Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted
New England Patriots: QB Tom Brady (knee), TE Rob Gronkowski (chest), TE Martellus Bennett (ankle, shoulder), WR Julian Edelman (foot), WR Chris Hogan (back)
Despite the designation, we’d be shocked if Brady sat. Gronk, after being limited all week, is looking like a game-time decision. Edelman, Hogan and Bennett were limited on Friday.
Buffalo Bills: RB LeSean McCoy (thumb), WR Sammy Watkins (foot), WR Percy Harvin (illness), T Seantrel Henderson (not injury related), LB Lorenzo Alexander (ankle), TE Charles Clay (knee), T Cordy Glenn (back)
Week 12 preview
Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em
Overrated starts of the Week
Last-minute trade targets
Next Gen Stats: Fantasy
Rex Ryan is optimistic both McCoy and Watkins will play. The receiver has been out since Week 2. Harvin Sat out all week. No. 2 running back Mike Gillislee (hamstring) was ruled out.
New Orleans Saints: RB Mark Ingram (concussion)
Ingram must pass the final stages of concussion protocol.
New York Giants: DE Jason Pierre-Paul (knee)
JPP told NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones he plans to play.
Kansas City Chiefs: LB Derrick Johnson (achilles), CB Marcus Peters (hip), CB Steven Nelson (neck), DT Dontari Poe (back), DE Kendall Reyes (knee)
Peters was full-go Friday — a good sign he’ll return. Johnson and Poe both sat out Friday. With Dee Ford and Jeremy Maclin already ruled out K.C. needs all the defensive firepower it can get.
Miami Dolphins: WR Jarvis Landry (shoulder), WR Kenny Stills (calf), DT Ndamukong Suh (knee), T Laremy Tunsil (shoulder), DE Mario Williams (ankle)
Landry will play, according to Adam Gase. Tunsil is a game-time decision. With Branden Albert and Mike Pouncey out, the Dolphins hope Tunsil can go. Suh was full-go on Friday and should play.
Arizona Cardinals: S Tyrann Mathieu (shoulder), WR Michael Floyd (hamstring), WR
The Honey Badger is expected to play. Floyd sat out all week and will be a game-time decision.
Carolina Panthers: LB A.J. Klein (concussion), C Gino Gradkowski (knee)
With starters Luke Kuechly and Ryan Kalil already ruled out, the status of their backups is noteworthy.
Atlanta Falcons: CB Desmond Trufant (shoulder), P Matt Bosher (right hamstring)
The Falcons top corner and punter will be game-time decisions.
Baltimore Ravens: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), DT Timmy Jernigan (shoulder), DT Brandon Williams (back, hand), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)
The quartet was full-go on Friday. Top corner Jimmy Smith is doubtful to play.
San Francisco 49ers: LB Aaron Lynch (ankle), WR Torrey Smith (shoulder), CB Jimmie Ward (concussion), DT Quinton Dial (knee, neck)
All were limited at practice on Friday.
Oakland Raiders: WR Michael Crabtree (ankle), RB Latavius Murray (ankle), CB David Amerson (knee), C Rodney Hudson (knee), G Kelechi Osemele (knee), LB Perry Riley (hamstring)
All were limited on Friday.
Jacksonville Jaguars: RB T.J. Yeldon (ankle)
Yeldon sat all week making him a longshot to play.
New York Jets: C Nick Mangold (ankle)
Mangold returned limited to close out the week.
San Diego Chargers: WR Travis Benjamin (knee), WR Jeremy Butler (ankle), LB Tourek Williams (hamstring)
Benjamin was a full participant all week and appears he’ll play.
Seattle Seahawks: S Earl Thomas (hamstring) — OUT
The Seahawks will be without their hard-hitting safety.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Brent Grimes (quadricep), RB Jacquizz Rodgers (foot), TE Luke Stocker (ankle), CB Alterraun Verner (not injury related)
Grimes, ‘Quizz and Stocker were full participants to close out the week.
Chicago Bears: WR Eddie Royal (toe)
Royal missed all week again. Jay Cutler is designated as “doubtful” but won’t play.
