Buffalo Bills: Rookie quarterback Josh Allen had a lot of homework the past four weeks as he was recovering from an elbow injury. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll made sure his mind was never out of the game. “Play the game mentally. I had him taking notes, whether it was coverages, players that were looking to attack, how they’re playing in certain things, keeping the calls, writing the calls down,” Daboll said. “Anything that I asked him to do, he was staying in the game as mentally as he could. He had a lot of responsibilities for me in terms of writing things down, keying reads, hearing the play called, playing the game as if he was out there playing.” Allen said he learned plenty watching how veterans Derek Anderson and Matt Barkley approached the game. “To learn from two pros that have been at it for awhile, it’s been very helpful for me and I appreciate the front office bringing those two guys in. It’s definitely going to help in the long run,” Allen said.
Miami Dolphins: The return of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has missed five games with a shoulder capsule injury, is good news for the Dolphins, but he’s not the only player expected to play Sunday after an absence. Miami expects to have back offensive tackles Ja’Wuan James and Laremy Tunsil, both of whom missed the Dolphins’ most recent game against Green Bay on Nov. 11. Defensive end Charles Harris missed four games with a calf injury said he’s ready to go as well. “I’m blessed to be back,” he said, per the Miami Herald. “I feel better now than I ever have.”
New England Patriots: Quarterback Tom Brady has a knee injury and was limited in practice on Wednesday. NFL Network reported that Brady sustained the injury catching a pass in the Patriots’ loss to Tennessee on Nov. 11. The Patriots have not announced whether Brady will play Sunday against the New York Jets, but NFL Network said he is expected to start. Tight end Rob Gronkowski has missed three of the past four games with a back injury and showed up on the injured list on Wednesday, but Jets head coach Todd Bowles expects to see them both on the field. When asked about Gronkowski, Bowles had this to say: “He’ll be a game-breaking talent until he retires. He can block. He can beat corners, safeties and linebackers so it doesn’t matter who he goes against. ...I don’t know if he gets enough credit for being a smart player but he’s a very intelligent player. He understands what’s trying to be done to him and he makes adjustments and tweaks so it makes him a tough cover.”
New York Jets: Defensive end Leonard Williams has experienced a lot of losses since the Jets selected him with the No. 6 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, and he said he’s ready to win. “It would be legendary to be able to be on a team that brings the Jets back to a championship,” Williams told the Daily News. “That’s the way I see it. I’ve never been that type of guy to say, ‘Oh, these people are winning. Let me go over there and win with them.’ I’d rather be on this team where we’ve been losing and turn it around. Let’s silence the doubters. Let’s turn this program around and be winners. That’s how I’ve always been.” However, he said if the Jets fire head coach Todd Bowles, he might think twice about that. “If there’s a coaching change, that’s going to be basically playing for a whole new team,” Williams continued. “If I’m going to be playing for a new team here anyway, then it would be the same as playing for a new team somewhere else.” Williams is under contract for $14.2 million in 2019 in the fifth-year option of his rookie deal before he would have the chance to hit free agency.
Baltimore Ravens: Wide receiver Michael Crabtree told Lamar Jackson not to fret over the run-heavy imbalance to the offense last week, when Jackson had 27 carries in his first career start and led the Ravens to a win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Jackson said he quickly shook Crabtree off. “No, man, I’ve got to throw you the ball. I’ve got to get these guys the ball,” Jackson said of his self-assessment on Wednesday. “I don’t want these guys out here thinking I’m always going to run the ball. I have to get these guys the ball. It’s my job to get the ball to him. I was mad about that.”
Cincinnati Bengals: Former Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon has first-hand experience seeing Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield get into a groove. “He’s bringing that same vibe to Cleveland. I see it. Everybody sees it. I always wish the best for Bake. Just like I’m sure he wishes the best for me,” Mixon said of his college teammate. “At the end of the day, Baker is a really good quarterback. I knew he’d go No. 1 this year. We have to keep him contained. Don’t let him get into a groove because if he does he could become dangerous. We don’t want that. I don’t want that.”
