Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
The group was limited all week.
Hayward sat out practice on Thursday.
Williams sat out again all week. Grant and Moses were limited all week.
Wallace returned to practice on a limited basis on Friday.
Benjamin was limited in practice all week and will likely be a game-time decision.
The entire group was listed as limited in practice on Friday.
The Steelers are hoping Haden can return after getting in limited practice sessions this week. JuJu was limited on Thursday and Friday.
Wisniewski was limited on Thursday and Friday.
Bears at Lions (indoors) -- 32 degrees, mostly cloudy
Chargers at Chiefs -- 50 degrees, clear, winds 11 mph
Texans at Jaguars -- 67 degrees, clear
Ravens at Browns -- 35 degrees, mostly cloudy
Packers at Panthers - 47 degrees, overcast
Dolphins at Bills -- 25 degrees, mostly cloudy
Bengals at Vikings (indoors) -- 29 degrees, overcast
Cardinals at Redskins -- 43 degrees, mostly cloudy
Eagles at Giants -- 33 degrees, mostly cloudy
Jets at Saints (indoors) -- 70 degrees, partly cloudy, drizzle
Rams at Seahawks -- 48 degrees, drizzle (40 percent chance), winds 10 mph
Titans at 49ers -- 56 degrees, clear
Patriots at Steelers -- 39 degrees, chance of rain (21 percent)
Cowboys at Raiders (SNF) -- 64 degrees, clear
Falcons at Buccaneers (MNF) -- 73 degrees, partly cloudy
What to Watch For
Mitchell Trubisky is coming off the best game of his career, completing 78.1 percent of his 32 attempts in a Week 14 win. The rookie has shown signs of progress in recent weeks, getting the ball out faster and displaying a better understanding of defensive schemes. While the Bears will ride Jordan Howard Saturday versus a porous Lions run defense, the development of Trubisky is what the final three weeks are about for the Bears. Detroit's lack of pass rush should provide the rookie quarterback time to go through his reads and build on his rising confidence in the pocket.
Matthew Stafford's banged-up throwing hand didn't slow him down last week, and the Lions quarterback gets a prime matchup to continue his hot play. Stafford ripped Vic Fangio's defense in Week 11, completing 67.7 percent of his passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns. Marvin Jones should be in for another big week picking up chunk gains in the friendly Ford Field confines against a flagging Bears secondary. Stafford has targeted his tight ends more frequently over the middle in recent weeks, so keep an eye on Eric Ebron, who could build on his best game of the season.
How much will Keenan Allen match up with Marcus Peters on Saturday night at Arrowhead? The Chargers will likely move their play-making wideout around the formation to avoid the Chiefs' top corner. Allen has been a menace the past month, earning 100-plus receiving yards in four straight games. I expect Philip Rivers to target Allen out of the slot a lot Saturday night, where the Chiefs struggle the most to cover. Peters is coming off a team-imposed suspension and should be motivated to put the issue in the past. When covering Allen in two games, Peters has allowed just four receptions for 34 yards. If the Chargers avoid Peters, will Darrelle Revis be able to hold up against the Pro Bowl receiver?
Kareem Hunt got back on track last week, which helped open the offense for Alex Smith. The running back looked like his early-season self, dashing for 116 yards in Week 14. In the previous meeting with L.A., Hunt gashed the Chargers for 172 yards on 17 carries, including a 69-yard dagger. The Chargers' run defense has stiffened since that matchup, buoyed by the return of hard-hitting linebacker Denzel Perryman. If Hunt can't get on track Saturday night, will Smith be able to puncture one of the best secondaries in the NFL?
NFL Research stat of the week:Philip Rivers' 23-7 TD-INT ratio is the best of his career as a starter. He became only the third quarterback to pass for 3,500 yards in 10 consecutive seasons (joins Peyton Manning: 16; and Drew Brees: 13).
The Dolphins found their offensive engine in running back Kenyan Drake. The tailback earned back-to-back games with 100-plus rushing yards. It's no coincidence Adam Gase's offense played its best two games of the season with Drake as the featured weapon. The shifty back displays an ability to make defenders miss in the hole and speed on the second level. Drake's dual-threat ability makes life easier for Jay Cutler, as defenders must be wary of quick check downs to the back. Drake should be able to take advantage of a Bills defense that has been gashed by quick backs, ranking 24th versus the run by Football Outsiders. Drake will also see plenty of passes his way as Buffalo struggles versus running backs in space.
