Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
Arizona Cardinals: RB Kerwynn Williams (quadricep, ribs, back), LB Josh Bynes (ankle), TE Troy Niklas (ankle), RB Elijhaa Penny (hand, groin), G Earl Watford (ankle)
Williams and Penny were limited all week.
Wagner sat out practices this week.
The Bills ruled out CB Shareece Wright (concussion). WR Kelvin Benjamin was not designated and will play.
Miami Dolphins: WR DeVante Parker (ankle), TE MarQueis Gray (hip), DE Charles Harris (thigh), LB Neville Hewitt (hamstring), S T.J. McDonald (shoulder), S Michael Thomas (not injury related), CB Alterraun Verner (hamstring), DE Cameron Wake (illness)
Parker was full-go on Friday. T Laremy Tunsil (ankle), QB Matt Moore (foot), and RB Damien Williams (shoulder) were listed as doubtful to play.
Coleman was limited on Thursday and Friday.
Mack sat out Thursday and Friday and will be a game-time call. The Falcons ruled out TE Levine Toilolo (knee).
Minnesota Vikings: OUT: CB Tramaine Brock (foot), C Pat Elflein (shoulder), LS Kevin McDermott (shoulder), DT Shamar Stephen (ankle)
Mixon was limited on Thursday and Friday.
Baltimore Ravens: WR Mike Wallace (knee), DT Brandon Williams (back), G Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder), T Austin Howard (knee), DT Patrick Ricard (neck)
Wallace was full-go Thursday and Friday. Williams and Howard were also full participants on Friday. The Ravens listed WR Jeremy Maclin (knee) as doubtful to play.
Cleveland Browns: CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun (knee, not injury related), RB Matthew Dayes (knee), S Derron Smith (hip), CB Jamar Taylor (foot)
Taylor was limited on Thursday and Friday.
Pouncey returned to practice on Friday after sitting out sessions earlier in the week. RB Le'Veon Bell (not injury related) and QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related) sat out practice on Friday, indicating they could be rested this week.
Cole Beasley (illness) was downgraded from questionable to out on Saturday. Smith sat out practice on Thursday and Friday. Collins was limited. The Cowboys ruled out DE David Irving (concussion) and DE Benson Mayowa (back, illness). Dallas also placed LT Tyron Smith on IR on Friday.
Green Bay Packers: WR Geronimo Allison (illness), T Ulrick John (back), LB Clay Matthews (hamstring), CB Damarious Randall (knee)
Matthews and Randall were limited all week. Allison returned to practice on Friday as a limited participant. The Packers ruled out WR Davante Adams (concussion), G Jahri Evans (knee), RB Aaron Jones (knee), WR Jordy Nelson (shoulder) and TE Richard Rodgers (shoulder).
The Texans ruled out WR DeAndre Hopkins (calf), G Jeff Allen (concussion), and RB Jordan Todman (shoulder).
Moncrief was limited all week.
Ryan sat out practice all week. Tennessee ruled out RB DeMarco Murray (knee), meaning Derrick Henry will carry the load.
Kansas City Chiefs: CB Kenneth Acker (illness), T Cameron Erving (illness), LB Tamba Hali (knee), RB Akeem Hunt (shoulder), DE Rakeem Nunez-Roches (illness), LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (shoulder), RB Charcandrick West (illness)
Stephenson was limited all week. The Broncos ruled out WR Cody Latimer (thigh), WR Emmanuel Sanders (ankle), and DE Zach Kerr (ankle).
New Orleans Saints: OUT: T Terron Armstead (thigh), DE Trey Hendrickson (ankle), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: TE Cameron Brate (hip, knee), WR Chris Godwin (ankle), WR DeSean Jackson (ankle), DE Ryan Russell (shoulder)
Brate was full-go on Friday. Godwin and Jackson were limited.
Forte sat out practice all week. The Jets declared TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (ribs, foot) doubtful to play.
