Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
Indianapolis Colts: OUT: OT Denzelle Good (knee), CB Rashaan Melvin (hand), WR Donte Moncrief (ankle), TE Brandon Williams (concussion)
Baltimore Ravens: CB Maurice Canady (knee), DT Carl Davis (shoulder), S Anthony Levine (thigh), T Ronnie Stanley (illness)
The Ravens listed WR Jeremy Maclin (knee) as doubtful to play. Stanley should be available Saturday after missing Thursday's walkthrough with an illness.
Reiff was limited on Wednesday and Thursday. Sendejo was full-go on Thursday.
Green Bay Packers: G Jahri Evans (knee), CB Davon House (shoulder, back), LB Clay Matthews (hamstring)
Matthews and Evans sat out all week. House was a limited participant. The Packers listed LB Nick Perry (ankle, shoulder) as doubtful to play. WR Davante Adams (concussion) and CB Demetri Goodson (hamstring) were ruled out.
Julio Jones (ankle, thumb) should be good to go after returning to practice a limited capacity on Thursday.
Buffalo Bills: WR Kelvin Benjamin (knee), CB E.J. Gaines (knee), G John Miller (ankle), TE Nick O'Leary (back), DT Kyle Williams (groin)
Benjamin was limited on Friday and Thursday after sitting out practice Wednesday.
New England Patriots: WR Chris Hogan (shoulder), DE Eric Lee (ankle), WR Matt Slater (hamstring), LB Kyle Van Noy (calf), T LaAdrian Waddle (ankle), RB James White (ankle)
Coach Vance Joseph told reporters that Sanders is "sore."
Washington Redskins: WR Jamison Crowder (hamstring), CB Kendall Fuller (foot), WR Maurice Harris (back), OT Morgan Moses (illness, ankle), RB Samaje Perine (groin)
LB Ryan Anderson (knee), LB Zach Brown (Achilles, toe, hamstring) and RB LeShun Daniels (hand)are all out, as is Trent Williams (knee), who is headed to injured reserve.
Detroit will also likely be down two starting offensive linemen: center Travis Swanson (concussion) is out, while guard T.J. Lang (foot) is doubtful.
The Bolts will be without defensive tackle Corey Liuget (knee) and linebacker Denzel Perryman (hamstring).
Gang Green will be without guard Brian Winters (abdomen). Forte and McGuire haven't practiced all week.
Ryan has not practiced all week.
Miami Dolphins: DE Andre Branch (knee), S T.J. McDonald (shoulder), WR DeVante Parker (ankle), CB Cordrea Tankersley (ankle), S Michael Thomas (knee)
RB Damien Williams (shoulder) is doubtful to play against the Chiefs. Kenyan Drake looks to get the bulk of the carries again.
Houston has not practiced since Wednesday.
Pierre-Paul is dealing with a broken finger on his right hand, NFL Network's Kimberly Jones reported. However, JPP will continue to play out the season and will heal after the year is over.
Arizona Cardinals: S Antoine Bethea (knee), WR John Brown (toe), LB Karlos Dansby (knee), RB Kerwynn Williams (quadricep, ribs)
Brown was limited all week.
Clark was a late addition to the injury report on Friday.