Cleveland Browns: Mayfield is excited to see Hue Jackson this week, even though he’s on the other side of the Browns-Bengals matchup this week. “That’s always fun,” Mayfield said of his former head coach, who joined the Bengals two weeks after being fired by the Browns. “It was a quick turnaround for him to go down south.” Mayfield worked closely with Jackson and was one of the first faces he associated with the team during the pre-draft process. They met three different times between late January and early March, when it became apparent Mayfield was in the running to be drafted in the top five. Asked if the Bengals could gain an advantage based on Jackson’s knowledge, Mayfield said, “No. Just no.” Mayfield said his only focus the rest of the season will be to “lead this team to a bunch of wins, get us back in the race.”
Pittsburgh Steelers: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he gets amped up to play in the stadiums that were once home to his heroes, including this week when Pittsburgh is at Denver, the House John Elway Built. Roethlisberger is 3-5 all-time against the Broncos (including playoffs) but can’t help compare his game to another No. 7, Elway. “Just such a big arm. Not really a runner but would run. I think that’s kind of been my game,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m not a running quarterback, but you’re not afraid to run and get the yards when you need to. Those kind of things I kind of just mold my game after. I wish my arm was as strong as his, though.”
Houston Texans: Veteran receiver Demaryius Thomas has been slow to grasp the game plan and was targeted just once without a catch in last Sunday’s win over the Washington Redskins. Thomas has three receptions in two games since being acquired from the Denver Broncos. “He’s very close,” quarterback Deshaun Watson told reporters of Thomas catching on. “There are still some things that he’s going to continue to have trouble with remembering because we do a lot of different things. We put a lot on the plate of the receivers switching them around, but at the same time, he’s a guy that came in and put his head down and went straight to work.” Coach Bill O’Brien took part of the blame. “I have to do a better job of getting him more involved,” O’Brien said. “He’s working hard, he’s a good pro and we need to do a better job of getting him the ball a little more.”
Indianapolis Colts: Standout center Ryan Kelly (knee) was ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins. Kelly is waiting for a second opinion to come back from a doctor, and the club is hoping to have more of an idea per the length of his absence once it sees the results. Colts coach Frank Reich has declined to discuss how long Kelly will be sidelined other than saying he will “miss a little time.” Kelly aggravated the knee in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans. Evan Boehm will start at center against the Dolphins. Boehm has played in five games this season, playing 29 offensive snaps, since being signed off the Los Angeles Rams’ practice squad on Oct. 9.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The six-game losing streak has derailed Jacksonville’s season, and coach Doug Marrone admits he hasn’t been thinking too much about the postseason race despite his club just being two games off the wild-card pace. “When you have lost this many games in a row, we are just focused on trying to win one game: this game right now,” Marrone told reporters of Sunday’s clash against the Buffalo Bills. “You can’t focus on anything else. We have to do whatever we have to do to go win a game. That is what it comes down to.” The hard part for the Jaguars (3-7) is that there are five teams tied at 5-5 and two other squads ahead of them that they would have to surpass in the standings. “I haven’t looked at that,” Marrone said. “My focus of motivation is just being a competitor and trying to win — not the motivation of, ‘There is still this, there is still that.’”
Tennessee Titans: Quarterback Marcus Mariota (stinger) did limited work in Wednesday’s practice and figures there is enough time to recover with the team’s game against the Texans falling on Monday night. “We have an extra day to get healthy,” Mariota told reporters, “and we’ll definitely take advantage of that.” As for the practice work, Mariota was encouraged by how he felt three days after being injured against the Colts. “I am feeling good,” Mariota said. “I was able to go through individual (drills), and I am taking it one day at a time, but it felt pretty good.” Mariota said the stinger gave him numbness in his passing arm. Earlier this season, Mariota dealt with numbness issues in his fingers and had trouble gripping the football after suffering an elbow injury against the Miami Dolphins in Week 1. He wore a two-fingered glove through Week 7 in order to compensate.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos draw a red-hot team for the third game in a row, as they host the Steelers (riding a six-game win streak) on Sunday after contests against the Chargers (on a six-game win streak) and the Texans (five-game streak). “We’re kind of battle-tested,” head coach Vance Joseph said. “We’ve played the best teams in the league, so for our team, we won’t flinch. We’re looking forward to the challenge.” The Broncos, who also have narrow losses to the Chiefs (twice) and Rams this season, pulled out a victory over the Chargers last week after missing a would-be game-winning field goal vs. Houston.
