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Sunday Primer: Week 17

Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches ...

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Key game-time decisions


All players questionable unless noted

Calvin Johnson (knee) WR, Detroit Lions

Johnson missed the Lions' final practice of the season. It could be Megatron's last game under Jim Schwartz. The coach said it would be a team decision prior to the game whether or not the receiver plays.

Elvis Dumervil (ankle) LB; Ray Rice (thigh) RB; Torrey Smith (thigh) WR, Baltimore Ravens

NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday morning that the Ravens expect both Rice and Smith to play. All three key Ravens were limited the entire week as Baltimore fights to defend its Super Bowl championship.

Jordan Cameron (concussion) TE; Joe Haden (hip) CB, Cleveland Browns

Cameron was limited Friday after missing previous practices. Joe Haden was out all week. With little to play for, the Browns could be careful with their dynamic young players.

Emmanuel Sanders (knee) WR; Jason Worilds (abdomen) LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Sanders was a full participant Friday while Worilds was limited.

Aaron Dobson (foot) WR; Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) WR; Shane Vereen (groin) RB, New England Patriots

The Patriots' rookie receivers are both optimistic they can play. Vereen left last week's game with the groin injury and Bill Belichick could hold him out in hopes he'll be healthy for the playoffs.

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Case Keenum (right thumb) QB, Houston Texans

Keenum was limited Friday after being full-go Wednesday and Thursday. If the young quarterback can play he should get the start.

Vontaze Burfict (concussion) LB; Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) TE, Cincinnati Bengals

Burfict was a full participant in Friday's practice, but will still need to be cleared before the game Sunday. Gresham missed the entire week of practice. 

Daniel Thomas (ankle) RB, Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins back was limited Thursday and Friday.

John Abraham (groin) LB, Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals need the pass rusher if they hope to squeak into the playoffs. Abraham returned to practice Friday on a limited basis.

Tavon Austin (ankle) WR, St. Louis Rams

Jeff Fisher was optimistic his rookie would see the field before the end of the season. Austin returned to practice on a limited basis Friday after injuring his ankle Dec. 8.

Jermaine Kearse (ankle) WR, Seattle Seahawks

The thin Seahawks receiving corps could be missing another weapon Sunday as Seattle tries to lock down the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Kearse didn't practice all week.

Mark Barron (hamstring) S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Barron was limited in practice all week.

Rueben Randle (knee) WR, New York Giants

Randle didn't practice all week.

DeMarcus Ware (back, elbow) DE, Dallas Cowboys

Ware sat out Friday after being full-go early in the week.

Eddie Royal (toe) WR, San Diego Chargers

Once again, Eddie Royal rounds out our game-time decisions list after sitting out practice this week.

Three Players To Watch


Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

Mike McCarthy isn't going to hold back his All-World quarterback after Rodgers missed almost two months with a collarbone injury. We don't doubt Rodgers' ability to shake off the rust quickly. It will help that he faces a mediocre Bears defense with little pass rush. Winds at Soldier Field will be around 20 mph, which could affect Rodgers if the rust lingers.

Kyle Orton, QB, Dallas Cowboys

Starting his first game since 2011, there has been a wave of sentiment from Dallas Cowboys alumni that Orton starting is a good thing for the team. That belief is cockeyed and discounts how good a year Tony Romo had. However, Orton is capable of managing the game and not turning the ball over. The question is whether he can help the Cowboys' offense score enough points to keep up with the high-flying Eagles.

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins

Despite the tumultuous season the Dolphins can still make the playoffs. How Tannehill responds to his knee tweak will be a big factor in whether the 'Fins make the postseason. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman has refused to stick with the running game, putting his second-year quarterback in harm's way to the tune of 58 sacks this season. Tannehill can pick apart the New York Jets' secondary if given the time. However, that is a big if.

Weather Tracking


NFL Exposure

Bears-Packers rivalry

Take a look back at some of the best images from the rivalry between the Bears and Packers.

Ravens at Bengals -- 45 degrees/Chance of rain early; winds up to 10 mph

Jets at Dolphins -- 80 degrees/Chance of thunderstorms

Redskins at Giants -- 43 degrees/90 percent chance of rain

Browns at Steelers -- 40 degrees/Rain

Texans at Titans -- 49 degrees/Chance of Rain

Packers at Bears -- 25 degrees/Snow flurries; winds between 18 to 20 mph

Bills at Patriots -- 38 degrees/100 percent chance of rain

Did you know?


» NFL teams have combined to score 11,322 points this season, the most ever through Week 16 (10,914 in 2012). The 1,265 touchdowns this season are a record by 55 (1,210 in 2012) and the 757 passing TDs is the record through 16 weeks by 43 (714 in 2010).

