Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
Casey has been held out of practice all week.
Rex Ryan expects both Watkins and Woods to play.
Reed's status will depend on pain tolerance and he'll be a game-time decision. How much he'll play if he suits up is up in the air.
Brown was limited on Thursday and Friday as he continues to battle health issues this season.
Wilson and Bellamy were limited on Friday; their statuses are notable with Eddie Royal doubtful to play.
Based on reports out of Detroit, Jones sounds like he's ready to return. Levy might also be back in action.
Clowney said he expects to play this week.
Ivory returned to practice limited on Friday after missing last week's loss.
Ingram and Thomas returned to practice on a limited basis Friday, putting both on track to play Sunday.
McCoy returned to practice on Friday but was limited.
The kicker was full-go Friday.
Matthews expects to play. Of note: Aaron Rodgers was not on the injury report after dealing with a hamstring injury the past two weeks.
Church was full-go all week. Lawrence sat out. The rest were limited in practice.
All were designated as limited on Friday.
Yanda was a full participant in practice.
We are entering the 'wintry mix' portion of the NFL schedule with 13 outdoor games this week. We will update Sunday prognostications for all non-dome contests as we drift closer to game time.
Steelers at Bills -- 29 degrees -- chance of snow flurries late (53 percent)
Broncos at Titans -- 52 degrees
Saints at Buccaneers -- 79 degrees
Redskins at Eagles -- 34 degrees
Cardinals at Dolphins -- 76 degrees -- chance of rain (44 percent), winds up to 15 mph
Chargers at Panthers -- 44 degrees
Bengals at Browns -- 30 degrees -- chance of snow (53 percent), winds up to 13 mph
Vikings at Jaguars -- 70 degrees
Jets at 49ers -- 55 degrees
Falcons at Rams -- 67 degrees
Seahawks at Packers -- 29 degrees - chance of snow (67 percent)
Cowboys at Giants -- 34 degrees
Ravens at Patriots (MNF) -- 37 degrees
What to Watch For
Have the Pittsburgh Steelers finally found their field-stretching complement to Antonio Brown? Ladarius Green has caught four passes of 30-plus yards and a 20-yard touchdown in the past two weeks. The athletic tight end provides a deep threat up the seam that Ben Roethlisberger can exploit. It's not a coincidence Big Ben has thrown eight touchdowns to one interception with a 110.3 passer rating since Green entered the lineup. The Bills have given up 693 yards to tight ends this season (14th most). With Green doing his most damage from the slot last week, he will be a matchup problem for Rex Ryan's linebackers and safeties.
All week Tyrod Taylor has endured questions about his struggles throwing the ball and his future with the Bills. If the quarterback is to silence the doubters down the stretch, it will need to start Sunday against a Steelers secondary that allows 256.3 yards passing per game but has improved in recent weeks. Given the criticism this week, expect Taylor to press the ball down the field to Sammy Watkins perhaps more than normal in an attempt to prove he's more than an off-script, scrambling quarterback.
Melvin Gordon seems to get stronger by the week. The snow-plowing running back will take the next step in his young career by blasting past the 1,000-yard barrier (eight yards shy). Gordon has 100-plus scrimmage yards in six of 12 games this season and became the first Chargers player with 10-plus rushing TDs in a single season since Mike Tolbert (now with Carolina) in 2010 (11). On Sunday, Gordon faces a stout test against a Panthers front allowing just 92.8 rushing yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry. With Luke Kuechly still out with a concussion, Gordon's task of carrying the load becomes easier.
Cam Newton's game-day dress is not the problem with the Panthers this season. Protecting the quarterback is the main issue in Carolina. The Panthers' offensive line has given up 75 quarterback hits and 27 sacks. Sunday they face pocket-wrecking rookie Joey Bosa -- two-plus QB hits in six of eight games this season. Cam doesn't go down easy, so the Newton vs. Bosa clashes could be epic.
Say what? Stat of the week: The Panthers' defense has allowed 500-plus total yards three times this season. Carolina only allowed two 500-yard games in the first 21 years of the franchise's history (1995-2015).
Andy Dalton is coming off a spectacular Week 13 game, earning a season-high 130.0 passer rating despite the absence of A.J. Green (23-31, 332 pass yards, 2 TD, 0 INT). Last time Dalton faced the Browns this season, he torched Cleveland's secondary for 308 passing yards and a 128.3 passer rating. Expect another big week from Dalton as he spreads the ball around. The Browns have allowed 791 yards and nine touchdowns to tight ends this season. Sunday screams a big day for Tyler Eifert.