It’s looking mostly dry for our 11 outdoor games this week. We will update Sunday prognostications for all non-dome contests as we drift closer to game time.
Titans at Bears — 41 degrees
Jaguars at Bills — 37 degrees
Bengals at Ravens — 47 degrees
Giants at Browns — 40 degrees
49ers at Dolphins — 78 degrees
Chargers at Texans — 67 degrees
Seahawks at Buccaneers — 78 degrees — chance of rain (62 percent)
Panthers at Oakland — 56 degrees
Patriots at Jets — 47 degrees
Chiefs at Broncos — 43 degrees
Packers at Eagles (MNF) — 45 degrees
What to Watch For
Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons
When the Falcons have the ball, just put your eyes on Julio Jones and Patrick Peterson, the No. 1 best-on-best matchup of the season. Jones leads the NFL in receiving with 1,105 yards and has 100-plus receiving yards in four of the past five games. Peterson has been the most successful traveling corner in the NFL and the only one asked to take on the other team’s best receiver every game. The last time the two tangled was 2014 when Jones caught eight passes for 171 yards and a score with PP in coverage. It sounds like hyperbole, but whichever player wins this matchup could swipe the win for his team.
Carson Palmer earned a 100-plus passer rating in just three games this season — compared to 11 last season. The aging quarterback can’t find the mark on his deep ball and is getting pounded in the pocket. Coach Bruce Arians defended his quarterback this week, pointing fingers at other players who need to step up. The group most in need of improvement is the Cards’ offensive line, which has allowed 30 sacks this season. Palmer has taken 27 of those sacks in the six losses/tie. The Falcons’ defense has proven porous at times and gives up 283 passing yards per game (31st in NFL). If Palmer is to take advantage of Atlanta’s backend, his line blocking Vic Beasley off the edge will be the No. 1 task.
Say what? Stat of the week: Matt Ryan is averaging 349.5 passing yards per game at home (10 TDs, 2 INTs, 119.8 passer rating).
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
Exactly a year ago, Andy Dalton was poised to lead his team to a 9-2 record, blasting holes in the theory he was a J.A.G. quarterback and bury the postseason demons. Two weeks later he suffered a hand injury that wiped out the rest of his 2015 campaign. Now the football gods have taken away A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard, leaving Dalton tossing to a rookie (Tyler Boyd) and a Patriots castoff (Brandon LaFell), behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. Against a Ravens defense that should whip his blockers and mostly negate Jeremy Hill’s rushing attack, Dalton will have to get the ball out quick and hope his dwindling pass-catching corps make plays. If I were in Dalton’s shoes (I’m not) I’d heave more than a few YOLO balls Tyler Eifert’s way.
It’s an ‘if not now, then when?’ game for the Ravens’ rushing attack. Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon gashed the Cowboys’ defense early last week before becoming an afterthought. Sunday the duo faces a Bengals defense giving up 123.4 rushing yards per game (28th). We’ve been calling for the Ravens to run the ball more, yet Marty Mornhinweg continues to dial up Joe Flacco for inefficient passes. Every team has run on the Bengals this year. Baltimore should be no different if John Harbaugh’s team is patient enough to stick with the run game for once.
Say what? Stat of the week: Joe Flacco has an 80.0 passer rating this season (29th in NFL), which is sandwiched between Blake Bortles (28th) and Case Keenum (30th).
Jacksonville Jaguars at Buffalo Bills
The biggest beneficiary of the Blake Bortles check-down-palooza has been Chris Ivory. The bruising back looks like the player the Jags overpaid this offseason. Ivory has 100-plus scrimmage yards in two of his last three games. The most successful attacks against Rex Ryan’s defense have rushed right at its heart, which fits Ivory. Expect the Jags to ride the back heavily. With Bortles lacking the confidence to throw down the field, Bills corners are likely to sit on short routes early.
