Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday that the star wide receiver is expected to play, per a source informed of the injury. Fitzgerald practiced Friday after being limited in Thursday's session. Palmer has played the last two weeks with the same concerns. It would be a shock if he didn't start.
Solder and Thompkins have been ruled out, but Dobson has been cleared to play, per the Boston Herald.
Flacco expects to play with a knee brace. Rice was limited Thursday and Friday.
Megatron returned to practice Friday. He's missed practice just about every week. Levy did not practice at all this week.
Peterson said he's "ready to roll," and Rapoport reported Sunday that A.P. will play. Gerhart should be good to go. Asiata was limited in practices Friday. Even if healthy, it's likely he wouldn't play given Peterson and Gerhart's relative health.
Rapoport reported Sunday that Jones-Drew will work out before the game and that the team is optimistic that the star running back will play, per a team source.
Briggs has been medically cleared after being out with a shoulder injury. His availability Sunday night will depend on how he feels prior to kickoff.
Haden returned to practice Friday on a limited basis.
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Houston returned to practice this week on a limited basis, and it sounds like he's ready to return to the field. Albert similarly was limited all week.
The rookie receiver didn't practice all week after missing last week's game. Not a good sign.
Thomas was limited in practice Friday after missing the previous two sessions.
Once again, Royal is back on the DNP-all-week train.
Three Matchups To Watch
The Saints road woes are evident. Brees has thrown less than half as many touchdown passes on the road (11) than he has at home (23) this season. He also has thrown more than twice as many road interceptions (7) than he has at home (3).
While Newton is on pace for just 3,485 yards this season (a career low), his completion percentage (62.3) and passer rating (89.6) would be career highs. He has been a much better manager of the game during the Panthers' playoff run.
I've been called out for my bimonthly praise of Matt Forte. However, it's warranted. When Forte isn't mentioned as a top-three NFL running back, it's a traveshamockery. Thanks to Marc Trestman, he is on pace to set or tie career highs in rush yards (1,371 yards), receptions (75) and receiving yards (597).
It's shaping up to be a wet Sunday of football. Not the snow we saw a couple weeks ago, but rain could be a factor in many important matchups.
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» The combination of Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer and punter Spencer Lanning (who threw a TD pass in his only attempt) has the Browns currently ranked ninth in the NFL in passing offense (261.3 passing yards per game). The last time the Browns' passing offense ranked in the top 10 for a season was 1991, when they were also ranked ninth (206.5 passing yards per game). Bernie Kosar threw all but nine of the Browns' 503 pass attempts that season.
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EJ Manuel is the future of the Bills, but Thad Lewis actually gives Buffalo a better chance to win this week. Lewis has looked comfortable in Doug Marrone's offense and performed well when healthy and given a chance. He'll face one of the best cornerback duos in Brent Grimes and Nolan Carroll, but he's already beaten Miami once this season.
Matt Cassel's play has opened up the Vikings' offense and made Christian Ponder a virtual afterthought. Assuming they get their balanced attack back with Adrian Peterson, the Vikings might knock off back-to-back playoff contenders. That wouldn't be a bad thing for Leslie Frazier to put on that resume he'll almost certainly need in two weeks.
The Jags, on the other hand, are a young team still forming an identity with coach Gus Bradley. An example of the young potential is running back Jordan Todman. The second-year back put up 109 yards rushing to go with 44 yards receiving last week as the starter. With two good games to end the season, he could convince management it doesn't need to pay Maurice Jones-Drew.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Worst-to-Playoffs Bowl. Only eight teams since 1967 have gone from No. 1 overall selection to making the playoffs the following season. We have two of them on the field Sunday.
There are multiple similarities between these two teams: They don't turn over the ball (tied for fewest giveaways in the NFL this season with 14) and are among the best in fourth-quarter scoring defense. Whichever team can create a turnover, especially late in the game, will have the advantage.
Andrew Luck is the star quarterback in this game (as he is in most matchups), but Alex Smith's play has improved in the second half of the season. Since Week 8, Smith has 16 TDs to just 2 INTs. He has multiple touchdown passes in five straight games, which is both a career-long number and the longest active streak in NFL.
It's not a figment of your imagination. Antonio Cromartie is allowing the most yards per reception in the NFL this season at 23.1. If the Jets don't make Jason Campbell check down the ball -- which he gladly will if the Jets invite it -- Gordon could accost the Jets' defense repeatedly on deep plays.
The footnote to every Dallas Cowboys fan's lamentation: The Cowboys' offense has the second-fewest rush attempts per game this season, with 21.1. DeMarco Murray has the second-highest yards per rush among all running backs in the NFL this season, at 5.5 yards per rush. However, he ranks 17th in rushes per game, with 14.8.
Since it's Bash Matthew Stafford Week in the NFL, let's pile on, shall we? At 29.5, Stafford has the worst fourth-quarter passer rating in the NFL over the last five weeks (the Lions are 1-4 in those games). His fourth-quarter completion percentage (31.9) and interception total (4) are also worst in the NFL.
While Stafford has struggled in the short term with 10 interceptions in the past five games, Eli Manning has made a season-long art of throwing the ball to the opposing team. Manning has five games this season with three-plus interceptions. No other player has more than two games this season with 3-plus INTs. The Giants are 0-5 in those games. If the trends hold for both of these quarterbacks, we could see 10,000 interceptions Sunday at Ford Field.
Tom Brady was frustrated when the Patriots couldn't punch the ball into the end zone last week. If stats hold true, he might not be much happier this week. Without Rob Gronkowski on the field, the Patriots are 31st in the NFL in red-zone touchdown efficiency this season. The Ravens are fourth-best in the NFL in red-zone defense this season (42.9 percent).
Joe Flacco will wear a brace on his injured knee this week. He's not a mobile quarterback, so it shouldn't hinder him too much. However, he was hesitant to step into his throws after the injury Monday. It will be interesting to see if he lets the injury bother him. The Patriots pass rush is ghost-like, so, if Flacco's offensive line gives him protection early, he might not miss a beat.
Quietly, Ben Roethlisberger has had one of his best seasons. He's poised to crack the 4,000-yard passing mark for just the third time in his career. He has been mainly responsible for the fact that the Steelers even have six wins. This week, Big Ben gets a Packers defense that has been abused at times this season.
This should be a great offensive showcase between two rookie NFL coaches with brilliant offensive minds. Just don't expect the defenses to get in the way.