Kansas City Chiefs: Head coach Andy Reid isn’t allowed to reach out to Alex Smith, but he certainly feels for his former quarterback after Smith suffered a gruesome season-ending injury on Sunday. “You can help me put it out there that my prayers are with him,” Reid told reporters Tuesday. “I think the world of the guy. He changed that program around down there, gave them a chance and I know he’ll be missed dearly.” The coach doesn’t have any doubts that Smith, who spent five years in Kansas City, can return from the injury if he wants to. “If he wants to be back, he’ll be back,” Reid said. “That’s the way he’s wired. Nothing is impossible with his attitude.”
Los Angeles Chargers: One player who’s been lost in the shuffle for the Chargers this season is 2017 second-round pick Forrest Lamp, who missed his rookie season with a torn ACL and has been active for just one game this year. Head coach Anthony Lynn isn’t down on Lamp’s development, however, saying the lack of playing time is more a product of circumstance. “It’s hard to see right now because we’re in-season,” Lynn said. “You miss that training camp, you miss those OTAs. You don’t want to throw a guy in a game and evaluate him when the game’s on the line. So it’s hard for Forrest right now, but he’s back and working hard in practice. If an opportunity presents itself, we’re going to get him in there.”
Oakland Raiders: If Jon Gruden and the Raiders are planning entirely for the future, quarterback Derek Carr hasn’t gotten the memo. Oakland is set to have three first-round picks this year (and two next year), and its own pick could be a top-five selection if the team finishes poorly, but that’s not Carr’s focus. “I want to mess up the draft,” Carr said. “I don’t want the first pick. I want to win all these games. I want everybody to be mad at me for that. That’s what I want to accomplish.” Carr’s game-winning drive in Arizona last week was certainly a start, as it prevented the Raiders from taking a one-game “lead” in the “race” for the top overall pick in April.
Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott seemingly is one player who doesn’t have to worry about job security. Owner Jerry Jones had a lot to say about his third-year quarterback to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I don’t know how we could ask for more, to have this opportunity for him to progress the way he has. If someone walked in here right now and looked like they were going to get the No. 1 pick in the draft, and said, ‘We’ll give you two picks for Dak’, I wouldn’t even consider it.” The Cowboys are 5-5 and play the Redskins on Thursday for a share of first place in the NFC East.
New York Giants: A few weeks ago, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur said he was sticking by his embattled quarterback but challenged him to up his level of play. And given the way Eli Manning has performed in the past two games, Shurmur’s confidence apparently wasn’t misplaced. The Giants have won back-to-back games for the first time since 2016, and Manning is a big part of the reason why. He has completed 36 of 49 passes for 419 yards to go with five touchdowns and zero interceptions in wins over Tampa Bay and San Francisco. “That’s a winning performance from a quarterback, and along with that he was throwing touchdown passes,” Shurmur told WFAN’s Mike Francesa. “I feel good about where Eli is, especially the last two weeks. We won a game two weeks ago where we had to come back and win it. In this one here we played from the front ... now we’re going on to play ... a really good Philly team.”
Philadelphia Eagles: Golden Tate hasn’t been the offensive elixir the Eagles hoped he would be when they acquired him at the trade deadline from the Detroit Lions for a third-round draft pick. In two games with Philadelphia, Tate has caught seven passes for 67 yards and no touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Mike Groh said it’s been tough finding Tate’s fit in the offense. “It’s been challenging to integrate him,” Groh said, per The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Certainly, with the way we weren’t able to stay on the field the other day (Sunday, a 48-7 loss to New Orleans), and finding a rhythm for the offense, that part of it, then everything becomes a bit disjointed. If we can do a better job of staying on the field and having drives, then everybody gets more involved in the offense.”
