Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
The playoff picture
How would your team's prospects look if the season ended today? See where each team stands in the playoff picture midway through the season. **More ...**
Bush missed two practices and was limited Friday with a calf injury. If he can't go, it would be a huge blow to the Lions' chances on the road. Houston was limited all week.
Peterson returned to practice on a limited basis Friday. Coach Leslie Frazier said he expects his star to play.
Thompkins has been limited all week with a hip injury. Gronk added to his laundry list of injuries, but we don't expect him to miss Sunday.
The legend was once again limited all week.
Jackson was limited both Thursday and Friday.
Silver: A December to remember
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After missing the past two games, Reed told reporters he feels better this week.
On Friday, Thomas participated in his first practice since injuring his left ankle on Nov. 24. It was a surprise that the Dolphins were optimistic enough to list him as questionable.
Jennings has yet to be fully cleared, but he traveled with the team.
Royal missed last week's game. He once again sat out the entire slate of practices.
Three Players To Watch
There are a lot of excuses the Saints could make for losing -- short week, delayed flight, etc. -- but as a leader, Brees needs to power his team through those obstacles. Lose, and not only might the Saints miss out on a potential first-round bye, they might be knocked down all the way to the final wild-card spot.
Gore will be the key in attacking the Seattle Seahawks' ferocious defense. While Seattle ranks first or second in most categories, they rank "just" 13th against the run in 2013. Gore has only one rushing touchdown in the last seven meetings against the Seahawks. If the 49ers can't get Gore going on the ground, that will allow the Seahawks' pass rush to tee off on Colin Kaepernick and the secondary to sit back in coverage.
*Freezing temperatures, wind, snow and ice pellets (Ice Pellets!!!). It's December football, baby. *
Did you know?
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's passer rating has dropped almost 40 points to 59.8 during Weeks 9 through 13. After throwing 16 touchdown passes and seven interceptions through Week 8, Dalton has thrown six touchdowns and nine interceptions since. The Bengals need a consistent game from their quarterback to lock down the AFC North.
Meanwhile, Colts signal-caller Andrew Luck has struggled the past three weeks. Indianapolis must not get behind big early against a Bengals team that can pound the ball on the ground. Before last week, the Colts had been outscored 93-12 prior to halftime. They cannot afford another a big deficit against a playoff team.
Good news for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady: the Browns have allowed 19 passing touchdowns since Week 6, which is tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the most in the NFL during that span. Bad news for Brady: the Browns are one of two NFL teams that have not allowed a 300-yard passer this season (the Titans being the other).
Josh Gordon has been the best non-transformer wide receiver the past several weeks. His back-to-back 200-plus-yard receiving games set an NFL record. He'll go for the trifecta against Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has never allowed a wide receiver to gain 200 yards in one game against his team. That chess match will be fun to watch.
The Steelers have not turned the ball over in three straight games. In fact, Pittsburgh hasn't gone four straight games without a giveaway since at least 1950. Wide receiver Antonio Brown, the NFL leader in receptions entering Week 14, should have a fun matchup to watch against Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes.
Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon might have singlehandedly saved coach Greg Schiano's job. Glennon will go against a Bills defensive line that has been disruptive this season, especially up the middle. Bucs running back Bobby Rainey has been held in check the last two weeks against two of the best run defenses in the NFL. We'll see if he can spark reminders of his Week 11 showing or if that was just a flash-in-the-pan performance.
We can keep praising the Bills' young players and great future, but this is a game in which those young men need to step up against a beatable opponent on the road. EJ Manuel has been OK, if unspectacular, since returning from injury. This is a game in which we need to see more flickers of potential from the rookie quarterback.
The Jekyll-and-Hyde Chiefs' defense has been ripped apart during the team's three-game losing streak. Now, the unit faces quarterback Robert Griffin III and a Redskins offense that has been stymied for most of the season. One of those two groups will bust out of their slump Sunday. The Chiefs' defense will need more than the one sack it has produced in the team's last four games if it wants to keep RGIII down.
It's been the Chiefs' pass defense that has failed them during this recent skid (allowing 162.7 more yards per game) while the rushing defense has actually allowed less yards per game. RGIII will have to use his arm to propel the Redskins' offense if running back Alfred Morris and the ground attack are stuffed.
I've already pimped Verner and McCourty for the Pro Bowl, and they have an opportunity to show the world that they deserve to be in Hawaii by shutting down the Broncos. The two are arguably the best cornerback tandem in the NFL, and they will get their biggest test of the season against quarterback Peyton Manning and the point-guzzling Broncos offense.
Sunday's temperature in Denver is expected to be in the teens at kickoff with winds at 7 mph. Get ready for a bevy of "can Peyton play in the cold?" stories if he struggles because, obviously, it will be the weather and not the Titans' defense. (Sigh.)
As a starting QB, Eli Manning is 0-2 against the team that selected him first overall in the 2004 NFL Draft. Yet Manning's passer rating against the Chargers is 107.2, with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He will have a chance to show out again and gut a Chargers defense that continues to give up chunks of yardage.
Since Week 4, the 49ers are allowing the fewest points per game in the NFL, at 12.6. They will have to stuff running back Marshawn Lynch, corral quarterback Russell Wilson and slow the Seahawks' second-ranked scoring offense. This could be a low-scoring slugfest against teams that know each other well, but it starts with the 49ers' defense.
The secondaries are something to watch. The Seahawks have to deal with a 49ers passing attack that is getting healthy at the right time, with wide receiver Michael Crabtree making a big difference. In the Seahawks' Week 2 beatdown of the 49ers at CenturyLink Field, Wilson had to attempt just 19 passes. Assuming this game is close, we'll see if R.W. can conjure the same magic on the road that he has at home.
Home-field advantage is huge for the Saints, who average 14.4 more points and 109.5 more yards per game at home than on the road. Questions about quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints' offense have percolated after recent struggles. He has the chance to silence those against a very good Panthers defense.
One way the Panthers can make sure Brees' struggles continue is by keeping him on the sideline. Carolina signal-caller Cam Newton has guided a Panthers offense that leads the league by averaging 8.9 plays per scoring drive; each drive takes an average of 4:27, which is also the longest average in the NFL. Newton has become a better offensive manager this season, and he can prove it to a national audience Sunday night.