Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
Diggs was full-go on Thursday and Friday, a trend that indicates he's closer to a return.
Washington Redskins: CB Josh Norman (rib), G Brandon Scherff (knee, back), LB Preston Smith (groin), T Trent Williams (knee), CB Bashaud Breeland (knee), G Tyler Catalina (concussion), S Deshazor Everett (hamstring), S Stefan McClure (knee, hamstring), CB Fabian Moreau (hamstring), T Morgan Moses (ankle, ankle)
NFL Network's Jane Slater reported Norman is expected to play barring a setback. Scherff and Williams sat out all week. Smith was limited Thursday and Friday.
Both were limited on Thursday and Friday.
Jenkins was limited Friday. Langford did not practice Thursday or Friday.
Gordon was limited all week. The running back has been listed as questionable most of the year but hasn't missed a game. We don't expect that to change in Week 8.
Amendola was limited on Friday but told reporters he expects to play. Gilmore was limited all week.
Brown sat out all week. Fusco was limited on Friday after missing the previous two practices. Foster was limited all week. Goodwin returned to practice on Friday as a limited participant.
Darby was limited all week. He hasn't played since Week 1.
Tate was limited all week. The receiver is trending towards playing but could be a game-time decision.
Vikings at Browns (LONDON) -- 53 degrees, partly cloudy, winds 10 mph
Falcons at Jets -- 69 degrees, rain (81 percent chance)
Panthers at Buccaneers -- 68 degrees, mostly cloudy, winds 19 mph
49ers at Eagles -- 66 degrees, rain (81 percent chance), winds 12 mph
Bears at Saints (indoors) -- 58 degrees, clear
Chargers at Patriots -- 64 degrees, overcast, winds 12 mph
Raiders at Bills -- 43 degrees, light rain (38 percent chance)
Colts at Bengals -- 45 degrees, mostly cloudy
Texans at Seahawks -- 60 degrees, clear
Cowboys at Redskins -- 55 degrees, light rain (70 percent chance), winds 11 mph
Steelers at Lions (indoors) (SNF) -- 43 degrees, partly cloudy
Broncos at Chiefs (MNF) -- 43 degrees, partly cloudy, slight chance of rain (15 percent)
What to Watch For
Vikings quarterback Case Keenum owns an advantage Sunday versus a Cleveland secondary that has been picked on this season. While the Browns have been solid versus the run, the backend has given up chunk gains throughout the season. Keenum will hopefully have Stefon Diggs back (questionable). The playmaking receiver has missed the last two games with a groin injury. Despite winning both games, Keenum has struggled for stretches sans Diggs:
Keenum with Diggs (Wks 2-5): 64.5 completion percentage, 7.4 yards per attempt, 4-0 TD-INT, 97.6 passer rating.
Keenum without Diggs (Wks 6-7): 63.8 completion percentage, 6.2 yards per attempt, 1-2 TD-INT, 73.8 passer rating.
The Vikings' lack of explosive plays in the passing game should end if Diggs returns against Cleveland.
DeShone Kizer is back under center after coach Hue Jackson continued his quarterback yo-yoing. The struggling rookie faces the worst possible scenario Sunday: missing left tackle Joe Thomas against a QB-pounding, A-gap blitzing, ball-hawking Vikings defense. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter will swarm Kizer if he holds the ball like he has in previous appearances. Jackson's benchings have done the rookie no favors, and he shouldn't expect Kizer to get well versus a Mike Zimmer defense that scrambles the brains of far more experienced quarterbacks. The Browns best hope to move the ball is to ride Isaiah Crowell, who has run much harder the past few weeks, and Duke Johnson and pray the duo can break a few big runs.
Marshawn Lynch's suspension thrusts Jalen Richard and Dwayne Washington into a backfield rotation, but the key will be Derek Carr's arm. The Raiders quarterback came out of a funk last week to explode for 417 yards. With the Bills' secondary missing key players (corner EJ Gaines out), Carr will again have a plus matchup to put up big numbers if his line provides time. Amari Cooper finally went off last game using his run-after-catch ability and catch-point acumen. Did he put the early-season struggles to bed or was last week an aberration?
