Every team has a depth chart, but not every team has depth. That’s never more apparent than when injuries add up in mid-December. Last week, a number of teams lost crucial contributors at key positions. The 49ers beat the Saints, but lost cornerback Richard Sherman and defensive end Dee Ford for the short term and center Weston Richburg for the season. The Saints may be without left tackle Terron Armstead, left guard Andrus Peat, and center Will Clapp this week. The Patriots are already on their third-string center. The players who keep their teams going without missing a beat (the ones whose names the announcers don’t mention on television) are the unsung heroes of this part of the season.
Important Games for the Playoffs
Los Angeles Rams (8-5) @ Dallas Cowboys (6-7)
Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Announcers: Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analyst), Erin Andrews (reporter)
Opening line: Dallas -4 (Rams -1.5 as of Thursday)
Key Rams injuries and absences: Right tackle Rob Havenstein (meniscus), center Brian Allen (MCL), safety John Johnson III (shoulder), tight end Gerald Everett (knee)
Key Cowboys injuries and absences: Guard Connor Williams (ACL), defensive tackle Antwaun Woods (MCL), defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford (hip), linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (neck), cornerback Anthony Brown (triceps), safety Jeff Heath (shoulder), punter Chris Jones (abdomen), kicker Brett Maher (released)
What to watch: Jason Garrett vs. Sean McVay
“Now I know we’ve got a lot of other things to think about,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters after Dallas’s loss to New England. “Who’s coaching? Who’s playing? Who’s compared to another player someplace else? How about let’s win some ball games folks?”
How about these Cowboys, who have lost three in a row and are in danger of losing the NFC East, which the Eagles, Giants, and Washington tried handing them on a silver platter with a blue star in the center? Before their game against the Eagles next week that could be the de facto division title game, Dallas has a grudge match against the Rams, who knocked them out of the playoffs in a 30-22 defeat in the divisional round in January. In that game, The Ringer reported the Rams offensive line discovered tells to figure out what the Cowboys were doing on defense and rushed for 273 yards. The Rams have gotten half as many rushing yards in a game just twice since then: Week 1 against Carolina and last week against the Seahawks. L.A.’s offense nosedived this season, but now it’s trending up and heading for Texas. The Cowboys couldn’t stop Mitchell Trubisky last week, so Sean McVay and Jared Goff may have their best game yet.
Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) @ Washington (3-10)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Thom Brennaman (play-by-play), Chris Spielman (analyst), Shannon Spake (reporter)
Opening line: Philadelphia -6
Key Eagles injuries and absences: Running back Jordan Howard (shoulder), receiver Alshon Jeffery (foot), receiver DeSean Jackson (abdomen), receiver Nelson Agholor (knee), receiver J.J. Arcega Whiteside (leg), right tackle Lane Johnson (ankle), defensive end Derek Barnett (ankle), outside linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill (concussion), cornerback Jalen Mills (elbow)
Key Washington injuries and absences: Running back Derrius Guice (MCL), receiver Paul Richardson Jr. (hamstring), receiver Trey Quinn (concussion), tight end Jordan Reed (concussion), tight end Vernon Davis (concussion), outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (calf), linebacker Ryan Anderson (shoulder), cornerback Quinton Dunbar (hamstring), defensive back Deshazor Everett (shoulder)
What to watch: How low can the NFC East go?
Last week, the Eagles beat the Eli Manning–led Giants 23-17 in overtime. The rain falling on Lincoln Financial Field was not from the clouds, but the Football Gods crying about how they erred creating this year’s NFC East, which has Philadelphia and Dallas tied at the top at 6-7 apiece. The Eagles have been outscored by their opponents 301-297 this year but are still heavy favorites against Washington. Washington’s main hope is a big game for rookie receiver Terry McLaurin, who boasts the kind of speed Philadelphia’s secondary has struggled with all year, including last week when it allowed 154 yards and two touchdowns in the first half to Giants rookie Darius Slayton. On defense, Washington will have a far easier time getting to Carson Wentz if Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson misses this game.
