Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
The bruising back was limited all week. It's not a great sign for the perennially dinged-up runner. UPDATE: Ivory is expected to play, but will not receive his full complement of snaps, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. T.J. Yeldon may start in his place.
Parker seems like a longshot to play, but he was limited Friday after missing previous practices. UPDATE: Parker is expected to be held out and not play, according to Rapoport.
All three starters were limited this week. Long's absence on an already shaky line would be a big loss if he's unable to play. UPDATE: White is set to make his NFL debut, according to Rapoport.
Both pass catchers were full-go at the end of the week and should play.
Mewhort was full-go on Friday. If he plays in any capacity, it's a boon for Andrew Luck. UPDATE: Mewhort is hopeful to play, according to Rapoport.
Janis participated all week fully but could be restricted to special teams duty. Bakhtiari was added to the injury report Saturday. UPDATE: Bakhtiari is set to play, according to Rapoport.
Listed as questionable, Pete Carroll said he expects Graham to play. How much time the TE sees will be a lingering question.
McKinnon was limited on Friday. The running back's injury could mean an even bigger workload for Adrian Peterson.
The playmaking rookie was limited Thursday and Friday. UPDATE: Thomas will play against the Raiders, according to Rapoport.
Andy Reid admitted it was unlikely Charles would play. Spencer Ware should get the bulk of the carries for K.C.
Jones was a full participant in practice all this week, while Doctson was activated off the PUP list just last Saturday.
Davis reportedly did not attend practice on Saturday; no reason was given for the absence.
*Weather looks great across America for our outdoor games. We will update Sunday prognostications for all non-dome contests as we drift closer to game time. *
What To Watch For
Key matchups in each Week 1 game:
The quarterbacks make this opening week matchup intriguing. Carson Wentz played just 39 preseason snaps, but gets the start. He couldn't have asked for a better matchup than facing a Browns defense that lacks pass-rush oomph and is littered with questions in the secondary. For the Browns, the Robert Griffin III reclamation project will be one of the most interesting subplots for a Cleveland team with its sights set on the future. The bomb-or-bust offense with RGIII could be simultaneously exciting and excruciating to watch drive to drive.
With Wentz making his first start, Eagles running back Ryan Mathews will be someone to watch. When healthy he's a proven threat -- among all running backs with 100-plus carries last season, only Thomas Rawls (5.7) had a higher yards-per-carry average than Mathews (5.0). Health is always a concern, but Mathews will face a Browns D that allowed 128.4 rush yards per game in 2015, 30th in the NFL. On the flip side, RGIII might not get much help from his run game. Both Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson averaged less than 4 yards/carry in 2015 and face a stout Eagles front.
Say what? Stat of the week: Jim Schwartz takes over as the coordinator of an Eagles defense that ranked 28th in scoring in 2015. In each of his last three seasons as a DC, Schwartz has presided over a top-10 defense in PPG allowed, takeaways, and sacks.
Rex Ryan's defense had a notoriously poor season last year, dropping from first in sacks (54 in 2014) to 31st (21 in 2015). The garrulous Ryan insists his defense will turn it around in 2016, but is already without Marcell Dareus (suspension), Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland. Keep an eye on how much pressure Ryan's front gets on Joe Flacco, who is coming off an ACL injury. The Ravens' offensive line could be the best group on the field in this game Sunday.
The Bills aren't the only defense in this game trying to turn it around after a poor 2015. Baltimore allowed 25.1 PPG last season, most by the Ravens since 1996 (inaugural season). Terrell Suggs returns, but the secondary remains a concern. It could be a big day for Tyrod Taylor and Sammy Watkins if the Bills' O-line holds.
With J.J. Watt set to return and a healthy Jadeveon Clowney looking like a breakout star, the Texans' defense will be fun to watch Sunday. Houston boasts a deep secondary and the ability to pester the quarterback. Jay Cutler could be under siege all day. Despite adding guard Josh Sitton, there are plenty of questions on Chicago's O-line -- including fellow Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long (shoulder) listed as questionable. Where Cutler will turn to for aid is also an issue. When Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett left this offseason, the duo took 40 percent of the Bears' offense with them.
The Texans' offensive speed sits in stark contrast to 2015. The additions of Lamar Miller in the backfield and rookie receivers Will Fuller and Braxton Miller alongside DeAndre Hopkins gives new quarterback Brock Osweiler a plethora of options. The Bears won't have Pernell McPhee (PUP list), which takes a huge chunk out of an already questionable defense. Bill O'Brien's offense could have a field day in this matchup.
