Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
Kansas City Chiefs
OUT: C Mitch Morse (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: S Husain Abdullah (concussion, not injury related), LB Dee Ford (concussion, wrist), LB Tamba Hali (thumb, knee)
PROBABLE: G Jeff Allen (ankle), WR Chris Conley (thumb), LB Justin Houston (knee), TE Travis Kelce (groin), WR Jeremy Maclin (hip), T Jah Reid (knee), RB Spencer Ware (rib)
OUT: LB Jadeveon Clowney (foot)
RB Alfred Blue (calf), CB A.J. Bouye (knee), LB Max Bullough (shoulder), S Quintin Demps (shoulder), TE Ryan Griffin (achilles), WR DeAndre Hopkins (hand), CB Kareem Jackson (ankle), CB Kevin Johnson (foot, wrist), C Ben Jones (knee), P Shane Lechler (left hamstring), LB Whitney Mercilus (back), T Derek Newton (elbow, shoulder), RB Chris Polk (knee), WR Cecil Shorts (hamstring), LB John Simon (chest), G Xavier Su'a-Filo (calf), WR Nate Washington (hip), DE J.J. Watt (groin, hand)
Lynch was believed to be a game-time decision but has been downgraded to out for Sunday's game. Getting Chancellor and Okung back will offer a huge boost to a rolling Seahawks squad. Lockett popped up on the injury report this week, but should play.
Green Bay Packers
DOUBTFUL: CB Sam Shields (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: T David Bakhtiari (ankle), LB Jay Elliott (quadricep), DE Datone Jones (neck), TE Justin Perillo (hamstring)
PROBABLE: T Bryan Bulaga (ankle), DT Mike Daniels (hamstring), DT Letroy Guion (foot), RB Eddie Lacy (rib), G T.J. Lang (neck), C Corey Linsley (ankle), LB Clay Matthews (ankle), LB Andy Mulumba (knee), LB Mike Neal (hip), LB Nick Perry (shoulder), CB Damarious Randall (groin), G Josh Sitton (back), G Lane Taylor (knee)
Coach Jay Gruden sounded pessimistic about Jones playing this weekend, but wouldn't rule him out on Friday.
We will update as prognostications drift closer to game times.
Matchups that intrigue
Much has been made of J.J. Watt facing the Chiefs' offensive line and DeAndre Hopkins vs. Marcus Petersmight be my favorite battle of the weekend. However, too little has been made of the Texans losing Duane Brown. The left tackle is the Texans second-most important offensive player behind Hopkins (sorry, Brian Hoyer). Losing Brown could open the flood gates for a Chiefs pass rush which will get Justin Houston (probable) back and ramp up Tamba Hali's snap count after a late-season injury. Hoyer was banged around in Week 17 even before Brown left and ended the game with eight quarterback hits and two sacks. That was against a Jacksonville team with a limp pass rush. I imagine the Chiefs are licking their chops, waiting to tee off with Brown on the sideline. If Kansas City's front swallows up Hoyer -- who already suffered two concussions this season -- the Texans' game plan of targeting Hopkins as many times as humanly possible will get flushed.
When Jordan Reed is healthy and focused there isn't a tight end south of Gronk I like watching more. Reed can run routes with precision, beat up secondary players and outsprint linebackers. He's a monster matchup problem in the red zone and Kirk Cousins uses him as a security blanket in key situations. Reed gobbled up 378 yards and five touchdowns over the past four contests. The Packers have faired well against the few good tight ends they have faced in 2015 -- holding Jason Witten to 40 yards and Greg Olsen to 66. Green Bay also boasts the sixth-best pass defense in the NFL. Expect to see the Pack deploy safeties often against Reed, especially in passing situations (and pray for poor Jake Ryan if he ever ends up one-on-one with the athletic pass catcher). With the Packers offense sputtering, the defense will need to lead if Mike McCarthy's crew is going to overcome the stormy cloud hanging over his team. Shutting down Reed is key to that entire endeavor, if it can be done.