Dallas Cowboys: WR Brice Butler (foot), OT La'el Collins (back), CB Orlando Scandrick (back), OT Tyron Smith (back, knee)
After missing two days of practice, Smith return Friday in a limited fashion. Defensive end David Irving (concussion) has been ruled out.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: TE Cameron Brate (hip, knee), LB Lavonte David (hamstring), DT Gerald McCoy (biceps)
Carolina Panthers: DE Mario Addison (hip), WR Devin Funchess (shoulder), G Tyler Larsen (foot), WR Russell Shepard (shoulder), LB Shaq Thompson (foot)
Colts at Ravens -- 63 degrees, chance of light rain (33 percent), winds 14 mph
Vikings at Packers -- 13 degrees, clear, winds 10 mph
Lions at Bengals -- 37 degrees, overcast
Dolphins at Chiefs -- 26 degrees, partly cloudy, winds 11 mph
Bills at Patriots -- 37 degrees, partly cloudy
Browns at Bears -- 21 degrees, chance of snow flurries, winds 10 mph
Buccaneers at Panthers -- 52 degrees, partly cloudy
Falcons at Saints (indoors) -- 58 degrees, partly cloudy
Broncos at Redskins -- 39 degrees, mostly cloudy
Rams at Titans -- 40 degrees, mostly cloudy
Chargers at Jets -- 42 degrees, mostly cloudy
Jaguars at 49ers -- 49 degrees, overcast
Seahawks at Cowboys (indoors) -- 47 degrees, partly cloudy, winds 17mph
Giants at Cardinals (indoors) -- 70 degrees, partly cloudy
Steelers at Texans (indoors) -- 55 degrees, clear
Raiders at Eagles -- 31 degrees, clear, winds 13 mph
What to Watch For
Jacoby Brissett has struggled the past four weeks, posting a 56.4 completion percentage, 149.3 yards passing per game, 2-2 TD-INT ratio, and 68.9 passer rating. Sunday he'll face a ball-hawking Ravens defense that is the top takeaway unit in the NFL. Brissett's injury-struck offensive line is giving him no reprieves. He'll need to get the ball out quick Saturday to have any chance to move the offense. Little has been made of T.Y. Hilton's regression without Andrew Luck. The speedster is 19th in the NFL with 852 receiving yards this season after leading the league with 1,448 yards last year. Brissett needs his No. 1 target to make plays against the Jimmy Smith-less Baltimore secondary.
Is Joe Flacco setting up for another big playoff run? In each of his last three games, Flacco has set a new season-high in pass yards: Week 13 vs. DET: 269 pass yards (2 TD, 0 INT), Week 14 at PIT: 269 pass yards (2 TD, 1 INT), Week 15 at CLE: 288 pass yards (1 TD, 0 INT). Against a flailing Colts defense that got carved up by Brock Osweiler last week, Flacco has advantages all over the field, even if Jeremy Maclin (doubtful) sits. No. 1 target Mike Wallace should be in for a big day; ditto for Flacco's security Benjamin Watson against a Colts D that struggles to cover tight ends. Saturday is a Take Care of Business game against a bad team for John Harbaugh's squad.
NFL Research stat of the week: Due to their defense (33 takeaways), the Ravens lead the NFL in turnover differential (+17). Each of the last 19 teams with the NFL's best turnover differential made the playoffs (including teams to tie for the league lead).
The Case Keenum show travels to Green Bay to face a suspect Packers defense. The Vikings quarterback owns the highest passer rating in the NFL since Week 10 (111.0), has four straight games with two-plus touchdowns and has tossed an interception in just one of his past five tilts. The matchup sets up for another big day for Adam Thielen, who tortured Green Bay for nine receptions and 96 yards in their previous meeting. The Pro Bowl wideout faces a banged-up Packers secondary that struggles with slot receivers. Keep an eye on running back Jerick McKinnon out of the backfield. The Panthers tortured the Packers last week with Christian McCaffrey in space, which bodes well for the pass-catching McKinnon to have a big night in Green Bay.
With their playoff hopes dashed, Green Bay hands the reins back to Brett Hundley. The Packers have averaged fewer than 200 passing yards and 20 points per game with the young signal-caller under center. With Hundley's lack of vertical attack, Green Bay's offense is woefully restricted. The Pack must rely on the surging duo of the bulldozing Jamaal Williams and explosive Aaron Jones to carry the load against Mike Zimmer's defense. Hundley & Co. have their hands full. The Vikings are on pace to be the sixth team since 1991 to finish a season ranked among the top five in scoring defense, pass defense, run defense, third-down defense and red-zone defense; they're on pace to join the 2015 Seahawks, 2011 Ravens, 2008 Steelers, 2008 Ravens and 2002 Buccaneers for that distinction.
NFL Research stat of the week:Adam Thielen is fifth in the NFL in receiving yards (1,191). He would be the first Vikings player to finish top five in receiving yards since Sidney Rice in 2009 (1,312 receiving yards, fourth-most in NFL).
Jameis Winston is coming off his most productive game of the season, completing 77.1 percent of his passes for 299 yards, 8.5 yards per attempt and three touchdowns. The performance displayed the upside of the former No. 1 overall pick when he can avoid the boneheaded mistakes. Winston faces a stiffer test against a Panthers defense ranked ninth overall in DVOA by Football Outsiders. Carolina can bring a pass-rush versus a banged-up Bucs offense that could ruin Winston's day. The Panthers, however, will be without linebacker Thomas Davis, who was suspended for one game. Can Winston and the Bucs take advantage of the hole in the Panthers D? Back-to-back positive outings by the quarterback against division foes could go a long way in saving Dirk Koetter's job in Tampa.