Houston Texans (8-5) @ Tennessee Titans (8-5)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Jim Nantz (play-by-play), Tony Romo (analyst), Tracy Wolfson (reporter)
Opening line: Tennessee -1.5
Key Texans injuries and absences: Receiver Will Fuller V (hamstring), tackle Tytus Howard (meniscus), defensive end J.J. Watt (pectoral), defensive end Carlos Watkins (hamstring)
Key Titans injuries and absences: Running back Derrick Henry (hamstring), tight end Delanie Walker (ankle), pass rusher Cameron Wake (undisclosed), cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (foot), cornerback Malcolm Butler (wrist), cornerback LeShaun Sims (ankle), linebacker Daren Bates (shoulder), linebacker Derick Roberson (illness), cornerback Chris Milton (undisclosed), safety Kenny Vaccaro (concussion)
What to watch: The best football of the day
These teams are tied at the top of the AFC South at 8-5 and play each other twice in the final three weeks, including this Sunday in Nashville. Next week, the Texans will face the Buccaneers in Week 16 while the Titans will face the Saints. They’ll meet again in Houston (likely) to decide the division in Week 17. Like the NFC East, this race is close. Unlike the NFC East, this race is good.
Tennessee started 2-4, but is 6-1 since Ryan Tannehill took over as the starter in Week 7. Rookie receiver A.J. Brown has become Tannehill’s no. 1 receiving option with 12 catches for 333 yards and three touchdowns in the past three weeks. Since Week 7, Tennessee is third in points scored, fourth in point differential, fourth in yards, and first in yards per play (6.9). Under Tannehill, the team is picking up the pace and going no-huddle three times more often than they did under Marcus Mariota. The Titans are playing fast football, not exotic smashmouth.
While the Titans are rolling, the Texans are reeling after getting shellacked 38-24 by the Broncos in a game that was 38-3 with 9:18 left in the third quarter. We’ll see whether Houston’s linebackers dress for the occasion again after getting beaten so thoroughly.
Buffalo Bills (9-4) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5)
Kickoff time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Announcers: Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (analyst), Michele Tafoya (reporter)
Opening line: Pittsburgh -1
Key Bills injuries and absences: Tackle Ty Nsekhe (ankle), defensive tackle Corey Liuget (knee), linebacker Maurice Alexander (knee)
Key Steelers injuries and absences: Running back James Conner (shoulder), running back Jaylen Samuels (groin), fullback Roosevelt Nix-Jones (knee), receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee), tight end Vance McDonald (concussion), defensive end Stephon Tuitt (pectoral), safety Sean Davis (labrum)
What to watch: Wild-card!
If the Bills win, they will clinch a spot in the playoffs. Even if they lose, their odds of making the playoffs are 90 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight’s playoff forecast. The Steelers, meanwhile, have a 90 percent chance of making the playoffs with a win but a 30 percent chance of making it with a loss.
These are both defensive teams led by locally beloved game managers. Josh Allen has cut down on the mistakes that made him one of the worst quarterbacks in football last season, changing his mentality from trying to get touchdowns to trying to get first downs. But when Allen is pressured, he reverts to old habits. The Steelers have the highest pressure rate and the most sacks in the league. If any team can get last year’s Josh Allen to start throwing picks, it’s Pittsburgh.
Race to the Bottom
Miami Dolphins (3-10) @ New York Giants (2-11)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Spero Dedes (play-by-play), Adam Archuleta (analyst), Otis Livingston (reporter)
Opening line: Giants -3.5
Key Dolphins injuries and absences: Running back Kalen Ballage (Achilles), receiver DeVante Parker (concussion), receiver Albert Wilson (concussion), receiver Preston Williams (ACL), receiver Gary Jennings (shoulder), cornerback Xavien Howard (knee), cornerback Aqib Talib (ribs), cornerback Ken Crawley (shoulder), cornerback Ryan Lewis (hamstring), defensive back Ken Webster (ankle), safety Reshad Jones (chest), safety Bobby McCain (shoulder)
Key Giants injuries and absences: Quarterback Daniel Jones (ankle), tight end Evan Engram (foot), tight end Rhett Ellison (concussion), guard Kevin Zeitler (ankle), cornerback Janoris Jenkins (ankle), defensive back Corey Ballentine (concussion), safety Jabrill Peppers (back), long snapper Zak DeOssie (knee)
What to watch: A rock fight for the no. 2 pick
The Giants are currently in line for the no. 2 pick in the draft while the Dolphins are tied with Washington for the no. 3 pick. Next week the Giants play Washington and the Bengals play the Dolphins, so there is a lot of time for the top of the draft to jumble. This game could help decide where Chase Young and Joe Burrow play next year. It could also do the same for another quarterback who used to play in Louisiana.
