6 Week 16 Injury Concerns That Could Affect the NFL Playoff Picture
The Washington Redskins still don't know if Robert Griffin III can play in Week 16, and he's not the only key player on a playoff contender with injury concerns.
Jordy Nelson may or may not play for the Green Bay Packers as he recovers from a hamstring injury, Justin Smith's status (elbow) is yet unknown for the San Francisco 49ers as they head to Seattle and Ahmad Bradshaw may not be able to play against the Baltimore Ravens.
These are all cornerstone players for their respective teams, and with only two games left on the schedule and a cloudy playoff picture, they'll be sorely missed if they can't play.
Here are the injury concerns that might have a massive impact on the playoff picture in Week 16.
Emmanuel Sanders: Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
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The Pittsburgh Steelers, at 7-7, are in desperate need of two more wins to ensure a playoff berth.
The offense has struggled of late, and Emmanuel Sanders has been one of the bright spots the past three weeks, averaging just over four receptions for 72 yards per game.
Unfortunately, he is dinged up coming into Week 16's must-win game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
#Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders “I’ve just got a cracked rib. Those things should heal fast, so hopefully I’ll be back next week"— Ken Laird (@Ken_Laird) December 17, 2012
Lord knows, the Steelers need him if he can go, but it's not going to be a picnic playing with a cracked rib. We'll see how he holds up in what's sure to be a hard-hitting game against the Bengals.
Jordy Nelson: Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers
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Jordy Nelson hasn't been able to play for the Green Bay Packers since October 21, due to a hamstring injury, but Aaron Rodgers will need his star receiver back in action for the final push. As of this moment, head coach Mike McCarthy doesn't know if Nelson will be ready this Sunday.
MM: Will have better handle on Jordy Nelson on Wednesday.— Mike Vandermause (@MikeVandermause) December 17, 2012
The Packers are vying for the No. 2 seed with the San Francisco 49ers—a team which currently has a half-game lead.
They have a potential trap game in Week 16 against the Tennessee Titans and a pivotal divisional game on the road against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 17. If they don't take the No. 2 seed from the 49ers, they'll turn right back around the next week for a playoff game.
Since Nelson hasn't been able to play or practice, he and Rodgers have inevitably not been able to work on timing, which is going to be crucial come January.
Ahmad Bradshaw: Running Back, New York Giants
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The New York Giants desperately need their emotional leader on offense to suit up and play this Sunday at Baltimore against the Ravens.
Per Giants.com's Michael Eisen, Bradshaw says he's playing, but head coach Tom Coughlin isn't so sure. Coughlin says it's up to the medical staff, which hasn't cleared Bradshaw at this time.
After rookie David Wilson failed to make much headway against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15, it's clear that the Giants need their proven veteran back on the field for their upcoming must-win game. As of this moment, the Giants are out of the playoffs, and they can't afford another loss.
Dez Bryant: Wide Receiver, Dallas Cowboys
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Like the New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys are currently on the outside looking into the NFC playoff race.
With two more brutal games left on the schedule against the New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins, Dallas desperately needs all hands on deck.
Unfortunately, Dez Bryant's fractured finger on his left hand has rendered him less than 100 percent, and given the offensive firepower the Saints and Redskins bring to the table, his injury could be a big hindrance to the Cowboys winning out.
The Cowboys will "continue to monitor" his finger, but he's expected to play in Week 16, according to Calvin Watkins of ESPNDallas.com.
It remains to be seen if he can produce at the level that he was before his injury. One thing we do know for sure is that the Cowboys aren't the same when he's not playing up to his potential.
Justin Smith: Defensive End, San Francisco 49ers
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Brady's incredible 28-point comeback in the third and fourth quarters of the game on Sunday night came while Smith was out of the game with an elbow injury. The 49ers did manage to stop the bleeding, but it was almost too little, too late.
Jim Harbaugh is optimistic about Smith's availability this coming Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. Per Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee:
Harbaugh on KNBR re: Justin Smith: "You know his nickname is 'Cowboy.'... So I expect we'll see the Cowboy" in practice. "Ropin' and ridin'"— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) December 18, 2012
The 49ers will need his dominating presence on their line this Sunday. Aldon Smith isn't nearly as effective as a pass-rusher without Smith, and the team's ability to stop opposing running games is significantly impaired when he's out of the lineup.
Robert Griffin III: Quarterback, Washington Redskins
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The Washington Redskins currently hold a half-game lead over the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East lead and the No. 4 seed in the NFC. This team can't afford a single loss, or their playoff hopes will be dashed upon the rocks.
And while Kirk Cousins was impressive against the Cleveland Browns in Week 15 and might be able to duplicate his performance in Week 16 against the Philadelphia Eagles, there's no doubt the Redskins need RG3 back in the lineup by Week 17.
He wants to play, but the Redskins aren't taking any chances with his knee. According to the AP, Griffin won't play until his knee is 100-percent healthy.
I know Redskins fans will breath a whole lot easier if Griffin is in the starting lineup this weekend, and I have to believe the Redskins players will, too.