Green Bay slogged through its worst offensive season under Aaron Rodgers' watch in 2015. While injuries at receiver played a big role, Eddie Lacy's dismal season loomed large as the running back had career lows in rushing yards, TDs and yards per carry. His rejuvenation from the jump will be key for a balanced Packers offense. A rebuilt Jaguars defense that, for the first time in years has playmakers at all three levels, will get a great test in Week 1. We'll see if the additions of Malik Jackson, Dante Fowler Jr., Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack (to name four) are ready to slow one of the most potent offenses in the NFL.
Alex Smith is poised for his best season as a passer (let's break that 4,000-yard barrier, baby!). Andy Reid's machine seems well-oiled and ready to lead defenses toward a slow and methodical death. Receiver Chris Conley's ascension helps Smith stretch the field opposite the precision of Jeremy Maclin and athleticism of tight end Travis Kelce. On Sunday, Smith faces one of the best corner trios in the NFL in Jason Verrett, Brandon Flowers and Casey Hayward. If the Chargers' secondary can lock down Smith's receivers on quick routes, it could discombobulate the Chiefs' game plan.
Is the world ready for a Melvin Gordon breakout season? The maligned runner scored zero touchdowns as a rookie on 184 carries (83 TD-less carries shy of the record for most without a TD to start a career; Robert Turbin, 267). This preseason Gordon has ditched the stuttering and hit holes with confidence. If the Chargers' O-line can stay healthy, Gordon could be a breakout runner in Year 2. It might not start in Week 1, however. Even without Justin Houston, the Chiefs boast a stout front with Jaye Howard, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Dontari Poe, Dee Ford and rookie Chris Jones (who looks like a stud in the making).
With the ink still drying on Drew Brees' new contract, the 37-year-old passer shows no signs of losing his streak of eight straight seasons with 4,000-plus passing yards and 30-plus passing touchdowns. The Saints' revamped weaponry give Brees his best set of targets in years, but will his offensive line give him enough time Sunday? The Raiders' defense is vastly improved with DPOY candidate Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin primed to pressure passers. Upgrades on the backend with Sean Smith and Reggie Nelson give the Raiders a shot at their first top-10 total defense since 2006.
Derek Carr faltered down the stretch last season, but gets a good matchup against a Saints defense that was dismal in 2015 and already has seen its beefed-up pass rush thwarted by injury. The Saints head into the season very young at corner with 2015 breakout player Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams, who missed all of his rookie season. The matchup of the young DBs against Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree could decide Sunday's tussle.
Say what? Stat of the week:Derek Carr has thrown 53 TD passes in his first two seasons, the second-most in NFL history. Only Dan Marino threw more (68) in his first two NFL seasons.
After a 22.7-point jump in passer rating last season, how will Andy Dalton fare without Hue Jackson, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu? We aren't as concerned as some about the Bengals' revamped offense and expect Jeremy Hill to get Cincy back to pounding the ball with frequency. The opener might not be the best matchup for Hill, however. Even with Damon "Snacks" Harrison defecting to the Giants, the Jets still boast one of the beefiest defensive fronts in the NFL. This shapes up as a Giovani Bernard game.
Ryan Fitzpatrick gets a similarly stiff test against a Bengals team that boasted the No. 2 scoring defense in the NFL last season (0.1 PPG behind Seattle). Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are mismatches for any secondary, but I'm more interested to see how OC Chan Gailey utilizes Matt Forte. Gang Green's offense ran better last season with Bilal Powell in the game. Forte is worlds better than Powell (no offense, Bilal). Forte's pass-catching and blocking ability will make Fitzpatrick's life easier. Forte will have a mismatch with Bengals linebackers, sans Vontaze Burfict (suspension).
Say what? Stat of the week: The Jets have won nine straight home games versus the Bengals. Their last loss in this series came in Week 2, 1981 when CIN QB Ken Anderson defeated NYJ QB Richard Todd. Anderson won the NFL MVP in 1981 and led the Bengals to a Super Bowl appearance (lost to SF in Super Bowl).
The Falcons' defense was better than the sum of its parts in 2015. Will an infusion of young speed help Dan Quinn's unit soar in his second season? Rookie linebackers Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell are set to start in their opening game. What the duo lacks size, it makes up in quickness and sideline-to-sideline ability. The Falcons will need the two to play well in their first test against Doug Martin, Jameis Winston and a rising Buccaneers offense. Atlanta still has huge holes at pass rusher despite the addition of spin-move machine Dwight Freeney. If the Falcons can't pressure Winston on Sunday, it could be a long day for Quinn's defense.