“I learned I never want to be a coach … and I don’t want to be a backup going forward,” Eli Manning told ESPN before Monday Night Football last week. If he wants to play somewhere next year, he’ll have to show something here. So will Giants coach Pat Shurmur, who is on the hot seat according to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan. The Dolphins are so banged up at receiver and in the secondary that if the Giants can’t control the flow of this game, there’s little reason to bring Shurmur back in 2020.
Blowouts on Paper
New England Patriots (10-3) @ Cincinnati Bengals (1-12)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Andrew Catalon (play-by-play), James Lofton (analyst), Amanda Balionis (reporter)
Opening line: New England -10.5
Key Patriots injuries and absences: Receiver Julian Edelman (knee/shoulder), receiver Mohamed Sanu (ankle), receiver N’Keal Harry (hip), fullback James Develin (neck), center David Andrews (illness), center Ted Karras (MCL), kicker Stephen Gostkowski (hip)
Key Bengals injuries and absences: Receiver A.J. Green (ankle), receiver Auden Tate (knee), guard Alex Redmond (biceps), defensive end Kerry Wynn (concussion), cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (knee)
What to watch: A motivated Patriots team
If there’s ever a week the Patriots will win by 40, this is it. The team is being investigated for videotaping the Bengals sideline last week in a callback to Spygate. The team admitted the incident happened but said it was related to a video series produced on its website. The filming was so brazen (the Pats film crew was wearing Boston Bruins gear and sitting in front of a dozen Bengals employees) that it seems dubious the footage would be used for nefarious purposes. But the Patriots are sleeping in a bed they made more than a decade ago: Team employees involved in filming for Spygate were reportedly given excuses in case they got caught—including saying the footage was “for a team show.” The Patriots relish any outside adversity, and they are a lock to try and run up the score if they get the opportunity to show they don’t need to cheat to beat the 1-12 Bengals.
Atlanta Falcons (4-9) @ San Francisco 49ers (11-2)
Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Announcers: Chris Myers (play-by-play), Daryl Johnston (analyst), Laura Okmin (reporter)
Opening line: San Francisco -11.5
Key Falcons injuries and absences: Receiver Calvin Ridley (abdomen), tackle Ty Sambrailo (hamstring), guard James Carpenter (concussion), guard Wes Schweitzer (shoulder), cornerback Desmond Trufant (forearm), defensive back Johnathan Cyprien (foot), defensive back Sharrod Neasman (shoulder), safety Keanu Neal (Achilles)
Key 49ers injuries and absences: center Weston Richburg (kneecap), defensive end Dee Ford (hamstring), defensive tackle D.J. Jones (ankle), defensive end Damontre Moore (forearm), defensive end Ronald Blair (ACL), inside linebacker Kwon Alexander (pectoral), cornerback Richard Sherman (hamstring), safety Jaquiski Tartt (ribs), defensive back K’Waun Williams (concussion)
What to watch: Kyle Shanahan beat the wistful Falcons
Kyle Shanahan was Atlanta’s offensive coordinator for their Super Bowl run in 2016. This game may remind the Falcons of how good their offense used to be. San Francisco just scored 48 on New Orleans, whose defense is worlds better than Atlanta’s. They’ll also see a bizarro universe where Shanahan’s offense is balanced with an elite pass rush. The 49ers have the most defensive line talent in football and by extension have the third-most sacks in football. The Falcons have the least, and by extension the third-fewest. Shanahan may not have run the ball enough in the second half of their Super Bowl against the Patriots, but the 49ers will run plenty in this game with Raheem Mostert, who leads all running backs in rushing yards per attempt.
Quarterbacks Trying to Hold on to Their Jobs in 2020
Denver Broncos (5-8) @ Kansas City Chiefs (9-4)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Ian Eagle (play-by-play), Dan Fouts (analyst), Evan Washburn (reporter)
Opening line: Kansas City -13
Key Broncos injuries and absences: Tight end Noah Fant (hip/foot), guard Ron Leary (concussion), fullback Andy Janovich (elbow), defensive end Bradley Chubb (ACL), defensive end Derek Wolfe (elbow), defensive end Dre’Mont Jones (ankle), linebacker Malik Reed (ankle)
Key Chiefs injuries and absences: Quarterback Patrick Mahomes (hand), running back Damien Williams (ribs), running back Darrel Williams (hamstring), guard Martinas Rankin (knee), guard Andrew Wylie (shoulder), defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah (pectoral), cornerback Morris Claiborne (shoulder), defensive back Rashad Fenton (hamstring)
What to watch: Patrick Mahomes’s deep passes
Drew Lock is the latest Broncos quarterback on Denver’s QB carousel, and if he keeps his play up he could be a lock (sorry) to return as Denver’s quarterback in 2020. The Chiefs defense will be a surprisingly tough test after Lock diced up the inferior Texans D last week. This will likely be the most pass pressure Lock has faced in his young career, and it’ll be on the road at Arrowhead Stadium, one of the loudest in the league.