Cam Newton is surging. The Panthers quarterback has thrown 11 touchdowns to just one interception in his last five tilts -- the best TD-INT ratio in the NFL since Week 10. Newton faces an injury-depleted Tampa defense, which sets up the quarterback for a big day on the ground. Newton has 643 rushing yards this season (most among QBs) and tied Michael Vick for the most seasons with 600-plus rush yards (4) by a QB in NFL history. When Newton becomes a threat to run, it opens holes for the rest of the offense. Expect another big day for Christian McCaffrey on runs to the edge and in the passing game against a Bucs defense that struggles to cover backs in space.
NFL Research stat of the week:Christian McCaffrey is the only rookie running back in NFL history with 70-plus receptions and five-plus TD catches. McCaffrey has 73 receptions and five receiving TDs this season.
Can the Browns win on the anniversary of their last victory? Cleveland needs to stick with the ground attack after Hue Jackson abandoned the run far too early last week. Isaiah Crowell is a battering running back that can wear down a solid Bears front. The player who needs to be more involved, however, is Duke Johnson, who has 13 or fewer touches in all but one game this season. The shifty back can be a mismatch in space against Chicago. If Crowell and Johnson are rolling, the Browns could be in a position to get their first win.
Despite the interception barrage last week, Mitchell Trubisky has improved in his last three games. The rookie quarterback is averaging 229 passing yards, 73.1 completion percentage, 3-3 TD-INT ratio (all three INTs coming in one game) and a 91.1 passer rating over the previous three tilts. Against the Browns' suffocating run defense, Sunday sets up as a day for Trubisky to continue his upward swing. By Football Outsiders' metrics, Cleveland ranks No. 1 against the rush, while coming in a lowly 28th versus the pass. Trubisky has made strides reading defenses and getting through his progressions. If his trajectory holds versus Gregg Williams pass-rush schemes, Trubisky could have his best day as a pro.
NFL Research stat of the week: Under John Fox, the Bears rank 30th in the NFL in winning percentage (.238), 30th in points per game (18.4), 30th in point differential (-242), and 31st in turnover differential (-27).
Matthew Stafford remains red-hot, carrying an otherwise lackluster Lions offense. The Detroit quarterback has been pummeled this season, taking 43 sacks (second-most in the NFL) and barely escaping almost two dozen others. If Stafford can evade pressure from Geno Atkins up the middle, the Lions' quarterback is in for another big day. The Bengals allowed a 114.0 passer rating over their last two games, which included a career-day for Mitchell Trubisky. Marvin Jones returns to Cincinnati for a #RevengeGame against his former team. Jones is out to prove the Bengals wrong for letting him walk two years ago. The big-play receiver owns a juicy matchup against a banged-up Bengals secondary.
Have the Bengals quit on Marvin Lewis? The Cincy offense has been putrid the past two weeks, with Andy Dalton completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes and averaging 127 passing yards. The Cincinnati quarterback gets a slight reprieve against a Detroit defense that doesn't sniff the quarterback on the pass rush. With Joe Mixon on track to return from a concussion, the Bengals should plan a ground-heavy attack against a Lions defense that ranks 25th against the rush, per Football Outsiders. Cincinnati was lost without Mixon's dual-threat ability. Could his potential return stop the Bengals' tailspin?
NFL Research stat of the week: Stafford has completed more than 75 percent of his passes in each of his last three games. He is the first Lions starting QB to do so since at least 1970. The only other quarterback to accomplish the feat this season is Alex Smith (Weeks 1-3).
Playoff implications: The Chiefsclinch the AFC West with a win or a Chargers loss in Week 16. The Dolphins are eliminated from the postseason contention with a loss.
Kenyan Drake proved the past three weeks he is the Dolphins' engine. The shifty back is averaging 104 rushing yards per game over that span to go along with his 135 total receiving yards. Drake owns a great matchup to continue his upward trajectory. The Chiefs rank 31st in run DVOA by Football Outsiders and have given up big games to running backs each of the last three weeks. With Drake keeping the Dolphins in positive down-and-distances, the offense will be able to move the chains in Kansas City. The big question is which Jay Cutler will show up? The efficient one who picked apart the Patriots or the erratic, worm-burner-tossing QB who froze in Buffalo last week?