Did You Know?
Conference Seed of Eventual Super Bowl Winners Since 1990
1 Seeds: 2014 Patriots; 2013 Seahawks; 2009 Saints; 2003 Patriots; 1999 Rams; 1998 Broncos; 1996 Packers; 1995 Cowboys; 1994 49ers; 1993 Cowboys; 1991 Redskins
2 Seeds: 2008 Steelers; 2004 Patriots; 2002 Buccaneers; 2001 Patriots; 1992 Cowboys; 1990 Giants
3 Seeds: 2006 Colts
4 Seeds: 2012 Ravens; 2011 Giants; 2000 Ravens; 1997 Broncos
5 Seeds: 2007 Giants
6 Seeds: 2010 Packers; 2005 Steelers
Eleven of the top 12 teams in scoring defense this season ore in the playoffs: Seahawks (1st; 17.3); Bengals (2nd; 17.4); Chiefs (3rd; 17.9); Broncos (4th; 18.5); Vikings (5th 18.9); Panthers (6th; 19.3); Cardinals (T-7th; 19.6); Texans (T-7th; 19.6); Patriots (10th; 19.7); Steelers (11th; 19.9); Packers (12th; 20.2).
Best Passer Rating, Playoff QBs This Season
Russell Wilson: 110.1
Andy Dalton: 106.3
Carson Palmer 104.6
Tom Brady 102.2
Kirk Cousins 101.6
Cam Newton 99.4
AJ McCarron 97.1
Alex Smith 95.4
Ben Roethlisberger 94.5
Aaron Rodgers 92.7
Brian Hoyer 91.4
Teddy Bridgewater 88.7
Brock Osweiler 86.4
Peyton Manning 67.9
*will not start team's first playoff game.
Most Career Playoff Starts Among 2015 Playoff QBs
Tom Brady: 29
Peyton Manning: 24
Ben Roethlisberger: 15
Aaron Rodgers: 11
Russell Wilson: 8
Andy Dalton: 4
Cam Newton: 3
Alex Smith: 3
Carson Palmer: 2
AJ McCarron: 0
Brock Osweiler: 0
Brian Hoyer: 0
Teddy Bridgewater: 0
Kirk Cousins: 0
*will not start team's first playoff game.
Alex Smith: 65.3 comp pct, 217.9 YPG, 20 TD, 7 INT, 95.4 passer rating. Second-highest passer rating of career (104.1 in 2012). Career-high for passing yards in a season (3,486). Smith had 498 rush yards this season (career-high). Smith averaged 6.7 air yards per attempt this season, the second fewest in NFL (Matthew Stafford, 6.5). 84.0 percent of Smith's pass attempts were less than 15 air yards this season - second highest percent in NFL (Matthew Stafford, 84.5 percent).
Smith has nine pass TD and zero INT in his postseason career, the most pass TD of any QB with 0 career postseason INT.
Charcandrick West: 160 carries, 634 yards, 4 TD (4.0 yards per carry). 56.7 scrimmage yards per game in last 5 games.
Jamaal Charles fumbled three times on 92 touches this season (1 every 30.7 touches). All other K.C. RBs fumbled once on a combined 293 touches this season.
Marcus Peters: 60 tackles, 8 INTs, 26 passes defensed, 2 INTs return for TD. Tied for the most INTs in NFL (Bengals S Reggie Nelson) and T-most passes defensed in NFL (Raiders CB David Amerson). Allowed an opposing passer rating of 55.5 this season -- seventh best among CBs, min. 40 targets. Peters was the most-targeted defender in the NFL this season (134).
Justin Houston (expected to play after missing final five games of season with a knee injury): 7.5 sacks, 13 QB hits, 2 INT (in 11 games). Houston's fewest sacks since his rookie season (5.5 in 2011).
Houston's offense ranks 21st in the NFL in scoring (21.2 PPG), the lowest among all playoff teams. Ranks 19th in total YPG (347.8), 15th in rush YPG (108.2) and 18th in pass YPG (239.6). Scored 30-plus points in each of last two games -- scored 30-plus points in just one other game this season.
