Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
While Wes Welker is probable to play, Thomas continues to battle a nagging knee injury. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported on "NFL GameDay Morning" that it's "not looking good" for Thomas to play Sunday night. Both Orange Julius and Bailey were limited in practice Thursday and Friday.
It must be unsettling facing Peyton Manning when nearly your entire defensive backfield is designated as questionable.
Both players were limited in practice Thursday and Friday. Nicks sounds sure he will be ready to suit up.
Peterson will play. Jennings is optimistic to play, but the receiver sat out last week after the team believed he'd be good to go. Robison didn't practice all week.
Bell's injury appears to be trending upward. After sitting out Wednesday, he was limited Thursday and practiced fully Friday.
Ngata returned to practice on a limited basis Friday. Ngata felt ready to play on Saturday, NFL Media's Albert Breer reported Sunday morning, according to sources who have spoken with the defensive tackle.
The young receiver was limited in practice Friday.
Both defenders were limited Friday after missing last week's win.
We end -- as we have the past month -- by noting Royal again missed practice all week. He's played the previous three weeks despite not practicing.
Three Matchups To Watch
The winner of this game keeps its playoff hopes alive; the other is forked. Haden has been a monster, shutting down an opponent's best receiver. Brown has been Ben Roethlisberger's most explosive threat and leads the NFL in receptions (74). This will be a key matchup to decide a rivalry game.
Last week, Smith matched up in an entertaining battle with Talib. This week, he'll go up against a scrappy Grimes. It will be entertaining to watch the 5-foot-10 Grimes go against the 5-foot-9 Smith. This is actually a better on-field matchup than last week. But can it live up to the extracurriculars? It's doubtful 89 can come up with a better postgame line than "Ice up, son."
Chris and Kyle are going to run smack into each other often Sunday. At some point, the brothers are going to get into it.
How do we know this?
Here is what Howie Long told NFL Media's Rich Eisen on a previous podcast about his sons getting into it:
"I've seen that movie, only it was at the kitchen table for a lot less money," Long said. "It's every night, Rich. My poor wife; male dogs, three male sons. It's a melee every day, it was for a lot of years. I've been questioned at the emergency room. A lot of people don't know this, but when you go to the emergency room a number of times within a calendar year, you get red-flagged. This is truth, the Long household has always been kind of a physically animated home."
You can check out every edition of "The Rich Eisen Podcast," including his most recent discussion with Twitter CEO Dick Costolo.
It's getting cold outside, and we might see our first games with snow this week. It will be very chilly for the prime-time matchup.
Did you know?
» NFL teams have combined to score 844 touchdowns -- the most ever through Week 11. That is 32 more than the previous high, 812 in 2002. Teams have combined for 7,581 points, the most through the same period. The previous high was last season with 7,368.
Joe Flacco has a 43.5 completion percentage and a passer rating of 51.1 in two career games against the Jets. He'll need to take advantage of a defensive secondary that has been burned a lot this season.
The Jets' ability to run the ball and stop the run give them the best chance to keep their slim lead for the final wild-card spot. The NFL's best rush defense should make Ray Rice's Week 11 performance an aberration.
Roethlisberger has two four-touchdown games in the last three weeks. While Le'Veon Bell has been an improvement in the backfield, the Steelers' running game is far from prolific. The Steelers will need another prime week from Big Ben against a good defense.
Jason Campbell fell back to earth after looking like a capable stand-in. The Steelers' defense is prone to giving up big plays, and Campbell should have plenty of opportunities to get Josh Gordon in open space. Will the quarterback finally find Jordan Cameron?
The Lions defense hasn't given up 100 rushing yards since Week 6, and hasn't allowed an individual rusher to break the century mark the entire 2013 season. In their last four games, the Lions have given up an average of 49.25 yards on the ground per game. We'll see what Week 11 sensation Bobby Rainey does Sunday against Detroit's front seven.
The Vikings could be the panacea for what afflicted the Green Bay Packers during their first three-game losing skid since 2008. Scott Tolzien performed well and this week gets to face the team giving up the fourth-highest QB rating to opponents (100.4). When he gets in trouble, Tolzien can always pick on cornerback Josh Robinson, who is giving up an NFL-high 127.0 passer rating.
On the flip side, Christian Ponder also gets to face a defense that isn't exactly stonewalling opponents. Adrian Peterson always plays at his best against the Packers, and Sunday is another game in which he could carry the Vikings to a victory.
The Texans' top-ranked defense goes against the Jaguars and the league's lowest-scoring offense. This represents the best chance for Houston to get off the schnide. We also get a chance to see if Case Keenum and his vertical passing game can continue to get better. We should see if the young quarterback can improve on second-half adjustments.
Alex Smith showed more willingness to stretch the field last week than in any other game this season. This week, Smith faces a Chargers defense allowing 6.39 yards per play (last in the league) and the third-highest QB rating in the NFL.
Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 41 times this season (most in the NFL) and faces a furious Panthers defensive front -- even with Charles Johnson (knee) missing the game. Tannehill must avoid costly turnovers if the Dolphins are to upset the streaking Panthers.
Zac Stacy has provided punch to the Rams' ground attack, including two 100-yard rushing games this season. Sunday he faces a Bears defense that has been shredded on the ground, giving up 100-plus yards to a running back six times this season.
Josh McCown has managed Marc Trestman's offense superbly. He hasn't forced throws and has allowed Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to make plays. The key for the Bears' offense will be protecting McCown from Robert Quinn and Chris Long.
Bruce Arians faces many of the former players he led as the Colts' interim coach last season. Needless to say, he knows the strengths and weaknesses of the defense he faces. Arians said this week that Carson Palmer has improved at running the Cardinals' offense. The stats prove that. Palmer has just two interceptions to his six touchdowns during the Cards' three-game winning streak.
The superlatives heaped upon Andrew Luck aren't overstated. He'll have to pull out another spectacular performance against a ruthless Cardinals defense. T.Y. Hilton facing off against Patrick Peterson will be fun to watch.
My word, how great has Alterraun Verner been this season? When throwing at the cornerback, quarterbacks have had a passer rating of 23.0, the lowest mark in the NFL. The next closest is Darrelle Revis, who has a 45.8 passer rating. It would behoove Matt McGloin to look elsewhere when he drops back to pass.
Speaking of McGloin, he proved last week he deserved more playing time. He'll have another chance to do it against another very good defense. If he performs on the same level as he did in Week 11, it would be difficult to see the Raiders moving back to Terrelle Pryor anytime soon.
Given the Giants' stellar rush defense and the Cowboys' aversion to handing the ball off, Jason Pierre-Paul should have plenty of opportunities to back up his talk during the week. If JPP can corral Tony Romo and help keep Dallas from converting big plays, the Giants will be back in the NFC East race.
It will be interesting to see if the Cowboys' defense made any adjustments during the bye week. Monte Kiffin's defense has been historically horrific this season. They must get the game-changing turnovers they caused in their Week 1 defeat of Eli Manning and the Giants.
Tom Brady's offense is rounding into form as the quarterback gets all his pieces healthy. He was spectacular last week against a great defense. He'll have to outmaneuver one of the fastest defensive fronts in the NFL on Sunday. It will be educational to watch how Brady counters the athleticism of the Broncos linebackers.
We can't mention Brady without talking Peyton Manning during this matchup. The front-runner for the MVP award demonstrated last week how surgical he can be against a great defense. He will face a banged-up Patriots group. As always, when Manning matches wits against Bill Belichick, it's must-see TV.