The quarterback playing for the other team doesn’t have to worry about job security, but there are some concerns. Patrick Mahomes is expected to play this week but may not have his signature fastball after hurting his throwing hand when he braced himself for a fall in the first half against the Patriots. Mahomes stayed in the game after he “hit the ground weird,” but the injury affected his next pass, and Kansas City avoided their characteristic deep throws afterward. Mahomes’s average pass traveled just 5.5 yards in the air, the shortest number in his career, according to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell. The injury may affect him this week too. His hand swelled and bruised, which affected how he was holding the ball on Monday and Tuesday.
“Today was the first day I was really able to get a grip on [the ball],’” Mahomes told reporters on Wednesday. “I was able to kind of flick it around yesterday, but today was the first day I was able to really grip the ball, throw it and drive it down the field a little bit.”
Mahomes has already sprained his ankle and dislocated his kneecap this season. Whether he can put some deep-ball zip is worth monitoring as the playoffs approach.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7) @ Detroit Lions (3-9-1)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Dick Stockton (play-by-play), Mark Schlereth (analyst), Jennifer Hale (reporter)
Opening line: Tampa Bay -4
Key Bucs injuries and absences: Quarterback Jameis Winston (thumb/knee), receiver Mike Evans (hamstring), tackle Donovan Smith (ankle/knee), guard Alex Cappa (elbow), linebacker Anthony Nelson (hamstring), safety Justin Evans (foot)
Key Lions injuries and absences: Quarterback Matt Stafford (hip/back), running back Kerryon Johnson (knee), running back Bo Scarbrough (ribs), receiver Marvin Jones Jr. (ankle), defensive end Da’Shawn Hand (ankle), defensive end Austin Bryant (hip), cornerback Jamal Agnew (ankle)
What to watch: Kenny Golladay and Chris Godwin
Godwin and Golladay are both having breakout seasons, and each are at the same fork in the road. Each had their partner in crime, Mike Evans in Tampa and Marvin Jones Jr. in Detroit, ruled out for the season this week. That leaves the bulk of their team’s receiving duties on them. So far they haven’t had any issues. Golladay leads the league with 10 receiving touchdowns. Godwin has nine (tied for second with Jones). Godwin has a league-leading 22 catches of 20-plus receiving yards, and Golladay is in second with 19. Whether they can continue to carry the load without their partner will matter for the fantasy playoffs.
Their main difference is who’s throwing to them. Golladay has young rookie David Blough, while Godwin has Jameis Winston, who is playing through a broken bone in his thumb. The same way that baseball players are hitting home runs and striking out more than ever, Jameis Winston almost exclusively throws touchdowns and turnovers. Winston is a free agent at the end of this season, and what the Bucs will do with Winston is one of the most interesting decisions any team has to make this spring.
Chicago Bears (7-6) @ Green Bay Packers (10-3)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Kevin Burkhardt (play-by-play), Charles Davis (analyst), Pam Oliver (reporter)
Opening line: Green Bay -7
Key Bears injuries and absences: Receiver Taylor Gabriel (concussion), tight end Trey Burton (calf), tight end Adam Shaheen (foot), tight end Ben Braunecker (concussion), tackle Bobby Massie (ankle), defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (elbow), linebacker Roquan Smith (pectoral), linebacker Danny Trevathan (elbow), cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring)
Key Packers injuries and absences: Cornerback Kevin King (shoulder), defensive back Tony Brown (heel), defensive tackle Montravius Adams (illness)
What to watch: Mitchell Trubisky
Mitchell Trubisky has as tenuous a grasp on his job for next year as any starting quarterback, but beating the Cowboys last week on Thursday Night Football helped raise his stock somewhat. Beating the Packers in Lambeau would help more. Green Bay has had trouble putting inferior opponents away for the past seven weeks.
