Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
Montgomery was listed as full-go all week. If the running back plays he'll share snaps with rookie Aaron Jones. Bakhtiari and Bulaga were limited all week.
Williams said he expects to make his season debut on Sunday.
Minnesota Vikings: S Andrew Sendejo (groin)
Powell didn't practice all week.
New York Giants: S Landon Collins (ankle)
Collins sat out all week but is expected to play. The Giants ruled out RB Paul Perkins (ribs), WR Sterling Shepard (ankle), DE Olivier Vernon (ankle), LB Jonathan Casillas (neck), C Weston Richburg (concussion) and DE Romeo Okwara (knee).
Stafford was listed as questionable but was full-go all week and should play. Golladay was listed as limited all week, but could be out another week.
All three were limited on Friday.
Both were limited on Friday.
All three were limited on Thursday and Friday. Snead is expected to make his season debut.
Both were limited on Friday.
Both were limited on Friday.
Howard was full-go all week. Maxwell was limited on Friday. Receiver DeVante Parker (ankle) was listed as doubtful to play.
Atlanta Falcons: K Matt Bryant (back)
Bryant returned to be a limited participant on Friday. WR Mohamed Sanu (hamstring) was ruled out.
New England Patriots: RB Rex Burkhead (ribs)
Pittsburgh Steelers: G Ramon Foster (back)
Foster sat out all week.
Kansas City Chiefs: WR Albert Wilson (knee)
Wilson was added to the injury report Saturday. The wideout practiced fully Thursday and Friday after missing practice on Tuesday.
Washington Redskins: T Trent Williams (knee)
The entire crew was limited on Friday.
Bears at Ravens -- 77 degrees, clear, winds up to 11 mph
Dolphins at Falcons (indoor) -- 77 degrees, partly cloudy
Browns at Texans (indoor) -- 84 degrees, partly cloudy
Packers at Vikings (dome) -- 46 degrees
Lions at Saints (dome) -- 85 degrees, partly cloudy, chance of rain (15 percent)
Patriots at Jets -- 76 degrees, partly cloudy, winds 12 mph
49ers at Redskins -- 77 degrees, mostly clear, winds 11 mph
Buccaneers at Cardinals (indoor) -- 93 degrees, clear
Rams at Jaguars -- 85 degrees, clear
Steelers at Chiefs -- 60 degrees, clear, winds 10 mph
Chargers at Raiders -- 77 degrees, dry
Giants at Broncos (SNF) -- 59 degrees, clear
Colts at Titans (MNF) -- 56 degrees, clear
What to Watch For
In his first start Mitchell Trubisky flashed why he's the future under center in Chicago, but the rookie will go through his struggles. Against a Ravens defense that has feasted on turnovers, how Trubisky bounces back from his game-losing interception will be key. The Bears got Trubisky out of the pocket often Monday, which plays to his strength of throwing accurately on the run. It also cuts the field in half. The Ravens will be ready to overload the left side of the defense on the rolls and force the rookie to try and fit the ball into tight windows. If the boot-action plays are nullified, will Trubisky be able to stand in the pocket and spread the ball around efficiently?
Last week, Joe Flacco finally connected on a few deep throws, and it opened the Ravens' offense. Against a Bears defense that can be beaten down the field, Baltimore needs these stretch plays to continue. First the Ravens must protect Flacco against an underrated Chicago defensive front. Akiem Hicks has been a menace up the gut for the Bears this season, and Flacco struggles with interior pressure. If the running game with Alex Collins and Buck Allen is shut down, and Flacco doesn't have time for routes to develop deep, it will lead to another inefficient dink-and-dunk day for Baltimore's offense.
NFL Research stat of the week: Brandon Carr, Lardarius Webb and Eric Weddle all have two INTs this season. The Ravens are one of two teams with three or more players having multiple INTs (Jacksonville with four).
There aren't many positive vibes emanating out of Miami. Jay Cutler looks lost in a smoky haze. Jay Ajayi can't find traction on the ground. And the offensive line coach resigned this week amid a scandal. Ajayi faces a stiff Falcons run defense that stymied opponents this year with a stout interior and hair-on-fire pursuing linebackers. Sunday's bout sets up as a quick-pass heavy game in which Jarvis Landry sees the bulk of the action. After defending Cutler verbally this week, the Dolphins wideout needs to aid the QB on the field by busting out a few YAC-filled big plays on the fast track in Atlanta.