Robert Griffin III returns to action for the Browns. In Week 1 he put up one of the worst games from a quarterback this season before getting injured. Against an improving Bengals defense, the prospects aren't good for a grand return for RGIII. One big question is how Griffin suiting up will influence Terrelle Pryor. The big-play wideout has been sensational this season, but was held to a season-low 18 yards on two catches by Cincinnati in their Week 7 matchup. If Griffin can't hit big plays Sunday, Cleveland has no shot at getting off the schneid.
Jordan Howard is the engine that runs the Bears' offense. Matt Barkley is the test-car driver working the pedals on a closed track. The journeyman backup steered Chicago's offense well enough versus the Titans' and 49ers' limp secondaries, compiling 254 passing yards per game with three touchdowns, two red zone interceptions and a 78.0 passer rating. Barkley starts the first road game of his career Sunday in Detroit against a Lions defense that has given up just 16.3 points per game in the past six contests. Facing Teryl Austin's schemes is the first true test for Barkley.
Matthew Stafford put on his worst performance of the season in Week 4 versus Vic Fangio's defense, earning 5.9 yards per attempt on 36 throws with two interceptions and zero touchdowns in the loss. Since then, the Lions quarterback has completed 67.5 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns, one interception and a 104.2 passer rating. Facing a banged-up Bears defense missing two starting linebackers, Stafford will target the middle of the field often on short throws getting his pass catchers in space Sunday.
Sunday's winner has the inside track to the AFC South title.
In the Texans' Week 6 come-from-behind victory over the Colts, Brock Osweiler played his best stretch this season when Houston went up-tempo in the fourth quarter. Bill O'Brien should attempt to replicate that performance by allowing his quarterback to quicken the pace more consistently on Sunday versus a banged-up Indianapolis defense that is without several key contributors, including Robert Mathis and D'Qwell Jackson. Osweiler has not had a game with a passer rating over 100.0 this season. Changing the offensive script Sunday might be the only way to coax a productive game from Brock.
T.Y. Hilton recaptured his mind-meld with Andrew Luck. In the past three games Luck has started, Hilton has amassed 20 receptions for 325 yards and a touchdown. Hilton's 1,088 receiving yards this season ranks second in NFL behind Julio Jones (1,253). The speedy wideout faces a stiff test Sunday versus the fifth-ranked Houston pass defense, allowing just 208.4 yards per game. If Houston bottles up Hilton -- fewer than 100 receiving yards and 0 TDs in the last four meetings versus the Texans -- the Colts offense could sputter in a big spot.
Sam Bradford is on pace for career bests in completion percentage (71.2), TD-INT ratio (13-3) and passer rating (97.5). He has not been the Vikings' problem this year. Despite facing a two-win team Sunday, Bradford's day won't be a walk in the park. The Jags boast the NFL's No. 2 pass defense, allowing 195.8 yards per game. Gus Bradley's unit tackles well on the second level, so the Vikings' short passing attack will struggle after the catch with the likes of Pro Bowl candidate Telvin Smith patrolling.
If the Vikings are to keep their withering playoff hopes alive, they will do it on defense. Mike Zimmer's D has held opponents below 20 points seven times this season, tied for the most in the NFL. The Blake Bortles-led offense has been a train wreck this year because of terrible play by the quarterback. Thanks to many wayward passes, Allen Robinson owns the second-worst reception percentage among 61 receivers this season (min. 70 targets) at 48.3 percent. Only his teammate, Allen Hurns (out Sunday), has a worse percentage (46.1). Facing shut-down corner Xavier Rhodes doesn't bode well for a breakout game from Robinson.
It's David Johnson Feast Week. Or is that every week? The multifaceted running back has earned five games of 150-plus scrimmage yards this season (T-most in NFL, Ezekiel Elliott) and six games this season with two-plus TDs (most in NFL). Johnson and Marshall Faulk are the only two players with 1,000 rush yards and 700 receiving yards through the first 12 games of a season since 1950. Johnson faces a Dolphins defense on Sunday allowing 130.3 rushing yards per game, third-most in the NFL. With rain in Miami likely, Johnson could add mudder to his resume after plowing through the Dolphins.