Sammy Watkins should return, but the Bills’ offense will continue to revolve around the ground-and-pound attack. LeSean McCoy is expected to be fine after undergoing hand surgery this week. He should carry the load this week against a Jags defense that has a soft underbelly. Jacksonville has allowed fewer than 280 total yards the past three weeks, led by an underrated pass defense that forces things underneath. Tyrod Taylor scampers — more rushing TDs (3) than pass TDs (2) in his last four games — and McCoy’s shiftiness on the second level will carry the Bills.
Say what? Stat of the week: The Jags have allowed just 21 sacks (T-11th). The Bills have earned 31 sacks (T-Most in NFL).
Tennessee Titans at Chicago Bears
What do you do when facing a defense that just lost its top tackler due to a suspension? Run right at the void. The Titans should plow forward with DeMarco Murray right into the hole left by Jerrell Freeman. Going from Freeman to Nick Kwiatkoski is like trading in your Harley for a scooter with a basket. Marcus Mariota has thrown 2-plus TD passes in seven straight games, guiding the league’s No. 1-rated red zone offense. Mariota could continue that streak with short scores set up by Murray carrying the offense into range.
Scout’s Notebook: Young QBs shift NFL hierarchy
Reporters’ Notebook: Big Blue’s breakout star
QB Index: Brady, Ryan in MVP hunt
End Around: Best worst Black Friday gifts
Wesseling: Top 10 free-agent hits
Sidelines: The Queen of Buffalo
Power Rankings: Giants crack the top five
With weak-armed Matt Barkley under center, it’s Jordan Howard or bust for the Bears. It’s not the best way to attack the Titans — picking on Perrish Cox is the preferred method — but we don’t expect Barkley to do much through the air. Howard has 99-plus scrimmage yards in three straight games (five of his last seven). The rookie is tied with DeMarco Murray with four 100-plus rushing games since Week 4. Chicago’s sad offense will revolve around Howard and Jeremy Langford, when the former starter subs in for the rookie.
Say what? Stat of the week: Rishard Matthews: 6 receiving TDs in last seven games. Tied with Odell Beckham for most receiving TDs since Week 5.
New York Giants at Cleveland Browns
The Giants’ offense has been a maddening concoction of ineptitude sprinkled with dollops of big-play strikes. Eli Manning hasn’t led a 30-point game this season after Big Blue managed seven in 2015. The running game has gotten on track, with 100-plus rush yards in each of the past two weeks, but Manning’s on-again-off-again passing attack has led to a bevy of three-and-outs. Against a Browns defense that would make Charlie Brown a viable quarterback option, the Giants should get back on track. Cleveland ranks 31st in points per game allowed (29.5), total yards per game 409.5) and rushing yards per game (143.9).
Josh McCown might be a turnover machine, but at least he does it with style (yes, ugly is a type of style). McCown won’t be afraid to test the Giants defense deep. He’ll need to with Cleveland generating next to no a rushing attack against a good New York D-front. The Browns’ best hope is for Terrelle Pryor and Corey Coleman to win deep and force a shootout at MetLife. If that is Hue Jackson’s strategy, Landon Collins will have plenty of chances to increase his league-high five interception total.
Say what? Stat of the week: Since 1970, there have been five matchups between a team on a winning streak of at least five games (Giants) and a team on a losing streak of at least 11 games (Browns). The team on a winning streak is 5-0 in these matchups.
San Diego Chargers at Houston Texans
Can Philip Rivers pick apart a stingy Texans secondary? The Chargers’ quarterback has averaged 288.6 passing yards per game (sixth in NFL), spreading the ball around to whatever pass-catchers happen to be active in a given week. The NFL’s No. 2 scoring offense faces the No. 4 ranked pass defense in the NFL, which gives up just 206.6 pass yards per game. If the Texans can stymie Rivers, they’ll enhance their AFC South lead.
Brock Osweiler has not taken advantage of struggling secondaries this season but gets another go at a bottom-five pass defense. The Chargers allow 274.5 passing yards per game this season (28th ranked) but boasts a top-5 rush defense. San Diego will load up to stop Lamar Miller and dare Brock to try and beat them. Osweiler is coming off perhaps his best game of the season but remains an inefficient passer (59.5 completion percentage). If Miller is bottled up, will Bill O’Brien trust his high-priced passer in a big spot?
