Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
Romo is expected to back up Dak Prescott. UPDATE: Bryant is expected to play, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. Romo will also be active.
D-Jax was a full participant on Friday as was Moses. UPDATE: Jackson is expected to play, per Rapoport.
Houston was limited on Friday. Andy Reid was optimistic the linebacker would make his debut. Peters and Poe sat out practice on Friday. UPDATE: Houston is expected to play, while Peters will try to play, per Rapoport.
The Honey Badger will be a game-time decision after being limited all week.
Jernigan sat out all week. Yanda was full-go all week a great sign for his needed return.
Dareus was limited all week. Rex Ryan "feels good" about the DT playing this week, for what that's worth. UPDATE: Dareus and Woods are both expected to play, per Rapoport.
Ansah and Riddick should play. Levy will likely wait until Thanksgiving to return to the lineup. UPDATE: Ansah and Riddick are both expected to play, per Rapoport.
Landry was full-go on Friday and should be fine to play. UPDATE: Landry and Stills are expected to play, while Williams is a game-time decision, per Rapoport.
Gurley was limited on Friday. As with last week, the rest could be precautionary. Quinn missed practices this week due to dehydration, but expects to play. UPDATE: Quinn and Gurley are both expected to play, per Rapoport.
Smith was limited on Thursday and Friday. UPDATE: Smith is a longshot to play, per Rapoport.
Both were full-go on Friday. Imagine if Wentz had to go into Seattle without these two? Woof. UPDATE: Matthews is expected to play, per Rapoport.
Matthews was limited all week. Cook was full-go. UPDATE: Cook is expected to play, per Rapoport.
Both Fuller and Wilfok were limited in practice all week.
*Weather is getting chillier for several of our nine outdoor games this week. We will update Sunday prognostications for all non-dome contests as we drift closer to game time. *
Steelers at Browns -- 37 degrees -- Light snows showers (30 percent chance), winds up to 30 mph
Bills at Bengals -- 35 degrees
Bucs at Chiefs -- 46 degrees
Bears at Giants -- 44 degrees -- winds up to 22 mph
Dolphins at Rams -- 66 degrees -- slight chance of rain (15 percent)
Patriots at 49ers -- 60 degrees -- chance of rain (56 percent)
Eagles at Seahawks -- 53 degrees -- chance of rain (60 percent)
Packers at Redskins -- 37 degrees -- winds up to 20 mph
Texans at Raiders (MNF -- Mexico City) -- 57 degrees
What to Watch For
Rex Ryan's team lost two games to open the season, won the next four and then lost three before last week's bye. To remain in the playoff hunt, the Bills will pound the ball against a Bengals run defense that made the Giants look competent on the ground last week. With LeSean McCoy leading the way, the Bills are tops in the NFL in yards per carry at 5.3, which would be a franchise best. Since Ryan instilled Anthony Lynn as offensive coordinator, the Bills have averaged 86.4 more rush yards per game. Un-retired Percy Harvin is expected to have a larger role this week. His ability to stretch the field vertically and take jet sweeps could add more elements to Lynn's playbook.
After a down week, A.J. Green should feast on a Bills secondary that has struggled to live up to its reputation this season. Green has seven receptions of 30-plus air yards this season and should see several targets that would allow him to add to that total. The key in getting Green loose is keeping Buffalo's pass rush at bay, at least for a few seconds. Andy Dalton has been sacked 28 times this season (second-most in NFL) and is on pace to be sacked 50 times this season, which would be a Bengals team record.
Say what? Stat of the week: The Bills defense is giving up 16.1 more points per game over the last three contests than the first six games, and has forced zero turnovers in the three-game losing streak.
The 4-5 Steelers need to get back on track in a still winnable AFC North. They face the best possible opponent to inflate their self-esteem. Ben Roethlisberger should have no problem picking apart a limp Browns secondary while facing an anemic pass rush. Without a second fiddle to Antonio Brown emerging, keep an eye on Ladarius Green. Against a Cleveland defense that can't cover tight ends, Big Ben could try force-feeding his new toy Sunday to try and jumpstart the chemistry in their second game together.
After weeks of optimism, the football cognoscenti give the Browns almost no chance to break their winless streak against a needy Steelers team. Perhaps when no one believes, the 0-10 Browns can finally find the upset button? If Hue Jackson's offense is going to keep pace with Big Ben, it'll need to do it on the ground. The Steelers got gashed last week and is terrible in run defense when Cameron Heyward has been out this year (went on IR this week). Running straight at the Steelers is a proven method to victory. Cleveland needs Isaiah Crowell to break out of his month-long hibernation to have any shot. Since Week 4, Crowell has one game in which he averaged more than 2.6 yards per carry.