» Remember back at the start of the season when the AFC was leading the head to head with the NFC (11-3) through three weeks? The National Football Conference flipped the script the rest of the way and will finish the season with a 34-30 advantage.

Sunday's storylines


Carolina Panthers (11-4) at Atlanta Falcons (4-11)


Cam Newton's offense has struggled to move the ball consistently throughout the course of a game. However, Newton has displayed an uncanny ability to make the big drives with the game on the line this season. Performing sans Steve Smith this week will offer a new challenge with the NFC South title on the line.

Matt Ryan has never lost at home to the Panthers. Even without Julio Jones since Week 7, Ryan is completing 73 percent of his passes for a 103.5 passer rating and 22.6 more passing yards per game at the Georgia Dome.

Baltimore Ravens (8-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (10-5)


If the Ravens are to squeak into the playoffs Joe Flacco will need to lead the way. Despite going 5-2 in the past seven games, Flacco has more interceptions than touchdowns and is averaging a piddling 221.9 yards per game during that span. The Ravens' defense has carried the team this season. It's time for Flacco to throw Baltimore into the playoffs.

Andy Dalton has performed worlds better at home this season. He has the offensive weapons to put up fireworks in the season finale. Giovani Bernard is only one of six players in the NFL with 650 rushing yards and 450 receiving yards.

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11) at Indianapolis Colts (10-5)


Could this be Maurice Jones-Drew's final game in Jacksonville? The free agent-to-be is set to record the lowest yards-per-carry average of his eight-year NFL career. The Jags have some good young pieces on offense, including running back Jordan Todman who has shown flashes in MJD's stead.

The Colts played their most well-rounded game of the season last week. Pep Hamilton seems to have realized his best offense is unleashing the full force of Andrew Luck. With a chance to improve their playoff positioning, hopefully we'll see the wide-open offense early Sunday before Hamilton turns to the slogging running game.

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New York Jets (7-8) at Miami Dolphins (8-7)


Mike Wallace needs 95 yards to reach 1,000 this season. Brian Hartline needs 22 yards to reach 1,000. Hartline and Wallace would be the first Dolphins teammates to each go over 1,000 receiving yards in a season since Mark Duper (1,085) and Mark Clayton (1,053) did so in 1991. Whether the receivers can get there as the Dolphins fight for a playoff spot will depend on how much Ryan Tannehill is limited by his knee injury.

The Jets' offense has 55 three-and-out drives this season (second most in the league). Geno Smith and the Jets' 27th-ranked offense will face one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL in Brent Grimes and Nolan Carroll.

Detroit Lions (7-8) at Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1)


The Metrodome is closing after Sunday's game. The contest could also mark the final game for coaches Jim Schwartz and Leslie Frazier with their respective teams. Frazier failed his team this season by choosing Christian Ponder over Matt Cassel. Schwartz's team imploded, dropping the ball on a golden opportunity to win the NFC North.

Washington Redskins (3-12) at New York Giants (6-9)


Kirk Cousins has one more game to raise that trade stock. The Giants will be by far the toughest defense the quarterback faces in his three-game run. The Giants boast one of the best safety duos in the NFL. Cousins has looked decent in spurts, but hasn't shown he's worth that first-round draft pick Mike Shanahan was delusional about.

Cleveland Browns (4-11) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)


Ben Roethlisberger has a 16-1 career record versus Cleveland, which is tied with Roger Staubach (versus Giants) and Tom Brady (versus Bills) for the highest winning percentage against any single opponent in a starting QB's first 17 starts. The Steelers have slim hopes to make the playoffs, but Roethlisberger has enjoyed one of his best statistical seasons. Even without Mike Wallace, Big Ben has attempted more throws of 21-plus yards (60) than 2012 (41).

Josh Gordon leads the league in receiving yards (1,564), receiving yards per game (120.3) and yards per reception (19.6). The last player to lead the NFL in all three categories was Wesley Walker of the Jets in 1978.

Houston Texans (2-13) at Tennessee Titans (6-9)


The end of the nightmare can't come soon enough for the Texans, who have lost 13 consecutive games. In those 13 losses, the offense has scored just 15.8 points with a minus-15 turnover differential. Assuming he can play, it could be the final chance for Case Keenum to prove he deserves a roster spot in 2014.

It's likely to be Chris Johnson's final game in Tennessee. He and coach Mike Munchak could both be leaving town this offseason. The Titans entered 2013 with a plan to play smash-mouth football, but rarely have been able to consistently push the pace on the ground. That failure is likely to lead to both men seeking new jobs this offseason.

