Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
Rodgers was limited all week but is expected to suit up, barring a setback. Matthews was limited on Thursday and Friday. UPDATE: Rodgers will play, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
Brady will play. Bennett was limited on Thursday and Friday. The nagging injuries could keep the tight end from being the primary replacement of Rob Gronkowski's production. UPDATE: Brady, Bennett and Edelman are all expected to play, per Rapoport.
Matthews returned to practice as limited on Friday after missing earlier sessions. He'll be a game-time decision. UPDATE: Matthews is not expected to play, per Rapoport.
Bennett is expected to play this week. Safety Earl Thomas was full-go and will return after missing last week. UPDATE: Bennett is expected to play, per Rapoport.
It's looking unlikely Parker plays after sitting out all week. Albert and Tunsil were both full-go Friday, which is a great sign for Miami's banged-up O-line. UPDATE: Parker is not expected to play, but Albert and Tunsil are, per Rapoport.
Rex Ryan expects Watkins to play Sunday. UPDATE: Watkins and Alexander are expected to play while Clay is not, per Rapoport.
The running back returned to practice Friday (limited), which is a good sign he'll be good to go. UPDATE: Ingram will play, according to Rapoport.
Williams returned to practice on Friday and is reportedly expected to play. UPDATE: Williams is expected to play, per Rapoport.
The group was all limited on Friday. It's notable that Derek Carr (dislocated pinky) is not listed after being full-go all week. UPDATE: Crabtree, Murray and Anderson are all expected to play, per Rapoport.
Jones should play, but might be hindered. Levy is reportedly not expected to return this week. UPDATE: Jones is a long shot to play, per Rapoport. Riddick and Ansah are expected to play, while Levy is not, per Rapoport.
Quinn sat out all week. Saffold returned to practice on Friday.
Smith and Aiken were both full-go at the end of the week.
Both were limited on Friday.
Per usual, Royal sat out this week. Floyd and Sitton were limited all week.
McCoy returned to practice on Friday on a limited basis. Rodgers was full-go.
Brown was limited all week. Mathieu sat out and is unlikely to play.
*It's looking mostly dry for our 11 outdoor games this week with a chance of snow in Green Bay. We will update Sunday prognostications for all non-dome contests as we drift closer to game time. *
Rams at Patriots -- 42 degrees
Broncos at Jaguars -- 76 degrees
Texans at Packers -- 36 degrees -- chance of snow flurries (75 percent)
Eagles at Bengals -- 45 degrees
Dolphins at Ravens -- 50 degrees
49ers at Bears -- 37 degrees -- chance of flurries (57 percent)
Bills at Raiders -- 60 degrees
Giants at Steelers -- 44 degrees
Buccaneers at Chargers -- 72 degrees
Panthers at Seahawks -- 36 degrees -- chance of rain (60 percent)
Colts at Jets (MNF) -- 47 degrees
What to Watch For
The Falcons' offensive line versus the Chiefs' overpowering defensive front could be the matchup of the week for two surging playoff teams. Keeping Matt Ryan upright versus Justin Houston, Dee Ford and Tamba Hali is a tough task even at home for Atlanta. The Falcons have given up 27 sacks this season, ranking 21st in the NFL. If Ryan has time to throw, Atlanta's No. 1 ranked offensive attack will be able to exploit matchups with Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel, Mohamed Sanu and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Atlanta's running back duo ranks fifth in the NFL in scrimmage yards among RB tandems (1,575) this season and could see a bevy of screens/dump offs as Atlanta combats the Chiefs' pass rush.
Alex Smith has thrown for 219.7 yards per game, along with two touchdowns and two interceptions in his last three games. It's no coincidence those flagging totals came with Jeremy Maclin sidelined. The No. 1 receiver's status remains up in the air (questionable). Smith faces a Falcons pass defense that is ranked dead last in the NFL, allowing 282 yards per game and the unit just lost top corner Desmond Trufant for the season. If Maclin doesn't suit up, expect another big game from jitterbug Tyreek Hill as the Chiefs try to exploit his speed mismatch on the edge.
Jay Ajayi leads the NFL in rush yards (730) since Week 6 and has the highest yards per carry average in that span. The Ravens' run defense presents a much stiffer task. With a gap-sealing wall at the line of scrimmage bottling up Ajayi, Adam Gase should continue to deploy Ryan Tannehill's escalating passing attack -- 130-plus passer rating in two of his last three games after reaching the mark just once in his previous 72 contests. In a pivotal road game for the Dolphins' swelling playoff hopes, Tannehill will need to make plays down the field to puncture the Ravens' stout D. DeVante Parker likely missing the game is a big blow for Tannehill.
