation without a go-to receiver like Green to make a play in a big spot. First Cincinnati's offensive line will have to slow down Jadeveon Clowney, who has come on like a wrecking ball in backfields (5.0 sacks, 16 QB hits, 15 tackles for loss).
We won't declare Tom Savage the savior of the Texans' offense, but the third-year quarterback opens up the offense in way Brock Osweiler couldn't. Savage's superior arm strength allows him to hit routes to the sideline, where DeAndre Hopkins is a wizard at corralling passes. The young passer targeted Hopkins 14 times last Sunday, connecting on eight passes for 87 yards. Savage's calm pocket presence also stands in stark contrast to Osweiler's frantic demeanor under pressure. Savage racked up a 101.7 passer rating in Week 15 on 12 dropbacks under pressure, per Pro Football Focus. The Bengals have an advantage this week getting to prepare for Savage under center. Will the fourth-round pick prove he's a difference maker to propel the Texans into the playoffs?
Say what? Stat of the week:Jeremy Hill has 29 rush TD since entering the league in 2014 (Most in NFL). The last six players to lead the NFL in rush TD over the course of their first three seasons: Adrian Peterson, Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Earl Campbell, Gale Sayers and Jim Brown.
Around The NFL colleague and ugly Christmas sweater connoisseur Marc Sessler dove deep on the Christmas Day games, so I'll be brief:
Two matchups I'm watching:
- Terrell Suggs, who always seems to play his best versus Pittsburgh, against an underrated Steelers offensive line.
- Steve Smith Sr. against rookie corner Artie Burns, who is quietly having a very good second half of the season.
Say what? Stat of the week: The Ravens are the only team to hold Le'Veon Bell under 100 scrimmage yards this season -- held Bell to 70 scrimmage yards in Week 9.
Two matchups I'm watching:
- Chiefs pass rush versus Broncos offensive line. Even if Justin Houston can't play, the Broncos offensive line has been so bad, even Chiefs backups should have shots at Trevor Siemian.
- Travis Kelce vs. Broncos LBs. Denver couldn't stop Kelce in the last meeting (eight receptions for 101 yards).
Say what? Stat of the week: The Broncos' defense has 105 QB hits (7.5 per game) this season -- second-most QB hits/game by any team since QB hits have been tracked (2000).
Matthew Stafford must take advantage of a Cowboys' secondary that allows 264.7 passing yards per game. Stafford didn't take many deep shots with his banged up finger last week, but we'll attribute that to facing a good Giants' secondary rather than the injury (he looked fine throwing when he did take shots). The Lions quarterback needs to connect deep with Golden Tate and Marvin Jones on Monday to keep pace with a rolling Cowboys' offense. Keep an eye on David Irving's matchup with right tackle Riley Reiff. Reiff is better in pass protection than run blocking but will have his hands full with the athletic Irving, who should see more snaps in prime time.
Against a Lions defense that made the Giants' anemic run game look viable last week, it's difficult to imagine Dallas not controlling the line of scrimmage. Ezekiel Elliott should increase his rushing lead with another big game in prime time. Elliott has the second-most rushing yards by a rookie through 14 career games since (Eric Dickerson, 1,634 yards). Elliott needs 178 rushing yards for the most in the first 15 games. If the Lions are to slow Zeke, DeAndre Levy will play his biggest role of the season. The linebacker has been on a snap count since returning to the lineup. Jim Caldwell can't afford to keep his best tackler on the sideline in Dallas.
Say what? Stat of the week:Dak Prescott is on pace for the best completion percentage (67.7), TD-INT ratio (20-4) and passer rating (103.2) by any rookie quarterback in NFL history.