Matt Ryan should be in for a big day if the Falcons' interior offensive line can keep the heat at bay. The Dolphins secondary has allowed a 106.1 passer rating to opposing QBs this season to go with five touchdowns and zero interceptions. Conflate that with a Miami run defense that has not allowed a running back to rush for more than 60 yards in a game. Julio Jones has a buffo matchup against Dolphins corners Xavien Howard (questionable) and Cordrea Tankersley, and should be targeted heavily with Mohammed Sanu still sidelined.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Dolphins' offense is performing at a historically low pace: On pace for their fewest PPG (10.3) and total YPG (231.3) in team history. The last team to average fewer than Miami's 10.3 points per game for a full season was the 2000 Browns (3-13 with Tim Couch as the starter).
Kevin Hogan gets the start under center, which should provide the Browns' offense some juice facing a Houston defense that just lost two of the best front-seven players in the NFL, J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. Hogan brings ability to escape the pocket, putting pressure on linebackers, which should open routes over the middle. More than anything, Hogan is an upgrade on DeShone Kizer as a passer because he's quicker to diagnose defenses and isn't afraid to pull the trigger. Much of the Browns' offensive struggles through the air have come from Kizer holding the ball and becoming skittish in the red zone. Will the move to Hogan lead to a more diverse passing attack against a Houston secondary that has been picked apart of late?
Deshaun Watson has led his team to an average of 34.3 points per start this season, more than any other quarterback in the NFL. By comparison, the Browns haven't scored more than 28 points in a single game this season, and have been held to 18 or fewer points in four of five. Watson has been among the most fun quarterbacks to watch in this young season. The rookie displays poise in the pocket, elusiveness when the play breaks down, dual-threat ability on designed runs, and a willingness to take shots deep. Against a Browns defense that has given up big plays with regularity, Watson should have plenty of chances to target DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller on bombs. Browns defensive coordinator Greg Williams said this week he plans to show the rookie quarterback some schemes he hasn't yet seen in the NFL. Thus far, no scheme has stopped Watson from finding the end zone.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Texans earned three straight games with 30-plus points, tied for the longest such streak in franchise history (2010). Houston has two games with 400-plus yards of total offense this season (had one such game all of 2016).
The Packers found a pure running game last week with rookie Aaron Jones slashing the Cowboys. Green Bay, however, faces a much stiffer test against a Vikings defense that has eaten opponents alive this season. Aaron Rodgers will need a running game to keep Everson Griffen and Company off his back. The Vikings' defense has given up just 3.3 yards per rush this season. The question heading into Sunday's game will be whether Mike Zimmer deploys Xavier Rhodes on Jordy Nelson. Rhodes has shut down No. 1 receivers this season. In the past three matchups between Rhodes and Nelson, the Packers' receiver has been held to five total receptions for 41 yards and no touchdowns on 10 targets. Assuming the Vikings' top CB trails Nelson, expect Rodgers to target Davante Adams heavily against Trae Waynes.
As expected, Case Keenum gets the start for Sam Bradford. Keenum has quietly been an efficient quarterback this season, throwing zero interceptions (one of just three QBs to do so -- Alex Smith and Drew Brees), posting a 97.6 passer rating (10th in NFL) and 7.4 yards per attempt (12th). Troubling for Keenum is Stefon Diggs (groin) sitting out. Diggs' injury puts pressure on Adam Thielen as the focal point of the defense. With Diggs out, expect Jerick McKinnon to play a larger role in the passing game. The Vikings might not want to ride the running back heavily on the ground, but he's their best option to take on the dual-threat role.
Sidebar question: How has Clay Matthews playing better than he has in about four years flown so far under the national radar?