If Oakland goes off offensively, we could have a shootout in Buffalo. LeSean McCoy should find green grass against a Raiders defense that gives up chunk gains on the ground. McCoy is coming off his best game of the season and should double down Sunday at home. Tyrod Taylor has flown under the radar this season. The scrambling quarterback continues to make plays despite being surrounded by second-fiddle receiving talent. Any quarterback moving the ball as consistently as Taylor has with tight end Nick O'Leary as a primary weapon deserves more credit. We're still waiting for second-round pick Zay Jones to break his terrible start. Jones has been the least-efficient receiver in the NFL this season. Can the rookie finally find footing against a Raiders secondary that is ripe to be picked on?
NFL Research stat of the week: The Bills are 3-0 at home this season. Sean McDermott is first BUF head coach to win his first three home games.
The only two Colts victories this season have come against the winless Browns and 49ers. In their five losses, Chuck Pagano's team has been outscored 171-62. Woof. In a season slowly floating towards the abyss, it's instructional to watch how young players bounce back from struggles. Jacoby Brissett looked rattled in last week's 10-sack game. How does the second-year quarterback respond to the shutout shellacking? After T.Y. Hilton called out his offensive line, how will the Pro Bowler respond? Outside of the two wins, Hilton has been a JAG this season. The wideout has 182 total yards and zero touchdowns in the five losses, not breaching the 60-yard mark in any of those games. After talking, it's time to see Hilton do work against a good Bengals defense.
Following a disaster second-half last week, Andy Dalton gets a great matchup for a bounce back. The Colts will be without Malik Hooker (ACL), and are banged up at corner. Facing a defense that made Blake Bortles look like Peyton Manning (hyperbole intended), Dalton should feast. A.J. Green should gobble up targets. Rookie receiver John Ross will finally return and could provide needed speed on the outside. With an early lead gained through the air, Joe Mixon should get his wish and see more opportunities as the Bengals attempt to salt away a home win.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Colts have allowed five individual 300-yard passing games this season -- 2nd-most 300-yard passing games in NFL (Patriots: 6). Allowed four such games in 2016.
Dont'a Hightower's injury is a killer blow to a Patriots defense that had been rounding into form of late. The linebacker's absence is a boon for Melvin Gordon against a New England defense allowing 4.76 yards per tote this season. Look for Gordon to do damage as a pass-catcher out of the backfield as well, as Pats linebackers have yielded high receiving days to running backs. If the running game gets going early, it will set up Phillip Rivers' play-action passes to Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry on crossers against a Patriots secondary that is still giving up big statistical games to pass-catchers.
The Patriots' offensive line has plugged the gaps the past two games, allowing just two sacks after 16 in the first five weeks. But they haven't faced a rush as fierce as the one Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will bring. The Chargers duo has wrecked game-plans this season collapsing the pocket from the outside, and combining for 16 sacks in seven games. Sunday is setting up for a quick-pass day for Brady. The Pats have gotten back to the short game in recent weeks after opening the season with a dive-bombing attitude. With Bosa and Ingram looming, Brady will continue to pepper the underneath routes. Rob Gronkowski is in for another big day against a Chargers defense that saw ex-Patriots tight end A.J. Derby go for a career-high six catches last week.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Patriots are tied for the most players (7) with 25-plus offensive touches in the NFL this season: RB Mike Gillislee (87), RB James White (65), RB Dion Lewis (51), WR Chris Hogan (31), WR Brandin Cooks (31), WR Danny Amendola (29), TE Rob Gronkowski (29)
The Chargers have only three players with 25-plus touches this season: RB Melvin Gordon (146), WR Keenan Allen (36), and RB Austin Ekeler (26).
