Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
New York Giants: WR Odell Beckham (ankle)
The biggest question of the week is whether OBJ will play Sunday night after not practicing all week. There has been little indication one way or the other. Beckham looms as a big game-time decision for that divisional matchup with the Dallas Cowboys.
The only true questionable player on the list is Thomas Rawls, who will be a game-time decision this week. Pete Carroll indicated the rest of the group should be good to go Sunday.
Despite the designations both are expected to play Sunday.
NFL Network's Stacey Dales reported it's highly unlikely Long will play in the opener.
Pittsburgh Steelers: LB Bud Dupree (shoulder)
Dupree didn't practice on Friday, putting his status in jeopardy for the opener.
Nkemdiche returned in limited action Thursday and Friday, a positive sign for the interior lineman.
Ansah is expected to make his debut after sitting out the preseason.
Cincinnati Bengals: WR John Ross (knee)
While Ross is listed as questionable, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport previously reported the rookie is expected to miss this week.
Gipson and Yeldon were both limited on Thursday and Friday.
Crowder said Friday he expects to play.
Cleveland Browns: DT Danny Shelton (knee)
Shelton has been dealing with a knee injury and was limited all week.
Green Bay Packers: T Bryan Bulaga (ankle)
Bulaga returned to practice on a limited basis this week.
Dallas Cowboys: CB Jourdan Lewis (hamstring)
The rookie was limited all week.
Hurricane Irma is barreling toward the Florida coast. Stay safe, everyone. As for the rest of the weather across the country (dome games excluded):
Jets at Bills -- 61 degrees, partly cloudy
Falcons at Bears -- 64 degrees, clear
Ravens at Bengals -- 70 degrees, sunny
Steelers at Browns -- 64 degrees, clear skies
Raiders at Titans -- 72 degrees, clear skies
Jaguars at Texans - 82 degrees, sunny
Eagles at Redskins -- 70 degrees, sunny
Colts at Rams -- 77 degrees, sunny
Seahawks at Packers -- 69 degrees, clear skies
Panthers at 49ers -- 91 degrees, sunny
Giants at Cowboys (SNF) -- 81 degrees, clear
Chargers at Broncos (MNF) - 76 degrees, partly cloudy
What to Watch For
The Atlanta Falcons' offense was a steamrolling force in 2016. Can Matt Ryan and Co. continue their frenetic pace with new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian? The Bears' defense doesn't have an answer in the secondary for Julio Jones (who does?) and the big-play receiver should pick up where he left off last season. One thing to watch for is how the Falcons vary their run-pass looks under Sarkisian. The pre-snap motions last season allowed Ryan to dissect defenses easily in 2016. Getting a win on the road in Week 1 would help ease the horrors of Atlanta's Super Bowl failure.
The Mike Glennon era begins in Chicago with fans waiting for the first sign of trouble to call for franchise savior Mitch Trubisky. To protect Glennon, John Fox will ride Jordan Howard early and often against a young, improving Falcons defense. With Chicago lacking playing receivers, expect Howard to face a lot of stacked boxes Sunday. Play-action fakes will be key for Glennon to help keep the pass rush off his back, and will be made more difficult by guard Kyle Long's expected absence. If the Bears get down early, rookie jitterbug Tarik Cohen could see more action than anticipated as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield.
NFL Research stat of the week: Devonta Freeman is the only running back in the NFL to have 1,000-plus rushing yards in each of the last two seasons. He's also the only player with 10-plus rush TDs in each of those seasons.
All eyes are on Joe Flacco. The Ravens quarterback missed all of the preseason with a back injury. His backups looked terrible in his stead, making Flacco's comeback vital for Baltimore to return to the playoffs. After two seasons trying to employ a dink-and-dunk offense, Baltimore should return to the ground attack, especially with Flacco's injury issue. Terrance West will take the early down snaps, but we should see plenty of Danny Woodhead on the field as well. The key Sunday will be whether the Ravens' remade offensive line can withstand Geno Atkins and his young pass-rush mates on the outside.