Seattle Seahawks (10-3) @ Carolina Panthers (5-8)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Kenny Albert (play-by-play), Ronde Barber (analyst), Lindsay Czarniak (reporter)
Opening line: Seattle -4.5
Key Seahawks injuries and absences: Running back Rashaad Penny (ACL), tight end Will Dissly (Achilles), tight end Ed Dickson (knee), tight end Luke Willson (hamstring), center Justin Britt (ACL), guard Ethan Pocic (back), defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (core/illness), defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (neck), linebacker K.J. Wright (finger), linebacker Mychal Kendricks (hamstring), linebacker Cody Barton (ankle), safety Tedric Thompson (labrum)
Key Panthers injuries and absences: Quarterback Cam Newton (foot), tight end Greg Olsen (concussion), tackle Greg Little (ankle), guard Greg Van Roten (foot), defensive tackle Kawann Short (shoulder), defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (knee), defensive tackle Dontari Poe (quadriceps), defensive end Marquis Haynes (knee), linebacker Mario Addison (chest)
What to watch: Whether Seattle’s offense can get going
The Seahawks have inspired less and less confidence in each of their last three games. Since they beat the 49ers on Monday Night Football and then went on bye, they beat the Eagles 17-9, scraped by the Vikings 37-30, and were contained by the Rams in a 28-12 loss that was the lowest point total Seattle’s had all year. It was also just the third of Seattle’s 13 games in which the final score wasn’t within one possession. The Panthers defense is second in the league in sacks but their run defense is dead last in efficiency by Football Outsiders, so head coach Pete Carroll will be salivating to establish the run.
The Seahawks are 10-3 this season and still very much in the race to win the NFC West with one more game hosting San Francisco in Week 17, but their season has been quite different from that of the 49ers. The Seahawks have outscored their opponents this season by 20 points. The 49ers have outscored their opponents by 168 points.
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9) @ Oakland Raiders (6-7)
Kickoff time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Announcers: Kevin Harlan (play-by-play), Rich Gannon (analyst), John Schriffen (reporter)
Opening line: Oakland -4.5
Key Jaguars injuries and absences: Receiver D.J. Chark (ankle), tight end Josh Oliver (back), tight end Seth DeValve (oblique), tight end Geoff Swaim (concussion), tight end James O’Shaughnessy (ACL), guard Brandon Thomas (knee), inside linebacker Myles Jack (knee), linebacker Jake Ryan (hamstring), linebacker Najee Goode (knee), linebacker D.J. Alexander (foot)
Key Raiders injuries and absences: Running back Josh Jacobs (shoulder), receiver Hunter Renfrow (ribs/lung), tackle Trent Brown (pectoral), defensive end Arden Key (foot), linebacker Kyle Wilbur (ankle), safety Johnathan Abram (labrum), safety Karl Joseph (foot)
What to watch: The End of an Era
This is the last game the Raiders are playing in Oakland (again). The AFL squad founded in 1960 moved to Los Angeles in 1982 but went back home in 1995 and have been there ever since. Next year, the Raiders will go to Las Vegas, but functionally their ties to the Bay Area end on Sunday. It comes just two months after the Warriors relocated from Oakland to San Francisco. The Athletics are threatening to leave the city unless they get a new stadium. This game is the end of an era of sports for Oakland.
It could also be the beginning of the end for Derek Carr. The Raiders quarterback has been better this year than he was in his injury-riddled 2018, but he has not impressed since Jon Gruden returned last year. With so many potential quarterbacks available next year—from Teddy Bridgewater to Cam Newton plus the ones available in the draft—it wouldn’t be surprising if the Raiders get their QB of the future before they start playing games in Sin City. The same goes for Jacksvonille, which may have to pick between Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew II going into 2020. This game is Minshew’s best shot to state his case. The Raiders have allowed the most plays of 20-plus passing yards and 40-plus passing yards. Their D is such a dumpster fire that Gruden cut three defenders this week.
Minnesota Vikings (9-4) @ Los Angeles Chargers (5-8)
Kickoff time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Announcers: Greg Gumbel (play-by-play), Trent Green (analyst), Melanie Collins (reporter)
Opening line: Minnesota -3
Key Vikings injuries and absences: Receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring), center Ben Jones (MCL), linebacker Ben Gedeon (concussion), cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle), cornerback Mike Hughes (hip)
Key Chargers injuries and absences: Guard Forrest Lamp (leg), center Mike Pouncey (neck), defensive back Nasir Adderley (hamstring)
What to watch: Kirk Cousins earn his money
The Vikings have Super Bowl aspirations, but a loss this week could put their playoff hopes in jeopardy. The Rams are hot on Minnesota’s heels for the last wild-card spot in the NFC, and a Chargers win would do a lot of good for their L.A. neighbors. The Vikings’ missing the playoffs for each of the first two years of Kirk Cousins’ three-year, $84 million contact would be a catastrophe that could cost head coach Mike Zimmer his job. Cousins signed a fully guaranteed contract to get Minnesota over the hump after losing the NFC championship game in January 2018. These last three weeks should be where he earns his money.