Foxball is in full force! The Bears are the first team to win back-to-back games with fewer than 10 completions since 2011 Broncos (won 3 straight games with Tim Tebow). Who coached that Denver squad? Of course, it was John Fox. The Bears deploy a stifling, opportunistic defense and lean on the running game in an effort to hide rookie Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears rank second in rush play percent this season (50.6 percent) -- JAX: 53.1 rush play percent. In the last two weeks, Trubisky has attempted a combined 23 passes. Is this pace sustainable? The Saints defense is giving up 114.2 yards per game on the ground this season, so expect Foxball to continue out of the gate. If, however, the Bears get down early on the fast track in New Orleans, will Fox let his rookie rip it?
It's strength on strength when Drew Brees has the ball. The Saints have ridden the Mark Ingram-Alvin Kamara tandem to great effect in recent weeks. The duo, however, faces a much stiffer matchup this week against a good Bears front seven. Danny Trevathan has been a ball hawk versus the run the last two weeks. I'm expecting this to be the week Sean Payton flips his recent tendencies and uses play action to try to pick on a surging but still young Bears secondary. Michael Thomas versus Prince Amukamara on the outside is the matchup to watch. If Thomas can get off the line clean, he will find open space over the middle on slants when linebackers suck up on the run fakes.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Bears have stepped up their defensive production since Mitchell Trubisky became the starter in Week 5:
Weeks 1-4: 27th PPG allowed, 15th pass YPG allowed, 16th yards per play allowed, T-23rd takeaways, T-15th touchdowns
Weeks 5-7: T-7 PPG allowed, 6th pass YPG allowed, 4th yards per play allowed, T-24th takeaways, T-1st touchdowns
Is this the battle of which team will collapse the least?
The Falcons offensive struggles are multifaceted. Matt Ryan has been off on downfield targets. Receivers aren't getting nearly as open as 2016. And we haven't seen enough of Tevin Coleman and Davonte Freeman in the passing game. Coming off a disappointing loss, expect Atlanta to get Freeman and Coleman going in the pass attack against a Jets defense that has given up big gains to tailbacks through the air. While the focus has been on Julio Jones in the Falcons receiver corps, Mohamed Sanu is in for a big day from the slot against a Jets secondary that has struggled to blanket the position this season.
The Jets running back by committee performed well last week and should see similar running lanes against a struggling Falcons run D that is without rookie linebacker Duke Riley. Matt Forte and Bilal Powell shared snaps last week, with each earning double-digit touches. I expect the Jets to continue to ride a similar rotation. Each provides pass catching ability against a Dan Quinn defense that has struggled to corral running backs in space. Despite looking solid on paper, Atlanta's D has struggled to get stops this season, ranking 27th in DVOA by Football Outsiders' metrics (30th versus the run). There is a chance we could see a shootout Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Josh McCown has doomed his team this season with an NFL-high four fourth-quarter interceptions, but he faces a defense dead last in the NFL in forcing turnovers.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Jets have blown double-digit leads in three of the last four games:
Week 4 vs. JAX: W, 23-20 OT (blew 10-point 4th quarter lead)
Week 6 vs. NE: L, 24-17 (blew 14-point first half lead)
Week 7 at MIA: L, 31-28 (blew 14-points 4th quarter lead)
Eagles trap game? History says: Nope. Since 1970, there have been 40 occurrences of the team with the best record playing a team with the worst record in Week 7 or later (including ties for best/worst record). The team with the best record is 36-4 in those games.
First, the good news for rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard: The Eagles have allowed 272.9 pass YPG this season (29th in the NFL), a 100-plus passer rating to four QBs (T-most in NFL), and allowed 70-plus comp percentage to three QBs (T-3rd most in NFL). Now the bad news: His starting right tackle and right guard have missed practices this week, and he faces a devastating Eagles defensive front. Beathard struggled last week under pressure. With the O-line issues, expect the rookie corner to try and get the ball out quick to have any chance of moving the ball in Philly.
