Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
A smirking Rex Ryan told reporters that McCoy was questionable after banging his hand on a helmet in practice. The running back was seen afterwards in the locker room using the hand. We'd be surprised if McCoy were held out. UPDATE: McCoy and Clay are expected to play, per Rapoport.
The Cowboys could be cautious another week with Bryant's knee. Smith will be a game-time decision once again. UPDATE: Bailey and Smith are expected to play while Bryant is unlikely to, per Rapoport.
How many downfield routes Gronk runs this week will be worth tracking, assuming he plays. UPDATE: Gronkowski, Edelman, Blount and Hightower are all expected to play, and Garoppolo will be available, per Rapoport.
Another week, another Jeffery questionable designation. He hasn't missed a game. Royal sat out all week. Miller was limited. UPDATE: Jeffery, Miller and Carey are expected to play, while Royal is a game-time decision, per Rapoport.
Quinn, Brockers and Hayes missed practice Thursday and Friday. Britt was full-go on Friday, which is a good sign. UPDATE: Britt is expected to play, per Rapoport.
Butler was full-go Friday. Turbin and Mathis DNP.
The veteran plans to try and play this week after missing the last two games. UPDATE: Gates is expected to play, per Rapoport.
Dixon could make his pro debut. UPDATE: Dixon will play, but will not start, per Rapoport.
Randall was limited all week.
Martin and Sims' likely absences will prove a big opportunity for backup running back Jacquizz Rodgers.
*After Hurricane Matthew battered the Southeast Coast, forecasts look clear for our nine outdoor games this week. We will update Sunday prognostications for all non-dome contests as we drift closer to game time. *
Redskins at Ravens -- 64 degrees
Patriots at Browns -- 59 degrees
Titans at Dolphins -- 88 degrees -- just a 13 percent chance of rain
Jets at Steelers -- 62 degrees
Falcons at Broncos -- 76 degrees
Bills at Rams -- 87 degrees
Chargers at Raiders -- 76 degrees
Giants at Packers -- 44 degrees
Bucs at Panthers -- 58 degrees
What to Watch For
Tom Brady's back, baby! 259 days after playing in the AFC championship game, the Patriots get their Hall of Fame quarterback back on the field. After leaning on the running game to start the season, we expect the Patriots' offense to get back to dicing up defenses through the air. Production from Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and tight end Martellus Bennet should all increase under Brady's precision passing. Cleveland's defense provides little pass-rush threat and is one of four teams to allow 10-plus passing TDs this season. How much the Pats use Rob Gronkowski (hamstring) in downfield routes is something to monitor this week and in coming games.
Cody Kessler doesn't possess a big arm, but has moved the Browns' offense well (most pass yards by a Browns starting QB in first two career games in franchise history -- 467). Kessler spreads the ball around with plus accuracy. Terrelle Pryor proved he's not a flash-in-the-pan receiver, repeatedly beating Josh Norman early last week. Bill Belichick is a master at taking away a team's top target. Hue Jackson can scheme Pryor open with the best of play-callers. The chess match should be fun to watch Sunday.
Say what? Stat of the week: Gronkowski has gone two straight games without a receiving TD. Gronk's last single-season drought of three-plus games was in 2011 (4 games).
Coming off an Achilles injury, Steve Smith has no business playing like he was never injured. The 37-year-old receiver is cutting fluidly and creating separation from much younger defensive backs. Smith put up 16 catches for 198 yards and a touchdown over the last two weeks. The matchup this week with Redskins corner Josh Norman will be fascinating to watch. The two had a history in Carolina, but downplayed it all week. Norman and Smith both win with physicality. Bring your goggles; there could be blood and guts spilled.
Kirk Cousins snapped out of his red-zone funk last week, targeting Jordan Reed heavily and tossing three RZ TDs. The Redskins quarterback faces the NFL's worst red-zone defense this week, so expect more from Reed. Cousins will need to be stellar between the 20s against Baltimore's third-ranked pass defense and a pass rush that can collapse the pocket.