With offensive coordinator Matt Nagy calling plays, the Chiefs have utilized more run-pass options and zone reads, which has gotten Kareem Hunt back on track. The rookie running back is averaging 135.5 rushing yards per game, 5.5 yards per carry, and 172 scrimmage yards since Week 14. A productive running game has re-opened the big play for Alex Smith -- 5.3 attempts of 20-plus air yards and five big-play TD passes in the past three games. Against a Dolphins defense that is susceptible to the big play, Tyreek Hill could find pay-dirt on another long bomb. Also, keep an eye on Smith's running ability. While Miami pummeled Tom Brady two weeks ago, the Dolphins struggle with mobile QBs. Smith's elusiveness should keep drives alive for K.C.
NFL Research stat of the week: If Smith maintains his 105.4 passer rating through the end of the season, it would be the highest in Chiefs history, breaking Len Dawson's record (101.7 in 1966).
Playoff implications: New England can clinch home-field advantage through the playoffs with a win + PIT loss (at HOU) + JAX loss (at SF). The Pats can clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs with a win + PIT loss (at HOU) OR a win + JAX loss (at SF). Buffalo will remain in the playoff picture with a win or loss.
The Bills moved the ball well in their meeting with the Pats three weeks ago before Tyrod Taylor's knee injury and the scoreboard wiped away any positives. With Taylor back under center, can his elusiveness be the difference in Foxborough? As he is in every Bills game, LeSean McCoy is the key. The talented back scampered for 93 yards on just 15 carries (6.2 average) in the previous blowout. If Buffalo can keep the game close, McCoy's advantage on the ground becomes greater. The Patriots have faced six running backs currently ranked in the top 10 in rushing yards, allowing a 100-plus yard rushing day to three of the six. Getting McCoy going early will help churn the clock and keep Tom Brady on the sideline.
Will we get any residual animosity between Rob Gronkowski and Bills defenders after his hit on Tre'Davious White that led to a one-game suspension? Both sides have downplayed the rematch, but when things get heated on the field, all bets are off. Gronk has torched Buffalo throughout his career. The all-world tight end had 100-yard games in each of his last two outings against Buffalo -- a feat he's accomplished six times versus the Bills. Coming off one of the best games of his career, Gronk should be in for another fabuloso day. On the ground, Dion Lewis should get the bulk of the work with Rex Burkhead injured. The do-it-all back is averaging 5.18 yards per carry (leads all NFL RBs, min. 100 carries). He had 92 yards on 15 totes three weeks ago.
NFL Research stat of the week:Brady has thrown an interception in four straight games, his longest streak since Weeks 5-8, 2013 (four straight, New England went 2-2). The last time Brady threw an INT in five straight games was 2002 (Weeks 2-6, New England went 2-3), his second season as an NFL starter.
Playoff implications: The Saintsclinch a playoff berth and maintain their division lead with a win. New Orleans can also clinch the NFC South with a win and a Panthers loss. The Falcons can clinch a playoff berth with a win.
The Falcons have relied much more on their run game over their last six games, averaging a 50.4 run-play percentage, compared to a 41.1 run play percentage over the first eight tilts. That formula should remain in place against a Saints team that lost linebacker A.J. Klein and safety Kenny Vaccaro. Devonta Freeman has run with renewed vigor since returning from a concussion in Week 13. The bulldozing back totaled 217 rushing yards the past two weeks. Tevin Coleman's return from a concussion could eat into Freeman's reps slightly, but the Falcons should ride the hot hand in the Superdome. The matchup on the outside between Julio Jones and defensive rookie of the year candidate Marshon Lattimore is one to watch. The rookie got an interception in the last meeting but gave up four catches on six targets for 79 yards when covering Jones. If Jones bests Lattimore, it would open up the rest of the Falcons' offense.
Alvin Kamara's concussion in Week 14 disrupted the Saints' entire game plan; New Orleans lost its biggest advantage over Dan Quinn's defense. The Falcons have fared well against running backs on the ground, but they've been eaten up by running backs in the passing game. Atlanta has allowed the most targets (8.4) and receptions (6.7) per game to RBs while giving up the seventh-most receiving yards per game (48.9). Kamara had three catches for 25 yards on the Saints' first drive two weeks ago before suffering a concussion. With the uncoverable, untackleable, unstoppable rookie returning, the Saints regain their advantage over the Falcons at home.