Johnson isn't the only back in for a big day in Miami. Jay Ajayi's powering style has been particularly on display at home this season. Ajayi has averaged 107.3 yards per game with seven rushing scores in Miami. After averaging just 53.0 rushing yards per game in the past two outings, the Dolphins need a resurgence. The Cards shut down the passing attack (no 300-plus passing yard games this season) making it vital for Ajayi to carry the offense if the Dolphins are to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Kirk Cousins is set up for a big day. The Eagles' defense has disappeared, earning zero sacks in back-to-back games and giving up at least 26 points in each of the past three contests. When Cousins has time, he's surgical. Against an Eagles defense that coordinator Jim Schwartz admitted this week is getting subpar play for its corners, DeSean Jackson should be in for a huge outing against his former outfit.
Carson Wentz needs a good stretch run to enter the offseason with some positive momentum. The rookie has thrown 7 TDs and 11 INTs, with a total of 13 giveaways in his last nine games. The Eagles have been held under 20 points each of the last three games. Getting Jordan Matthews back (questionable, ankle) could be a big boon. The Redskins struggle versus slot receivers (where Josh Norman doesn't roam), opening the door for Wentz to recapture some of his early season magic across the middle.
Say what? Stat of the week: Since Week 6, the Redskins own the NFL's best total offense, ranking first in total YPG (456.1), passing YPG (330.1) and third down percentage (53.6).
Trevor Siemian's status (questionable, foot) remains up in the air. The Broncos desperately need the seventh-round quarterback to return. Denver's pass game was non-existent last week with Paxton Lynch. Siemian had been a plus for the Broncos prior to his injury. Once coach Gary Kubiak unshackled his second-year quarterback, Siemian showed a willingness to stretch the field, solid accuracy and good arm strength. He threw two-plus touchdowns in his past three starts. The Titans are stout against the run, but susceptible to the pass, giving up 270.3 yards per game this season.
Marcus Mariota has been magnificent since shaking off some early season struggles. The quarterback owns the best passer rating in the NFL since Week 5 (117.7) and earned two-plus passing TDs in eight straight games (longest streak in franchise history). Mariota's deep ball has been a difference maker this season, completing 22 of 48 passes of 20 or more air yards. Picking apart the Packers, Colts and Bears is a much different task than taking on the Broncos 'No Fly Zone' secondary. Denver's D ranks first in passing YPG allowed (192.7), passer rating (68.6), yards per play (4.7), sacks (36) and QB hits (95). Mariota has the offensive line to help keep him clean but will need to be pinpoint accurate versus Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. & Co. Expect a ton of runs with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry right at the vulnerable heart of the Denver defense.
The biggest battle in the Bay Area on Sunday is for draft positioning.
Bryce Petty starts his four-game tryout to close the season. The Baylor product remains raw but is at his best in the shotgun unleashing deep heaves into space. Facing a banged-up 49ers secondary that made Matt Barkley look good might be Petty's best chance to show he has a future in the NFL. Hopefully, the Jets let the young passer air the ball out on Sunday. If Todd Bowles' team is going to crash and burn, at least let the fans have a little fun watching Petty sling the pigskin first.
Colin Kaepernick got his starting gig back after a four-yard passing day in Chicago last week. He'll get a good matchup to show Week 13 was an aberration after several solid starts. New York's secondary gets burned more than jet fuel around the holidays. If Kap can't (or won't) push the ball down the field Sunday, it won't happen this year.
Let's quickly move on from this depressing matchup.
Russell Wilson gets a juicy matchup to continue his hot streak. The Seahawks quarterback is on pace for a career high in pass YPG (261.8). In Seattle's eight wins this season, Wilson has averaged 282.4 pass yards per game with a 12-2 TD-to-INT ratio. Wilson leads the most dynamic offense of his career with Doug Baldwin able to win on any route, Tyler Lockett finally healthy and stretching the field, and Jimmy Graham a matchup nightmare in the red zone. The Packers stiffened the past two games (not coincidentally coinciding with Damarious Randall's return), allowing 13 points in each contest. But slowing Philadelphia and Houston is not the same as keeping Wilson quiet.