Say what? Stat of the week: The Redskins rank last in the NFL in third-down percentage allowed (57.5 percent), the only team in NFL that is allowing more than 50 percent on third-down conversions. Since 1991 (as far back as we can track), no team has ever allowed 50 percent conversions on third down for a season.
Carson Wentz hasn't thrown an interception all season and faces a Lions defense tied for dead last in turnovers forced this season. Against a banged-up Lions defense that gave up 302 yards passing to Brian Hoyer last week, Wentz should be in for another big day. The rookie displays poise in the pocket behind a cohesive offensive line playing well. If the Eagles block Kerry Hyder Sunday, Detroit's pass rush will be nonexistent, giving Wentz plenty of time to find his targets across the field.
The last time Jim Schwartz faced the Lions as an opposing DC at Ford Field he was carried off with a win. The former Detroit head coach has done a masterful job through three games in Philadelphia. His D is allowing just nine points per game while ranking third in total yards allowed (274.3) and third in rushing yards allowed (71). Fletcher Cox could feast against an interior Lions offensive line that struggles at times. Without a run game to support him, Matthew Stafford will be forced to throw often. With tight end Eric Ebron out, Stafford must get Golden Tate involved early after the receiver has been atrocious to open the season.
Brian Hoyer could lock down the starting quarterback job in Chicago even if Jay Cutler returns healthy. After back-to-back 300-plus yard passing weeks, Hoyer faces a Colts defense giving up 277 yards through the air per week and has allowed 30-plus points in three of four games. The loss of Kevin White stings, but Hoyer has proven adept at getting the ball out quickly and spreading the wealth. With Alshon Jeffery drawing Vontae Davis in coverage, expect a big week from Eddie Royal and tight end Zack Miller matched against Colts linebackers.
The finger-pointing in Indianapolis got heavy this week, but those digits shouldn't be wagged in Andrew Luck's direction. Facing a Bears defense that lacks consistent pressure (six sacks on the season), Luck should have more time to throw, even behind a faulty offensive line. Vic Fangio's secondary has been better than the sum of its parts this season and will need to be again against T.Y. Hilton and Philip Dorsett. Chicago's defensive front is susceptible to the run, so this could be the day Frank Gore finally breaks the 100-yard barrier in Indy.
Say what? Stat of the week: The Colts have a sack differential of -8 this season (T-worst in NFL): allowed 15 sacks on offense; registered seven sacks on defense.
Mike Mularkey gets a plum scenario to unleash his desired ground attack. DeMarco Murray looks like his 2014-self again behind one of the best offensive lines in football. Murray is averaging 5.2 yards per carry and on pace for 1,360 yards rushing. Against a Dolphins defense ranked 29th in the league against the run, giving up 129.8 rush yards per contest, Mularkey will unleash Murray and Derrick Henry often -- just avoid Ndamukong Suh. With wet conditions likely following Hurricane Matthew, we could be in for a slop-fest, which meshes with Mularkey's mudder mentality.
There's not much to love about Adam Gase's offense through four games, but let's not go overboard. New offenses take time to gel -- the people in Miami have seen this plenty the past few years. Gase must, however, pare down his backfield rotation. Jay Ajayi hasn't looked great, but he's the best option with Arian Foster still out. Ajayi averaged 5.5 yards per carry in limited work last week and has never had more than nine offensive touches in any game in his two-year career. Gase needs to give the young back the chance to sink or swim this week.
Say what? Stat of the week: The Dolphins are only converting 26.7 percent of third downs this season (last in NFL) -- 30th last season at 30.7 percent.
The battle to watch in Minnesota this week is Xavier Rhodes versus DeAndre Hopkins. The past two weeks Rhodes helped hold Kelvin Benjamin and Odell Beckham Jr. to a combined three receptions for 23 yards on seven targets. Hopkins is off to a slow start with Brock Osweiler under center, earning fewer than 60 receiving yards in three of four games -- Hopkins had more tackles (2) than receptions (1) last week. If the Texans are to pull the road upset, Nuk will have to go off against the stiffest one-on-one matchup he's faced.