NFL Research stat of the week: Kamara and Mark Ingram are on pace to be the first teammate RB duo in NFL history to each have 1,500-plus scrimmage yards in a single season. Ingram is on pace for 1,623 scrimmage yards; Kamara is on pace for 1,527 scrimmage yards.
Philip Rivers imploded last week after a month of impeccable play. The Chargers' quarterback can put that hiccup behind him against a Jets defense that ranks 22nd in DVOA versus the pass and has allowed the second-most TD passes this season. How much will Hunter Henry's season-ending injury affect the quarterback? Henry has been underutilized for stretches, but had become the No. 2 target. Can an aging Antonio Gates pick up the slack? Will first-round rookie Mike Williams see a bigger workload? Keenan Allen will continue to be the go-to after snapping his four-game 100-plus yard streak last week. Tyrell Williams should see a few deep shots against a Jets defense that has given up big plays by the bundle.
The Bryce Petty show muddles on in New York. The quarterback is 1-4 in his career as a starter with three passing TDs and seven interceptions. Petty's performance taking over for Josh McCown last week was lackluster, to put it kindly. The third-year pro misses easy throws, skips balls to receivers, doesn't possess the arm strength to puncture tight windows and panics under pressure. The Chargers boast one of the best secondaries in the NFL, and a fierce pass rush with Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. The recipe could spell disaster for Petty at MetLife. If the quarterback struggles early, the crowd could call for Todd Bowles to finally let second-round pick Christian Hackenberg out of sideline prison. Bowles, however, likely will ignore them. Sad!
NFL Research stat of the week:Melvin Gordon is the first Chargers running back since LaDainian Tomlinson to amass 1,300-plus scrimmage yards and 10-plus TDs in consecutive seasons.
Playoff implications: The Ramscan clinch the NFC West with a win or a Seahawks loss. The Titans can clinch a playoff berth with a win + a Ravens loss + a Bills loss.
Todd Gurley grabbed the second cart behind Tom Brady in the MVP race after last week's outburst. The Pro Bowl running back has made alleyways of slim creases with his ability to glide through tackles this season. Gurley should see 20-plus touches this week and be particularly active in the passing game against a Titans defense that has been broken by running backs out of the backfield. Jared Goff has been steady-eddy for the Rams, compiling 15 TDs, to three INTs in his last seven games (107.8 passer rating). Sunday's matchup against a Titans defense ranked 24th in DVOA versus the pass portends a good day for the second-year quarterback, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.
The Titans need to get their running game back on track if they are to keep their playoff hopes alive. Tennessee is averaging 76.2 rushing yards per game in their six losses. DeMarco Murray's 611 rushing yards are fifth-fewest among 26 players with 150 carries. Derrick Henry, meanwhile, has just 39 rushing yards on 15 carries the last two games. The Rams' rushing defense has struggled, allowing 120.8 rushing YPG (24th in NFL). Wade Phillips' defense also has allowed 100-plus rushing yards in nine games (T-3rd most in NFL). It's a prime matchup for the ground-and-pound to return to Tennessee.
NFL Research stat of the week: Gurley leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns (13) and scrimmage touchdowns (17). Gurley's 17 touchdowns are five more than any other NFL player.
It remains to be seen if Paxton Lynch will return to the starting lineup as John Elway and Vance Joseph attempt to evaluate the first-round pick before the offseason. Regardless of the quarterback, the matchup favors a heavy workload from C.J. Anderson in D.C. The Broncos' running back has regained the workhorse role to positive effect. After galloping over the Colts last week (30 carries, 158 yards), Anderson faces an injured Redskins defense that has seen the ball run down their throats since the early portion of the season. An effective ground game will aid Lynch by opening up lanes over the middle.
In a lost season, the Redskins are in depth-developing mode. After injuries scorched the backfield, Kapri Bibbs was given a chance to earn a bigger role. He responded with four catches for 47 yards, including a 36-yard TD snatch-and-run, taking over the Chris Thompson role. Offenses have successfully thrown the ball to backs and tight ends against Denver's defense, so expect Bibbs to see increased work. Sunday's game also could be instructional for young receivers like Josh Doctson. Getting reps against Pro Bowlers like Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. will be an educational opportunity for the second-year wideout.