Washington Redskins: The NFC East saw the same story last season. It was Week 14 when Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL, and the Eagles turned to Nick Foles, who led them to a Super Bowl championship. Could the same thing happen with the Redskins, who at 6-4 sit in first place in the NFC East? The Redskins will start veteran Colt McCoy on Thursday against Dallas, and he is taking over for Alex Smith, who broke his leg in Week 11 against Houston. McCoy has Smith in his corner. “Alex is a true professional,” McCoy said. “I mean, he wants the best for everybody and he just told me to go run with it, go have fun and just be me. That’s what I’ll try to do.” McCoy’s last stint as a starter came in 2014, when he was 1-3.
Chicago Bears: Because of his mastery of the Bears’ offense, a byproduct of utilizing the scheme in some variation with the Kansas City Chiefs (2013-15) and Philadelphia Eagles (2016), and the way he played in the 2018 preseason, Chase Daniel has a lot of confidence behind him should he start Thanksgiving Day at Detroit. “He is uber-prepared every single day, every single rep to go out there and compete in practice, in meetings, in all of the things,” Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said of the backup quarterback. Mitchell Trubisky (shoulder) is doubtful, meaning it could be time for Daniel to make his third career NFL start. In his career, Daniel is 51 of 78 for 480 yards with one touchdown, one interception and an 81.1 passer rating.
Detroit Lions: Running back Kerryon Johnson and wide receiver Marvin Jones were ruled out of Thursday’s game against the Chicago Bears due to knee injuries. Neither player was able to practice, and their absence leaves quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions without two of his best weapons. The Bears lead the NFL in run defense, which invites speculation that Theo Riddick, a third-down back, could get more playing time than bruising short-yardage back LeGarrette Blount. Blount said he’s looking forward to more chances. He has only 183 rushing yards through 10 games in a season he described as “not the best.” Fullback Zach Zenner could also see his role increased.
Green Bay Packers: Cornerback Xavier Rhodes and wide receiver Davante Adams are headliners in round two of Packers-Vikings on Sunday night. Defensive coaches in Minnesota aren’t tipping their hand, but the Vikings allowed Rhodes to shadow Adams all over the field in the first meeting this season, when Adams caught eight of the 12 passes intended for him and finished with 64 yards and a touchdown. “You’re looking at two Pro Bowl-caliber players. That would definitely be a matchup everyone will be paying attention to,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said.
Minnesota Vikings: With no game on Thanksgiving Day — a far cry from his 13 years as an assistant with the Dallas Cowboys — Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer adjusted the team’s schedule to open Thursday afternoons the rest of the season. That includes the holiday, which Zimmer said he looks forward to because of one combination primarily: “Turkey and wine, red wine,” he said Wednesday. The Vikings return to the field for another prime-time game after losing Sunday night at Chicago, and draw Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Zimmer said playing good teams has caused quarterback Kirk Cousins to play poorly in prime-time spots more than anything. “We’re playing good teams, might be the real factor,” Zimmer said.
Atlanta Falcons: Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones (foot) was ruled out of the Thanksgiving night matchup against the New Orleans Saints. Jones was injured in the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles and is close to returning to action. Atlanta suffered a 43-37 overtime loss to the Saints in Week 3 and Falcons wideout Julio Jones said his club needs to score on every possession. “Every time we get the ball, it’s critical,” Jones told reporters. “And they know we can score, too. So what teams will do, especially the Saints, they try to keep us on the sideline for long periods of time. But when we get the ball, we’ve got to score points.”
Carolina Panthers: Receiver Torrey Smith (knee) returned to practice on Wednesday and hopes to return for Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks. Smith has missed the past four games, and youngsters DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel have displayed they can be counted on during his absence. “I’m not really worried about all of that stuff,” Smith told reporters. “Even if it means me coming back and I have to watch more than I’m used to, whatever we have to do to win, that’s what matters most to me right now. I don’t want to be a guy that messes up chemistry. I don’t want to be a guy that interferes with the development of our young guys, but I know I’m going to bring it each and every time I’m out there.”