New England Patriots: WR Chris Hogan (shoulder), DE Eric Lee (ankle, finger), S Devin McCourty (shoulder), WR Matt Slater (hamstring), LB Kyle Van Noy (calf), T LaAdrian Waddle (ankle), RB James White (ankle)
Hogan, White, and Van Noy were limited all week. The Pats ruled out DT Alan Branch (knee), RB Rex Burkhead (knee), and RB Mike Gillislee (knee)
Amerson and McDonald were limited all week.
Los Angeles Chargers: RB Melvin Gordon (ankle), DT Corey Liuget (knee), T Russell Okung (groin), LB Denzel Perryman (hamstring)
Gordon was limited on Thursday and Friday. The running back said he plans to play, but will be a game-time decision. Perryman and Liuget were limited all week.
Kupp was limited on Friday -- he could sit with a bevy of other Rams starters. LB Mark Barron (achilles) was listed as doubtful.
Washington Redskins: LB Ryan Kerrigan (calf), WR Robert Davis (concussion), WR Maurice Harris (back), G Kyle Kalis (ankle, back), DE Terrell McClain (toe), LB Martrell Spaight (illness, ankle)
Kerrigan was limited on Friday. The Redskins ruled out LB Ryan Anderson (knee), LB Zach Brown (illness, knee, achilles), DT Evander Hood (elbow).
Flowers sat out Friday, while JPP was limited. The Giants ruled out TE Evan Engram (rib), WR Tavarres King (concussion), and WR Sterling Shepard (neck).
Browns at Steelers -- 16 degrees, mostly cloudy
Packers at Lions (indoors) -- 9 degrees, partly cloudy
Texans at Colts (indoors) -- 9 degrees, partly cloudy
Bears at Vikings (indoors) -- -9 degrees, clear
Jets at Patriots - 11 degrees, clear, winds 10 mph
Redskins at Giants -- 20 degrees, partly cloudy, winds 13 mph
Cowboys at Eagles -- 22 degrees, partly cloudy, winds 12 mph
Panthers at Falcons (indoors) -- 43 degrees, partly cloudy
Bengals at Ravens -- 26 degrees, partly cloudy, winds 14 mph
Jaguars at Titans -- 25 degrees, clear, winds 10 mph
Saints at Buccaneers -- 68 degrees, clear
Bills at Dolphins -- 75 degrees, clear
Raiders at Chargers -- 63 degrees, mostly cloudy
Chiefs at Broncos -- 26 degrees, mostly cloudy, winds 10 mph
49ers at Rams -- 65 degrees, mostly cloudy
Cardinals at Seahawks -- 41 degrees, partly cloudy
What to Watch For
Brett Hundley plays out the string for the Packers, who are missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Green Bay is averaging 10.4 fewer points per game with Hundley at quarterback this season. The third-year QB could be playing for a chance to keep the backup gig next season. We've seen replacement quarterbacks torch the Lions in meaningless season-finales in the past (hello, Matt Flynn), but Sunday's tilt at Ford Field sets up as an afternoon for a heavy workload for Jamaal Williams against a Lions defense that was tortured by running backs last week.
If Sunday is Jim Caldwell's final game as head coach of the Lions, Matthew Stafford has a chance to send him off in style. The Lions quarterback struggled behind an injured offensive line last week but has destroyed Dom Capers' defense in recent meetings. Stafford is averaging 364 passing yards with seven touchdowns to two interceptions in the past three outings versus Green Bay. Marvin Jones is set up for a marvelous end-of-season matchup versus a porous Packers secondary, and Eric Ebron has a chance to continue his stellar stretch run against a defense ranked 21st versus tight ends by Football Outsiders' metrics.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Packers are 94-48 with Aaron Rodgers as the starter, and 6-10-1 with any other starting QB since 2008.