NFL Research stat of the week:Kirk Cousins has 78 passing TDs over the last three seasons, the most over any three-season span in Washington history (in Week 15 vs. Arizona, Cousins passed Sonny Jurgensen, who had 76 TD passes from 1966-68).
Do you believe in Blake Bortles? I said, DO YOU BELIEVE IN BLAKE BORTLES? The maligned quarterback is on the streak of his career, guiding the Jaguars into the playoffs. If you choose to remain skeptical that it's all a mirage, noting that years of struggles is more telling than a month of stellar play, I can't fault you. But you have to give Bortles the past three weeks. He's dropped some beautiful dimes and morphed the Jags from a plodding ground game to a big-play attack. He's the only QB without an INT since Week 12 (min. 50 attempts --7 TDs), and he has gone three straight games with a 100-plus passer rating (first time in his career). Against an injured 49ers secondary that ranks 31st in DVOA versus the pass, Bortles has a matchup to keep his streak alive.
What more is there to say about Jimmy Garoppolo's ability to morph the 49ers into a winning group single-handedly? I've gone on ad nauseam about the quick release and other positive traits the QB possesses. One stat exemplifies just how efficient Jimmy G has made the Niners since entering the starting lineup. In 28 drives with Garoppolo -- not counting end-of-half situations -- San Francisco has one three-and-out. One. I don't care if you're playing St. Mary's of Gridiron Lake, that's amazing. No team flukes into one three-and-out in three games. Garoppolo has made Marquise Goodwin, a bit player throughout his career in Buffalo, a go-to target. The speedy wideout is one of only two players with active back-to-back 100-yard receiving games. The other is Rob Gronkowski. Sunday's matchup is Garoppolo's stiffest test yet. The Jags ranks first in passing yards per game allowed (168.9), first in opponent passer rating (65.2) and first in sacks (51). If Garoppolo can succeed against that defense with his current cast of weapons, give him all the money.
NFL Research stat of the week:Blake Bortles' recent success can be attributed to his improvement on downfield throws (10-plus air yards), where he has a perfect passer rating since Week 13:
Downfield throws Weeks 1-12: 40.0 completion percentage, 3-3 TD-INT ratio, 68.5 passer rating
Downfield throws Weeks 13-15: 80.0 completion percentage, 3-0 TD-INT ratio, 158.3 passer rating
Will Sterling Shepard double-down on his 11-catch, 139-yard, TD performance from last week? The Cardinals have been burned by slot receivers often. Patrick Peterson generally doesn't shadow slot-men, spending almost 90 percent of his snaps on the outside. If the Cardinals don't change gears and pit PP versus SS, the receiver could be in for a big day. Eli Manning will start after his season-best 434-yard game. With Davis Webb getting first-team reps in practice, however, it's fair to wonder if the rookie might see some snaps (assuming he's active for the first time in his career).
Bruce Arians pulled the plug on the Blaine Gabbert experiment and will turn back to Drew Stanton under center. Stanton isn't an upgrade, owning a 77.5 passer rating as a starter this season and a career 52.5 percent completion rate. But the QB gets a favorable matchup in his return against a Giants defense ranked 25th in pass DVOA. Look for Stanton to target Larry Fitzgerald often. The Giants have been incinerated by slot receivers, making Fitzy the best matchup on the field in the desert. If these are the last two games of Fitzgerald's Hall of Fame career, he should go out with a bang.
NFL Research stat of the week: Despite his struggles this season, Manning is on pace for a career-high 63.3 completion percentage. Manning has 10 INTs this season, tied for his fewest in a single season in which he started eight-plus games.
Playoff implications: The loser will be eliminated from postseason contention. The winner will keep their dimming playoff hopes alive.
If the Seahawks' run of dominance is ending, hopefully it doesn't go out like the whimper we watched last week. I still believe Russell Wilson has more magic in him. The quarterback is currently earning 81.9 percent of the Seahawks' yards and 97.1 percent of the offensive TDs, both the highest by any player in Super Bowl era. Wilson is on pace to become the only player in NFL history to account for 100 percent of his team's passing yards and at least 30 percent of his team's rushing yards for a season (Wilson currently accounting for 35.9 percent of SEA rush yards). The Cowboys' pass rush has dried up and the back end remains susceptible, especially against slot receivers like Doug Baldwin. After last week's miserable outing, Wilson is primed for a bounce-back.
