Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
Cobb sat out all week but is holding out hope he can play Sunday night. He will be a game-time decision.
Reed was limited all week. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported the tight end is expected to play.
Ware was limited all week.
Ajayi was full-go on Friday and is expected to play. How much he plays will likely depend on game flow.
Matthews returned to practice limited on Friday and could be a game-time decision.
Brown was limited again this week.
Hill was limited Friday after missing practice earlier in the week.
Watkins was limited Thursday and Friday but should play.
Newton is expected to play. Backup QB Derek Anderson was ruled out. Olsen, Stewart, and Newton were all full-go on Friday.
Hargreaves was limited on Thursday and Friday.
Haden and Johnson were limited on Thursday and Friday.
McCourty was limited Thursday and Friday.
Hurns sat out all week. Ivory and Lee were limited.
Jenkins was limited all week.
The receivers were limited all week.
Marshall was limited all week. He's missed the past three games.
*The weather is currently looking good across most of the greater USA for our 12 outdoor games in Week 17. We will update prognostications for all non-dome contests as we drift closer to game time. *
Browns at Steelers -- 34 degrees
Ravens at Bengals -- 37 degree
Texans at Titans -- 48 degrees -- chance of rain (46 percent)
Panthers at Buccaneers -- 76 degrees - winds up to 10 mph
Patriots at Dolphins -- 79 degrees -- winds up to 13 mph
Bills at Jets -- 42 degrees
Cowboys at Eagles -- 43 degrees
Cardinals at Rams --59 degrees
Raiders at Broncos -- 48 degrees
Chiefs at Chargers -- 57 degrees
Seahawks at 49ers -- 47 degrees -- winds up to 11 mph
Giants at Redskins -- 51 degrees
What to Watch For
Games with playoff implications
What's on the line: The victor wins the NFC North. The loser could miss the playoffs if the Washington Redskins win earlier in the day. Both teams make the playoffs with a tie.
Aaron Rodgers thrust his name into the MVP conversation in the Packers' five-game win streak. The Packers quarterback is as hot as any passer in the NFL right now. In his last six games, Rodgers has tossed 14 TDs to zero INTs. The improved play down the stretch has everything to do with Jordy Nelson finally being at full force. In the past five weeks, Rodgers is completing 81 percent of his passes to Nelson. Sunday they face a Lions defense allowing a historically bad 72.9 completion percentage (would be the worst since the 1970 merger). In the early season tilt between the division rivals, Rodgers picked apart a Lions secondary before Mike McCarthy pulled his foot off the gas. Even if Darius Slay (questionable, hamstring) plays, Rodgers should have his way with Detroit's DBs.
Matthew Stafford's season will be defined by how he plays Sunday. The gunslinger was sublime early in the season, leading a bevy of fourth-quarter comebacks. He's fallen off the past three weeks, tossing just one TD to four INTs, less than 62 percent completion percentage and fewer than 275 yards in each game. Stafford racked up yardage in the second half in Week 3 against the Packers in Lambeau, finding receivers wide open thanks to Green Bay breakdowns in coverage. Stafford must hit those big shots again to keep pace with Rodgers. The Lions need Marvin Jones to wake up. After bursting out in September, the receiver is averaging 37.2 receiving YPG in his last 10 contests. Clay Matthews looked healthier and destroyed the Vikings last week. If he has similar success against rookie left tackle Taylor Decker, Stafford could be in for a long day.
What's on the line: The Redskins will secure the final NFC Wild Card spot with a win -- if Green Bay-Detroit doesn't end in a tie.
How much the Giants starters will play remains a mystery heading into Sunday, but expect to see a good amount of running back Paul Perkins. Big Blue's run game has perked up since the rookie began seeing more snaps. Perkins displays power and an ability to run through arm tackles. His early season pass blocking troubles have been mitigated as the year progressed. Over the last four games, Rashad Jennings and Perkins each have 48 carries. Perkins out-earned Jennings 207 yards to 146 yards. Against a Redskins defense that gets gashed on the ground (117.5 rush yards per game allowed), expect the Giants to churn the clock with the ground attack.
The offseason narrative for Kirk Cousins will be solidified Sunday. If the quarterback blows away a Giants defense and earns a playoff spot, the roars for a long-term deal will be loud. If he fails against a team with nothing to play for -- and could be without top corner Janoris Jenkins -- the questions about Cousins' value will hit a fever pitch. Expect DeSean Jackson to play a starring role Sunday. The speedster has 100-plus yards in four of his last five games and torched the Giants in Week 3 (96 yards on five catches, TD). Getting Jordan Reed (questionable, shoulder) back will be a wonderful gift for Cousins, who struggles in the red zone without the pass-catching tight end.