NFL Research stat of the week: Aaron Rodgers has a 4-4 record in games against a Mike Zimmer-led defense. Rodgers vs. CIN (2009-13): 0-2 record, 73.5 passer rating. Rodgers vs. MIN (since 2014): 4-2 record, 101.6 passer rating. Rodgers' numbers against Minnesota are his worst against any NFC North opponent in that span.
Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense feels like it's playing in a 10-yard box. Unable to stretch the field, Detroit's passing game is a claustrophobic nightmare. With Kenny Golladay (questionable) likely sidelined and the offensive line getting burned, it could be a struggle again against an improving Saints defense. Cameron Jordan should have his way up front for New Orleans on Sunday, and rookie corner Marshon Lattimore has been a sticky cover man. All these factors lead to the conclusion that the Lions will likely rely on Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick out of the backfield. The slipper runners have danced through the Saints second-level in previous meetings and have the best matchup Sunday to do damage for Detroit through the air.
Trading Adrian Peterson rids the Saints of a distracting running back rotation, but it shouldn't change anything that was to happen on the field. Mark Ingram was already the workhorse runner and Alvin Kamara's role was set to rise. If anything, it merely added 10-or-so additional snaps for the backs to split. With the Lions defense stuffing the run, expect Sean Payton to deploy Kamara more liberally Sunday. Against a Detroit defense that has regularly given up catches to tailbacks, the shifty Kamara should get matchups against linebackers and safeties that he can exploit on the speedy Superdome track. We could also see a breakout day for Coby Fleener. The Lions haven't covered a tight end yet this season.
NFL Research stat of the week: Saints defense in 2017:
First 2 games: 32.5 PPG allowed; 512.5 total YPG; 388.5 pass YPG; 124.0 rush YPG; 0 takeaways
Last 2 games: 6.5 PPG allowed; 237.0 total YPG; 142.0 pass YPG; 95.0 rush YPG; 4 takeaways.
Tom Brady is dealing with a non-throwing shoulder issue and has been batted around repeatedly this season, getting sacked 16 times already. Facing a Jets defense that has been gashed on the ground this season, giving up 143.0 yards per game (30th in the NFL), might the Patriots try to run their way to a road victory? Mike Gillislee has been the primary ball carrier early this season, but Dion Lewis has shown spryness of late and warrants more snaps as a dual-threat to bolster the Pats short-pass attack. One matchup to watch is Rob Gronkowski against the Jets two rookie safeties, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye. Both Adams and Maye have been fantastic playmakers this season, but haven't had to deal with a force like Gronk. If the duo can slow the behemoth tight end, it will be a major boon for the future of the Jets defense.
With Matt Forte returning from a toe injury and Bilal Powell (calf) questionable, we could see the Elijah McGuire show Sunday. The rookie running back out of Louisiana-Lafayette has played well in limited carries this season, displaying power between the tackles and a little elusiveness in tight quarters. He is also a capable target in the passing game. Facing a Patriots defense that has been gashed on the ground -- allowing 5.0 yards per carry -- the Jets should look to pound the ball Sunday and keep Brady on the sideline.
The loss of Redskins corner Josh Norman (ribs) bodes well for Garcon to have a big game in his return to Washington. The 49ers wideout is averaging 8.8 targets per game, 5.6 receptions per tilt, 75.8 receiving YPG, and 13.5 yards per reception. The Niners' passing attack has been mostly down this season under Brian Hoyer, but with Garcon not facing a lockdown corner like Norman, the San Francisco offense should find room to operate. We will also monitor the 49ers' running back rotation. Carlos Hyde was off to a great start before an injury stymied his production and Shanahan began to increase the workload of rookie Matt Breida. The coach said this week he will go with the hot-hand approach out of his backfield. Against a stout Redskins front, both might be cooled off.
Kirk Cousins has a favorable matchup to air it out against a banged-up 49ers secondary. Terrelle Pryor should be in for a big game against a defense that has given up huge games to the likes of Sammy Watkins and T.Y. Hilton this season. Coach Jay Gruden intimated he wanted to get Jamison Crowder more involved. The shifty receiver has a great matchup to do so against a San Francisco defense that has been burned from the slot. On paper, Cousins should be in for a good game, which would certainly lead to 49ers fans dreaming about the quarterback switching sides next year.