The Cowboys get Ezekiel Elliott back after his six-game suspension. Is it too late for a playoff run? The Cowboys went 3-3 in Elliott's absence (lost first 3, won last 3). Sans Elliott, the Cowboys have had the NFL's 30th-ranked total offense (294.0 total YPG). Prior to the suspension, the Cowboys boasted the No. 8 total offense (370.5 total YPG). Elliott returns against a Seahawks defense that got steamrolled by Todd Gurley last week (152 rushing yards, 180 scrimmage yards). The potential return of linebacker K.J. Wright will aid Seattle's effort, but Sunday still sets up as a day for Zeke to eat big in his return.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Seahawks have allowed a 100-plus yard rusher in back-to-back weeks for the second time this season (also did so in Weeks 2-3). Seattle has never allowed a 100-yard rusher in three straight weeks in the Pete Carroll era (since 2010)
The biggest question heading into Christmas Day is what the Steelers' offense will look like without Antonio Brown. After the Pro Bowl receiver left last week's game, half of Ben Roethlisberger's yards were on the catch and run by JuJu Smith-Schuster on the game's final possession (69 of 138). In four games without Brown since 2012, the Steelers are averaging 10.7 fewer points per game, 77.1 fewer yards per game, 63.7 fewer passing yards per game and a 16.0 percent drop in third-down conversion rate. Will Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant pick up the slack? Or will the Steelers' offense morph into all Le'Veon Bell all the time? Big Ben has a good matchup against a porous Texans pass defense to take advantage down the field, especially if Bryant's head is on right.
T.J. Yates completed just 38.7 percent of his 31 passes last week, the lowest for any QB in a game with 30-plus attempts since Nick Foles' 36.7 percent versus Green Bay in Week 5, 2015 with the Rams. On the plus side for Yates' Christmas, he isn't facing the Jags secondary again, and instead gets a Steelers defense that has gone through fits of inconsistency. The other benefit is he still has DeAndre Hopkins to throw to. Nuk set a new franchise single-season touchdown record with his 12th scoring grab (leads the NFL). If I were Yates (I'm not), I'd throw it to Hopkins every play, coverage be damned.
NFL Research stat of the week:Le'Veon Bell already has 387 offensive touches this season (307 rush, 80 rec), 76 more than any other player in the NFL. Bell is on pace for 442 touches, which would be the most since DeMarco Murray had 449 in 2014. We have to go back to 2006 to find another player with 410-plus touches (Larry Johnson, 457; Steven Jackson, 436).
Playoff implications: The Eagles can clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a victory or a Minnesota loss. The Raiders are eliminated from the playoffs with a loss or a win by Tennessee, Kansas City or Buffalo.
The loss of Donald Penn could spell disaster for Derek Carr's already disappointing season. The quarterback's play is down across the board and he's been particularly bad in losses (averaging under 200 yards passing). Will last week's game-losing fumble become the season-defining play or will Carr bounce back? The Eagles' defense was shredded by Eli Manning last week. Can Oakland find potency out of the slot position to take advantage of Philly's biggest weakness? With two games left, there are more questions than answers for Jack Del Rio's team.
Nick Foles showed he's a capable fill-in for Carson Wentz last week, tossing four touchdowns and earning his first 100-plus passer rating since 2015. Foles can get the ball out quick and run Doug Pederson's offense well enough to move the chains. Yet the Eagles sans Wentz lacked explosive plays in the passing game. Foles did not complete a pass of 20-plus air yards on three such attempts. The stand-in's lack of big plays could be a matter of small sample size. This week he faces the worst pass defense in the NFL (32nd in DVOA, 32nd completion percentage allowed, 31st passer rating against). Foles owns mismatches across the board against Oakland, from Nelson Agholor in the slot, Zach Ertz over the middle and Alshon Jeffrey on the outside. The veteran quarterback simply needs to play point guard, distribute efficiently and not turn the ball over to be successful at home. If Foles takes care of the ball, he should give Philly fans home-field advantage in the playoffs as a Christmas present.
NFL Research stat of the week: In his only career start against the Raiders (Week 9, 2013), Nick Foles tied the all-time NFL record for touchdown passes in a game (7).