The absence of DeAndre Hopkins (calf) cuts out most the Texans offense. Nuk leads Houston with 96 receptions this season. The next closest player is running back Lamar Miller with 36. T.J. Yates could struggle to move the ball sans Hopkins, even against a soft Colts defense. Without Hopkins, the player to watch for Houston is Will Fuller. How will the speedster react to being the go-to target in the passing game? Without Nuk taking away coverage, can Fuller beat double teams deep? It's the second-year pro's chance to prove he can grow into more than just an occasional fiddle.
In what is likely Chuck Pagano's final game in Indianapolis, how will his players fight? Jacoby Brissett has a good matchup against a sieve-like Texans secondary to end the season off with a bang (and possibly improve his trade stock if Andrew Luck returns healthy next season?). But the player to watch Sunday is Frank Gore. The ageless back continues to display spry legs 17 weeks into the season. The 34-year-old can still power through tackles, and his superior vision allows him to pick up yards behind a mediocre offensive line. Gore is 139 yards shy of his 10th 1,000-yard season. Will Pagano feed Gore as a going-away present?
NFL Research stat of the week: A hope for a brighter 2018:
Deshaun Watson career as a starter: 3-3 W-L, 34.7 points per game, 266.2 pass YPG, 18-7 TD-INT, 108.4 passer rating.
Andrew Luck career as a starter: 43-27 W-L, 25.2 points per game, 272.5 pass YPG, 132-69 TD-INT, 87.3 passer rating.
Mitchell Trubisky has improved down the stretch of the season, displaying improved understanding of defenses and throwing receivers open. Last week's stat-line didn't jump off the page, but the rookie averaged 8.4 yards per attempt, and showed an ability to rifle the ball through bad weather at a snowy Soldier Field, which bodes well for future seasons. Trubisky faces his toughest test in the finale, however. The Vikings defense ranks in the top 2 in nearly every major statistic, allowing just 16.1 points per game, 193.8 passing yards per game, and 26.3 third down percent. With John Fox likely on his way out of Chicago after Sunday, will the coach put the ball in Trubisky's hands versus a menacing defense to close out his tenure?
In the previous meeting this season, Jerick McKinnon tortured the Bears for 146 scrimmage yards, including 95 on the ground. That outing came before Latavius Murray ramped into gear, providing the Vikings with the second-best rushing tandem in the NFL since Week 5 (1,193 rushing yards over that span). The Bears have been gashed on the ground in recent weeks (nearly 4.7 yards per carry), so expect the Vikings to come pounding the ball early. Murray and McKinnon picking up chunk gains will open the play action for Case Keenum to hit Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen for a few deep shots Sunday in Minnesota. The only cause for concern for the Vikings offense is an already banged-up offensive line coming out with any more significant injuries heading into the postseason
NFL Research stat of the week: The Vikings are the eighth team in NFL history to make the playoffs in the same season their stadium is hosting the Super Bowl. Minnesota (12-3) has the best record of any team in a season in which it hosted the Super Bowl (next closest are the 1970 and 1970 Miami Dolphins teams at 10-4).
Playoff implications: New England clinches home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win or a Pittsburgh loss.
The Patriots only need to knock off the Jets to force the AFC playoff road to go through Foxborough. The Pats have been the No. 1 seed for five of their seven Super Bowl appearances. Tom Brady can sew up the 2017 MVP race with a resounding air game against a porous Jets pass defense. Rob Gronkowski against rookie safety Jamaal Williams is the matchup to watch. Gronk has averaged 116.0 receiving YPG over the last four tilts. The tight end burned the Jets for 83 yards and two scores on six catches in the meeting earlier this year. The Brady-Gronk connection is just heating up as we hit January.
