The Biggest Injury Concern for Every NFL Playoff Contender
While an issue throughout the regular season, the effect of injuries become magnified as the NFL's postseason inches closer.
Each 2012 playoff contender is dealing with at least one important injury concern over the last three games. Some are big names with big issues, others are lesser-knowns that may be back as soon as Week 15.
Below, we'll identify the biggest injury concern for each of the remaining playoff contenders this season.
Note: Players on injured reserve were not included. Also, only teams with at least six wins were discussed.
San Francisco 49ers: WR Mario Manningham
The 49ers are relatively injury-free, which is something most can't say this time of year. But if there's one injury to watch, it's Manningham's. The 49ers' third-leading receiver missed Week 14 with a shoulder injury. Luckily for San Francisco, Manningham should be back before the postseason begins.
Green Bay Packers: OLB Clay Matthews
The Packers have survived without Matthews, winning three of the four games since he hurt his hamstring against the Arizona Cardinals. But Green Bay's pass rush has slowly eroded, and there's little chance the Packers can make a Super Bowl run with Dezman Moses and Frank Zombo manning the defense's most important position. Matthews may return this Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
New York Giants: WR Hakeem Nicks
Nicks has battled his way back from a knee injury, but every week he looks stronger and stronger. Against the New Orleans Saints in Week 14, Nicks caught four passes for 67 yards and a score. The Giants need him as close to 100 percent as they can get him for the last three games of the season.
Seattle Seahawks: LB Leroy Hill
Save for a couple of bumps and bruises, the Seahawks roster is mostly without a major injury issue. Hill, a starter at weakside linebacker, missed a game against the Chicago Bears and is still dealing with an ankle injury. Aside from that, however, Seattle is healthy.
Chicago Bears: LB Brian Urlacher
Urlacher is no longer the elite middle linebacker he used to be, but his absence has had a ripple effect in Chicago. Since Urlacher strained his hamstring against the Seahawks, backup Nick Roach has struggled. If Urlacher misses the rest of the season, Chicago could find itself on the outside looking in.
Washington Redskins: QB Robert Griffin III
The Redskins dodged a huge bullet when Griffin's MRI came back clean. What could have been a season-ending ACL injury was nothing more than a Grade 1 sprain of his LCL. Griffin III is still in play to start Sunday in Cleveland. At 7-6, the Redskins need him available for all three season-ending games.
Dallas Cowboys: WR Dez Bryant
Bryant fractured his left index finger during the second half of the Cowboys' 20-19 win over the Bengals, but that didn't stop him from catching the touchdown pass that sparked the comeback. Surgery might be the best route for him moving forward, but Dallas likely can't make the playoffs without him available.
Minnesota Vikings: CB A.J. Jefferson
Jefferson, a 24-year-old cornerback, suffered a concussion during the Vikings' 21-14 win over the Bears in Week 14. He had been starting for injured cornerback Chris Cook opposite Antonie Winfield. Minnesota could be thin at cornerback when they travel to St. Louis in Week 15.
St. Louis Rams: WR Danny Amendola
Amendola has been inactive the past two weeks after injuring his heel. The Rams have won without him in the lineup, but the offense clearly runs better with the slot receiver healthy. St. Louis could get Amendola back against the Vikings Sunday.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DT Roy Miller
Miller, a big reason why the Bucs have been so good against the run this season, missed Tampa Bay's Week 14 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles. He is still rehabbing from a concussion suffered against the Denver Broncos. The Bucs need their run-plugger back for the last three games.
Baltimore Ravens: LB Terrell Suggs
Possibly no injury in the AFC is as important as Suggs' is to the Ravens. Baltimore's best pass-rusher tore his biceps and then missed the Ravens' Week 14 loss to the Redskins. While still a good bet to make the postseason, the Ravens need Suggs back as soon as possible.
Indianapolis Colts: G Joe Reitz
The Colts have dealt with injuries all season, and most of the big names are already on IR. But Reitz, a starting guard, suffered a concussion in Week 13 and hasn't played since. Jeff Linkenbach has started in his place, with varying results.
Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Ike Taylor
The Steelers, without Taylor because of a hairline fracture in his right leg, are dangerously thin in the secondary. That lack of depth was on display Sunday against Philip Rivers and the Chargers, who racked up three touchdown passes for 34 points against Pittsburgh's vaunted defense. Taylor is hoping to be back before the end of the regular season.
Cincinnati Bengals: DE Michael Johnson
Johnson, owner of 8.5 sacks this season, hurt his big toe against the Cowboys and is now questionable to play in Week 15. The 25-year-old defensive end has been a big part of the Bengals' dominance along the defensive line this season.
New York Jets: TE Dustin Keller
The Jets have a laundry list of injured players, but Keller's absence may be the biggest. Without receiving options on the perimeter, quarterback Mark Sanchez needs his security blanket back in the lineup. Keller has dealt with an ankle injury and missed Week 14's win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
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