Tyrod Taylor returns to the starting role after missing last week's Blizzard Bowl with a knee injury. Will the knee issue curtail the elusive quarterback's ability to threaten defenses with his legs? The Dolphins' defense can bring heat on the quarterback in the pocket, but if Taylor can wiggle past Cameron Wake & Co., there are yards to be eaten by a mobile quarterback. If Kelvin Benjamin (questionable) plays, the matchup with Dolphins rising corner Xavien Howard will be one to watch. Howard is a physical defender who could give Benjamin trouble at the line of scrimmage. If the Bills' No. 1 target is nullified for long stretches, it will be difficult for Taylor to move the ball through the air Sunday in Buffalo.
NFL Research stat of the week: After scoring 15.8 points per game and compiling 285.8 yards per tilt in their first 11 games, the Dolphins have averaged 31.0 points and 364.5 yards per game in their last two matchups.
Aaron Rodgers is back. Aaron Rodgers is back. Aaron Rodgers is back. Aaron Rodgers is back. The two-time NFL MVP returns in time to give life to the Packers' playoff dreams. Before going down with a collarbone injury, Rodgers ranked first in the NFL in passing touchdowns (13), fourth in yards (1,367) and fifth in passer rating (104.1). Getting the all-world signal-caller back should bring energy back to the Packers' struggling passing attack. Look for Jordy Nelson to return to form and more deep shots to the dynamic Davante Adams on Sunday against a tough Panthers defense. Rodgers' return has brought hope Green Bay can run the table and sneak into the playoffs, but he has a stiff test right off the bat against a Carolina D ranked seventh versus the pass and fifth versus the run by Football Outsiders. Everyone involved in the game expects Rodgers to seamlessly jump right back to his MVP-level play with little to no rust. However, all of Green Bay will hold its breath the first time Rodgers is hit by the Panthers' pass rush.
Can Cam Newton find his deep range against an injured Green Bay secondary susceptible to giving up big plays? The Panthers quarterback is struggling on passes of 20-plus air yards this season, earning a pedestrian 60.3 passer rating on those throws (ranks 26th of 35 qualified QBs). Devin Funchess has a prime matchup to eat against a Packers secondary that has given up huge receiving days to No. 1 wideouts this season. Will Green Bay deploy Damarious Randall to shadow Funchess in man coverage? If the Packers play zone-heavy schemes to try to curtail Newton's running ability, Funchess should find plenty of room roam free Sunday in Charlotte.
NFL Research stat of the week:Jamaal Williams is the first Packers RB to have three consecutive games with 100-plus scrimmage yards since 2014 (Eddie Lacy). Since Week 10, Williams ranks T-2nd in the NFL in rushing first downs (19), third in carries (95), T-3rd in scrimmage TDs (5) and sixth in rushing yards (352).
Credit Joe Flacco's improved play the past two weeks to an offensive line providing the quarterback better protection. Flacco has been sacked two times in the last three games (0.7 sacks taken/game). He was sacked 22 times in the first 10 games of the season. When given a good pocket, Flacco has been able to find chunk plays that were missing from the offense earlier this season. The Browns' pass defense is among the worst in the NFL, ranking 28th in pass DVOA by Football Outsiders. If Flacco is protected from Cleveland pass rushers, expect the quarterback to build on his surging play as the Ravens scrap their way toward a possible playoff spot.
Josh Gordon's return has provided DeShone Kizer a legitimate go-to target. Will the big-play receiver feast against the Jimmy Smith-less Ravens secondary? Baltimore gave up 506 passing yards to Ben Roethlisberger in their first game sans Smith. Gordon is no Antonio Brown, but the big-bodied wideout should see plenty of targets his way. I expect the Ravens to roll a safety toward Gordon regularly. With Kizer's propensity to force the ball into tight coverage, safety Eric Weddle should have multiple chances to add to his interception count.
NFL Research stat of the week:Alex Collins has five rushing touchdowns in his last four games -- T-most rushing TD in NFL since Week 11.
T.J. Yates starting for the Texans shouldn't change Bill O'Brien's game plan versus the ball-hawking Jacksonville secondary. Expect DeAndre Hopkins to continue to see a boatload of targets his way, even against the best corner duo in the NFL. Hopkins ranks first in the NFL with 11 receiving touchdowns, second in targets with 155, tied for second in receptions with 88, and second in receiving yards with 1,233. His matchup with Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye will be a battle to watch. Hopkins earned seven receptions for 55 yards and a TD in the Week 1 matchup against Jacksonville. Nuk owns the physicality and catch-point ability to win versus the sticky corners. If the Jags shut down Hopkins, the Texans' offense will be kaput.