Say what? Stat of the week: Since Robert Kelley became the full-time starter in Week 8, the Redskins are 4-0-1 when Kelley has 15-plus carries. Washington is 0-3 when he has fewer than 15 carries.
What's on the line: New England can clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win. Miami could sneak into the No. 5 seed with a win and a Kansas City loss.
Everyone in New England knows how badly the Patriots want the No. 1 seed after losing in the playoffs last year in Denver. To clinch the top spot, Tom Brady faces a Dolphins defense that will be without five starters, including three of their top defensive backs (corner Bryon Maxwell was ruled out with an ankle injury). Brady has 15 TD to 0 INT on the road this season. He should add to that total by picking apart the Dolphins' secondary with Julian Edelman and getting Dion Lewis and James White in favorable matchups versus Miami linebackers and replacement safeties. The Dolphins need Ndamukong Suh to wreck Brady's pocket up the middle and Comeback Player of the Year candidate Cameron Wake to fly off the edge to disrupt New England's lethal pass attack.
The Dolphins lost to the Brady-less Patriots in Foxboro in Week 2, but that was pre-Jay Ajayi's breakout. The bulldozing rusher has morphed into one of the most entertaining power backs in the NFL. One player does not bring Ajayi down and the back has a third gear in space. Ajayi has earned three 200-yard games this season, including last week. The Dolphins need their workhorse to plow through a good Patriots run defense (No. 3 in NFL, allowing 89.5 YPG). Ajayi must keep the Dolphins in manageable down-and-distance situations for Matt Moore and churn out first downs to keep Brady on the sideline.
Say what? Stat of the week: Brady needs 3-plus passing touchdowns and 0 interceptions to post the best TD-INT ratio in a single season in NFL history (Nick Foles, 27-2, 2013).
Matt McGloin enters out of the bullpen in a big spot. The backup's gun-slinging mentality isn't all that far from Derek Carr's. McGloin just doesn't have Carr's tools. The game-sealing toss to Amari Cooper last week showed McGloin isn't afraid to trust his receivers in tight coverage. Against the Broncos' defense, however, the game plan should be: run, run, run, run and run some more. The Raiders now boast a three-headed backfield monster with Latavius Murray, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. The two young jitterbugs bring a homerun element on the ground -- the type of bust that destroyed the Broncos' run defense last week. Denver's rush D has been woeful this season, allowing 135.2 yards per game (29th in NFL). Expect the Raiders to go run-heavy and keep the game tape on McGloin to a minimum heading into the playoffs.
Trevor Siemian gets the start under center, but Paxton Lynch will play. After two up-and-down starts, any reps Lynch gets will be a positive heading into the offseason battle for the starting quarterback gig next year. Both quarterbacks could be under siege from Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin behind a porous offensive line. I want to see how Lynch has improved his pocket presence and reading the pass rush against the Raiders' monsters off the edge.
Say what? Stat of the week:Khalil Mack has 7.0 sacks in his last two games versus Denver. Needs 3.0 sacks to tie the NFL record for most sacks against a team during a three-game span.
What's on the line: The Chiefs clinch the AFC West and a first-round bye with a win and an Oakland loss.
Kansas City has become a sporadic big-play offense with the emergence of Tyreek Hill and domination of Travis Kelce. Kelce, in particular, has been the engine that powers Alex Smith's still vertically challenged offense. Kelce is the premier run-after-catch tight end in the NFL and will have mismatches against Chargers linebackers again Sunday. Kelce has earned six 100-plus yard receiving games this season, one shy of NFL leader Julio Jones. Against a Chargers secondary that gave up plays to Gary Barnidge and the Browns last week, expect another big day from Kelce.
In what could finally be the last game in San Diego for the Chargers, Philip Rivers and Co. are playing for pride. With Melvin Gordon ruled out, the Chargers run game will likely have trouble moving the ball against K.C.'s interior. San Diego's struggles running the ball the past two weeks (especially against a terrible Cleveland run defense) underscored how good Gordon was this season running through tacklers behind a line that opened few holes. Sans a running game, we should see Rivers chucking it around the park. It's only fitting if the record-setting Chargers QB exited San Diego with a big day (in last year's would-be final game in San Diego, Rivers went for 311 yards and three TDs with two INTs). Of course, Marcus Peters and Eric Berry will have a say in how good a day it'll be for Rivers.
Say what? Stat of the week:Tyreek Hill (11 TDs) is averaging 39.5 yards per TD, the highest average yards per TD for a player with 10-plus TDs in a season since 2010 (Mike Wallace: 40.7 yards/TD on his 10 TDs).
