With Week 16 of the NFL season upon us, the playoffs are just around the corner. While a number of teams are still scrambling for a playoff spot some squads have already locked up a berth in football's second season.
Some teams will enter the postseason with some banged-up superstars, and for the following trio discretion should be the better part of valor and their teams should give them a two-week siesta before the playoffs begin.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
The New England Patriots have surely missed the presence of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has been sidelined since breaking his forearm against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 11, but it hasn't shown given the winning streak that was just snapped by the San Francisco 49ers.
However, the 23-year-old Gronkowski, who has 53 catches for 748 yards and 10 scores, has ditched his cast and practiced in a limited fashion Wednesday, leading to speculation that Gronkowski might make a return to action Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Although, unless Gronkowski's forearm is 110 percent healthy it's folly to hurry him back onto the field. The Patriots face the Jaguars and Miami Dolphins in two games to close out the regular season, which should be winnable without Gronkowski in the lineup. Even if New England wins both games, the Patriots still need help to pass the Denver Broncos for the AFC's second seed.
Justin Smith, DE, San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers got what may have been their biggest win of the season a week ago with against the Patriots, but that victory came with a cost.
Defensive end Justin Smith, a key part of the San Francisco front seven, was forced from the game in the second half with an arm injury. Fortunately, it appears that Smith dodged a serious injury and could play Sunday night against the Seattle Seahawks according to a report by ESPN.
"Everybody affectionately refers to Justin Smith around here as 'The Cowboy,' " Head coach Jim Harbaugh said. "I expect we'll see 'The Cowboy.' Knowing what I know of Justin Smith and the situation, I think The Cowboy will be around, saddled up ... roping and riding. If it's humanly possible, 'The Cowboy' will be out there, roping and riding."
Smith did miss practice Wednesday, and even though it's tough to sit a big part of the defense headed into the NFC West showdown, the fact remains that this isn't a do-or-die game since San Francisco has already clinched a playoff spot.
If they decide to play Smith and he aggravates the injury, then the 49ers Super Bowl aspirations would take a serious hit.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers
After a slow start to the season the Green Bay Packers have righted the ship and claimed to their second straight NFC North championship, which is all the more impressive considering the injuries that have struck the team this year.
Those injuries hit the wide receiver position particularly hard, including Jordy Nelson. The fifth-year pro, who had 15 touchdown catches in 2011, has missed three games so far this season, and it appears that the hamstring strain that has sidelined him the past two games will force him to miss Week 16 as well.
If that's the case, then there isn't any reason for Nelson to take the field when the Packers close out the regular season against the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers could easily be locked into the NFC's third seed by then. Hamstring injuries are easy to aggravate, and it's not like the passing game has fallen apart with Nelson out of the lineup.
Play it safe and get Nelson ready for what could be another matchup with the Vikings at Lambeau Field the following week.