Let's continue Carson Wentz Week with a bevy of superlatives:
Wentz has thrown 11 TD passes in the last three games, more pass TDs than 22 QBs with 2-plus starts have all season.
Wentz is the first Eagles QB to throw for three-plus TDs in three straight games since 1953 (3-Time Pro Bowler Bobby Thomason).
Those three weeks are more TD passes than the 49ers (5) and Colts (3) combined for this season.
It's the same number of TD passes Matt Ryan (7) and Marcus Mariota (4) have combined in 2017.
Wentz leads the NFL in passing touchdowns with 17 this season.
Only one Eagles QB in the Super Bowl era has led the NFL in passing TD -- Roman Gabriel in 1973 (23).
No Eagles QB has ever had 3-plus passing TDs in four straight games.
Wentz has a chance to break that last statistic against a 49ers defense that is injured and thin on talent. Perhaps the only thing stopping him could be an early lead that causes Doug Pederson to pull his foot off the gas.
NFL Research stat of the week:Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz have been the most efficient QB-receiver duo in the NFL completing. Highest Passer Rating by QB-Receiver duo this Season (minimum 50 attempts):
PHI Carson Wentz-Zach Ertz 115.2
ARI Carson Palmer-Larry Fitzgerald 106.7
SEA Russell Wilson-Doug Baldwin 104.7
HOU Deshaun Watson-DeAndre Hopkins 97.6
Here is a sideways take on the latest silly Cam-troversy: Newton thrives when he's under siege and is manufacturing motivation. He doesn't need it. Cam faces a Bucs defense that is among the worst in the NFL, allowing 294.8 passing yards per game (30th), 49.4 third down conversion percentage (31st), an opposing passer rating of 102.9 (29th), and allowing 25.2 points per game (29th). Oh, and their best cornerback, Brent Grimes, is out Sunday. Newton is in a prime spot for a bounce back, as is receiver Kelvin Benjamin. If Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith deploys the 3-3-5 defense that got eaten up last week, Newton should also see plenty of grass for a few big runs.
Despite nursing a shoulder injury, Jameis Winston played his best game of the season last week, completing 72.7 percent of his passes for 384 yards, three touchdowns and one interception and a fumble. Picky Bucs fans can get on Winston for his interceptions, a penchant to put the ball at risk, and his ball security. The fact remains Tampa would be nowhere without the quarterback. The Bucs need Winston to have another big day. The Panthers excel at shutting down the run (fourth ranked; fifth in DVOA) and could be getting linebacker Luke Kuechly back from a concussion. If the Bucs are to make up for their injured defense, Winston will need to throw the ball all over the park.
Deshaun Watson has yet to face a defense with a secondary the caliber of the Legion of Boom. The closest the rookie came was his first start on the road against the Bengals, in which he looked shaky early. Since then, he's faced average-to-poor passing defense. That changes Sunday against Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and the rest of a Seahawks defense that is No. 1 in scoring, giving up 15.7 points per game and allowing 190.8 pass yards per game (8th in the NFL). Watson is tied for the most passing touchdowns through six career games since the NFL merger in 1970 and is the first rookie in NFL history with three straight games with three TD passes (also the first player in Texans history to do so). Houston has scored 30-plus points in four straight games. It's a different sort of defense Watson faces Sunday in Seattle, however. If Watson comes out of the game soaring, the hype-machine will be in overdrive next week, and rightfully so.
Russell Wilson gets a reprieve not having to face J.J. Watt or Whitney Mercilus, but the Texans will still find a pass rush against a struggling Seahawks offensive line. Wilson looked more like himself last week than he has all season. While the running game still is a gobbledygook of three-yard flops, Wilson has the passing game going. Had it not been for a few Jimmy Graham drops, the Seahawks would have blown the doors off the Giants early. The Doug Baldwin-Wilson connection looks back on course and should torch Texans slot corner Kareem Jackson this week.