With Stefon Diggs (groin; doubtful) likely out, Sam Bradford's job becomes immensely more difficult. The Vikings quarterback has been superlative through three starts, spreading the ball around and playing with poise behind a leaky offensive line. Bradford has not thrown an INT in 122 consecutive passes. Sunday he faces the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL. With Diggs ailing, Cordarrelle Patterson needs to continue the progress he showed last week as a viable every-down player in Norv Turner's offense.
The consternation surrounding Ryan Fitzpatrick hit fever pitch this week in New York, but it's not the only problem with the Jets. After starting out the season like a gangbuster, Matt Forte's production has dwindled. Forte earned 265 scrimmage yards on 29.5 touches per game in the opening two weeks. Since then, he has just 107 scrimmage yards on 16.5 touches/week the past two losses. Facing the Steelers No. 4 ranked rushing defense is no picnic, but Chan Gailey needs to manufacture touches for Forte and Bilal Powell with Eric Decker out again.
Le'Veon Bell returned to gobble up 178 scrimmage yards last week. Given that the game was a blowout, his usage could be even greater moving forward. With the Jets wary of getting burned deep -- a common occurrence this season -- Bell should have his way with linebackers in space in the passing game this week. Pittsburgh's running back has competition from David Johnson for the title of the NFL's best receiving back. Against slower New York linebackers, Bell should remind us how superior he is as a dual-threat running back.
Say what? Stat of the week:Antonio Brown had 64 receiving yards in Week 4 vs. KC (on only five targets). Each of the last six times Brown earned fewer than 100 receiving yards in a game, he responded with 100-plus yards in his next contest.
Matt Ryan's soaring aerial attack heads to the 'No Fly Zone' in the best matchup of Week 5. The Falcons boast the No. 1 ranked offense in points per game, total yards per game, yards per play, passing yards per game and passer rating. Denver's defense, led by Von Miller, has played better than the crew that won the Super Bowl. Wade Phillips' unit hasn't allowed a 100-plus yard receiver this entire season, and Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. have combined to hold quarterbacks to a 47.7 passer rating when targeting No. 1 receivers. This week they will face Julio Jones coming off a 300-yard game and a Matt Ryan more comfortable spreading the ball to his improved weapons. This game makes me giddy just typing about it.
C.J. Anderson should see the rock plenty on Sunday. Anderson is averaging fewer than 3.0 yards per carry in each of the past two games. Sunday he'll face a Falcons defense that will be without several key starters in their front seven (LB Deion Jones, LB De'Vondre Campbell, LB Paul Worrilow). Atlanta yanked A.J. Hawk off the street because it needed linebackers so badly.
Say what? Stat of the week: Each of the three receivers that recorded 300-plus receiving yards in the Super Bowl era failed to reach 100-plus receiving yards in their next game: Calvin Johnson, 2013, 83 yards; Flipper Anderson, 1989, 77 yards; Stephone Paige, 1985-1986, 93 yards.
With Tyler Eifert out another week, A.J. Green is sure to see a bevy of targets again this week. The NFL's receptions leader faces a Cowboys defense that has been solid this season under Rod Marinelli. Morris Claiborne played well against the likes of Odell Beckham, DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery this season. Green is another beast. The Bengals' stud pass-catcher can win with route precision, speed and size. To open the season, Cincinnati's offense has been far too Green-or-bust. A.J. has earned 35 percent or more targets in each game this season. That number won't dip in Dallas.
After giving up 100-plus yards rushing the first two weeks of the season, the Bengals' defense stiffened the past two weeks. Facing an anemic Dolphins team helped, but getting Vontaze Burfict back on the field can't be understated. The linebacker's clashes with Ezekiel Elliott should be epic. The rookie leads the NFL in rushing entering Week 5. Zeke has been more patient hitting the holes and has used his combination of power and speed to the outside to mow over second-level defenders. The Cowboys will ride Zeke again. On Sunday, Elliott should become the first rookie in the Super Bowl era to have 20-plus carries in each of his first five games.