Blake Bortles is coming off his best two-game stint of the season, completing 70.5 percent of his passes for 577 yards and averaging 9.35 yards per attempt in wins over the Colts and Seahawks. Bortles displayed better touch and made several gorgeous throws last week that led to big strikes. The Jags' maligned quarterback has a good matchup to continue his rising play Sunday against a Houston defense that has allowed big plays throughout the season. If Bortles can continue to avoid the backbreaking turnovers, he should find Marqise Lee open on crossers and rookie Dede Westbrook deep. Reticence to buy into Bortles' surprisingly solid play is understandable, but the quarterback hasn't hampered the AFC South-leading Jags in the past fortnight.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Jaguars are on pace to be the only team since 1970 to lead NFL in scoring defense, sacks and takeaways in the same season.
The Vikings gave up 31 points in Week 14 against the Panthers, their most points allowed this season. Look for Mike Zimmer's defense to bounce back against a sad Bengals offense. Andy Dalton struggled last week against a much worse Bears defense and now faces a menacing Minnesota pass rush. The combination is a recipe for another dismal day for Cincinnati. The matchup to watch is A.J. Green versus shadow corner Xavier Rhodes. Green ranks in the top 10 in receiving yards (950) and receiving TD (8) this season. Rhodes, meanwhile, is allowing a meager 68.2 passer rating when targeted. Dalton will need Green to make plays even in tight coverage if the Bengals are to keep up with the Vikings' offense in Minnesota.
Case Keenum gets a great matchup against a Bengals defense that gave up a career day to Mitchell Trubisky last week. The injured Cincinnati secondary is no match for Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Thielen is tied for third in the NFL in receiving yards (1,161), behind only Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins. Expect the wideout to have a big day out of the slot against a Cincy defense that couldn't cover Kendall Wright last week. Keenum didn't play as poorly last week as his stats indicate. Even with a banged-up offensive line, the QB should have time to hit receivers streaking down the field against a flagging Bengals pass rush.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Vikings are the 18th team since 1970 to rank in the top 10 in passing offense, rushing offense, passing defense and rushing defense in a season. The last team to do so was the 2015 Cardinals (13-3, lost in NFC Champ.) -- five of those 18 teams won the Super Bowl (1992 Cowboys most recently).
It's Bryce Petty Time for New York. In relief last week, Petty looked terrible in limited snaps (two completions for 14 yards on nine throws). Given a week to prepare should help the third-year quarterback. Petty did display some play-making ability last season in four starts, including back-to-back games of 235-plus passing yards. The quarterback, however, lacks accuracy and can be a turnover machine. Petty will need to hit on several big plays to receiver Robby Anderson on Sunday if the Jets hope to keep pace with Drew Brees in the Superdome.
Alvin Kamara's quick return from a concussion is a sigh of relief for the Saints. The big-play rookie has been untackleable this season. Kamara has a good matchup Sunday to put up big yards in the passing attack against a Gang Green defense that has been shredded by running backs in the passing game this season (the Jets rank 26th by Football Outsiders versus running backs in the pass attack). When Kamara isn't putting defenders on skates, expect Drew Brees to force-feed Michael Thomas. The second-year receiver is five receptions shy of 90 for the season, which would put him with Odell Beckham Jr. (2014-2015) as the only players in NFL history with 90-plus receptions in each of their first two seasons.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Saints are the only team to rank in the top five in both passing offense (265.2 pass YPG, 5th) and rushing offense (135.5 rush YPG, 4th) this season. In the Super Bowl era, 12 of the previous 25 teams to finish a season ranked Top 5 in both made the Super Bowl (most recent: 2016 Falcons).
All eyes are on Nick Foles. Replacing MVP candidate Carson Wentz is a difficult proposition, but at least Foles gets a soft matchup in his first start of the season. The Giants' defense ranks 28th in DVOA by Football Outsiders. The biggest drop off from Wentz to Foles could be on third downs, where the second-year signal-caller regularly shined on long down-and-distances. It will be interesting to see how long Doug Pederson rides Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement. The coach has been criticized for a pass-happy approach in Philly in the past. Will he trust Foles with similar play-calling or will the Eagles be content to take the air out of the ball and pound the Giants on the ground?