Bill Belichick called Bryce Petty a "good player" this week. The Patriots coach was being kind. In two games, Petty has looked like the worst starting quarterback in the NFL. The third-year pro has no accuracy beyond seven yards, has terrible pocket presence, and consistently hits his receivers in the feet instead of the hands. If Josh McCown had been healthy, the Jets could have pulled off wins each of the past two weeks -- that's a testament to Todd Bowles, who received an extension on Friday. The Jets continue to play feisty, and Robby Anderson could do some damage deep against New England if Petty could find the range even for a few series. How much do other NFL coaches think of Petty and the Jets chances to pull off the upset? Word is that the Steelers plan to rest their starters, despite having an outside opportunity to swipe the No. 1 seed. Bowles doesn't want to play Christian Hackenberg, but if things go as poorly for Petty as they have the past two weeks, it's time to give the second-round pick a snap or seven.
NFL Research stat of the week:Dion Lewis needs 23 scrimmage yards to reach 1,000 for the season, which would give the Patriots three players with 1,000-plus scrimmage yards in a season for the first time in franchise history (Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks).
Will Sunday's game be the last for Kirk Cousins in a Redskins jersey? The free-agent-to-be needs 65 passing yards in Week 17 to record his third consecutive 4,000-yard season. Cousins has carried an injury-ravaged Washington squad that is without a consistent go-to target, no semblance of a running game, and a banged-up offensive line. This isn't a one-year wonder for Cousins either. Only Tom Brady (105.5) and Drew Brees (102.0) have a higher passer rating than Cousins (99.0) since 2015. That the veteran passer is doing it in a season in which his best pass-catchers were injured or ineffective, his former hotshot offensive coordinator became a head coach, and his offensive line was decimated, proves he's a franchise quarterback. Sunday he should show off against a terrible Giants defense that won't be able to stick with Jamison Crowder out of the slot. After this week, the question of whether Washington will finally pay Cousins will be the biggest story in D.C. sports.
Will Sunday's game be the last for Eli Manning in a Giants jersey? The two-time Super Bowl winner will tie Michael Strahan for most games played as a Giants (216). New general manager Dave Gettleman sounded like he's leaning towards keeping Manning into 2018. Gettleman cited the big day Manning had against Philadelphia as a reason for optimism. It will be much more difficult for Manning to impress his new boss in person. The Giants will be without Sterling Shepard (neck), Evan Engram (ribs) and Tavarres King (concussion) on Sunday versus the Redskins. The absences take away most of Manning reliable targets. Given the injuries and matchup, we should expect to see a large workload for running back Wayne Gallman against a Washington defense that has been gashed on the ground the past two months.
NFL Research stat of the week:Kirk Cousins pass rankings since 2015 (minimum 500 attempts):
Completion percentage: 67.3, 3rd in NFL
Passing yards per attempt: 7.9, 3rd in NFL
Passer Rating: 99.9, 3rd in NFL
Passing yards: 13,018, 4th in NFL
Passing TDs: 81, T-7th
The squeaky wheel usually gets the grease. Dez Bryant was the loudest wheel in the NFL this week. Coming off a frustrating performance last week that wiped away a chance at the playoffs, I expect Dak Prescott to force-feed Bryant early to pacify the receiver. Dez struggled this season, and is on pace for his first sub-1,000-yard performance when he plays 16 games. Prescott also had his troubles, throwing three times as many INTs (13) as he did in 2016 (4). The loss of Tyron Smith could foreshadow another painful day for Prescott. Going out on a high-note is all the Cowboys have left to play for.
It's unclear how much Nick Foles will play Sunday, but the Eagles starter needs reps to shake off last week's disastrous performance. The Eagles are averaging more than 100 fewer total YPG with Foles as the starting QB. The two areas in which Carson Wentz shined, third downs and extending plays, Foles is failing. The Eagles' third-down QB conversion rate has taken a huge dip, from 49.0 under Wentz to 21.7 with Foles. Foles has struggled when extending plays this year, earning a 63.1 passer rating when holding the ball for 2.5-plus seconds (Wentz had a 97.8 passer rating in those situations). Philly fans hope to get a glimpse of a calmer, more decisive quarterback before the playoffs start.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Eagles have been very opportunistic with takeaways this season -- 30 takeaways are third-most in the NFL; 97 points scored off turnovers ranks 5th in NFL. Three of the last four Super Bowl winners ranked Top 5 in points scored off turnovers that season (only exception was 2015 Broncos who ranked 12th).