Brian Hoyer: 60.7 comp pct, 236.9 YPG, 19 TD, 7 INT, 91.4 passer rating. Hoyer has not thrown multiple interceptions in any game this season. Multiple TD passes in seven games. Averaged 9.5 air yards per attempt this season (T-6th most among 33 qualifying QBs).
Hopkins is the second receiver in NFL history age 23 or younger with 1,500-plus receiving yards and 11-plus receiving TDs in a season (joining Isaac Bruce, 1995). Hopkins has posted a 100-yard receiving game with four different starting QBs this season. He's the first player since at least 1950 to accomplish that feat. Hopkins had 60 receptions of 10-plus air yards this season (most in NFL).
DeAndre Hopkins When Targeted with a Rookie in Coverage (Career)
Passer Rating: 98.8
Alfred Blue: 183 carries, 698 rush yards (3.8 avg), 2 TD. Three 100-plus yard rushing games this season (career high) -- 100-plus rushing yards in two of the last three games.
J.J. Watt has 101 QB hits over the last two seasons. Since QB hits were first tracked in 2006, Jared Allen is the only other player in the league to amass 100-plus QB hits over a three-year span (2007-09 & 2008-10). Watt has been even more dominant at home than on the road. Watt racked up 19 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, and 36 QB hits in eight home games this season. In eight road games, Watt still posted splits of 10 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, and 14 QB hits.
Under the radar players to watch:
Texans RB Akeem Hunt: The rookie is the Texans best back in space. While Jonathan Grimes takes most of the pass-catching snaps in the backfield, Hunt is the one with the big-play potential. In a game set up for a slugfest, a homerun threat is key. I expect the speedy rookie to get looks in screen situation trying to get him in space.
Chiefs LB Dee Ford: With Justin Houston's injury, Ford has leapt to the forefront of the Chiefs' defense -- though he himself is questionable. Ford compiled four sacks over the final four contests of the season. Facing a questionable Texans offensive line, the second-year pro is a candidate to burst into the national consciousness with a big game.
In the second half of the season, after getting Ben Roethlisberger back from injury, Pittsburgh averaged 10.9 more PPG (31.9 versus 21.0), and had more pass YPG in their final eight games (352.0) than total YPG in their first eight contests (349.1).
Big Ben struggled in his two games against the Bengals this season, throwing 1 TD and 4 INTs as the teams split their season series. Against the rest of the league, Roethlisberger was 7-3 with 20 TDs and 12 INTs -- includes his game in relief of Landry Jones. In two games versus Cincinnati, Roethlisberger did not reach 300 passing yards (262 and 282, respectively).
The Steelers offensive ranks: 3rd in the NFL in total YPG (395.4) and pass YPG (287.7); T-4th in PPG (26.4); 16th in rush YPG (107.8).
Antonio Brown: 136 receptions, 1,834 yards, 10 TD. Brown finished season T-most receptions (136), second most receiving yards (1,834). Tied with Julio Jones on receptions and behind Jones in receiving yards. Fifth time in NFL history a player has had 120-plus receptions, 1,600-plus yards and 9-plus TD receptions (Brown has two of the five).
Martavis Bryant: 50 receptions, 765 yards, 6 TD (11 games). No TD in last 4 games -- longest streak of career without a TD.
Fitzgerald Toussaint Week 17 at CLE: 12 carries, 24 rushing yards (2.0 yards per carry) -- 12 career carries entering Week 17.
The Steelers are 11th in scoring defense this season (19.9 PPG), while ranking 21st in total defense. Earned the sixth-ranked red zone defense in the NFL and tied for the NFL lead with seven red zone takeaways (with Saints and Jets). Pittsburgh allowed the most passing YPG in franchise history (271.9).