Aaron Rodgers caught a break not having to face All-Pro safety Earl Thomas. Expect Rodgers to test replacement Steven Terrell right out of the gate. Jordy Nelson deep and Randall Cobb on intermediate routes over the middle could be the biggest beneficiaries of Thomas' absence on Sunday. Rodgers has been sublime of late, earning a passer rating of 104.6 from Weeks 7-13. Even without Thomas, the Seahawks defense isn't a noodle salad. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril could wreak havoc even against a stout Packers offensive line. If Rodgers is flushed from the pocket often, his tender hamstring could become a problem in the snow.
Say what? Stat of the week:Richard Sherman has 4 INTs this season (T-4th most in NFL) and allowed a 60.0 passer rating in coverage this season, per Next Gen Stats, with a 52.4 completion percentage and 2 TD allowed.
No one questions whether the Falcons can score. Atlanta leads the NFL in PPG (32.2) and is third in total YPG (412.0). Much of this year we've spent boasting about the diversity of the Falcons offense under Kyle Shanahan. That will be put to the test this week. Mohamed Sanu is out and Julio Jones (questionable, turf toe) is ailing. If Jones sits, will Matt Ryan be as effective against the Rams? With the questions at receiver, expect a heavy dose of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Playoff teams win on the road at less than 100 percent. If the Falcons are going to do damage in January, Ryan needs to show he can beat a bad team without all his weapons.
If the Rams are capable of taking the training wheels off Jared Goff (we question whether this coaching staff is capable of using a screwdriver on training wheels), Sunday is the day. The Falcons defense allows a league-worst 280.8 passing yards per game and, despite Vic Beasley's surge, still struggles to push the pocket consistently. Goff's got the best matchup of his young career Sunday and the Rams need to let the rookie take his shots. When he's pressured, Goff should be able to dump the ball to his running backs. Atlanta allows the most receiving yards to running backs this season (779) by a wide margin (Steelers, 626).
Say what? Stat of the week:Devonta Freeman has fewer than 80 rushing yards in seven straight games -- one 100-yard rushing game this season.
This wins my award for sneaky-good matchup of the week. Drew Brees is coming off the worst performance of his season, tossing three interceptions, and faces a defense that has put on its best stints of the season. I have been especially impressed with rookie Vernon Hargreaves lately. The corner is displaying why he was a first-round pick and coaches trust the rookie alongside Brent Grimes. The duo will have a tough assignment slowing Michael Thomas, Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks on Sunday. Brees isn't one to put up stinkers in back-to-back weeks. The quarterback is 87 yards from his 11th straight 4,000-yard season. Can the Bucs badger Brees into another bad game and solidify their playoff positioning?
Jameis Winston has 15 TDs and 4 INTs over his last eight games with a 90-plus passer rating in nine of 12 contests this season. The franchise quarterback is learning how to manage an offense, make the right reads at the line of scrimmage and mitigate some of the head-shaking decisions. Winston's play under pressure has been particularly impressive. His QBR under pressure this year is 87.1, which sits 21 points higher than anyone else and highest since data for QBR has been tracked, per ESPN. Saints DC Dennis Allen loves to blitz -- Matthew Stafford burned him on it last week -- so Winston's play under pressure will be vital.
Say what? Stat of the week:Michael Thomas leads all rookies in targets (89), receptions (69), receiving yards (831) and receiving TD (7).
Colleague Conor Orr blasted a full-fledged post on this titan matchup. With that in mind, I'll be brief. Two things I'm looking for: 1) How Ezekiel Elliot's improved patience from Week 1 pays off versus a stout Giants run D. 2) Can Eli Manning make enough on-target deep throws to puncture the Dallas defense?
Joe Flacco unfurled his best game of the season last week, piling up 381 passing yards, four touchdowns and a 119.2 passer rating. The Ravens quarterback finally found a surgical gear, distributing the ball to a multitude of targets on short routes. With the Ravens ditching the run game, Flacco will need to be precise again against an opportunistic Patriots defense. Finally getting a healthy offensive line, the Ravens can play a grind-out game that keeps Tom Brady on the sideline.
Good news for Baltimore: The Ravens own the No. 1 ranked defense. Bad news for Baltimore: Tom Brady kills No. 1 ranked defenses at Gillette. Brady is 6-0 in his career at home versus teams with the No. 1 total defense, compiling a 66.2 completion percentage, 334.2 passing yards per game, a 12-3 TD-INT ratio and 99.9 passer rating. Facing a studly Ravens front seven, expect Brady to attempt to pick apart Baltimore secondary on a bevy of short strikes to Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and surging rookie Malcolm Mitchell.