San Francisco 49ers DE Justin Smith is in danger of missing his first start since his rookie season in 2001. However, the injured defensive lineman has been slightly upgraded to "questionable" after receiving the dreaded "doubtful" label early in the week, according to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com.
Also, Smith did not practice at any point in the week, Maiocco noted.
UPDATE: Sunday, December 23 at 7:08 p.m. ET by Matt Fitzgerald
Horrible news for 49ers fans, as Smith will be inactive for Sunday night's prime time showdown with NFC West rival Seattle, according to Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News:
Justin Smith is inactive, 49ers announce.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) December 24, 2012
With all that Smith brings to the San Francisco defense, it will be all the more difficult to beat the Seahawks in CenturyLink Field.
---End of Update---
The 49ers’ official Twitter feed confirmed the reports by Maiocco, listing Smith as questionable along with four other San Francisco players:
Carroll in his presser says he would be surprised if Justin Smith does not play.— Davis Hsu (@DavisHsuSeattle) December 21, 2012
The injury initially happened in the first half of the Niners win over the New England Patriots in Week 15. Without Smith on the field in the second half the Patriots bounced back and put 28 points up in rapid-fire fashion.
If he is unable to go, backup defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois will make his fourth career start in a game that has immense playoff implications.
The 49ers will be in the postseason, that much is a given. However, they would likely prefer to take the wild-card round off and nurse their wounds while other teams battle it out for a shot to play them.
A win for Seattle and suddenly the NFC West Division title is not out of reach.
With Smith potentially out of the lineup, the Seahawks can capitalize by pounding the football through the heart of the 49ers defense. Seattle ran the ball for 136 yards on 29 carries even with Smith in the game in Week 7.
While the Seahawks may focus their blocking on Jean Francois, the backup did record a key sack of Tom Brady in the fourth quarter while filling in for Smith.
For his career, Jean Francois has recorded 37 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.