The Bengals have not won a playoff game since the 1990 season. Their 24-year streak without a playoff win is the longest active streak in the league and the 6th longest in NFL history. All five of the Bengals playoff wins in franchise history have come at home. Cincinnati has never won a postseason game in which they trailed at any point -- 0-13 in such games.
Marvin Lewis is 0-6 in his playoff career, all with the Bengals. He is currently tied with Jim Mora Sr. for the worst playoff record among head coaches in playoff history.
Bengals offensive ranks: 7th in PPG (26.2); 13th in rush YPG (112.8); 15th in total YPG (358.0) and pass YPG (245.2).
McCarron will have the fewest starts (3) of anyone to make first playoff start since Joe Webb (2) with the Vikings in 2012. QBs with three or fewer career starts are 2-5 in first playoff start. (Gifford Nielsen, Houston in 1979, and Ron Jaworski, Los Angeles in 1975, account for the only wins of the group.)
A.J. Green: 86 receptions, 1,297 yards, 10 TD. Six TD in last six games (TD in five of six games). Four 100-yard games this season -- all against division teams (2 versus PIT, at BAL and at CLE). Green has yet to score a TD in his playoff career.
The Bengals owned NFL's No. 2 scoring defense this season (17.4 PPG allowed) despite ranking just 11th in total defense (340.8 total YPG). Ranked T-6th in takeaways (28), 7th in rush defense (92.3), T-9th in sacks (42) and 20th in pass YPG (248.5).
Under the radar players to watch:
Steelers DE Stephon Tuitt: While the Steelers' secondary has been scorched this season, the front is solid, with second-year pro Stpehon Tuitt cut from playmaking cloth. The defensive end is second on the team in sacks with 6.5 (behind Cameron Hayward's 7). If Tuitt is pushing the pocket against a good Bengals offensive line, AJ McCarron's life will become hell.
History doesn't like the Vikings chances:
The Seahawks beat the Vikings 38-7 in Week 13 of this season, in a game that was both Seattle's biggest victory of the season and Minnesota's worst loss. Seventeen previous teams have lost to a team by 30-plus points in the regular season and then faced the same opponent again in the playoffs. Only seven of those 17 teams turned the tables for a postseason win.
The Seahawks are 8-2 in their last 10 games after starting the season 2-4:
First 6 games: 22.3 PPG; 20.8 PPG allowed; +2 turnover differential.
Last 10 games: 28.9 PPG; 15.2 PPG allowed; +5 turnover differential.
The Seahawks are the only team this season to rank Top 5 in total offense (4th), scoring offense (T-4th), total defense (2nd), and scoring defense (1st).
Russell Wilson: 68.1 comp pct, 251.5 YPG, 34 TD, 8 INT, 110.1 passer rating. Led the NFL this season with a passer rating of 110.1 (Seahawks record). First Seattle player to lead NFL in passer rating. Wilson set the Seahawks' single-season records in several major categories (TD, passing yards, passer rating, comp pct, TD-INT ratio).
Wilson became the first player in NFL history to record 4,000-plus passing yards, 30-plus passing touchdowns, and 500-plus rushing yards in a single season.
Wilson has as many TD passes in his last 11 games (28) as Teddy Bridgewater has in his entire career (28 TDs in 29 games).
Wilson has 24 passing touchdowns and one interception in his last seven games. He is the only player in NFL history with 24-plus passing TDs and one or fewer interceptions in any seven-game span within a season.
Wilson has a better winning percentage in the playoffs (.750) than he does in the regular season (.719).
Wilson had a passer rating of 121.1 versus the blitz this season -- highest in NFL this season. The Vikings blitz on 25.2 percent of pass plays (19th-most in NFL). This season, Wilson led all QBs in passer rating on throws from inside the pocket (119.7, min. 50 attempts) -- 32 TDs, 7 INTs.
Marshawn Lynch has missed the last seven games with an abdomen injury, but is expected to return. Lynch has rushed for 100-plus yards in six of 10 career playoff games (60 percent), a percentage higher than every player with at least five postseason games in NFL history except for Terrell Davis (87.5 percent) and John Riggins (66.7 percent).