Chime the Mike Wallace revenge-game bell. The Ravens receiver harbors no ill will versus his former team, but could burn them. Wallace has 50-plus receiving yards in seven straight games and has done much of his damage after the catch. The Dolphins' pass rush has helped out its maligned secondary after early season struggles and Miami owns the NFL's top third-down D (allowing 33.3 percent of conversions). With Baltimore's offense habitually abandoning the run game, Wallace and Steve Smith Sr. will have plenty of chances Sunday if Joe Flacco remains upright.
Say what? Stat of the week:Terrance West is averaging just 13.0 attempts, 37.2 rush yards and 2.9 yards per carry over the last five games.
Can bad team + bad team = good game?
The 49ers' offense has perked up the past four weeks under Colin Kaepernick. The quarterback's running ability adds an element to Chip Kelly's offense we haven't seen at the pro level. Since Week 6, Kaepernick has more rushing yards than the likes of LeSean McCoy, Todd Gurley and Devonta Freeman. The Niners are a run-first team that relies on Kaepernick and Carlos Hyde to move the chains with little big-play ability in the passing game -- most downfield throws come to tight ends up the seam. The Bears' run defense held DeMarco Murray in check last week and ranks 16th in the NFL for the season. Eddie Goldman's return fortified the middle of the Bears' defense, but look for Kelly to exploit the edges where the absence of Chicago starting linebackers (Jerrell Freeman, suspension; Danny Trevathan, IR) looms large.
Matt Barkley showed in his first start he can lead an offense, but his lack of arm strength restricts the offense. The Bears run a dink-and-dunk operation with Barkley, unlikely to take advantage of a banged-up 49ers secondary. Chicago will lean on Jordan Howard -- averaging 103.5 rush YPG since Week 8 (second-most in the NFL in that span) -- as the catalyst against the NFL's worst run defense. It should be noted, however, that the Niners' front seven has improved the last several weeks, so it won't be a breezy day for Howard.
Say what? Stat of the week:Carlos Hyde has already set a new career-high in carries (154), rushing yards (594) and rush TDs (6) in his first season under Kelly.
With Ryan Mathews out again due to injury (what's new?), the Eagles will hand the reins over to Wendell Smallwood in a good matchup for Philly against the 28th-ranked Bengals run defense. The rookie displays good shiftiness on the edge and showed a willingness to run between the tackles in his first career start last week. In his past three games, Smallwood has averaged 4.4 yards per tote. Against a Bengals run D allowing 120.5 yards per game (fifth most), Smallwood has a chance to prove he should keep the head gig for the stretch run, even when (if) Mathews get healthy.
Poor Andy Dalton. The Bengals quarterback has been sacked 32 times this season behind a porous offensive line. Sunday he faces Fletcher Cox and a peeved-off Jim Schwartz defensive front. Dalton's ability to diagnose defenses before the snap has allowed him to survive this season, but his dwindling cast of playmakers has handcuffed the offense. In a lost season, it's worth keeping an eye on Tyler Boyd the rest of the way. The rookie receiver shows playmaking ability in bursts and if Dalton gets time to throw Sunday, Boyd could take advantage of suspect Eagles corners. The rest of the way is about the future for Cincinnati. Boyd spending time as the No. 1 target with A.J. Green out could be beneficial down the road.
Say what? Stat of the week: The Eagles have allowed 302 yards to tight ends this season, second-fewest in the NFL.
On paper, this is a matchup in which a $72 million quarterback should feast. The Packers' pass defense has been horrific at times this season. The return of Damarious Randall last week helped, but it's still a D that too often leaves receivers wide open. Theoretically, DeAndre Hopkins should devour the Packers D. Theoretically. Brock Osweiler played two of his better games the past fortnight and the Texans lost both. In Lambeau, with possible snow in the forecast, will the scattershot quarterback be able to take advantage of a good matchup? Brock's history of failing in a big spot suggests Bill O'Brien won't trust his quarterback to win the game.
Aaron Rodgers against a stout Texans secondary will decide a game that has playoff implications for both teams. Since Week 7, Rodgers has the most completions (180), passing yards (1,904) and passing TDs (17) in the NFL. Davante Adams' breakout has coincided with the uptick in offensive production. The third-year pro leads the NFL with 677 receiving yards since Week 5 and wins off the line of scrimmage, allowing Rodgers to fit balls into tight windows. The matchup between the Packers receivers and Texans corners -- especially A.J. Bouye, who is likely to make a truckload of cash this offseason -- will be fascinating to watch. Early in the season, the Green Bay offense struggled when receivers couldn't create separation. The Texans' style of play doesn't afford many wide-open windows. The contest could come down to whether or not Rodgers can once again slide a pass through a dime hole for a big play.