San Francisco 49ers (11-4) at Arizona Cardinals (10-5)


Poor Cardinals fans saw their postseason hopes fade dramatically as NaVorro Bowman did his best James Harrison impression to the end zone last week. Bruce Arians could bring home back-to-back Coach of the Year awards for his job this season. His offense, led by Carson Palmer, has improved during the 7-1 second-half run. Not only has Palmer been more consistent, but the running game behind Rashard Mendenhall and dynamic rookie Andre Ellington has provided more punch on the ground.

The 49ers' offense has shown more spark with the return of Michael Crabtree. After Patrick Peterson's comments this week, we could see a hyped-up Crabtree determined to prove he still can be a difference-maker against a stout defense.

Green Bay Packers (7-7-1) at Chicago Bears (8-7)


Aaron Rodgers' return is a game-changer, but the biggest advantage for the Packers remains the running of Eddie Lacy. The Bears have allowed 11 individual 100-yard rushing games this season, which is four more than any other team. Lacy should have even more space to run with Rodgers under center. If winds hit the 20 mph mark, the Packers would have an even bigger incentive to pound Lacy. 

With Jay Cutler under center this season, the Bears are averaging 70.1 fewer yards per game and 49.1 fewer passing yards per game. However, they are averaging almost a point per game more. He's 1-7 in his Bears tenure versus the Packers

Buffalo Bills (6-9) at New England Patriots (11-4)


With 56 sacks and 22 interceptions, the Bills are on pace to become only the sixth team since 1964 to lead the league in sacks and finish in the top two in interceptions. While the wins haven't been there, it's been a good season for Mike Pettine's defense.

The Patriots have won 12 straight home games against the Bills. Their last loss in New England was in 2000, when Pats QB Drew Bledsoe was knocked out of the game and Doug Flutie led the Bills to a 16-13 win in overtime. The Pats' red-zone offense has been a concern after Rob Gronkowski was lost for the season, but New England was 3 for 3 in last week's win. Even with the receiving corps in flux, Tom Brady has been highly productive (342.4 passing yards per game) the past seven contests.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11) at New Orleans Saints (10-5)


The key for the Saints will be keeping Drew Brees upright against Gerald McCoy and the Bucs' pass rush. The offensive line was a turnstile last week on the road -- specifically rookie left tackle Terron Armstead, who will make his second start Sunday. The Saints play exponentially better at home, but if they can't keep Brees protected they could see their playoff hopes dashed.

Mike Glennon's improved play over the course of the final quarter of the season could save coach Greg Schiano's job. A big game against a Saints defense missing fantastic rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro could put a stamp on Glennon's season and propel him moving into the offseason.

Denver Broncos (12-3) at Oakland Raiders (4-11)


The Season of Peyton Manning continues and he could increase his touchdown record as the Broncos chase the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Denver's defense without Von Miller will be under the microscope Sunday as the Broncos try to find pass rushing answers heading into the playoffs.

Terrelle Pryor gets the start to end the season. Regardless of what his agent might think, it's Pryor's chance to show he's improved in the pocket heading into the Raiders' offseason evaluations. Not having to face Miller will aid Pryor's effort. It will be interesting to see if the quarterback will be reluctant to leave the pocket in order to prove he's become a better pocket passer.

Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) at San Diego Chargers (8-7)


Having wrapped up the No. 5 seed, the Chiefs will "mix and match" starters and reserves this week. If Jamaal Charles starts, we'll at least get a glimpse of two of the most productive runners in the NFL this season on the field together. Charles and Ryan Mathews rank second and third, respectively, in rushing yards per game (Charles 89; Mathews 87.7).

Philip Rivers should add another impressive game to his renaissance Pro Bowl season. With the Chiefs lacking pass rush potency the last few weeks, Rivers should have time to find his targets down field. First-year wide receiver Keenan Allen should add to his Offensive Rookie of the Year candidacy.

St. Louis Rams (7-8) at Seattle Seahawks (12-3)


Chris Long and Robert Quinn have sacked Russell Wilson 11 times since last season. The duo should have another big game against a Seahawks offensive like that has struggled to protect the quarterback.

The road to the Super Bowl will go through Seattle if the Seahawks win. If Seattle is able to hoist the Lombardi trophy, it could be the first team with a passing offense ranked 26th-or-lower to win the Super Bowl (Seattle currently sits 26th).

Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) at Dallas Cowboys (8-7)


Everything is setting up for the Eagles. Since Week 9, the Eagles' offense leads the NFL in points, yards and rushing yards per game. Philly has four of the NFL's top five rushing totals this season and gained 400-plus yards in six of its last seven games. The Cowboys' defense ranks last in total defense (418.6 YPG).

With Kyle Orton starting under center for "America's Team," Cowboys fans should have their holiday wish come true: more carries for DeMarco Murray. The Eagles have given up 107.5 rushing yards per game. If the Cowboys have a prayer of beating the high-scoring Eagles, Murray must have a big night.

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