With Ben Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell sitting out practice on Friday for "non-injury-related" reasons, all indications are that Mike Tomlin will rest his starters ahead of the playoffs. Assuming Big Ben sits, Landry Jones will get the start. Jones started the season-finale against the Browns last season, compiling 24 completions on 37 attempts for 277 yards, three TDs and one INT. Even against a porous Browns passing defense, it's unlikely Jones will have a huge day. Stevan Ridley and Fitzgerald Toussaint would share the backfield snaps if Bell sits.
The Steelers sitting starters might open the door for Hue Jackson and the Browns to avoid becoming the second team ever to go 0-16 (joining the 2008 Detroit Lions). Even against backups, it won't be a cakewalk for turnover-prone DeShone Kizer. The Browns -28 turnover differential is T-worst in the Super Bowl era. The Browns have the most giveaways (39) and fewest takeaways (11) in the NFL this season. The matchup to watch is ex-Browns corner Joe Haden on receiver Josh Gordon. The big-bodied receiver was silenced last week (two catches for 19 yards). Cleveland needs him to beat Haden and the rest of the Steelers secondary for the Browns to pull off their first victory of the season.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Steelers have allowed 6.6 yards per carry since Week 13 (last in NFL) since Week 13 without Ryan Shazier.
Playoff implications: The Falcons will secure a spot in the playoffs with a win over the Panthers or a Seahawks loss. Carolina (already in the playoffs) can win NFC South with a victory and a Saints loss. The Panthers can end up as high as the No. 2 seed (win + losses by the Vikings, Rams, and Saints) or as low as the No. 5 seed (loss or a Saints win).
In the first matchup this season, the Panthers won on the strength of their ground attack -- 201 rushing yards, led by Cam Newton's 86. Since then, the Panthers own the NFL's best rushing offense (172.2 rush YPG) and the second-best scoring offense (30.8 PPG). The Falcons' run defense has stiffened the past five weeks, allowing 83.8 rushing yards per game in that span -- second fewest in the NFL. With an injured receiving corps, look for Newton to keep the ball to himself often Sunday. Atlanta has struggled with mobile quarterbacks, ranking 30th in the NFL in rushing yards per game allowed to signal-callers. Christian McCaffrey will play the biggest part in the passing attack against a Dan Quinn defense that has problems containing backs in space. The Falcons have allowed 104 receptions to RBs this season (most in NFL).
The Falcons moved the ball on Carolina's defense in the Week 9 loss, with Matt Ryan tossing one of his three 300-yard games of the season, and Julio Jones amassing 118 receiving yards. If not for Jones flubbing a game-changing TD in the fourth quarter, the Falcons could have secured a road win. Julio is the key Sunday in Atlanta. The Pro Bowl receiver has averaged 164.0 receiving yards per game over his last four contests versus Carolina. The Panthers secondary got picked apart by Jameis Winston last week and could be in for another dive-bomb from Ryan and Julio on Sunday afternoon.
NFL Research stat of the week: Matt Ryan: 8.9 yards per attempt (fifth-best) vs. blitz this season. Panthers Defense: Highest blitz rate in NFL (44.9 percent).
The Bengals spoiled the Detroit Lions playoff hopes last week. Can Marvin Lewis' team do it again in what could be the coach's final game? A buzzing Baltimore secondary, led by Eric Weddle (who can trigger a $1 million bonus if the Ravens make the playoffs) will make life more difficult on Andy Dalton, who has struggled when pressured. Sunday's tilt in Baltimore portends a ground-heavy approach for Cincy. If Joe Mixon (ankle, questionable) plays, he could be a difference maker against a Ravens defense that was run on last week at home. If Mixon can't go, Giovani Bernard becomes the Bengals last best hope of moving the chains. The pint-sized back has been the brightest spot in an otherwise dull ending to the Bengals season.