Keeping with the trend of young defensive players, it will be interesting to see how the Bucs use first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves. The rookie flashed athleticism and playmaking ability this preseason and Tampa coaches labeled him a co-starter with Brent Grimes and Alterraun Verner. With an improved front, the Bucs' defense has the potential to turn around quickly after disappointing seasons under Lovie Smith. Slowing down Julio Jones is always the key when facing Atlanta. The addition of Mohamed Sanu is an upgrade over the spare parts the Falcons deployed last year. The passing game battle between Matt Ryan and the Grimes-Verner-Hargreaves trio will be pivotal in Week 1.
Say what? Stat of the week: The Falcons scored 32.4 PPG in their first five games of 2015 (5-0 start) before losing eight of their final 11 games with a meager 16.1 PPG.
Shaun Hill is expected to get the start this week over Sam Bradford. The aged vet will provide the Vikings with some offensive continuity, but expect Adrian Peterson to get a huge workload Sunday. All Day will smash his way into a Titans defense led by the perennially underrated Jurrell Casey. The Vikings upgraded the offensive line with run-blockers in Alex Boone and Andre Smith, which could pay dividends right off the bat. With the weak-armed Hill starting, we expect the Titans to stack the box versus Peterson even more than normal. How fun would it be if 79-year-old Dick LeBeau threw a curveball and tossed in the ol' 46 defense Sunday?
With the Titans employing a Thunder & Thunder backfield of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, Sunday has the potential to be a throwback game your grandfather loved. The antidote to that will be Marcus Mariota. For as much as Tennessee wants to play ground-first football, a stout Vikings defensive line will force Mularkey to air it out more Sunday. Mariota has the dual-threat ability to carve up any defense, even one as good as Zimmer's unit. The Titans will enter Sunday talking about "exotic smashmouth" but will put the ball in Mariota's throwing arm if it wants to beat out Minnesota.
Jay Ajayi was left in Miami after apparently pouting about being demoted behind Arian Foster. Already in a tough matchup versus a stout Seahawks defense, Foster will get a heavy workload in the Dolphins' ground attack. Expect Miami to supplement Foster with a quick-passing game as opposed to the gaggle of underwhelming backups they employ.
Adam Gase couldn't have asked for a worse matchup to unleash his offense. The quarterback whisperer should help improve Ryan Tannehill this season, but he faces a Legion of Boom that could be the best iteration since its formation. The Dolphins will use a plethora of quick passes to Jarvis Landry and pepper in shots to Kenny Stills. Tannehill will need to be precise versus Richard Sherman and Co., who will jump on short routes if telegraphed. The Dolphins' offensive line also enters the season with question marks and will be without center Mike Pouncey versus Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, et al.
While the Christine Michael hype train and Thomas Rawls' return have gotten most of the pub during the offseason, Sunday's matchup will be great for Russell Wilson to continue the lethal pass attack he started late last season. The Dolphins might own the worst set of corners in the NFL. Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and Jermaine Kearse should be open often. If the Seahawks' revamped offensive line can give Wilson even a modicum of time to throw, he'll put up numbers that will have "12s" shouting about RW winning the MVP after just one game.
Say what? Stat of the week: The Seahawks have started slow each of the last two seasons. 2015: Started 2-4, finished 10-6. 2014: Started 3-3, finished 12-4.
Rookies rule in Dallas. The combination of QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott offers intriguing potential. Elliott boasts all-world skills running, receiving and blocking that will make him the workhorse out of the gate. We don't know what we'll get from Prescott after he dazzled against vanilla defenses in the preseason. The key for Dallas' offense will be keeping a revamped Giants D-line off of its young quarterback. Luckily the Cowboys boast the NFL's best offensive line to combat the waves brought by Olivier Vernon, Johnathan Hankins, Damon Harrison and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Sunday's afternoon matchup should be a shootout. The Cowboys' defense lacks the pure pass rushers to get after Eli Manning and disrupt the Giants' passing attack. While Dallas' defensive backfield, led by breakout candidate Byron Jones, is improved from last season, there is no stopping Odell Beckham Jr., only slowing him down. The Cowboys will try to use ball control on offense to eat away at the clock, while the Giants are likely to play sandlot ball, tossing it all over the field. The contrast in styles will make for another memorable tilt between rivals.