Say what? Stat of the week: A loss would give the Steelers their first five-game skid since 2009. The fifth loss in that streak seven years ago was to Cleveland.
The Cowboys (1st) and Ravens (3rd) rank among the top ball-control teams in the NFL, but get it done in different ways. The Ravens pass an average of 42.1 times per game. Against Rod Marinelli's third-ranked Cowboys run defense, that strategy is unlikely to change Sunday. Joe Flacco's deep ball has been off the mark for most of the season, so expect the Ravens to try and dink and dunk their way down the field with short, quick throws to Steve Smith Sr. and their bevy of tight ends.
The Cowboys offensive line versus the Baltimore Ravens run defense is the matchup of the week. It's the top-ranked, road-grading offensive line (161.0 rush YPG) versus the No. 1 run-stuffing unit (71.3 rush YPG allowed). It will be nasty, mucky and damned beautiful to watch. The Cowboys offensive line creates holes big enough so that Moses could run through them. Conversely, Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams don't receive enough credit for destroying running games. The difference will be Ezekiel Elliott's ability to bounce off tackles. The rookie leads the NFL in yards after contact with 452 (more YAC than all but 20 RBs have total yards). If he's not shedding tacklers Sunday, the Cowboys offense could be stymied for the first time this season.
Say what? Stat of the week: Since 1970, the teams with a top-3 offense are 80-51 (.611 pct) versus teams with a top-3 defense when the game occurs in the second half of the season.
Blake Bortles' deep ball is so wobbly and off-target that the Jags won't even let him try anymore. Jacksonville's offense the past few weeks has been rendered a series of dump offs and short routes hoping a receiver breaks a tackle or two -- Bortles ranks 30th in yards per pass attempt for the season. The dink-and-dunk O could work against a Lions defense that allows a passer rating of 112.4. Detroit doesn't give up many deep shots but allows long drives on short, easy throws. DeAndre Levy is a week away from returning which means the Lions linebackers can still be picked on in coverage. Expect a heavy dose of tight end Julius Thomas.
This game sets up for Matthew Stafford similar to the Texans game a few weeks ago: A good pass defense (fourth-ranked) and a not-so-great run defense (29th). Stafford struggled in that contest. Jim Bob Cooter could go run-heavy early, despite not owning the horses for such an offensive attack. Theo Riddick will be a key cog regardless of the game plan. With Jalen Ramsey likely helping lock down Marvin Jones, Stafford will look to Riddick as a quick checkdown in the passing game.
The Titans have never defeated Andrew Luck. Eight tries and they've whiffed on each one. Marcus Mariota's play was shaky the last time the teams faced off (missed numerous throws outside the numbers and fumbled to seal the loss). Since then, he's completed 72.6 percent of his passes and gone for 270-plus passing yards in each of the past three games. Mariota has two or more touchdown passes in six straight games. With a dominant offensive line and potent running game, when Mariota is on, the Titans have a playoff-caliber offense. Against a healthier, but still-not-very-good Colts defense, Mariota needs to be at his best to pull off a road win that will keep the Titans in the hunt for the AFC South crown.
On the flip side, Andrew Luck has been sublime as every Colts game turns into a shootout. In the Week 7 win over the Titans, Luck picked apart the Titans secondary for 353 yards. It was the best game of the season for Indianapolis' offensive line -- giving up just two sacks. That O-line will need another big day against Brian Orakpo and Jurrell Casey to keep Luck clean. The Titans' backend is vulnerable on the outside, where T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief should feast if Luck gets time to throw.
Mike Evans. Mike Evans. Mike Evans. Mike Evans. That was the likely refrain in the Chiefs' defensive meeting rooms this week. Jameis Winston has targeted his favorite receiver 108 times already this season, most in the NFL. The matchup with ball-magnet Marcus Peters will be fun to watch, but keep an eye on second-year, third-round corner Steven Nelson, who has been solid on the opposite side. The Chiefs boast an underrated defense that might not have the stat rankings, but forces huge turnovers and sacks at key moments. Winston will need to protect the football on the road.