What's on the line: Atlanta clinches a first-round bye with a win or with losses by Seattle and Detroit.
Matt Ryan can put his stamp on an MVP-worthy season by clinching the No. 2 seed in the NFC and taking it to the rival Saints. Ryan leads the NFL in passer rating (115.5) and is on pace for the fourth highest passer rating in a season in NFL history (min. 400 pass attempts). All others in the top five won NFL MVP that season. In an early season meeting, the Falcons ran all over New Orleans. The Saints' rush D has stiffened since then (thanks in part to the return of stout rookie Sheldon Rankins). Ryan will make his hay Sunday picking on Saints linebackers in coverage. New Orleans has allowed 772 receiving yards to running backs this season (second most), so expect a lot of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in space.
The Saints will miss the playoffs for the third straight season, but that shouldn't diminish Drew Brees' play. The soon-to-be 38-year-old continues to pick apart defenses. Breen is 142 passing yards shy his FIFTH career 5,000-yard passing season. FIFTH. No other player in NFL history has more than one. Rookie Michael Thomas will provide a mismatch with Falcons corners. The first-year pro is just 17 receiving yards shy of 1,000 (would join Marques Colston as the only rookies in Saints history to gain 1,000 receiving yards). Thomas already morphed into the Brees' go-to target in the red zone and should be even more dangerous next year when the playbook opens for him.
What's on the line: Seattle can earn a first-round bye with a win and an Atlanta loss.
Seattle's running game should get back on track versus the NFL's worst run defense. The 49ers allow an eye-popping 171.1 yards on the ground per game this season. The Seahawks' run game fell off this year partially due to Marshawn Lynch's retirement, partially due to inconsistent offensive line play, and partially due to injuries. The Seahawks currently rank T-22nd in rushing yards per game in the NFL with 100.3. Seattle had been in the top four in rushing in every year of Russell Wilson's career. Thomas Rawls should have a good day on the ground as the Seahawks prep for the playoffs.
The 49ers are playing out the string in a lost season before rebooting, likely with a new quarterback. Colin Kaepernick has been a mess more times this season than he's flashed. Yes, he's playing with a cadre of third and fourth receivers, but the quarterback can't throw accurately or with touch. His best attributes are his legs, but Seahawks all-world linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright should mitigate Kap's scrambles. Watching the 49ers try to move the ball without Carlos Hyde will be like watching a child play in one of those plastic cars with no engine.
Say what? Stat of the week: Seattle is second in the NFL in scoring defense (17.9 PPG allowed) this season to the Patriots (15.7 PPG; 33 fewer total points allowed than Seattle). Seattle has led NFL in scoring defense in each of previous four seasons. The NFL record is five straight seasons leading the league in scoring defense (1953-1957 Browns). The Seahawks need to allow at least 33 fewer points than the Patriots (at Miami) in Week 17 to earn at least a share of the scoring defense title.
What's on the line:* The Bucs could miraculously earn a wild-card spot with a win + WAS tie + DET win + TEN win + IND win + DAL win + SF win. Since the NFL adopted current overtime rules in 2012, five out of 1,264 regular season games have ended in a tie (0.4 percent). Using that 0.4 percent chance of a tie in NYG-WAS game and assigning a 50 percent probability the other six teams the Bucs need to win will be victorious, Tampa has a 1 in 16,179 (0.006 percent) chance of making the playoffs*.
Sure the Bucs playoff chances are slim, but Lloyd Christmas would love those odds. The last time these teams met, Jacquizz Rodgers ran through the Panthers' offense for 101 yards on 30 carries. With Doug Martin serving a suspension, the Bucs will lean on Rodgers again. This time around, they are facing a tougher Panthers defensive front (allowing 90.2 yards rushing for the season). Look out for play-action shots from Jameis Winston to Mike Evans against a still growing Carolina secondary.
The fun got flushed from Carolina early this season. With nothing but the offseason ahead, Cam Newton needs to get back to enjoying quarterbacking. That starts with slinging the ball all over the field Sunday. Who cares if he turns the ball over, just take shots. Look for Kelvin Benjamin to get a lot of targets with rookie Vernon Hargreaves in coverage. The Bucs first-round pick has improved over the course of the season but can get picked on, especially by bigger receivers like KB.
The one for the No. 1 pick
With the Steelers sitting their stars, couldn't you just see this scenario playing out: Robert Griffin III plays his best game in years, beating Pittsburgh backups who aren't trying. The 49ers, of course, lose to Seattle, which screws Cleveland out of the No. 1 pick. Then we are subjected to an offseason of Hue Jackson talking about how RGIII can be the answer at quarterback.