Lynch this season: 111 carries, 417 rushing yards, 3 TD - 15.8 carries/game, 59.6 YPG.
Doug Baldwin: 78 receptions, 1,069 receiving yards, 14 TDs. Most receiving TDs in a single season in Seattle franchise history -- Tied for most in NFL this season (Allen Robinson, Brandon Marshall). Baldwin has 11 TD receptions in his last six games --11 TD receptions in his previous 43 games combined. Baldwin was responsible for the NFL's top passer rating when targeted this season (139.9).
The Seahawks were the only team in the NFL that did not allow an individual 100-yard rusher this season, while Adrian Peterson led the NFL with seven 100-yard rushing games. The last running back to register 100-plus yards against Seattle was Jamaal Charles -- Week 11, 2014. The Seahawks defense faced three players that finished Top 5 in rushing yards (Darren McFadden, Peterson and Todd Gurley). Held those Top 5 rushers to 3.5 yards/carry.
Seattle boasts the No. 1 scoring defense (17.3 PPG) and No. 2 total defense (291.8 YPG). Ranks first in first in rush YPG allowed (81.5), 2nd in pass YPG (210.3) and 4th in third down percent (33.9).
Richard Sherman: 2 INT, 14 passes defensed (led team) this season. Allowed 4 TDs in coverage this season and a 84.3 passer rating in coverage this season (45th in NFL among all players with at least 40 defensive targets).
Vikings offensive ranks: 4th in rush YPG (138.2); 16th in PPG (22.8); 29th in total YPG (321.2); 31st in pass YPG (183.0).
Adrian Peterson led the NFL in rushing yards this season (1,485 yards), while the Seahawks led the NFL in rushing defense (81.5 rush YPG). It will be the 10th time that the NFL's rushing yards leader squares off against the NFL's top rushing defense in the playoffs. In those games, the rushing leader is 4-5 and has never tallied 100-plus yards on the ground.
Peterson had eight carries for 18 yards in Week 13 versus the Seahawks. He set or matched his season lows in carries, yards, and yards/carry (2.3), and finished with the third lowest rushing total of his 124-game career (including playoffs).
Teddy Bridgewater: 65.3 comp pct, 201.9 YPG, 14 TD, 9 INT, 88.7 passer rating. Among all QBs to start 16 games this season, Bridgewater had the fewest TD passes -- next fewest: Alex Smith with 20. Vikings went 7-0 this season Bridgewater had 25 or fewer pass attempts -- 4-5 when Bridgewater had more than 25 pass attempts.
Bridgewater is 1-4 against Top 5 scoring defenses, with 3 TDs, 8 INTs, and a passer rating of 63.5.
Mike Wallace: 39 receptions, 473 receiving yards, 2 TD. Career lows in receiving yards and TD, tied a career low in receptions.
Under the radar players to watch:
Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes: Rhodes' season has been a tale of two halves. He struggled for much of the year, but was a lockdown corner the final seven games. Facing Doug Baldwin -- the hottest receiver in the NFL right now -- will be a tall task. If the Vikings are to pull off the upset, Rhodes needs to play the game of his career.
After a 6-0 start when the Packers were scoring 27.3 PPG, they scored just 20.4 PPG in their final 10 games, losing six of those contests.
Packers ranked 23rd in total offense (334.6 total YPG) this season. Had not ranked 20th or worse in total offense since 1991 (ranked 24th). Third down conversion rate of 33.7 percent (28th in NFL) this season is the worst rate by GB in a season since 1987 (31.3).
Packers have fewer than 275 passing yards in seven straight games, the longest streak with fewer than 275 passing yards by Green Bay since Weeks 9-15, 2005 (seven straight games). Fewer than 300 total yards in three games this season.
Rodgers: 60.7 comp pct, 238.8 YPG, 31 TD, 8 INT, 92.7 passer rating. Rodgers finished the season with his first sub-100 passer rating in a season since 2008, his first year as starter. His 92.7 passer rating in 2015 was the lowest of his career as a starter. Posted a passer rating below 100.0 in 10 straight games.