Alex Smith was sneaky not good in his return last week (haters can use this spot to retort that he's never good). Against a Bucs defense that can get impatient on long drives and bite on misdirection, expect the 'death by 10,000 papercuts offense' to be in full force, even without Jeremy Maclin. While Tyreek Hill doesn't take a ton of snaps -- just 39 last week -- he's proven to be a legitimate receiving threat and should see his chances increase against a Bucs defense that allows 267.7 passing yards per game and 26.9 points per game.
It's looking like a low-scoring affair in Minnesota. The Vikings and Cardinals rank first and third, respectively, in points allowed this season, while both offenses suffer from poor offensive line play. Larry Fitzgerald remains the lone bright spot on the Cards' previously entertaining passing offense. The Minneapolis native comes home averaging a career high with 7.6 receptions per game on 99 total targets (third in NFL). Facing Mike Zimmer's press defense that could render the rest of the Cards receiving corps inert, expect another heavy dose of Fitzy on Sunday in the new dome.
How depressing is it to think about the Vikings offense? Can't run the ball. Doesn't have time to throw. Even when Sam Bradford is not getting killed because of poor blocking, he lacks pocket awareness and gets crunched anyway. Stefon Diggs remains the most exciting part of Minnesota's offense, becoming the first player in NFL history to have 13-plus receptions in consecutive games. He'll get the Patrick Peterson treatment Sunday. Most quarterbacks avoid Peterson like the plague, but Bradford will need to target his best playmaker. When that happens, there will be fireworks one way or the other.
Say what? Stat of the week: The Vikings are the only team that has not allowed a 100-yard receiver this season.
With no Alshon Jeffery, Jay Cutler will have a hard time moving the ball against a stingy Giants defense that is becoming more cohesive and dominant as the season progresses. Jordan Howard may or may not have suffered an Achilles injury last week -- depending on who you believe and when -- but he is not listed on the injury report this week, indicating he'll be good to go. Sans Jeffery for four games, the Bears should expect a lot of Howard, who has earned 100-plus rushing yards in four of the last six games. Yet it's a terrible matchup against a Giants defensive line that is one of the best at standing up blockers and plugging gaps. Cutler will need to utilize a quick pass attack and screens with Eddie Royal and Cameron Meredith to supplement the ground game Sunday.
Against a Bears defense that owns a quality front seven, don't expect much from the woeful Giants run game. Instead, Eli Manning will sling it until his arm falls off against a Bears secondary that got picked apart by Jameis Winston last week. Odell Beckham's dominance will continue. The stud receiver has six receiving TDs in the last five games, averaging six receptions with 94.0 YPG over that stretch. The Bears defense has been better than the sum of its parts this season, but is no match for OBJ.
Say what? Stat of the week: Safety Landon Collins leads the Giants in tackles (74), INTs (4) and is tied for team lead in sacks (3.0). He's the only player in the NFL to lead his team in all three categories this season, and is the first Giants player with 4-plus INTs and 3-plus sacks in a season since Jason Sehorn in 1996. Sehorn!
The Dolphins' resurgence this season came with a healthy offensive line springing Jay Ajayi. Swiftly the blocking is banged up once again. Branden Albert is out after his wrist popped out (#gross) and Mike Pouncey's hip (doubtful to play) sounds about as solid as my deceased grandfather's. The question for Adam Gase is whether he's found the formula with a determined, powerful Ajayi or the spark was mere coincidence thanks to a healthy blocking group. Facing Aaron Donald sans Pouncey is not the recipe for a good day.
The Jared Goff era begins Sunday. How bright it shines depends heavily on how big a beating he takes from the start. The Dolphins front has been swarming the past few weeks. It's not just Ndamukong Suh either. Cameron Wake looks about five years younger, and the weight of increased snaps doesn't seem to slow him. Earl Mitchell was disruptive in his return last week. If a heretofore porous Rams offensive line can't keep Goff clean Sunday, the rookie hasn't got a shot. The Rams would like to get Todd Gurley going, but will continue to face stacked boxes while Goff figures it out.
Carson Wentz has gone to New York and Dallas, but Sunday in Seattle will be the biggest road test of the rookie's career. I could point you to Wentz's declining stats and remind you he's recorded a passer rating below 100 in each of his past five games while noting the inefficient Eagles offense. But I don't believe the majority of those troubles are on Wentz. He's working with a sub-par receiving corps that can't hold onto the ball and, until last week, wasn't getting help from the running game. It will be interesting to see how Wentz handles the best defense he's faced all season in a setting unlike any other in the NFL. These are the games that show off a rookie's mettle. Luckily for Wentz, he won't have to see Michael Bennett barreling down his throat.