The Bengals enter the season with offensive line questions of their own. Facing a swarming Ravens defense that was the most impressive unit this preseason will be a tough task. Baltimore got younger and quicker at every level this year and could be a handful for Andy Dalton in Week 1. A key to watch is how the Bengals' running back situation plays out. Cincinnati labeled Jeremy Hill the starter, but plan to ride the hot hand. Giovani Bernard should see passing down snaps, and the most intriguing player to watch will be Joe Mixon. The rookie has a little Le'Veon Bell to his game and could make some big plays early this season.
NFL Research stat of the week: Before tearing his hamstring and missing the final six weeks of the season, Bengals receiver A.J. Green set career highs in receptions/game (6.6) and receiving YPG (96.4).
Le'Veon Bell is back from his summer-long sabbatical. How much will the Steelers push their Pro Bowl back off the bat? While the situations are different, last year when Bell came off suspension he took 18 carries for 144 yards and made five catches in his first game back. Given the Steelers haven't been monitoring his conditioning over the summer, the team could be wary of soft core muscle issues and dial down his reps this week against a young, eager Browns defense.
DeShone Kizer brings some needed enthusiasm to the Browns' quarterback position. The raw rookie will have his share of ups-and-downs this season, but learning of the fly should be fun to watch. The matchup between Browns receivers and recently cut Pro Bowl corner Joe Haden will be fascinating. He knows each wideout's weakness, but they also know how they've beat him in practice before he was cut. Kizer isn't shy, so expect more than a few deep shots taken Sunday. If he hits a couple it could change the complexion of what has been a heavily lopsided rivalry.
NFL Research stat of the week: Since Martavis Bryant was drafted in 2014, the Steelers' Big 4 (Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Bryant) has played a possible 11 of 54 games together (20.4 percent).
Questions abound for both squads, with none more than how long Josh McCown will hang onto the starting gig. Given his lack of pass-catching threats, the Jets should rely heavily on Bilal Powell and Matt Forte on the ground. The Bills boast a solid defensive front, but questions remain on how the pieces in Buffalo fit into Sean McDermott's scheme. On paper, the Bills are thin on the back end and could be exploited through the air. Does McCown have the weapons to make Buffalo pay Sunday?
For the Bills' offense, it feels like LeSean McCoy or bust. Shady will be the engine that drives the Buffalo bus on Sunday. Expect the Bills to ride him until the wheels fall off. Tyrod Taylor is coming off a concussion, and the passing game looked lost even before he got hurt. Even after trading Sheldon Richardson, the Jets still boast a solid defensive line that could make it difficult for McCoy. Getting the running back to the edge of Gang Green's defense and into space will be key for Buffalo to earn the home win to start the season.
NFL Research stat of the week: Tyrod Taylor led the NFL in average pocket time and average time to throw in 2016. Bills led NFL in rush yards and rush yards before contact. Taylor was also sacked 42 times last season (most of any QB).
David Johnson gets a brilliant matchup in his sprint toward the 1,000-yard rushing and 1,000-yard receiving season he just missed out on last year. Against a Detroit defense with holes at every level, Johnson will be a matchup nightmare. The Lions don't have the linebackers to cover Johnson in space -- go back check out what the Patriots did in the third preseason game to the Lions' linebackers on crossers and dump-offs. If Detroit counters by going to more triple safety, nickel and dime looks, Carson Palmer will dial up the run and Johnson will slam it up the gut. Big, big day for D.J.
Likewise, Ameer Abdullah is the player to watch for the Lions offense. Detroit wants to be more balanced in 2017. Upgrading the offensive line with better run blockers helps accomplish that goal, but a healthy Abdullah is key. With Cardinals backer Deone Bucannon out for Week 1, it also gives Abdullah (and likewise Theo Riddick) an advantage in the passing game against Arizona rookie linebacker Haason Reddick. Detroit needs Abdullah to churn out yards on the ground and help keep David Johnson and the Cardinals' offense on the sideline Sunday.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Cardinals had the best point differential (+56) of any team to finish with a losing record in 2016 -- third team since 1970 merger to finish with a losing record and a point differential of +50-or-greater (1981 Falcons, 1993 Cardinals).