Rodgers was hit 101 times this season (most in season in his career). The Packers allowed 47 sacks this season (28th in NFL). Since Week 9, no team has allowed more sacks than GB (33); Rodgers has been hit 72 times in that span.
Rodgers has not thrown for 3-plus pass TD in eight straight games -- the longest streak of his career.
Eddie Lacy: 187 carries, 758 rush yards, 3 TD (4.1 yards/carry). After having 124 rush yards versus Dallas in Week 14, Lacy has 117 rush yards in the last three games combined.
Randall Cobb: 79 receptions, 829 receiving yards, 6 TDs. Cobb has not had a 100-yard game since Week 2 versus Seattle. The 14-game streak without a 100-yard game is his longest drought since he didn't have 100-plus yards in his first 20 career games.
The Green Bay defense allowed 227.6 pass YPG this season (6th in NFL). Rank 12th in PPG allowed (20.2), 15th in total YPG (346.7) and 21st in rush YPG (119.1). Packers allowed an opposing passer rating of 65.7 in the final four games.
The Redskins went 3-5 during the first half of the season, scoring 19.8 PPG. They turned it on down the stretch, scoring 28.8 PPG and going 6-2 in their final eight games.
Washington has scored 30-plus points and gained 400-plus yards in each of their last three games, winning them all. The Redskins have just one turnover in those three games.
All nine Redskins wins this season came versus teams that finished .500 or worse. Went 0-2 versus playoff teams, both on the road (44-16 loss at Carolina; 27-10 loss at New England).
Redskins offensive ranks: 10th in PPG (24.3); 11th in pass YPG (255.9); 17th in total YPG (353.8); 20th in rush YPG (97.9).
Kirk Cousins: 69.8 comp pct, 260.4 pass YPG, 29 TD, 11 INT, 101.6 passer rating. Cousins has six straight games with a 100-plus passer rating, the longest active streak.
Cousins led the NFL in completion percentage this season (69.8). He also led the NFL with a 126.1 passer rating in the final eight games this season. In fact, that's the third highest passer rating for any player in the final eight games of a 16-game season (since 1978), behind only Tom Brady when he was the MVP in 2010 (128.2) and Nick Foles in 2013 (126.3).
Yes, Kirk, we do: Cousins had thrown 24 TDs and 27 INTs prior to the "You Like That?!" game against the Buccaneers this season. Including that game and ever since, Cousins has thrown 23 TDs and 3 INTs.
Cousins has been more efficient with Jordan Reed on the field this season:
With Reed: 421 pass plays; 7.7 pass yards/attempt; 24-4 TD-INT ratio; 111.9 passer rating
Without Reed: 148 pass plays; 6.2 pass yards/attempt; 5-7 TD-INT ratio; 73.3 passer rating.
DeSean Jackson: 30 receptions, 528 yards, 4 TD. Jackson had one 100-yard game this season (Week 15 vs BUF) -- fewest 100-yard games in a season in his career.
Even though they won all three games, Washington allowed 454.0 YPG in their final three games this season. That's the second most in the league over that span, behind only the Eagles.
Under the radar players to watch:
Packers WR Jeff Janis: Who else but the people's champ? Packers' fans love Janis despite his struggles. Even if he doesn't play a big role stretching the defense, at the very least you can count on the receiver to make several spectacular special teams plays. The Redskins aren't exactly a staple of good special teams play. Janis could provide a big hit causing a fumble or a big return that would turn the tide Sunday.
Redskins DE Chris Baker: Ryan Kerrigan gets the sacks and publicity, but come Sunday Baker will be key in Washington corralling Aaron Rodgers. Baker is third on the team in sacks with 6 and the front's best run-stuffer. The Packers' offensive line played better in Week 17 than it has down the stretch, but Baker is a player who could give Rodgers and Eddie Lacy trouble.