Say what? Stat of the week: DeAndre Hopkins has fewer than 75 receiving yards in eight straight games, the longest such streak of his career.
San Francisco 49ers at Miami Dolphins
Chip Kelly wants to run the ball and has the matchup to do it against a Dolphins defense giving up 126.1 rush yards per game. The outside zone runs with Carlos Hyde sets up well for the 49ers to avoid Ndamukong Suh in the middle of Miami’s D. The 49ers need a huge game from Hyde to churn the clock and keep their poor defense on the sideline Sunday.
Hyde has a good matchup. Jay Ajayi has a great one. The Dolphins running back leads the NFL in rushing since Week 6 (685 yards) and faces a 49ers defense that gets gashed on the ground. The Niners allow 179.5 rushing yards per game, last in the NFL by more than 35 YPG. The Dolphins offensive line is banged up, but that shouldn’t stop the bruising running back from piling up yards this week.
Say what? Stat of the week: Ryan Tannehill’s last five games: 6 TDs, 1 INT, 99.3 passer rating in the first five-game winning streak of his career.
Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints
Jared Goff’s career debut displayed why the Rams were reluctant to play the rookie out of the gate. The No. 1 overall pick was a one-read robot in the L.A. rain last week, completing just 54.8 percent of his passes for 134 yards. When Goff’s first read was taken away, the play usually went kaput. Against a Saints defense that gives up yards, we’ll get to see if the rookie makes any strides. New Orleans’ front has been much more stout since the return of defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, giving up just 280.0 yards per game and 76.5 rush YPG in the last two contests.
We don’t marvel enough at Drew Brees’ exquisite play. The 37-year-old is on pace for 5,243 passing yards, which would be the third-most in NFL history. While Tom Brady often gets accolades for playing well in his late-30s, the world seems to forget that Brees is matching the Pats’ passer. Brees has thrown three-plus touchdowns in nine of his last 10 home games. The Rams D has allowed fewer than 300 total yards in four straight games. Brees moved the ball against the Seahawks and Broncos defense in the dome, so we don’t expect him to be slowed down Sunday.
Say what? Stat of the week: The Saints are averaging 427.7 total YPG this season, which would be second-highest YPG in franchise history for a full season (2011, 267.1).
Seattle Seahawks at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Russell Wilson has carried the Seahawks offense during their three-game winning streak, tossing six touchdowns to zero interceptions and 300.7 passing yards per game. Finally healthy, Wilson is once again elusive behind a shaky offensive line. The Buccaneers are allowing just 211.0 passing yards per game the past two weeks, but haven’t faced anything akin to the bevy of pass-catchers Wilson will utilize Sunday. Jimmy Graham could be in for a good day against Tampa linebackers and safeties that are susceptible in coverage.
Jameis Winston has 12 touchdowns to just two interceptions and a 102.2 passer rating over his last six games. Sunday could be a statement game for the second-year quarterback. The Seahawks’ secondary is the best at baiting a quarterback into making mistakes and negating big plays. If Seattle deploys Richard Sherman on Mike Evans for long spurts, will Winston look elsewhere or test the Seahawks top corner? We have yet to see Winston put a masterful game together for 60 minutes against a defense the caliber of Seattle. The Bucs need it Sunday to stay on the outskirts of the playoff hunt.
Say what? Stat of the week: Doug Baldwin owns a passer rating of 133.8 when targeted in 2016 (best in NFL, min. 50 targets).
New England Patriots at New York Jets
Tom Brady is sure to take his deep shots against a Jets secondary that has regularly been burned this season. I’m more interested in how Brady and Josh McDaniels continue to incorporate Dion Lewis into the game plan. The shifty back displayed his uncanny ability to make defenders miss in tight quarters in his first game back last week. But Lewis played just 20 of 71 offensive snaps (28.2 percent). Against Jets linebackers and safeties, Lewis is a mismatch if Brady comes under siege by the Jets pass rush. James White deserves reps, but increasing Lewis’ snap count down the stretch of the season adds another dynamic element for Brady to take employ.