Alex Collins owns a matchup to put his stamp on the end of the regular season. Cincinnati has struggled to slow the ground game (128.5 rushing yards per game, 31st in NFL) and is expected to be without linebacker Vontaze Burfict (shoulder, doubtful). The Ravens have rushed for 100-plus yards in four of the past five games. It's not surprising that once the run attack got going, it opened the big throws off play action. Joe Flacco has thrown for more yardage on 20-plus air-yard passes in the last four games than he did in the first 11 this season. A heavy dose of Collins battering his way through the Bengals line should soften the secondary for Flacco Sunday.
NFL Research stat of the week:Andy Dalton's 23 turnovers against the Ravens are the most by any player against any team since 2011 (when Dalton was drafted).
Can LeSean McCoy carry the Bills to the playoffs? The shifty back accounts for the third highest percentage of his team's scrimmage yards in the NFL. His 32.6 percent is behind only Todd Gurley (36.7) and Le'Veon Bell (1,946). The Dolphins held McCoy to 50 rushing yards on 20 carries in their previous meeting, but were burned by the back out of the backfield (four catches for 46 yards). Keep an eye on Tyrod Taylor's pocket mobility. Miami pass rushers often allowed the shifty QB to extend the play and dart from the pocket to pick up key first downs. If the McCoy-Taylor combo is keeping the Dolphins off balance, Buffalo will be able to scoreboard-watch, praying to get the help needed to end the playoff famine.
Is Sunday Jay Cutler's final NFL game before he heads to the broadcast booth? The Dolphins quarterback is in the bottom third of signal-callers in almost every relevant stat: 24th in TD-INT ratio (19-14), 25th in passing yards per game (204.6), 26th in passer rating (80.9) and 29th in yards per attempt (6.2). Adam Gase's dink-and-dunk offense has done Cutler no favors. The player most often on the other end of those short passes, Jarvis Landry, could also be playing his final game in a Dolphins jersey. The free-agent-to-be has racked up a boatload of catches (103) but is 105 yards shy of breaking the 1,000-yard barrier. That combo is tough to pull off. Is Landry worth top-dollar or the franchise tag to keep him Miami?
NFL Research stat of the week: Only three teams in the Super Bowl era have made the playoffs with a point differential as bad or worse than the 2017 Bills (-63): 2011 Broncos (-81), 2010 Seahawks (-97), and 2004 Rams (-73). All three were eliminated in the Divisional Round.
Alvin 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: 1,486 scrimmage yards --14 shy; Kamara: 1,426 scrimmage yards -- 74 shy). They should both reach the mark on Sunday. In the previous meeting, the duo combined for 231 scrimmage yards, with Kamara scoring twice. Against a Tampa defense that gives up the third-most rushing scores and ranks 21st by Football Outsiders covering backs in space, both Ingram and Kamara should eat as the Saints attempt to clinch the division.
After last game's blindside hit from Mike Evans on Marshon Lattimore, things could get testy between the Bucs and Saints. Even without that undertone, this WR-CB battle would be one to watch. Lattimore has locked receivers up regularly this season and is the front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. The rookie holding Evans to one catch for 13 yards in the last meeting likely played a role in the wideout's cheap shot. Evans is gunning for a milestone Sunday. He needs just 54 yards to become the third player in NFL history to reach 1,000 yards in each of his first four seasons to start a career (Randy Moss, A.J. Green). After the blindside hit, Lattimore being the man to keep him from reaching that goal would be apropos.
NFL Research stat of the week:Drew Brees leads the NFL in completion percentage (71.9) this season -- would be highest single-season mark in NFL history -- but also has his fewest pass attempts per game (33.7), and fewest pass YPG (272.6), in his 12 seasons with NO (since 2006).