C.J. Prosise is now the lead back for the Seahawks offense, at least while Thomas Rawls is eased back into the rotation. Prosise upgrades the passing game out of the backfield, leading Doug Baldwin to compare the rookie to Arian Foster and Matt Forte this week. That's high praise. We like Prosise's willingness to run between the tackles as a complement to his ability on the edge and in the passing game. Versus a stout Eagles defense, it will be interesting to see how much they use the rookie between the tackles Sunday. If Rawls only gets a handful of carries in his first game back, Prosise will be called on heavily to fill the gap.
Say what? Stat of the week: The Seahawks are on pace for their worst rushing offense (77.7 rush YPG) and their best passing offense (264.2 pass YPG) in franchise history.
Which way will Tom Brady destroy the 49ers' putrid defense? With a quick passing attack, dicing them to smithereens? Ramming the ball down their throat with LeGarrette Blount? A surprise bomb blitz? Heck, maybe he'll just QB sneak his way to victory. The 49ers own the worst-ranked defense in yards allowed, points given up and rushing yards. Even without Rob Gronkowski on the field, the 49ers will struggle to slow down Brady, who leads the NFL in nearly every significant QB measure this season (completion percentage, yards per attempt, TD-INT ratio and passer rating). Good luck, Chip.
Maybe the 49ers can make it a shootout? Probably not, but it feels like their best chance. The Patriots defense has not looked good and was pummeled at times last week at home by the Seahawks. Colin Kaepernick has run the ball fine, but that's about the only positive I can come up with. His game tape is frustrating to watch, with a bevy of dump offs that boost his hollow stats. If Carlos Hyde and the running game don't get going this week, it will be ugly early for the hometown fans.
Say what? Stat of the week: The 49ers defense is allowing 429.7 yards per game, 31.4 PPG -- on pace to allow 502 points this season (would be third-most in NFL since at least 1940) -- has allowed 30-plus points in six of nine games and is giving up 180.4 rush YPG, which would be the most allowed in a season since the 1987 Falcons allowed 182.3.
The Packers' three-game swoon has come as the offense ramps up its production. In Green Bay's 1-3 skid, Aaron Rodgers' offense is averaging 27.3 points per game, with more than 50 passing yards per game and fewer turnovers than the first five contests. Rodgers' passer rating has also bumped up almost 11 points over the last month. With Josh Norman attempting to take away Jordy Nelson, expect heavy targets for Davante Adams again this week. The receiver has the second-most targets (47) and receptions in the NFL since Week 7. His ability to get open on the intermediate level gives Rodgers more options in his progression.
On paper, this sets up as a Kirk Cousins-fest. The Redskins pile up yardage in every game this season -- 407.8 YPG. Now Cousins faces a Packers secondary that couldn't stop a tumbleweed in a three-foot-wide alley. Green Bay has given up 389.3 total yards per game over the past three weeks. Jamison Crowder emerged as Cousins' go-to target and should be open again Sunday night. Jordan Reed destroyed the Packers in the playoffs last year (120 yards on nine catches). He could do similar damage against linebackers that struggle in space and safeties that continually allow busted coverages. The Packers should get Clay Matthews back, but is he enough to mask all the defensive deficiencies?
Say what? Stat of the week:
Cousins in red zone in Weeks 1-2: 1 TD, 2 INT, 19.6 passer rating
Cousins in red zone in Weeks 3-10: 7 TD, 0 INT, 97.7 passer rating
Brock Osweiler has relied heavily on his running game and defense to compile wins. The quarterback is averaging fewer yards per pass attempt (4.29) over the past three weeks than Lamar Miller is averaging per rush (4.65). The Texans will go as far as Miller's playmaking takes them against a Raiders defense that has tightened up the past three weeks. If Miller can't escape Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, it's going to be a forgettable trip to Mexico for Bill O'Brien.
The most intriguing matchup for those traveling to Estadio Azteca is the Raiders wideouts versus the Texans defensive backs. Houston allows just 196.8 passing yards per game and defensive backs Johnathan Joseph, A.J. Bouye and Kareem Jackson have been phenomenal this season. The matchup against Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree will be fun to watch. The duo is prolific, especially when Derek Carr has time to survey the field. It's not often Cooper and Crabtree don't own an overwhelming advantage over a secondary, but Monday night might be one where they struggle to gobble up easy yards.