Despite the consternation about Andrew Luck's status this week, the quarterback is fine. HE'S FINE, CHICKEN LITTLE. Luck got good news this week as guard Jack Mewhort is listed as questionable and could play in some capacity Sunday. That's a big boost for Luck versus Haloti Ngata and Detroit's interior. Before a rash of injuries, Luck proved he can play behind sub-par offensive line play, and we should expect the same in 2016. If Lions corner Darius Slay spends the majority of his day following T.Y. Hilton around the formation, expect a big day for Donte Moncrief.
The Colts will need to score points Sunday because their defense takes the field without its top two corners. Already with concerns at pass rusher, starting newly signed Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Robinson is troubling for any secondary. Expect Matthew Stafford to throw the ball all over the field Sunday afternoon. Jim Bob Cooter plans to utilize more up-tempo offense in 2016, which will aid a questionable offensive line. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones have big advantages this week, as will pass-catching back Theo Riddick against slow Colts linebackers.
Rob Gronkowski not playing is a huge blow for Jimmy Garoppolo in his first career start. Gronk is a matchup nightmare, with a size and speed combination to best linebackers, safeties and corners. Not having the athletic tight end and security blanket strips the matchup problems the Pats can create in their two-TE sets.
Garoppolo will get the headlines as Tom Brady's replacement for four weeks, but it's the man that Bill Belichick traded this offseason, Chandler Jones, we should keep an eye on Sunday night. The Cardinals desperately needed pass-rush help to go along with a stout secondary (Arizona blitzed on 44.5 percent of pass plays last season, most in NFL). Now that there is a gaping hole at corner opposite Patrick Peterson, the Cards need to get pressure with even more urgency. Garoppolo has looked steady in the preseason but hasn't exactly jumped off the film. With New England's questionable offensive line (the Pats always seem to take the first quarter of the season figuring out their protection), Jones could wreck Garoppolo's first start.
The Pats have their own linebacker who could be a game changer on primetime. Jamie Collins looks primed for a monster season. Sunday night he'll be tasked with pestering Carson Palmer and corralling running back David Johnson. Collins boasts the size, speed and tackling ability to disrupt the Cardinals' gameplan, including limiting Johnson in both the run and pass game. If Collins and Co. limit Johnson -- something that didn't look possible down the stretch last season -- it will put a ton of pressure on Palmer to make plays vertically.
Say what? Stat of the week: Among all players to start five-plus games, David Johnson averaged the most scrimmage YPG as a starter last season (131.6).
The Redskins boast one of the deepest pass-catching corps in the NFL, even if Josh Doctson isn't ready to contribute. DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder, Jordan Reed and even Vernon Davis are at Kirk Cousins' disposal. The Redskins' receivers will face a Steelers defensive backfield loaded with questions. Pittsburgh's first-round pick Artie Burns barely played this preseason while battling injury. That the Steelers traded for Browns castoff, Justin Gilbert, exemplifies a team searching for answers. With linebacker Bud Dupree out to start the season, Pittsburgh's pass rush looks shaky outside a seemingly immortal James Harrison. If Cousins has time to sit in the pocket, he could pick apart the Steelers secondary.
The Steelers' offense will be without Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant in Monday night's matchup, but at least Ben Roethlisberger has the best receiver in the NFL, Antonio Brown. In games Big Ben played last season (12), Brown averaged nearly 10 receptions per contest and over 133 receiving YPG. Had those averages been applied to the entire 16-game schedule, Brown would have set new NFL single-season records for targets (216), receptions (158), and receiving yards (2,133). The matchup between Brown and new Redskins talkative corner Josh Norman will be highlighted plenty on ESPN's broadcast.
Say what? Stat of the week: All nine Redskins wins in 2015 came versus teams that finished .500-or-worse.
Sometimes when two maligned teams meet on a football field, sparks can fly. The Rams boast one of the best front sevens in the NFL, led by Aaron Donald. The defensive player of the year candidate could singlehandedly destroy Chip Kelly's offense. With Blaine Gabbert under center, the 49ers' offense could be hard to watch Monday night. Carlos Hyde is an ideal fit for Kelly's wide runs, but could struggle to find space against Donald and Co. After barely targeting No. 1 receiver Torrey Smith during the preseason, Gabbert will need to take some shot to loosen up the Rams' aggressive D.
On offense, Los Angeles looks to be the same as last season: Todd Gurley, Todd Gurley, short pass, Todd Gurley. Case Keenum gets the start with No. 1 pick Jared Goff set to be inactive. Keenum looked solid in the preseason versus milquetoast defenses. The journeyman passer isn't afraid to fling it around the field, but will face an underrated 49ers secondary in Eric Reid, Jimmie Ward and Tramaine Brock. With the defenses looking like by far the best units on the field, Monday night's finale should be a low-scoring affair.