After last week's collapse in the second half, the Jags hope to rebuild Blake Bortles' confidence heading into the postseason. The Jaguars are 8-0 this season when Bortles does not throw an INT. They are 2-5 when he has one or more. Bortles regressed in the pocket last week when the Jags got into comeback mode. They need a calmer Blake come playoff time. It doesn't help Bortles that leading receiver Marqise Lee will miss his second straight game, but getting Allen Hurns back will help. Even with Hurns returning, keep an eye on Keelan Cole against a Titans defense susceptible to the big play. The rookie has the second-most receiving yards in the NFL since Week 13: Tyreek Hill (457) Cole (442), Rob Gronkowski (382), DeAndre Hopkins (374).
If the Titans are to overcome an angry Jacksonville defense to make the playoffs, Marcus Mariota must have his best game of the season. In the past six outings, the third-year pro owns a passer rating of 72.6, with a TD-INT ratio of 5-9. More than a few of those interceptions have been awful throws. Jimmy Garoppolo peppered the Jags over the middle last week, so look for Mariota to target the soft underbelly Sunday. The Titans best matchup is security-blanket Delanie Walker against a Jacksonville defense that ranks 19th versus tight ends, according to Football Outsiders' metrics. To save their season, Mularkey needs to allow Mariota to run the show, and speed up the tempo. From there it's on the QB not to toss the backbreaking INTs into a playmaking secondary.
NFL Research stat of the week:The Titans would be the fourth team since the 1970 merger to have the worst scoring offense (21.3 points per game scored) and worst scoring defense (23.1 points per game allowed) among the playoff teams.
Get hyped for the Patrick Mahomes debut! With Andy Reid sitting his starters after clinching the AFC West, he's giving the fan base a big reason to tune in Sunday. Mahomes flashed an exciting gun-slinger ability in the preseason, completing 63.0 percent of his passes for 7.2 yards per attempt, 4-0 TD-INT ratio, and a 109.3 passer rating. Yes, it was the preseason, but Mahomes displayed rare arm talent, a willingness to stretch the field repeatedly, and superior athleticism. What will he do with backup receivers against a Broncos defense playing for pride?
The Broncos need to find out as much as they can about Paxton Lynch. The second-year pro will make his second start of the season. Lynch offers a big arm plus athleticism, but continues to make slow work of getting acclimated to a pro-style offense. John Elway needs to get as much tape on his first-round pick as possible. If he fails against Kansas City backups, the blitz for a veteran (possibly Kirk Cousins) will be on. The other evaluation Elway is doing in Week 17 is on his coaching staff. Will the players fight for Vance Joseph? Are they prepared to face a rookie quarterback? A blowout to Chiefs backups might send Elway back to the drawing board.
NFL Research stat of the week:Chiefs offense rebounded since OC Matt Nagy replaced head coach Andy Reid as play-caller in Week 13:
Chiefs offense Weeks 1-5: 32.8 PPG, 414.2 total YPG, 156.2 rushing YPG
Chiefs offense Weeks 6-12: 18.0 PPG, 312.3 total YPG, 76.3 rushing YPG
Chiefs offense Weeks 13-16 (Nagy): 29.0 PPG, 420.8 total YPG, 138.5 rushing YPG
Melvin Gordon says he plans to play on Sunday. How much remains a mystery. The running back is key to the Chargers offense. If Gordon sits most of the contests, it will put pressure on Philip Rivers to carry the load. When the Chargers run-game has been stymied in recent weeks it's allowed pass rushers to pin their ears back and get after Rivers. The QB completed just 55.3 percent of his passes for 6.8 yards per attempt with 2-3 TD-INT ratio the past two games. The Raiders remain susceptible through the air, but have played better under former Chargers DC John Pagano. Corner Sean Smith has been a big part of the improvement as he slowed bigger receivers (Dez Bryant and Alshon Jeffery). However, the Chargers receiving corps brings more elements that harm the Raiders, with shifty Keenan Allen and speed from Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin.