Brandon Marshall’s matchup versus Malcolm Butler is worth keeping an eye on. Ryan Fitzpatrick targets his top receiver, almost to a fault. Marshall is averaging just 4.3 receptions for 60.1 yards per game this season with just two touchdowns and two 100-yard games. The Jets will need more to topple Brady. Meanwhile, Butler continues his ascent as one of the stingiest cover men in the NFL. Marshall must win his matchups with Butler for the Jets to keep pace Sunday.
Say what? Stat of the week: Brady’s 123.3 passer rating would set a new single-season NFL record — currently held by Aaron Rodgers (122.5 in 2011).
Carolina Panthers at Oakland Raiders
The Panthers need a breakout game from Kelvin Benjamin and he’s got the matchup to do just that Sunday. KB has fewer than 90 receiving yards in each of last eight games and is without a TD in six straight. The Raiders defense has played better of late (ranking 9th in pass yards allowed the last four games) but can be picked apart by bigger receivers like Benjamin. If Benjamin becomes a chain-mover in Oakland, Cam Newton & Co. will put up points in the Black Hole.
Luke Kuechly’s absence (concussion) is a huge break for Derek Carr and the Raiders’ offense. Carr has been spectacular at picking the right matchup and exploiting weaknesses. Against a banged-up Panthers squad (top pass rusher Mario Addison also out), the Oakland signal-caller should have his choice of targets. Kuechly’s ability in the passing game often goes understated as he’s adept at closing down the middle of the field. Without their leader will the Panthers be able to slow down a rolling Raiders offense?
Say what? Stat of the week: Amari Cooper sits 5th in NFL with 900 receiving yards this season. He’s on pace for 1,440 receiving yards, which would break Tim Brown’s franchise record of 1,408 yards in 1997.
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos
Facing a healthy ‘No Fly Zone’ in Denver without Jeremy Maclin means we are sure to see an abundance of Spencer Ware runs for Kansas City. The Broncos allow 123.7 rushing yards per game this season (ranks 29th). Getting Derek Wolfe back will help Denver, but even before the defensive lineman was injured the Broncos were getting gashed on the ground. Sans Maclin, the Chiefs have struggled to get receivers open in Alex Smith’s quick passing attack. Ware must churn out yardage on early downs to set up Smith with manageable situation against a fierce pass defense.
Trevor Siemian might be the biggest wild card in the AFC playoff hunt. The Broncos haven’t been able to run the ball, putting the onus on the second-year quarterback to make plays. Siemian has struggled since returning from an injured shoulder (6-4 TD-INT ratio, 77.2 passer rating in his last five games). Coming off the bye, it will be intriguing to see how much Gary Kubiak puts on his plate against a good Chiefs secondary. With Marcus Peters (hip, questionable) looking set to return for K.C., Siemian will need to be wary of the ball-hawking corner when targeting his side of the field.
Say what? Stat of the week: Devontae Booker has 53 carries for 152 rush yards in three starts since C.J. Anderson’s injury, 2.9 yards per carry average.
Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles
The Packers are in a four-game swoon, but Aaron Rodgers has not been the problem. Green Bay is averaging 26.6 points per game in their last five contests, including 297.6 passing YPG. Since Week 7, Rodgers has the most completions (150), passing yards (1,591), and passing TDs (15) in the NFL. Monday he faces an Eagles defense that is a different team on its home turf. Philly is allowing 9.5 points per game and just 281.0 yards per game at home this season. The key to Jim Schwartz’s defense is the pass rush. If the Packers can slow Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, Rodgers can take advantage of a secondary susceptible to breakdowns.
Carson Wentz has an enviable matchup versus one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Green Bay is allowing opposing passer rating of 105.5 (31st in NFL) and has given up 420.8 yards per game over the past four contests. The question is whether Wentz has the help surrounding him to take advantage of the matchup. Outside of Jordan Matthews and Darren Sproles, no Eagles have consistently helped the quarterback this season. Nelson Agholor might get benched and Ryan Mathews is injured. It’s a crossroads game for Philly.