If you're hoping to see passing, don't flip on the Broncos-Jags game. Paxton Lynch will make the second start of his career Sunday. In Week 5, Lynch completed 23 of 35 passes for 223 yards, one touchdown and threw an interception. He was also sacked six times. That came against a mediocre Falcons pass defense. Sunday he faces a Jags defense that has allowed just 204.3 yards passing per game (only 10 more yards/game than the vaunted Broncos D). Lynch's mobility might come in handy behind a porous offensive line that got Trevor Siemian pounded last week. Denver's passing game will need Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to beat good Jags corners to move the ball. After Lynch looked like he needed more seasoning in Week 5, we'll get a first-hand look at how much the rookie has absorbed in eight weeks.
Blake Bortles versus the 'No Fly Zone' is a brutal matchup for the Jaguars. Bortles' elongated windup and off-target throws are the sorts of flaws that Broncos DBs feast on. With Chris Ivory out and T.J. Yeldon ailing, the Jags will need to rely on a short passing game to move the ball. With Bortles' down-field struggles, taking deep shots could lead to disaster in the pocket versus Von Miller & Co. Marqise Lee could be in for a big day on short throws and screens. Jacksonville will need the shifty receiver to make plays after the catch.
Jared Goff is attempting to do something no rookie quarterback has done to the Patriots since Bill Belichick took over in 2000: Win a game. The Hooded One is 7-0 versus rookie QBs and his defenses have allowed just four touchdowns to 14 interceptions in those games. Last week, Goff improved immensely from his first start. He displayed a willingness to take shots down the field and showed off his strong arm and accuracy. How Goff reacts to the Patriots changing up pre-snap looks will determine his success rate Sunday. It's not a Patriots D that does a whole lot great individually, but confusing a rookie is a forte.
Losing Rob Gronkowski for the rest of the season is a brutal blow for Tom Brady and the Patriots, but the Pats are nothing if not an adaptable unit. Facing a stout Rams interior pass rush, expect a lot of work from Dion Lewis and James White in the passing game. With Brady still hobbled, it's key to get the ball out quick before Aaron Donald can destroy the line (leads NFL in QB hits (24) and tackles for loss (15) this season). While Gronk's absence wipes away the dynamic two tight-end sets, Josh McDaniels could turn to more two-back sets with Lewis and White getting mismatches on linebackers.
Matthew Stafford leads his Cardiac Cats into the Superdome with a chance to keep a two-game lead in the NFC North with four games to play. Stafford is on pace for a career-best passer rating (99.3) and TD-INT ratio (19-5). Too often, however, Detroit has gone three-and-out. With Drew Brees on the other sideline, the Lions can't afford many empty drives Sunday. The Saints defense has improved since the return of DT Sheldon Rankins and corner Delvin Breaux (allowed under 300 yards in back-to-back games for the first time since 2013). Saints linebackers struggle in coverage, so look for another big game from Theo Riddick.
Brees faces a Lions defense allowing 250.9 pass YPG (14th in NFL), 22 pass TDs (T-27th in NFL), and 106.4 passer rating (worst in NFL). The Saints average 319.5 pass YPG (best in NFL), have 31 pass TDs (most in NFL), and 110.2 passer rating (third in NFL) this season. That, friends, is what we call a mismatch. Brees will find which of his receivers -- Michael Thomas, Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks -- has the advantage on a given play, picking apart a shallow Lions secondary. After Cooks complained this week about a lack of targets, it will be interesting to see if Brees tries to pacify his speedy receiver with a few deep shots. It's Thomas, however, using his size that will have the advantage over corners not named Darius Slay.
Sammy Watkins' return to the lineup last week finally gave the Bills a pass-game threat defenses must respect. Watkins averaged 26.7 yards per reception on three catches in Week 12. With Watkins in the lineup, teams can't put all their money on stopping LeSean McCoy with little fear of losing on the back end. Against an improving Raiders defense that is still susceptible to giving up the big play, Watkins' presence could be a game-changer in Oakland.
Derek Carr will likely take most, if not all, of his snaps from shotgun Sunday due to his dislocated pinky finger. How much the injury affects the quarterback will be something to keep an eye on. If his accuracy is affected and the ground game is stymied by running out of the shotgun, a potent Raiders offense could be slowed. Assuming Carr is fine, he has plus matchups with both Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree against Bills corners that have been toasted plenty this season.
Kirk Cousins is on the warpath to prove he's worth a long-term contract. In the quarterback's last three games, he's completed 72.4 percent of his passes for 362.0 passing YPG (most in NFL), eight touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 124.4 passer rating. Cousins has flaws, but spreads the ball around, finding the best matchup. The loss of Jordan Reed is massive for Cousins, who relies on the tight end's size, especially in the red zone. Arizona has not allowed a 300-plus yard passer this season. Cousins averages 321.8 YPG. Arizona's defense got picked on after the catch last week, which Jamison Crowder could replicate as the Redskins avoid throwing in Patrick Peterson's direction.