NFL Research stat of the week: San Francisco has lost four straight games by three points or fewer, becoming the first team to do so since 1994 Houston Oilers (only other team to do so since the 1970 merger).
The matchup to watch Sunday afternoon is Mike Evans versus Patrick Peterson. The duo went head-to-head once before in Week 2, 2016 (40-7 Cards win). When covered by Peterson, Evans had 49 receiving yards on nine targets with four receptions, a touchdown, and one interception against. We say it each week, but at some point Jameis Winston will connect with DeSean Jackson. Sunday feels like the perfect time to bust out. Justin Bethel has been picked on opposite Peterson, and the Cardinals gave up a bevy of big plays last week.
How much does Adrian Peterson have left in the tank? Sure, he got few carries in New Orleans, but on most of those he still looked like a violent runner with juice. The question is whether his 32-year-old body can handle an increased workload. Arizona will install him as the early down runner (Bruce Arians said this week that All Day won't play on third downs). With all due respect to Chris Johnson, Peterson can't do any worse than the Cardinals running game has since David Johnson went down. If the Bucs are still dealing with injuries in the middle of their defense (Kwon Alexander is out; Lavonte David questionable), Peterson could find daylight behind a heretofore struggling offensive line.
NFL Research stat of the week: Cardinals with David Johnson since 2016: 334 rushing plays, 4.51 yards per carry, 18 rushing TDs, 5.6 yards per play.
Cardinals without David Johnson since 2016: 162 rushing plays, 2.95 yards per carry, 3 rushing TDs, 4.8 yards per play.
Jared Goff gets back-to-back stiff tests. After being slowed by the Seattle Seahawks last week, he faces the best corner duo in the NFL in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. The Jags duo is allowing the two lowest passer ratings when targeted this season (Bouye 38.3; Ramsey 47.1). Goff displayed improvement even amidst struggles last week but must protect the football against a ball-hawking defense. Expect Sean McVay to help his young quarterback by giving more touches to Todd Gurley. Despite big names on the D-line and at linebacker, the Jaguars have been grated on the ground, allowing 146 yards per game rushing (2nd most in the NFL) and 5.4 yards per carry. Gurley needs well more than the 14 carries and two receptions he saw last week.
Doug Marrone has made no secret of the Jags offensive plans: hide the QB and run the ball until the defense wilts or the game becomes a lopsided loss. The Jaguars are rushing the ball on 55.2 percent of their offensive plays this season, the highest rate in the NFL. Sunday's matchup would seem to work in the Jags favor. Wade Phillip's defenses have historically been run on, and the 2017 version is no different. The Rams were allowing 151.5 rushing yards per game through the first four weeks. Was last week's performance against Seattle's run game an aberration or a sign that L.A. has plugged the holes? Corralling a jacked-up locomotive like Leonard Fournette is a much different task than a deteriorating Eddie Lacy. The rookie running back finally busted loose with a big run last week and could scamper through the Rams' secondary often if L.A.'s first-level doesn't fill the gaps.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Jaguars' defense has held opposing QBs to 3 TDs, and 10 INTs this season, and the lowest passer rating in NFL (56.0).
Ben Roethlisberger looks to bounce back from his five-interception nightmare last week, but expect the Steelers to focus on riding Le'Veon Bell. The Chiefs run defense has been up and down this season, but mostly down the past few weeks -- they also allowed Bell to rush for 170 yards in last year's playoff meeting. Pittsburgh has been at its best with Bell carrying the load this year. On the road at Arrowhead provides the backdrop to do so again. When Roethlisberger does drop back to throw, JuJu Smith-Schuster could be the man to target this week, as K.C. has struggled to defend the slot thus far.
In the above paragraph I almost added the line: Bell running the ball will help keep an explosive Alex Smith-led offense on the sideline. An almost laughable thought last season, the Chiefs offense has been a juggernaut in 2017, with big plays from Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt. Andy Reid has employed the NFL's best pick-your-poison offense this season. Play the pass, and he'll run it down your throat with Hunt. Press your safeties forward, and you'll see the Hill blur streaking deep. The Steelers own the NFL's third-ranked pass defense by Football Outsiders' metrics, yet their list of quarterback opponents has been comical thus far. Pittsburgh will finally get tested by Smith at Arrowhead on Sunday afternoon.