We'll leave the Blake Bortles question until after Week 1. What I want to watch is how Leonard Fournette handles the load for the Jags' offense. The first-round pick sat out the end of the preseason with a foot injury. If he's not able to be the workhorse right off the bat, Jacksonville's offense will struggle versus a smothering Texans D. Fournette plowed through defenders in college like they were pebbles on the road. It's a different beast against NFL players. I want to see if the rookie can dominate right off the bat.
Tom Savage opens the season for the Texans under center. How long will he keep the job? The fourth-year pro doesn't get the easiest start to the season, facing a Jaguars defense that boasts playmakers at every level. The Jags D already owned the NFL's No. 6 defense in terms of yards allowed last season, that was before adding Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye and promoting Myles Jack to full-time duty. Savage will rely on DeAndre Hopkins to make plays for him on the outside in one-on-one matchups against Jalen Ramsey. Unless the defenses generate points, this has all the makings of a defensive slugfest.
NFL Research stat of the week: Despite entering the NFL in 2011 -- and missing 13 games in 2016 -- J.J. Watt leads the NFL in QB hits since 2007, with 214 in six seasons. The next four: Jared Allen (retired, 9 seasons) 213; DeMarcus Ware (retired, 10 seasons) 211; Cameron Wake (MIA, 8 seasons) 169; Elvis Dumervil (SF, 9 seasons) 163.
Reminder: Click here to donate to Watt's flood relief fund, and here to donate to the Red Cross to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.
In what could be the game of the week, we get two young signal-callers both coming off season-ending broken legs. Neat.
Marshawn Lynch will get top billing on your TV station, and justifiably so, but the meat of the Titans' defense is up front. Where the Raiders own a distinct advantage over the Titans is in the passing game. Tennessee attempted to upgrade their backend with corner Logan Ryan and first-round pick Adoree Jackson (who could start). Ryan particularly seemed to struggle this preseason. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree could be in for big days. While Jackson can match Cooper's speed, the two-time Pro Bowler has a district advantage in height and high-pointing the ball.
The Titans' offense, on the other hand, should have its way with the Raiders' defense. This matchup has all the signs of a potential shootout. Outside of Kahil Mack and the pass rushing front, the Raiders don't appear stout on paper. Tennessee wants to pound the ball, but also provided Marcus Mariota with a major weapons upgrade in the passing game, adding Eric Decker and first-round rookie Corey Davis this year. If the Titans' offensive line can keep Mack off Mariota's back, the third-year quarterback should pick apart the Oakland secondary.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Raiders and Titans went a combined 20-10 with Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota starting in 2016, averaging 25.6 PPG and posting a passer rating of 95.7. Without Carr and Mariota (inc. playoffs): 1-2, 14.7 PPG, 54.8 rating.
Carson Wentz's Year Two leap starts Sunday. With question marks in the backfield, Wentz will be asked to take his new receiving toys (Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith) and put up big passing numbers. The pass-catcher to watch this week is tight end Zach Ertz. The Redskins defense gave up the most receptions and yards to tight ends last season. Have the changes on D in Washington solved the issue? If so they didn't show it much in the preseason. We should expect some deep shots to the receivers mixed with a bevy of intermediate to tosses to Ertz on Sunday.
The Washington running game could be the motor this season. Rob Kelley looked spry this offseason and could help grind down opponents while Kirk Cousins and the passing game finds itself this year. The Eagles boast a dynamic front seven, but we've seen offenses run right at Jim Schwartz defenses before (think Ndamukong Suh with the Lions years). The Redskins should pound the ball early to loosen up the Eagles' pass rush for Cousins.
NFL Research stat of the week: Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith have more career production than all the Eagles' wide receivers on the 2016 roster combined (Jeffery/Smith: three 1,000-yard seasons; two 10-TD seasons; 20 100-yard receiving games). The 2016 Eagles corps had just eight 100-yard receiving games combined, zero 1,000-yard seasons and zero 10-TD seasons.
