AFC Championship: Five Key Injuries for the Ravens-Patriots Game
The Patriots and Ravens head into the AFC Championship much the same way they made it through the season. Both teams overcame injuries this season, using the strength of their roster depth, their systemic strength, and most importantly, the efforts of their medical staff.
From Ray Lewis' arm to Aaron Hernandez's ankle to Julian Edelman's foot, there were a lot of injuries that these teams overcame. Both will try to do it for one more week as they look for another trip to the NFL's biggest stage, the Super Bowl.
Let's take a look at five injuries that could affect the outcome of the game.
Ray Lewis, LB, Ravens (PROBABLE)
What torn triceps?
Ray Lewis continues to play like a man possessed as he and his Ravens teammates try to extend what he calls his "last ride." Lewis has a bulky brace on his arm to limit the range of motion in his injured arm, as you can see in this picture. It's not unlike the one that J.J. Watt wore all season. Lewis appears to be able to fend off blockers without issue and that was the big question with the injured triceps.
Lewis hasn't had a power runner coming directly at him to test the arm since neither the Colts nor Broncos really have that style of player available. Neither do the Pats and let's face it, running right at Ray Lewis isn't something that ever sounds like a good plan.
Bernard Pierce, RB, Ravens (QUESTIONABLE)
The Ravens backup RB is vowing to play this week after missing the exciting end of last week's double overtime win. The rookie has had a chronic knee issue, thought to be a cartilage problem, and it often gets worse late in games, which is a signal that painkillers are helping him get into the game.
While Pierce doesn't get a lot of touches, he is a key part of the game plan, allowing Ray Rice occasional rest while excelling in the passing game. Expect Pierce to live up to his vow, but to be limited. If not, Anthony Allen just cleared his concussion tests and should be available.
Danny Woodhead, RB, Patriots (QUESTIONABLE)
Danny Woodhead sprained his thumb in last week's game. In fact, it was the first play of the game. While the Pats said he could have returned to the game, it's unclear whether Bill Belichick trusts Woodhead's grip strength enough to play him this week.
Shane Vereen played well, taking over the touches that Woodhead gets as well as working nicely in the short passing role, but he's not the change-of-pace that Woodhead is either. Stevan Ridley is still the RB1 here, but the Pats are better when they have the full committee in attendance.
Chandler Jones, DE, Patriots (PROBABLE)
Chandler Jones fought through an ankle sprain over the last month of the season. It was exacerbated during the course of last Sunday's game, but in what has to be considered a good sign, he left Gillette Stadium in normal shoes and not a walking boot.
Jones, a freakish athlete from a family of freakish athletes, offers serious matchup problems for any offensive line. He is expected to play, though the Pats may try to limit the number of plays when he's on the field. Look for the Raven's big tackles Michael Oher and Bryant McKinnie to try and force Jones to take long paths or make quick cuts, especially early, in an attempt to test the ankle's stability.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots (OUT)
Rob Gronkowski won't play this week or in the Super Bowl, if the Patriots get there. His fractured forearm did not "re-break" but instead broke again. The distinction is that there was a second, discrete fracture, rather than a re-opening of the previous fracture, which had been plated and pinned in order to heal.
There is no suggestion that Gronkowski came back too soon; it had been seven weeks and x-rays reportedly showed good healing. This was bad luck, nothing more and nothing less.
The Pats have played without Gronkowski for much of the season. It puts more pressure on Aaron Hernandez, but Tom Brady has made adjustments from game to game on who gets the targets, and how he gets the job done.