Philip Rivers needs to earn his money too. He is in a contract year and may not return to Los Angeles in 2020. From Week 10 to Week 13, Rivers had one of the worst three-game stretches of his career. He tossed five touchdowns versus eight interceptions across losses to all three division rivals. Rivers stopped the bleeding with three touchdown passes in a 45-10 win over Jacksonville last week, but the Chargers season is lost and Rivers doesn’t look like a great short-term option, never mind a long-term one.
Cleveland Browns (6-7) @ Arizona Cardinals (3-9-1)
Kickoff time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Announcers: Tom McCarthy (play-by-play), Jay Feely (analyst)
Opening line: Cleveland -2.5
Key Browns injuries and absences: Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (sports hernia), receiver Jarvis Landry (hip), tight end Demetrius Harris (Shoulder), tackle Chris Hubbard (knee), defensive end Olivier Vernon (knee), safety Eric Murray (knee), safety Morgan Burnett (Achilles), defensive back Robert Jackson (ankle)
Key Cardinals injuries and absences: Tackle Jordan Mills (knee), defensive end Zach Allen (neck), defensive end Jonathan Bullard (hamstring), defensive tackle Rodney Gunter (toe), defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (neck), linebacker Brooks Reed (hamstring)
What to watch: Baker Mayfield vs. Kyler Murray/Kliff
Football is a small world. Six years ago Baker Mayfield walked onto Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s team and earned the starting quarterback job. Mayfield started 5-0 before suffering a leg injury. Once he got healthy a few weeks later, Kingsbury didn’t give Mayfield the job back, tell him why, or offer him a scholarship, according to Mayfield. Their relationship soured. Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma, where he later won the Heisman trophy and then went no. 1 in the NFL draft. A year later, Mayfield’s backup, Kyler Murray, (whom Kingsbury tried to recruit to Texas Tech) won the Heisman trophy and went no. 1 in the draft to the Arizona Cardinals, who had just hired Kingsbury. Now all three of them will reunite on Sunday. Mayfield says his issues with Kingsbury are in the past and that he and Murray are still friends. We’ll see how friendly this game gets.
Monday Night Football
Indianapolis Colts (6-7) @ New Orleans Saints (10-3)
Kickoff time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Announcers: Joe Tessitore (play-by-play), Booger McFarland (analyst), Lisa Salters (reporter)
Opening line: New Orleans -9
Key Colts injuries and absences: Receiver T.Y. Hilton (calf), receiver Parris Campbell (foot), receiver Devin Funchess (collarbone), receiver Chester Rogers (knee), tight end Eric Ebron (ankles), defensive end Kemoko Turay (ankle), cornerback Kenny Moore (ankle), cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (ankle), kicker Adam Vinatieri (knee)
Key Saints injuries and absences: Tight end Jared Cook (concussion), left tackle Terron Armstead (ankle), left guard Andrus Peat (forearm), center Will Clapp (elbow), defensive end Marcus Davenport (foot), defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (ankle), outside linebacker A.J. Klein (knee), outside linebacker Kiko Alonso (quad), defensive back Patrick Robinson (calf)
What to watch: Drew Brees’s passing (and protection)
Drew Brees is two passing touchdowns away from tying Peyton Manning’s all-time record of 539. Brees is almost assured of breaking that mark, but Tom Brady is only three behind, so whoever retires last is likely to hold onto it for good.
The more pressing matter for Brees in this game will be the left side of his offensive line. Left tackle Terron Armstead could miss this game with an ankle injury. Left guard Andrus Peat has already missed a month with a broken forearm, and center Will Clapp missed last week’s 49ers game with an elbow injury. Tight end Jared Cook also suffered a concussion, meaning the Saints could be down every in-line player from center through tight end for this game. Indianapolis doesn’t have an exhilarating pass rush, and the Saints allow the third-fewest sacks per dropback of any team, so Brees may not be in imminent danger. But if the Colts can pressure Brees with a diminished line, New Orleans will need to get healthy ahead of the playoffs.