On paper, the Colts' offense looks like a mess. Scott Tolzien starting under center was no one's first choice to open a fresh season. But with Andrew Luck out for a while, it's the hand Indy was dealt. Missing their starting center won't help an effort lean on Frank Gore and the running game. Maybe Tolzien's best bet Sunday in L.A. is to continually heave deep shots to T.Y. Hilton and hope something sticks. Let your best players make plays for you, right? On the plus side, Tolzien won't have to face Rams game-wrecker Aaron Donald, who is holding out.
Sean McVay might be opening with the best-case scenario in his first game as a head coach. His quarterback, Jared Goff, faces a mostly punchless Colts defense that is missing its best defender, corner Vontae Davis. If Goff can't at least look semi-functional Sunday, it will not bode well for a season that includes four games against the Seahawks and Cardinals defenses. Goff gets favorable matchups for Sammy Watkins and rookie Cooper Kupp in the opener. Getting off on a positive foot this season would be a huge step for the former No. 1 overall pick.
NFL Research stat of the week: Todd Gurley has just one 100-yard rushing game in his last 24 starts. The running back went over 100 yards in each of the first four starts of his career.
The Seahawks' backfield remains hazy. With Eddie Lacey returning to Green Bay in Seattle gear, he could see extra work against his former team. But the matchup to watch is Doug Baldwin against the Packers' secondary. Russell Wilson wants to take shots down field -- if he gets enough time from his offensive line -- and Baldwin has a great matchup against a Packers secondary that gave up chunk yardage last season. Did Ted Thompson's latest backend remake work? Or will the Packers give up third-and-longs with ease again this season? The rematch of NFC powers should give us the answer in Week 1.
Seattle's defense looks scary good with the recent addition of Sheldon Richardson. We'll get to see the Seahawks fearsome front against the quarterback magician known as Aaron Rodgers on Sunday. Expect Rodgers to pick on corner Jeremy Lane and rookie Shaquill Griffin early, especially rolling Jordy Nelson to their side. I'm also interested to see how Rodgers targets Martellus Bennett. The Seahawks, with their speedy linebackers, are one of the best teams at shutting down tight ends, so if Bennett goes off Sunday, you'll know he's in for a big season.
NFL Research stat of the week: Aaron Rodgers has elected to avoid Richard Sherman in recent matchups. Sherman has been targeted just 11 times over the last five meetings -- the CB has allowed eight receptions but zero touchdowns and has one INT.
Two major Panthers storylines should finally be answered: How does Cam Newton's surgically repaired shoulder really look (he threw just two short preseason passes)? And what will Christian McCaffrey's load look like? While I like the 49ers' defense to bounce back from a dreadful 2016 campaign (the young talent in the front seven almost assures they will) it will be intriguing to see how they match up with CMC with so little tape to go off. The Panthers want to be a quick-pass offense, which means McCaffrey should see the field a ton in the opener.
Kyle Shanahan goes from calling plays for Matt Ryan and Julio Jones to Brian Hoyer and Pierre Garcon. No offense to the latter duo, but that's a big step down. Shanahan has been a play-calling wizard in the past (save the second half of the Super Bowl), milking the most from the talent given, and I want to see what he does with Hoyer. The QB is a milquetoast talent, but is heady enough to pick his way through Shanahan's scheme. Unfortunately, Hoyer will face one of the best defenses in the NFC off the bat. The Panthers boast a dominant front seven and I expect the secondary to make a leap in Year Two.
NFL Research stat of the week: Panthers running backs receiving stats in 2016: pass targets: 70 (NFL rank: 31st); receptions: 44 (rank 31st); receiving yards: 369 (31st); receiving TDs: 1 (T-24th).
