5 Injuries Sure to Affect the Divisional Round of the Playoffs
A number of teams will be feeling the bite of the injury bug during this week's NFL Divisional Playoffs.
New injuries from last week's Wild Card Round as well as lingering injuries from a long, brutal NFL season can rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune times imaginable.
No one knows that better than Robert Griffin III.
Last week, I ranked RGIII's knee injury as the most concerning of all injuries heading into the playoffs. When I saw him go down, I stared at my TV in disbelief and immediately felt awful about my prediction being correct.
The collective gasp of the entire nation, not just Washington Redskins fans, could be almost felt Sunday night, and the silence in the stadium was sickening. The thoughts and best wishes of the entire football community are with RGIII as he begins his road to recovery.
However, RGIII isn't the only one hurting.
The following players' injuries are sure to be felt by the remaining playoff squads this weekend, ranked in increasing order of how negatively the injury in question will impact a team.
Honorable Mention: Denver Broncos RB Willis McGahee's Knee
Willis McGahee, running back for the Denver Broncos.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
After he suffered a torn medial collateral ligament (MCL) and broken bone in his lower leg in November, the Denver Broncos (13-3, first seed in the AFC) placed running back Willis McGahee on injured reserve. McGahee is eligible to return for the AFC Championship.
It appears that return could happen should the Broncos advance.
The Associated Press reported on Monday that McGahee thinks his knee will be ready by next weekend.
Though the Broncos plowed through their regular-season schedule without him, Peyton Manning's crew isn't quite the same without McGahee lined up in the backfield.
That said, Knowshon Moreno served as a excellent replacement after McGahee went down, and the Broncos have stayed remarkably healthy since their veteran running back's injury.
It will be interesting to see how Denver handles McGahee should they win this weekend, as many expect they will.
5. Various Injuries of Baltimore Ravens Linebacker Core
Ray Lewis, linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Three starting linebackers for the Baltimore Ravens (11-6, fourth seed in the AFC) are hurting. None of the injuries are serious, yet when Peyton Manning and the soaring Denver Broncos are next up on the schedule, even the smallest misstep may lead to giving up seven points.
NFL.com's Marc Sessler reported Monday that Terrell Suggs slightly injured his surgically-repaired Achilles tendon on Sunday.
Sessler also mentions that Dannell Ellerbe sprained his ankle during the game.
Both injuries are very minor, and both Suggs and Ellerbe should be active against the Broncos.
However, add those injuries to Ray Lewis' torn triceps that made necessary the use of an arm brace during the Wild Card Round (a brace that may have contributed to Lewis dropping an easy interception), and the Ravens should be nervous.
They should not be nervous because of the injuries themselves but rather because of who they are facing. No quarterback can exploit small weaknesses in defenses quite like Peyton Manning.
After all, as Ryan Mink of the official website for the Ravens reports, Manning's play drew comparisons to a MacBook computer this week.
Watch out, Ravens fans.
4. New England Patriots DE Rob Ninkovich's Hip
Rob Ninkovich, defensive end for the New England Patriots.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
The New England Patriots (12-4, second seed in the AFC) are one of the most frightening teams remaining in the playoffs, and that is partly due to their ability to avoid serious injuries this season.
Keeping with that trend, Rob Ninkovich's Week 17 injury turned out to be nowhere near as bad as it looked when he hobbled off the field for what seemed like an eternity, taking incredibly small steps while doing so.
Though Ninkovich did strain some hip muscles, he still may be able to play this week.
Strains can be painful. If serious, they can also dramatically weaken the injured muscles.
In the case of Ninkovich, his ability to backpedal is affected by a hip strain, among other things.
Ninkovich will surely be continuously re-evaluated during practice this week. If he can prove strong enough to be an effective pass-rusher, he will likely be out there this weekend against the Houston Texans (12-4, third seed in the AFC).
3. Atlanta Falcons DE John Abraham's Ankle
John Abraham, defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
It appears that the Atlanta Falcons (13-3, first seed in the NFC) may have avoided a major faux pas when their defensive end John Abraham sprained his ankle during a meaningless game in Week 17.
According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Abraham will return to practice on Wednesday.
However, it remains to be seen how his ankle will hold up.
Ankle sprains are injuries to the ligaments that attach the bones of the foot to the bones in the lower leg, and they are classified as grade-one, grade-two or grade-three.
Grade-one sprains are mere overstretches, while grade-two and grade-three sprains are partial and complete ligament tears, respectively.
While precise medical details are unavailable to the public, it is a safe bet that Abraham suffered only a grade-one sprain.
However, even a grade-one sprain weakens the injured ligament until it fully heals.
If Abraham's ankle is indeed fully healed, he will not be limited in any way. However, we won't know if that is the case until he tests it out this week.
Either way, the Falcons need Abraham active, as he is their best pass-rusher.
2. Seattle Seahawks DE Chris Clemons' Knee
Chris Clemons, defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks.
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Last week, the Seattle Seahawks (12-5, fifth seed in the NFC) could make a valid claim as one of the healthiest teams going into the playoffs.
That changed during their Wild Card Round game against the Washington Redskins (10-6, fourth seed in NFC), as the poorly-conditioned turf of FedExField claimed more than just RGIII on Sunday.
It also got Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons.
According to ESPN.com, Clemons tore his ACL and meniscus when his cleat stuck into the ground in the third quarter.
ACL and meniscus injuries go hand-in-hand very frequently, as both can be caused by abnormal inward motion of the knee.
The ACL helps prevent such motion, but when its ability to do so is overwhelmed, it tears. The medial meniscus—the inside portion of the cushioning cartilage between the femur (thigh bone) and bones of the lower leg—can also be stretched or torn by an inward-bending knee.
Clemons will likely be out for several months, and possibly for an entire year, as he undergoes ACL-repair surgery and rehab.
The Seahawks will miss his presence greatly when they take on the Atlanta Falcons and their elite offense this week.
1. San Francisco 49ers DE Justin Smith's Triceps
Justin Smith, defensive end for the San Francisco 49ers.
David Welker/Getty Images
No hole in a once-ferocious defense is bigger than the one left by Justin Smith's partially torn triceps.
When Smith sat out Week 16, the Seattle Seahawks absolutely annihilated the San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1, second seed in NFC).
The story does not end there.
Smith's tear is located in his triceps tendon rather than in the muscle body itself. Tendon blood flow is very poor, meaning that healing occurs very slowly in a tendon, if at all. That means that Smith will likely have to undergo surgery to repair his triceps after the season is over.
However, until then, he hopes to play through the injury.
Smith returned to practice last week wearing an elbow brace similar to the one Ray Lewis wore on Sunday.
Nevertheless, if Smith plays this weekend, he will be at risk for further injury.
A hit that forcefully bends his elbow occurring at the same time as Smith pushes off of an offensive lineman could further injure his triceps. The elbow brace he will wear is designed to help absorb some of that force.
Even if he plays, the pain of Smith's tear, along with the physical impairment of the brace itself, will limit his effectiveness somewhat.
He may also require a Toradol pain-relieving injection in order to play.
Hopefully he can go, but even if he does, the 49ers defense will certainly not be the same as it was during the regular season.
When Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers (11-5, third seed in the NFC) are lined up on the other side of the line of scrimmage, that is major problem.
Dave Siebert is a medical/injury Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report who will graduate from medical school in June. He plans to specialize in both Family Medicine and Primary Care (non-operative) Sports Medicine. Injury information discussed in this article is based on his own knowledge.