Luckily for Cleveland, RGIII has been the worst starting quarterback this season -- unless you adore skipped passes and bombs out of bounds. Also, the Steelers' young secondary pieces Artie Burns and Sean Davis have made massive strides this season. Burns' matchups with Terrelle Pryor and Corey Coleman should be a good appetizer for the rookie's first playoff meal.
Say what? Stat of the week:Steelers are allowing 269.7 total YPG during their six-game win streak -- first in the NFL in total defense since Week 11.
Rest of the slate
Not every game has playoff implications or could determine the top of the NFL draft, but that doesn't mean there aren't things to watch or ramifications for coaches and players that bear tracking Sunday. Let's take a quick jaunt through the rest of Sunday's matchups.
Cherish Steve Smith Sr.'s final game. The future Hall of Famer (yes, he is getting a gold jacket) will hang up his cleats after 16 seasons following Sunday's game. The stiff-arming madman has been a joy to watch both as the face of the Panthers' franchise for years and in his time in Baltimore. The best sound bite in the NFL will be missed on and off the field.
Doug Marrone gets his second chance to show he should hang onto the Jags' head coaching gig in 2017. Jacksonville played its best game of the season last week, finally playing loose and aggressive. After a down season most of the year, can Allen Robinson make it back-to-back big games?
T.Y. Hilton versus Jalen Ramsey will be as entertaining as any one-on-one matchup this week. Just give us an iso-cam every time they go head-to-head. Ramsey is coming off his best game of a great rookie campaign, while Hilton is heading toward the most receiving yards in the NFL this season (currently at 1,353).
Say what? Stat of the week:Frank Gore needs 36 rushing yards in Week 17 for 1,000 on the season. Only three players in NFL history have reached 1,000 rush yards at 33 years old or older (all 3 are in the Hall of Fame): John Riggins (accomplished it twice -- last to do it, 1984); John Henry Johnson (accomplished it twice); Franco Harris (accomplished it once).
Cameron Meredith has proven he has staying power in an offense that could lose Alshon Jeffrey this offseason. Meredith has 100-plus receiving yards in back-to-back games and four such games in nine starts this season. He was held to one catch last time versus Minnesota's physical DBs.
With Adrian Peterson ruled out, his career in Minnesota could be over. Get ready for an offseason of 'what will happen to All Day?'
Rex Ryan getting fired took a lot of the juice out of this game. With Bills players talking all week about how they needed more discipline than Ryan provided, will they play with more fire for Anthony Lynn? An inspired game from Buffalo players could cinch Lynn keeping the gig.
Say what? Stat of the week:EJ Manuel has never thrown more than two touchdown passes in a game and has zero career 300-yard passing games.
Credit the Cowboys for turning a meaningless game into one we are forced to pay attention to. How much will Tony Romo play? How will he look? Will he get hurt on the first snap? Will he tear up the Eagles secondary? No one has a clue. Cowboys fans should cherish Romo's (likely) final snaps with the franchise.
For Philly, how will Carson Wentz head into the offseason? Will he light up Cowboys second stringers or get mauled by David Irving and Co.? Since Week 6, the only QB with a lower passer rating than Wentz (70.2) is Ryan Fitzpatrick (68.2). The numbers aren't all on the rookie. He has one of the worst collation of skill players surrounding him in the NFL.
Say what? Stat of the week:Jason Witten needs seven catches to pass Tim Brown for sixth-most receptions in NFL history.
Most QBs wouldn't play the whole game -- if at all -- in a meaningless tilt before the playoffs. Tom Savage, however, needs the reps. The third-year pro opens up the Texans' offense, but Savage still needs to improve his accuracy. He's solid standing in against the pass rush, which will benefit him this week against Tennessee. A good performance Sunday will be a boon to Houston's confidence heading into the postseason.
Avert your eyes from ugly Matt Cassel heaves. Credit Cassel for continually getting quarterbacking jobs, but he's got nothing left. Mike Mularkey should do us all a favor and run the wishbone or Wildcat all game.
David Johnson deserved better. The dual threat Offensive Player of the Year candidate should be in line to earn his 16th straight game with 100-plus scrimmage yards.
The season will mercifully come to an end for Jared Goff, who needs an actual offensive mind to come in and coach him this offseason. Goff has tools, but he's not improved at all this season, which is a direct result of the poor coaching he's received.
Say what? Stat of the week:Todd Gurley has 85 or fewer rush yards in each game this season. He had six games (out of 13) with 86-plus rush yards in 2015. We aren't expecting Gurley to bust out to close the season.