Eli Manning's return to the starting lineup was predictably pedestrian last week, leading to more questions about if Davis Webb might see the field. Manning faces a much better defense this week and will be under siege by a fierce Eagles pass rush. The best matchup for the Giants is Sterling Shepard out of the slot. Philly got gashed by Cooper Kupp last week. Big Blue should employ a similar game plan, attempting to get the ball out of Manning's hands quickly and allowing Shepard to run after the catch on crossers over the middle.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Eagles run game ranks first in the NFL in 10-plus yard runs (57), second in rushing yards per game (143.0), and fourth in yards per carry (4.57).
Adrian Peterson heading to injured reserve officially hands the lead-horse duties to Kerwynn Williams down the stretch. Williams has displayed an ability to churn out yards between the tackles and has some shiftiness on the second level. Against a Redskins defense that ranks 20th in DVOA versus the run, and has been gashed on the ground the past six weeks, Williams should find holes to dance through Sunday in D.C. The 26-year-old back averaged 85 yards and 4.9 yards per carry the past two games. With Blaine Gabbert seemingly getting worse with each start, the Cards need Williams to be the workhorse in Week 15.
If Patrick Peterson shadows Josh Doctson, the matchup portends a big day for Jamison Crowder out of the slot. Slot receivers have destroyed the Cardinals' defense this season. Crowder's play has been up and down this season, but he gets a matchup to explode Sunday. In order for Kirk Cousins to take advantage of Crowder's mismatch, however, the Redskins offensive line must keep Chandler Jones from destroying the quarterback. Jones has lived behind the line of scrimmage this season, leading the league with 14 sacks. If Washington can't keep Jones at bay, it will be a long and painful day for Cousins.
NFL Research stat of the week: Since 2015, Kirk Cousins ranks third in the NFL in completion percentage (67.7), third in passing yards per attempt (7.9), sixth in passer rating (98.9), seventh in yards per game (278.3), and T-8th in passing TDs (76).
In the Week 5 loss to Seattle, the Rams outgained the Seahawks 375 to 241, but had five turnovers and went 0-for-4 in the red zone. It was the only game in which the Rams had more than two turnovers. We've seen a much headier Jared Goff since that day. The only Rams QB with a higher passer rating in a season than Goff's 99.2 mark is Kurt Warner, twice (min. 250 attempts). The second-year quarterback also faces a decimated Seahawks defense that allowed a huge day to Blake Bortles last week. Getting Robert Woods back from injury this week will be a big boon for the Rams' passing game. With the injuries to the Seahawks' defense, Goff has the chance to put up his fifth 300-plus passing yard game of the season.
Is this the week the Seahawks' run game finally finds its footing? The Rams have given up 551 rushing yards the past four weeks, a 137.75 average. Seattle's angry-running Mike Davis has shown pop the past two weeks, totaling 130 yards on 31 carries with a 4.2 yard-per-tote average. Getting Davis going early against a porous Rams run D will help Seattle keep their injury-ravaged defense on the sideline. Between Davis' powerful runs up the middle and Russell Wilson doing damage with his legs, the Seahawks could be in for their best ground attack of the season. When Wilson does drop back to pass, expect him to target Doug Baldwin out of the slot. The Rams have been gashed by the slot position this season and Baldwin is primed for a big game in what could turn into a shootout.
The most highly anticipated game of the year should decide who takes the AFC's No. 1 seed.
Tom Brady is coming off his poorest performance of the season, but expect a bounce-back Sunday at Heinz Field. Since 2007 (when Mike Tomlin took over), Brady has 22 pass TD and 0 INTs versus the Steelers. Getting Rob Gronkowski back will be a huge boon for the Pats. It's no coincidence New England went 0-11 on third down sans Gronk last week. The tight end has feasted on the Steelers. In five career games versus Pittsburgh, Gronkowski has eight receiving TDs. In what sets up as a shootout, expect Gronk to add to that total. The Steelers' defense struggled last week without Ryan Shazier against a much less potent Ravens offense. Expect Brady to pick on the mismatch with slower linebackers covering James White, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead in space.