Much like a blue-fire breathing dragon can take down a wall encrypted with magic, the Giants have the heat to combat the Cowboys nearly unbreakable offensive line. We've just assumed that the adjustments to Dallas offensive line (new left guard Chaz Green, La'el Collins to right tackle) will move along seamlessly. Sunday night they'll get tested right off the bat by JPP, Olivier Vernon, et al. How will Ezekiel Elliot respond on the field to a summer of turmoil off the gridiron? Also, Dez Bryant versus Janoris Jenkins is always fun. Oooooohhhhhh Sunday night!
The Giants' offense looms as a major question mark heading into the season. Even if Odell Beckham Jr. plays a full load (ankle, questionable), New York is a one-trick offense until further notice. Behind a still struggling offensive line, Eli Manning doesn't have the mobility to do it all himself. The Giants are hoping the additions of Brandon Marshall and rookie Evan Engram will help take some defenders out of the pass rush. However, if there is one thing we know about Dallas DC Rod Marinelli, it's that he can generate a rush with even middling talent. Will New York's line give Manning enough time to take advantage of a remade Cowboys secondary?
NFL Research stat of the week: In two games versus the Giants in 2016, Dak Prescott finished with 4.8 yards per attempt, a 1-2 TD-INT ratio, and a 58.6 passer rating, all seasons lows against any opponent.
To quote the esteemed Michael Scott: "The prod...the prodigal......my son returns..."
Seeing Adrian Peterson in Minnesota with a fleur-de-lis on his helmet will be an odd sight. His usage could appear even odder still. After a decade as Vikings' workhorse, Peterson shares a backfield with Mark Ingram and pass-catching rookie Alvin Kamara. How will Sean Payton deploy his three-headed backfield against a stout Vikings defense? We expect Peterson to get a few extra totes Monday night against his former team. Will Mike Zimmer's defense dare Peterson to beat them by dropping coverage to help slow Drew Brees? Will All Day show his pre-injury form, or is it the beginning of the end for the future Hall of Fame running back?
The Saints enter the season with a myriad of question marks. No amount of results, from winning the division to bottoming out, would be a surprise. The wide range of outcomes depends mostly on whether a perennially bad defense improves. It's looked better in the preseason (specifically the linebacking corps) but was that another mirage? We'll get our first look Monday against Sam Bradford. The Vikings boast an intriguing receiving duo in Stephon Diggs and Adam Thielen that could torture the Saints' secondary. Rookie running back Dalvin Cook is the key. If he is giving the Saints defensive front fits, it will put New Orleans corners on an island, where they've gotten burned in the past.
NFL Research stat of the week: Minnesota allowed just one 300-yard game to a QB in 2016 (Aaron Rodgers). Saints QB Drew Brees had 10 300-yard passing games in 2016, most in the NFL and three more than the next player (Kirk Cousins, 7)
The skill-position players are aplenty in the Monday Night Football finale, but it's the trenches to watch, especially when the Broncos have the ball. Denver is in the throes of another O-line rework with rookie Garrett Bolles holding down the left tackle spot, Menelik Watson anchoring the right tackle gig, and Ronald Leary at guard. How they do against one of the best pass-rush duos in the NFL (Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram) will decide what kind of night Trevor Siemian has in the opener. His protection can't be as poor as last year, can it?
The 'No Fly Zone' facing off against Chargers WR Keenan Allen will be a fun clash. Melvin Gordon versus the Broncos' run defense, however, will leave a larger impression on the game. The Broncos' defense was pushed around up front last season, and are already dealing with injuries along the defensive line. New Chargers coach Anthony Lynn has a running background -- nine 1,000-yard rushers in 14 NFL seasons under his watch. Gordon should get a heavy dose in Week 1.
NFL Research stat of the week: Trevor Siemian injured his left shoulder in Week 4 last year and was not the same QB. Siemian Weeks 1-4: 67.3 completion percentage, 6-3 TD-INT ratio, 99.6 passer rating. Siemian Weeks 6-17: 57.4 completion percentage, 12-7 TD-INT ratio, 80.6 passer rating.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Miami Dolphins (Postponed to Week 11)
To everyone in the path of Hurricane Irma, stay safe. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.