Say what? Stat of the week: The Cowboys have five takeaways through the first four games this season. Dallas had 11 takeaways in all of 2015 (last in NFL).
LeSean McCoy has been fantastic to open the season. The shifty back displayed his patented quick cuts in the tight spaces, racking up 100-plus scrimmage yards in two straight contests. McCoy has compiled 297 rushing yards on 67 totes through four games and was the catalyst in the Bills' two-game winning streak -- destroying the Cardinals in Week 3 and having a better-than-the-numbers-show outing in Week 4 versus the Patriots. He faces a much stiffer test against the stout Rams front starring Arron Donald. If McCoy (hand) is stymied, can Tyrod Taylor make enough plays through the air?
Yes, Case Keenum leads an offense ranked last in total yards, and 30th in scoring, rushing and passing. In the Rams' three-game win streak the quarterback hasn't been a liability. He won't scare defenses, but he's not killing the Rams like he did Week 1. How will he fair against the potent pass rush of Jerry Hughes and pocket pushing of Kyle Williams? We're past praying for a Todd Gurley breakout game behind an offensive line providing few creases against stacked boxes. Keenum has made just enough big plays to Brian Quink, Kenny Britt and reliable tight end Lance Kendricks to make up for the foiled rushing attack. Keenum will need to pull more magic out against Rex Ryan's D.
Every San Diego fan is thinking the same thing: How will the Chargers find a way to lose this week? Philip Rivers has a good matchup to put up yardage. He faces a Raiders defense ranked last in passing yards allowed and tied for 27th in sacks. Oakland always seems to allow at least one blown coverage a week. The Chargers are averaging 30.3 points per game, one of just three teams over that 30-point threshold. Rivers should be able to pick apart Oakland's secondary and score points.
We should see a shootout Sunday. The Raiders can't stop anyone and Derek Carr is leading one of the most efficient offenses in the NFL (too few people are talking nationally about the proficiency of Oakland's O). Carr's sublime pocket movement (just two sacks this season) and pinpoint accuracy should dice up a San Diego defense riddled with injury and inconsistency. The Chargers getting Joey Bosa on the field should be a boost, but will it be enough? With Latavius Murray out, we get to see more of rookies DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard. The young running backs bring a dynamic element to the Oakland backfield.
After being held to a career-low 23 yards receiving last week, Odell Beckham seems poised for a big day. Coach Ben McAdoo said he needs to get his No. 1 receiver the ball more, meaning targets are coming Beckham's way. The Packers boast talent in the secondary, but injuries coupled with busted coverages has led to big passing days for opponents. Green Bay struggled to cover No. 1 receivers, allowing Marvin Jones to go off for 205 receiving yards and 2 TDs, and Stefon Diggs also had nine receptions for 182 yards and a score.
Aaron Rodgers looked to be back on track in Week 3, tossing four touchdowns for a 129.3 passer rating (snapped a streak of 14 straight games, including playoffs, with a passer rating below 100.0) before Mike McCarthy took his foot off the gas. Was that a sign of coming to life or the product of facing a talent-poor Lions secondary? We could get the answer Sunday night. Rodgers faces a Giants team that lacks a pass rush to push him off his spot and another banged-up secondary (CB Eli Apple (hamstring), CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin) are both questionable). The Janoris Jenkins vs. Jordy Nelson matchup is one to watch.
Say what? Stat of the week: The Giants are the only team without an INT this season. New York ranks tied for last in takeaways (1) and sacks (4).
The Panthers will turn to veteran Derek Anderson on Monday night. The veteran passer moved the ball well last week after entering for Newton (17/23, 172 pass yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, 87.6 passer rating), but limits the Panthers' playbook. With Jonathan Stewart still ailing, Carolina will need to lean heavily on Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen and Devin Funchess against a Bucs pass defense that has repeatedly been beaten this season. Tampa is also missing several starting defensive linemen that could take advantage of a porous Panthers offensive line.