Nobody can cover Antonio Brown. Nobody. Even a brilliant defensive schemer like Bill Belichick has struggled to keep the All-Pro wideout down. In five games against the Patriots, Brown has 37 receptions for 454 yards and three touchdowns. Malcolm Butler traveled with Brown in two meetings last season. He'll need help this year. Butler has struggled at times this season when left on an island. Expect some safety help over the top for Butler with Stephon Gilmore handling Martavis Bryant one-on-one. With the Patriots prioritizing slowing down Brown, Sunday's shootout could be a huge day for Le'Veon Bell. The Pats are comfortable allowing teams to churn out yardage with a bend-but-don't-break defense. The winner of the red-zone battle, where the Steelers have struggled at times, should decide the game Sunday.
Marcus Mariota said his knee wasn't an issue last week, but something looked off about the struggling quarterback. The third-year pro has missed wide open receivers, had a bevy of miscommunication breakdowns and hasn't been as effective a runner in recent weeks. Against a 49ers pass defense ranked 29th in DVOA by Football Outsiders, Mariota needs to put the problems to bed if the Titans are to remain in the playoff hunt. Rishard Matthews was a non-factor in his return last week, but has a prime matchup to do damage Sunday if his hamstring allows. Don't forget this is a Delanie Walker #RevengeGame. The Pro Bowl tight end has been Mariota's security blanket this season. The 49ers have allowed a league-low 441 yards to tight ends this season, but that shouldn't matter for Mariota on Sunday. I expect Walker to receive a treasure trove of targets in his return to the Bay Area.
Jimmy Garopplo's splendid play has the Niners' entire operation performing better. Second-fiddle receivers are playing like go-to targets. A porous offensive line isn't sabotaging drives repeatedly. Even the defense is playing with more vigor because it's not being put in tough spots consistently. Jimmy G's quick release, subtle pocket movement and pinpoint accuracy allow him to make plays few men on the planet can attempt. Against a Titans secondary that has been picked apart, expect Garoppolo to stack another splendid performance.
NFL Research stat of the week:Marcus Mariota's 10-14 TD-INT ratio is the worst by a QB with 10-plus starts and a winning record in a season since NYJ Mark Sanchez in 2009 (12 TD, 20 INT). Mariota has eight games with a passer rating below 80.0 this season -- only DeShone Kizer has more such games (9).
In the final game without Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott gets a wonderful matchup to double-down on his 345-yard performance from last week. The Raiders' defense allows a 105.3 passer rating and 69.2 completion percentage. Theoretically, Dak should be able to find receivers open all over the field. The Raiders have bigger corners to give Dez Bryant some trouble this week. However, with Brice Butler (questionable) still injured, the Cowboys don't have the deep speed that gives Oakland the most trouble. Even without the deep shots, Prescott should find Jason Witten and Cole Beasley open over the middle enough to easily move the ball against a punchless Raiders secondary.
Derek Carr's season of struggle continues after he couldn't take advantage of a Chiefs defense without its top corner last week. Carr doesn't seem to trust his reads, has become jittery in the pocket and tentative to stretch the field. With Amari Cooper ruled out, the prospects of Carr putting those problems to bed against the Cowboys are slim. The quarterback's best matchup Sunday is Jared Cook against a Cowboys D that ranks 27th in DVOA versus tight ends. The Raiders' most productive games this season have come when relying on Marshawn Lynch on the ground and Cook earning chunk gains over the middle. Oakland needs to ride that game plan Sunday in prime time.
Three weeks ago, Julio Jones throttled the Bucs for 253 yards on 12 catches and two touchdowns. Tampa defensive coordinator Mike Smith has had no answers for Julio during his tenure. Jones' 123.5 receiving YPG in 11 career games versus Tampa is the most for any player against a team since the 1970 merger (minimum 10 games). Jones needs 144 receiving yards to set a record (since the 1970 merger) for the most receiving yards versus a single opponent in a season -- Jerry Rice's 396 receiving yards (in two games) vs. ATL in 1990 (current record). Given the Bucs' inability to stop the pass (31st in DVOA), Jones could earn that record Monday night on "Jon Gruden Day" in Tampa.
Jameis Winston's recklessness with the football costs his team each week. The quarterback's desire to make plays is commendable, but every game he makes a boneheaded mistake that kills the Bucs. Last week he turned the ball over three times, and could have had several more. Winston didn't play versus the Falcons in Week 12, so this is his first go-around versus Dan Quinn's speedy defense this season. Winston must identify Falcons linebacker Deion Jones each snap. The athletic LB is a Swiss Army Knife player who is all over the field. If Winston fails to see Jones over the middle, the second-year player could have another game-sealing interception in prime time.