Injuries are a part of football. Coaches don't want to use them as an excuse for poor play, and players don't want to answer questions about their health.
But they can be the difference between being a borderline playoff team and being a Super Bowl contender.
There are a handful of elite players on top-tier teams currently dealing with injuries. With their star players in the lineup, these teams could compete for a Super Bowl, but without their best players, they'll struggle to put together a deep playoff run.
Let's take a look at the latest injuries that could alter some teams' Super Bowl hopes.
WR Anquan Boldin, Ravens: Boldin dodged a bullet when the news broke that his shoulder injury was merely a bruise. He'll be ready to go this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, as he chases his first 1,000-yard season since 2009.
WR Dez Bryant, Cowboys: Bryant has been one of the best receivers in the league over the second half of the season, and he's shown his toughness playing with a broken finger. He's practicing in full for Week 17 and appears to be healthy enough to play, judging by his 224-yard, three-touchdown performance last week.
WR Randall Cobb, Packers: The second-year player has become the No. 1 target for Aaron Rodgers, but he hasn't practiced this week after injuring his ankle and knee against the Tennessee Titans last week. The team is expected to give him a chance to practice on Friday and re-evaluate his status on Saturday. His status for Week 17 is in serious doubt.
TE Vernon Davis, 49ers: Davis is dealing with a concussion, so he sat out Wednesday's practice. The team is still optimistic about his playing status for Sunday, however. San Francisco needs to beat the Arizona Cardinals to clinch the NFC West title.
RB Matt Forte, Bears: Forte was held out of practice on Wednesday with an ankle injury, which is not a good start to the week leading up to Chicago's must-win game at Detroit. The Bears need a win over the Lions and a Vikings loss to Green Bay to clinch a postseason berth. Chicago is already without backup runner Michael Bush, who has been placed on the injured reserve.
RB Arian Foster, Texans: Foster was forced out of the Texans' game against the Minnesota Vikings with an irregular heartbeat, but he's practicing in full this week and expects to play in Week 17. This is obviously good news for Texans fans. Heart conditions are never something to mess around with.
TE Rob Gronkowski, Patriots: Gronkowski has missed five straight games with a fractured forearm. He still has yet to be medically cleared, but he'll be ready for the Patriots' postseason run. If he suffers any sort of setback, the Patriots are not the mighty team they would otherwise be.
CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Bengals: The rookie from Alabama was placed on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday. He's played in just five games this season, racking up a grand total of four tackles. The Bengals are extremely deep at cornerback, so losing the rookie is not a huge loss.
LB Ray Lewis, Ravens: Lewis will not play in the Ravens' regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals, but he was activated from injured reserve on Wednesday. The move makes him eligible to return next week in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs.
WR Jordy Nelson, Packers: The Packers' have suffered a plethora of injuries at the wide receiver position—Nelson, Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb and Donald Driver have all missed time due to injuries this year. Nelson returned to practice this week and could be on track to play on Sunday. The Packers will need him against Minnesota, especially if they're without Randall Cobb.
WR Hakeem Nicks, Giants: The wide receiver is considering ending his injury-ridden 2012 season, as the Giants only have a microscopic chance at cracking the playoff field. His knee injury could require offseason surgery, so his status is very much in doubt for the regular-season finale.
DB Charles Woodson, Packers: Woodson hasn't played since mid-October, but the former Heisman trophy winner insists he hasn't had any setbacks and plans to return to the field for the playoffs. Woodson broke his collarbone against the St. Louis Rams, but the Packers are being cautious with him since they've already clinched a playoff spot.
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