NFL Research stat of the week: Alex Smith ranks first in the NFL in yards per attempt (8.8), completion percentage (76.6), TD-INT ratio (11-0), and passer rating (125.8). The best QB the Steelers have faced in terms of passer rating is Case Keenum (10th).
If the Chargers' offensive line can keep Khalil Mack at bay, Philip Rivers is in for his best passing day of the season. The Raiders secondary has gotten burned this season, including last week by a previously inept Ravens passing attack. Keenan Allen should be open all game on crossers over the middle and pick up plenty of YAC. Hunter Henry should continue breaking out against an Oakland defense that has been carved up by tight ends. If Mike Williams (questionable) makes his season debut as expected, L.A. will finally be able to deploy the diverse offensive mismatches they envisioned when snagging the big-bodied passer in the first-round (though Williams will likely see limited snaps).
Will Derek Carr's return rejuvenate a slumping Raiders offense? Oakland's passing attack wasn't exactly potent before the quarterback went down with a back injury. Now he returns against the NFL's fourth-ranked pass defense. With Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa crashing down against pass protection and putting Carr at risk of re-injury, expect the Raiders to be run-heavy early against the NFL's worst run defense. Marshawn Lynch showed his angry power last week and should find gaps up the middle. It's also time we see more Jalen Richard for Oakland. After the Chargers made Wayne Gallman and the Giants' sad running attack look viable last week, there is no reason for the Raiders not to pound the rock Sunday in Oakland.
With Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard all out, where will Eli Manning turn for offense? Wayne Gallman out of the backfield looked shifty in space last week, but the Broncos have the NFL's stingiest run game. Receiver Roger Lewis has shown flashes, but a third-fiddle playing first-fiddle makes for a bad orchestra. Rookie tight end Evan Engram is the best bet to see Manning's targets against a Broncos defense that has given up chunk gains to tight ends this season. On paper, this feels like a hopeless matchup for Manning & Company, but then again so did their last two Super Bowl victories (shrug emoji).
Sunday is setting up for a whole lot of C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles. The Giants run defense disappeared this season, and with Olivier Vernon out, the Broncos should lean on the ground game in prime time. Coming off a bye, Anderson should carry the load. The one-cut runner is averaging 4.5 yards per carry and gashed off runs when last we saw him. With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie suspended for the Giants, expect Trevor Siemian to go after Eli Apple with Emmanuel Sanders on the outside, especially if Janoris Jenkins travels with Demaryius Thomas.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Giants will be without 89 percent of their receptions (65 of 73), 88 percent of their receiving yards (719 of 821), and 80 percent of their touchdowns (4 of 5) by wide receivers this season. Their replacements would be going up against a Broncos defense that has allowed the NFL's lowest passer rating since 2016 (73.6).
Despite some growing pains, Jacoby Brissett has been one of the fun set of young quarterbacks to watch. The second-year pro offers a big arm, mobility in and out of the pocket, and confidence to heave the pigskin downfield repeatedly. Yes, he needs to fix his red zone flaws, but that restricted area flummoxes most young quarterbacks. Against a Titans defense that has been torched through the air, Brissett should find plenty of opportunities chuck bombs to T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief. Splash plays on Monday Night Football will certainly bring Brissett's stock up in the public eye.
Marcus Mariota practiced again on Friday but remains a likely game-time decision at this point. The Titans chances to get back to .500 rest largely on the health of the quarterback's hamstring. If he's good enough to go, the Titans have the weapons to take advantage of a leaky Colts secondary. If Matt Cassel must start again, it'll be another nightmare for Titans fans. The entire Tennessee offense is predicated on Mariota opening running lanes and stretching the defense vertical in the pass attack. All viewers (outside of Indy, at least) should be praying Mariota's hamstring is healthy enough to go.
NFL Research stat of the week: Despite playing with a backup QB all season, T.Y. Hilton ranks third in the NFL in reeving yards (466), and third in yards per reception (19.4).