The Dallas offense is on a roll, scoring 30-plus points in three straight games this season. Ezekiel Elliott looked like his old self last week, darting through holes, dodging defenders at the second level, and putting his shoulder into anyone who dare come near. The Redskins are banged up in the front seven, with Jonathan Allen, Trent Murphy, and Mason Foster now on IR. The injuries portend another big day for Elliott. As always, the Dez Bryant-Josh Norman battle is one to watch, with the corner expected to make his return this week. Over their last three matchups, Norman has allowed four receptions on 12 targets for 38 yards with zero touchdowns and three passes defended when covering Dez Bryant (43.1 passer rating).
Jay Gruden is giving Josh Doctson a chance to swipe an every-down role from Terrelle Pryor. The former first-round pick needs to reward that faith Sunday in a winnable matchup versus Cowboys defensive backs. Kirk Cousins needs some help from the outside. Running back Chris Thompson leads the Redskins in receiving yards (366). Second on the list is 58-year-old Vernon Davis with 292 (OK, he's 33 years old, but you get the point). This is not sustainable if the Redskins are to remain in the playoff hunt. Dallas' secondary can be gashed if Doctson is up to the task in what sets up as a shootout.
NFL Research stat of the week:Dak Prescott has thrown 3-plus pass TDs in three straight games. He is the third QB in DAL franchise history to accomplish the feat: Tony Romo (2007, 2008, 2014) and Don Meredith (1963, 1965). No DAL QB has ever thrown three-plus pass TDs in four straight games.
The Le'Veon Bell touch-meter could broach the 30-plus mark again this week. Bell is averaging 34.25 touches per game and 165.5 scrimmage yards over the last four weeks. Detroit meanwhile has allowed 110.5 rushing yards per game over the last two contests. The running back should eat on the ground on early downs and feast through the air against Lions linebackers who struggle in space. The Antonio Brown vs. Darius Slay matchup could be fun, but don't expect AB to be slowed. Brown leads the NFL in targets, receptions, and receiving yards this season. The Martavis Bryant storyline will get a lot of action ahead of this week's game, but JuJu Smith-Schuster has been the better player and could tear up the Lions secondary (especially when D.J. Hayden checks into the game).
Matthew Stafford is looking to get healthy after the bye week both physically and on the field after some disastrous performances. Unfortunately, he's got a terrible matchup to do it in. The Steelers boast the No. 2 pass defense in DVOA and bring an assortment of QB pummelers in T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, et al. that will make Stafford's life hell behind a struggling offensive line. The QB could also be without Golden Tate, who was officially listed as questionable, though appeared to be on track to play. If Tate can't go, the Lions will need to manufacture an offense with Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick in space against a speedy Steelers linebacking corps. On paper, the Lions own no advantages over the Steelers defense, save one: Stafford's gun-slinging arm. The QB will have to work magic Sunday night.
With both teams trying to avoid three-game losing skids, Monday night brings a pivotal AFC West showdown.
Jamaal Charles returns to Kansas City for the first time this week. The Broncos running back, along with C.J. Anderson, will play a key role. When the Broncos can't get the running game going the rest of the operation crumbles. Anderson and Charles must churn out yards on early downs to keep Justin Houston and Co. from lambasting Trevor Siemian. The Chiefs defense has given up 944 total yards the past two week (second most behind the Colts). If Anderson, in particular, comes out of the gate picking up tough yards, the Broncos should be able to move the ball.
The Chiefs own the No. 1 offense in yards per play this season thanks to Alex Smith (15 TDs, 0 INTs), Kareem Hunt (leads NFL in rush yards and scrimmage yards) and big plays from Tyreek Hill. K.C., however, has faced one other Top 5 defense this season, the Steelers, and found the sledding much tougher in that contest. The Broncos are first in the NFL in yards per game allowed, second in yards per play, second in run D, and second in passing yards per game allowed. The key matchup to watch is tight end Travis Kelce. The Broncos gave up a big day to Hunter Henry last week, so Smith should look to his Pro Bowl tight end often in prime time.