Week 15 is a pivotal point in the 2012 NFL season. Which teams' stars are ailing and battling injuries and are at risk to play?
There are playoff implications abound, making it vital each team be ready to compete at the top of its game this weekend.
Take a look at some of the updates from around the league on some of these big-time playmakers and difference-makers.
*All injury statuses courtesy of NFL.com/injuries unless otherwise indicated.
Jay Cutler is listed as probable on the Chicago Bears’ injury report for the team’s pivotal matchup against Green Bay in Week 15. Chicago has a multitude of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, but it won’t need to worry about its starting QB this week.
Outlook: Even with Cutler, the Bears could face problems on Sunday. Cutler has thrown 15 INTs against the Packers and recorded just one win in seven career games against them.
Clay Matthews practiced all week and is listed as probable on the Green Bay Packers’ injury report. But Matthews isn’t just suiting up for intimidation purposes. From the sound of things, he may actually be recovered from the hamstring injury that has sidelined him.
"I look for Clay to play and make an impact in the game,” Mike McCarthy said, according to an AP report (via ESPN).
McCarthy didn’t rule out the possibility of limiting his reps, though, according to the AP report:
Potentially. I think it would be smart to watch his reps. It's something that we've talked about with him personally and just a number of guys coming back (from injuries). This is a very important game, but there's more left to be played after this game.
Outlook: Matthews has been on the shelf for weeks with a hamstring injury. He may not abuse Cutler like in Week 2 but his presence gives the Packers’ pass rush a big boost.
Jordy Nelson has been ruled out for the Green Bay Packers in Week 15 against Chicago, according to the team’s injury report. He injured his hamstring and will miss his second consecutive game as a result.
Outlook: Luckily, Green Bay has ample reserves at the wide receiver position. The emergence of Randall Cobb and return of Greg Jennings should help bridge the gap until Nelson is able to return.
The Washington Redskins are being vague about the availability of Robert Griffin III this weekend against Cleveland. Coach Mike Shanahan said he will wait for Sunday to reveal whether it will be Griffin or Kirk Cousins who will get the starting nod.
Things are looking good for him, though.
''He keeps on improving every day,'' Shanahan said on Friday, according to an AP report (via Fox Sports). ''He's much better today.''
Outlook: Without Griffin, the Redskins will face a tough challenge against an increasingly competitive Cleveland Browns team. With the playoffs on the line, they should hope he is willing to
Ahmad Bradshaw was listed as questionable throughout the work but downgraded to “Out” on Friday. His sprained knee was ultimately too much to bounce back from in one week’s time.
Outlook: Rookie running back David Wilson was explosive last week in relief of Bradshaw. Atlanta isn’t as bad defending the run as New Orleans, but the rookie hasn’t proved he can consistently tote the rock as a starting back.
Roddy White missed practice all week and is listed as questionable for the team’s big Week 15 matchup against the New York Giants. The receiver is dealing with what was described as a “minor” knee injury. However, he was held out of practice all week and labeled as a game-time decision by head coach Mike Smith on Thursday, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
White’s teammates don’t seem to be too worried about him missing the game, though.
"Hey man, how many games has he missed in his career? There you go," wide receiver Harry Douglas said with a laugh, according to Mike Garafolo of USA TODAY Sports.
Outlook: Without White, the Atlanta Falcons offense becomes much more predictable and easier to account for. He is an excellent option opposite of Julio Jones. The Giants have been susceptible to big plays through the air, though. That could work in favor of the Falcons if White is unable to go.
Danny Amendola, who missed the last two games, will play in Week 15 against the Minnesota Vikings, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (via Twitter):
WR Danny Amendola (foot) says he will play Sunday vs. Vikings. Amendola was full go Friday at practice and is listed as probable.— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) December 14, 2012
Outlook: With Amendola back in the lineup, the St. Louis Rams may be able to exploit the very beatable Vikings secondary. The team has struggled without him, but he gives them another element and threat that the Vikes must account for down the field.
Cecil Shorts was listed as questionable but upgraded to probable on Friday. He also practiced fully and should play for the Jacksonville Jaguars against the Miami Dolphins in Week 15.
Outlook: Miami is definitely susceptible to opposing passing games. With Shorts in the lineup, Jacksonville will have a much better chance at spoiling the Dolphins’ late-season push for the playoffs.
Fred Jackson’s season is over, according to Tim Graham of BuffaloNews.com.
"He's not going to make it," coach Chan Gailey said, according to Graham. "He's going to be out for the rest of the year."
Outlook: The Bills’ backfield now belongs to C.J. Spiller. Durability concerns limited Spiller’s carries this season as Jackson shared the duties. With Jackson out, though, we’ll get to see how the explosive back handles the task in the team’s final three games.
Dez Bryant is listed as questionable on the team’s injury report, but there is little doubt about what his status will be this weekend. Bryant is going to play.
"The position that we are in, that makes me want to be out there," Bryant said, according to Jarrett Bell of USA TODAY Sports. "If there was anything less than what we've got a chance of, I would have went ahead and got surgery."
Dallas faces Pittsburgh in a game that will define both teams’ seasons.
Outlook: Pittsburgh’s secondary is decimated, and the Cowboys would greatly benefit from having Bryant on the field, even if in a limited capacity. This game is huge, like Bryant said.
Rob Gronkowski participated in practice on Friday for the first time since breaking his forearm against the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 18, according to Albert Breer (via Twitter):
Rob Gronkowski is back at Patriots practice.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) December 14, 2012
Dan Hanzus of NFL.com followed up by reporting that a source said Gronk is expected to sit out Sunday against the San Francisco Giants.
With Bill Belichick, nothing is ever certain.
Outlook: There are 13 Patriots listed as questionable on this week’s injury report. It’s hard to decipher just what Belichick and his training staff is thinking as a result. Without Gronkowski, the Pats will rely heavily on Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez to beat the 49ers.