The Raiders season finale sets up for Marshawn Lynch to try and rip the hearts out of Chargers fans. The bulldozing back has averaged more than 5 yards per carry over his last four contests. L.A. has been a sieve against the run in recent weeks. In their last two games, the Chargers have allowed an average of 185.5 rushing YPG. The potential return of Denzel Perryman and Corey Liuget could aid L.A.'s run defense. With Derek Carr continuing to struggle, it's the Raiders best bet to hand the ball to Beast Mode as much as possible and slide into the New Year, forgetting a miserable 2017.
NFL Research stat of the week: Things that make you go hmmmmm: The Chargers allow the third-fewest PPG this season (17.5). The number would mark the fewest PPG allowed by Chargers since 15.1 PPG in 1992, when the franchise became the only team in NFL history to start 0-4 and make the playoffs (finished 11-5).
Are you getting sick of talking about Jimmy Garoppolo yet? I hope not because it's going to be a hugely popular topic for the next nine months. The 49ers offense has averaged 31.7 PPG over its last three games, and scored at least 25 points in each of those tilts -- averaged 16.8 PPG from Weeks 4-13. The pinpoint-accurate quarterback faces a Wade Philip scheme that has given quarterback fits. With the Rams resting their starters, Jimmy G won't get a chance to test the full arsenal to bank intelligence for next year. Even if it's against a team resting its starters, the quarterback allows 49ers fans to enter the offseason on an all-time high knowing they found their franchise signal-caller.
With all the Rams big-guns taking a rest this week, let's merely marvel at Todd Gurley's superlatives: Leads the NFL in rush yards (1,305), rush touchdowns (13), scrimmage yards (2,093) and scrimmage touchdowns (19) this season entering Week 17. Gurley is the third player in NFL history with 2,000-plus scrimmage yards, 10-plus rush TD and 6-plus receiving TDs in a season, joining Marshall Faulk and O.J. Simpson. Gurley is the fourth player in Rams history with 2,000-plus scrimmage yards in a season, joining Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson.
NFL Research stat of the week: The Niners had four wins in a span of 21 days with Jimmy Garoppolo as the starter. Prior to that, San Francisco had four wins in the previous 726 days.
Is this the end of the Larry Fitzgerald-Bruce Arians-Carson Palmer era? If so, Arians and Fitzgerald will attempt to go out in style with a road win over a division rival. Drew Stanton ran the Feed-Fitzgerald Offense to success last week (9/119/1). While he faces a much better pass rush, Stanton should employ the same plan again. With Fitzgerald patrolling the slot -- where the Seahawks struggled to cover all season -- the ageless pro could be in for another big day in the season finale.
Seahawks fans might be scoreboard-watching to see if the Falcons fall behind and open the door to a playoff berth. But with Chandler Jones able to wreck Russell Wilson's world, the quarterback's focus will be on the field. Wilson is on pace to become the fifth player to account for 80-plus percent of his team's scrimmage yards in the Super Bowl era. Only one of four QB to account for 80-plus percent led team to playoffs -- Matthew Stafford and the Lions last season (lost in Wild Card Round). That Wilson has needed to carry that much of the load speaks to an incredible imbalance due to an absent ground attack and a lack of rhythm in the passing game. The ground game won't find life Sunday against a superior Cardinals run D. Will Wilson's magic run out, or will the QB find Doug Baldwin enough Sunday to keep the playoff dream alive?
NFL Research stat of the week:Russell Wilson needs 238 passing yards to become the first player in NFL history to have multiple seasons with 4,000-plus passing yards and 500-plus rushing yards. Wilson has accounted for 35 touchdowns this season (most in NFL) -- 32 passing TD, 3 rushing TD -- 97.2 percent of SEA's offensive TDs, highest by any player in Super Bowl era.