New Orleans Saints: Receiver Tre’Quan Smith had a breakout 10-reception outing (157 yards and a touchdown) against the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday but suffered a foot injury, and that is clouding his availability for Thursday’s game against the Falcons. Smith was listed as questionable on Wednesday and a decision may not be reached until pregame warm-ups. “In my eyes, I’m playing,” Smith declared Wednesday. Smith also said he was amazed by the awareness of star quarterback Drew Brees. “With Drew, you’re never covered in his eyes,” Smith said. “He knows how to manipulate the defense to put the ball where only you can get it and no one else gets it. And as a young receiver I need that, because my game isn’t all the way there. So I have a quarterback that can put it somewhere where only I can get it, it’s wonderful.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Quarterback Jameis Winston had little response when reporters fired questions asking if he felt the organization was committed to him for next season. Winston has a $20.9 million fifth-year option for next season that is only guaranteed for injury so the team could cut him and not be on the hook for any payout. “Yeah, I just know that I’m committed to this team, and committed to doing my best to provide an opportunity for me later,” Winston said Wednesday. Receiver Mike Evans is marveling at the way Winston is handling the uncertainty of the situation while being shuttled in and out of the lineup along with Ryan Fitzpatrick. “He’s very mentally tough, one of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around,” Evans said. “I know it’s a difficult situation for both of them because they’re both tough competitors and they both want to play.”
Arizona Cardinals: Josh Rosen continues to take his lumps as a rookie on a 2-8 team, having thrown 10 interceptions on the year, including eight in his last four games. “He is going to go through those ups and downs as a rookie,” head coach Steve Wilks said. “We understand and know that. You want to try to eliminate those, of course.” Rosen, who noted that interception totals can swing heavily with good or bad fortune, added he’s starting to learn when he can and can’t take chances. “If it’s man coverage and the guy is on his hip, that is something you can give a guy a shot,” Rosen said. “When certain guys are in certain positions — like if a fast guy is hip and hip with someone deep — you can chuck it, but there’s certain ones where I don’t care how good you are, you’re not going to get it complete. So it depends on the play and the position of the defense.”
Los Angeles Rams: Monday night’s 54-51 triumph over the Chiefs drew headlines for the offensive fireworks, but outside linebacker Samson Ebukam’s monster game — a fumble returned for touchdown, a pick-six and a sack — didn’t go unnoticed. Ebukam was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday, joining Aaron Donald (who has done so four times, including Week 7 this year) as the only Rams to claim the honor since Robert Quinn in Week 1 of 2013. Meanwhile, Jared Goff (Week 4) and Todd Gurley (Week 6) have each claimed offensive honors this season, while Blake Countess (Week 3) and Greg Zuerlein (Week 1) have gotten the nod on special teams.
San Francisco 49ers: Through multiple quarterback changes and injuries, second-year tight end George Kittle has continued to produce at a high level this season, and he’s up to 50 grabs for 775 yards through 10 games. “Kittle has been very similar since the day he got here,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “His production has gone up and down to me based off of health, based off of situations, how good we’re doing around him. ... He’s gradually gotten better because he works the right way, and I think that’ll continue throughout his career.” Shanahan attributed Kittle’s relatively small touchdown total (three) to a number of other factors, including how often he gets double-teamed in the red zone.
Seattle Seahawks: As the NFL leans increasingly toward high-flying offenses — as evidenced by Monday night’s 54-51 Rams win over the Chiefs — Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has continued to stand on his running game and defense, just the way he likes it. “I don’t mind being different at all,” Carroll told reporters. “I didn’t mind it when we were in college (at USC) either. We weren’t spreading out and doing all the stuff that other people were doing. ... When you’re playing all-spread teams week in and week out, it’s a big transition for you, and being unique is OK, particularly when you’re being aggressive and tough.” Seattle leads the NFL in rushing attempts per game (32.3) and is last in pass attempts (27.8), while currently riding a six-game streak when accumulating 150-plus rushing yards.
—Field Level Media