Josh Norman head-to-head with Larry Fitzgerald will be fun to watch. The Redskins might let Norman shadow Fitz for the game (just do it, Joe Barry). The corner and receiver both win with physicality, which makes this a true strength-on-strength matchup. Fitzgerald has been the only reliable wide receiver in the Cardinals' offense this season. With 78 receptions, he is on pace for a career-high 113 catches. If Norman is able to negate Fitzgerald (good luck), the Cards offense becomes David Johnson plays and blind shots down the field.
Big Blue fans should kneel at their beds each night and thank whatever deity they pray to for Odell Beckham Jr. Without the otherworldly receiver, Eli Manning would be directing one of the feeblest units in the NFL. Between big Beckham plays, Big Blue rolls out the 31st-ranked running game and a bevy of short or off-target throws from Eli Manning. Against a Steelers secondary allowing 263.5 yards per game through the air (23rd ranked), OBJ should have plenty of chances to continue carrying the Giants offense.
The Giants boast one of the best run-stuffing defensive fronts in the NFL. With the four linemen able to eat up and get off blocks, the Giants aren't required to stuff the box to stop the run. How that strategy plays out Sunday in Pittsburgh could have residual ramifications. Le'Veon Bell is the most patient runner in the NFL, allowing him to skirt through holes other backs never see. If the Giants wall off the line, however, will the Steelers scrap the running game for a quick pass attack? Expect to see a lot of Bell in the pass game matched up on linebackers, where he can win in space and not have to deal with the likes of Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon.
Say what? Stat of the week:Antonio Brown leads the NFL in receptions (82) and is tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns (10) this season. AB needs 13 receptions for the most in any four-season span in NFL history and 294 receiving yards for most in any four-season span.
The world needs Mike Evans versus Casey Hayward. We NEED it. Evans has played at an All-Pro caliber level this season, becoming just the fourth player to reach 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons (Randy Moss, A.J. Green, John Jefferson). The catch-everything receiver also leads the NFL with 10 TDs. Evans ate up Richard Sherman early last week. This go-around he gets the NFL's interception leader in Hayward. The stingy corner has been one of the best free-agent signings of the season, but will have his hands full with Jameis Winston's security blanket.
The Tampa defensive front has dominated the past two weeks, leading to upset wins over the Chiefs and Seahawks. The unit will once again need to lead the way against Philip Rivers' passing attack and the bruising running of Melvin Gordon. Gordon has the second-most offensive touches per game this season (24.6), behind only Le'Veon Bell. The San Diego back is just 92 yards shy of the 1,000-yard barrier for the season. His clashes with Bucs linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander will be epic.
Say what? Stat of the week:Philip Rivers has seven completions of 50-plus yards this season (T-most in NFL) and three passing TDs of 50-plus yards this season (T-most in NFL).
Last season, Panthers tight end Greg Olsen destroyed the Seahawks for 13 receptions, 208 yards and two touchdowns in two meetings. Alas, that was last season. This year, the Carolina offense has struggled through the air and on the ground, with Jonathan Stewart earning zero 100-yard rushing games this season. Cam Newton will need another big day from Olsen against a Seahawks defense that should get Michael Bennett and Earl Thomas back on the field.
The Seattle offensive line has held the team hostage for stretches this season. Last week, the hits clearly rattled Russell Wilson, as the normally heady quarterback made several wild throws. Seattle gets somewhat of a reprieve not having to face Luke Kuechly or Mario Addison (the Panthers' top pass rusher). If Wilson gets time to throw, Jimmy Graham could have a big day versus the Panthers up the seam, where Kuechly normally patrols.
Say what? Stat of the week:Cam Newton has a career-low passer rating of 81.4 this season, ranking 27th in the NFL among 32 qualifying QBs. He is on pace for the worst passer rating by a reigning MVP since Steve McNair in 2004 (73.1 passer rating).
Andrew Luck is on pace to return if cleared through concussion protocol. Assuming he's cleared, the matchup to watch Monday night is T.Y. Hilton versus Darrelle Revis. The Jets' aging corner has been burned repeatedly this season and Hilton's a matchup nightmare even for youthful defensive backs. If the Jets are to keep Hilton in check, they will need to batter Luck with their front seven. The Colts quarterback has been sacked multiple times in every game this season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick remaining the field general in New York could be tied to his play on Monday night. The gunslinger has a great matchup versus a Colts defense allowing the second-most passing yards per game this season (278.7). The improved playmaking of Quincy Enunwa gives Fitzpatrick a second target opposite Brandon Marshall with which to exploit Indy's secondary. If, however, Fitzpatrick implodes on prime-time again, Todd Bowles might have no choice but to make a permanent quarterback change.