Several playoff-caliber teams are banged up entering Week 13, but their star players should be set to return in the near future.
Only four weeks remain in the NFL season, and the playoff race is tightening up in both conferences. The NFC North is the key division to watch as the season comes to a close, and a couple of big names at the quarterback position will be returning soon.
Let's take a look at some of the latest news regarding a few star players who look to return before the end of the season, followed by a breakdown of what their returns will mean.
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears
Cutler has played in only eight games this season, and it looks like that number is going to stay the same after Week 13.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Cutler is not expected to play this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
John Breech of CBS Sports added some additional information about the injury:
Bears HC Marc Trestman said Jay Cutler not expected to play Sunday vs. Vikings.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 25, 2013
During his radio show last week, Cutler said that he was worried about possible ligament damage in the ankle, but Trestman said on Monday that there's no damage and that Cutler's only dealing with a sprain.
Trestman also said that he's "totally confident" that Cutler will play again at some point this season.
That is good news for Chicago Bears fans, but they should still be in good shape this week when going against the Vikings.
Backup quarterback Josh McCown has played well in Cutler's absence. In five games this year, he has thrown for 1,106 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception for a 100.8 passer rating.
While McCown has been a solid replacement, Cutler has to be concerned about this offseason. He will be a free agent after this season, and with durability becoming a question for him, he may not get the contract that he's hoping for.
Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers have been struggling offensively, but they're getting a much-needed lift with the return of Michael Crabtree.
The team's Twitter account reported that Crabtree had officially been activated from the PUP list, also adding that head coach Jim Harbaugh expects him to play this week against the St. Louis Rams.Colin Kaepernick hasn't looked like the same player he was back in 2012.
The return of Crabtree should change that, at least to a degree. He was a big part of the offense in 2012, catching 85 passes for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns. He also added another 285 yards and three scores in the playoffs, putting up 109 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens.
The 49ers haven't had a third reliable option for Kaepernick to throw to this season. Vernon Davis is one of the best tight ends in football, and Anquan Boldin is a solid red-zone threat, but they need someone else to play consistently well.
Things are looking up for San Francisco, as this team is getting healthy at the right time.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers were hoping that Aaron Rodgers would return for their big game this Thursday against the Detroit Lions. That won't happen, but it does look like he is getting close to coming back.
He was officially cleared to practice on Tuesday, but according to the team's Twitter account, he's not quite ready to play this week.Matt Flynn will be starting on Thanksgiving.
Including the game against the Bears, the Packers have gone 0-3-1 without Rodgers. Flynn looked good this past week against the Vikings, but he will have a tough test this week against the Lions.
So, two things to take from Mike McCarthy's press presser: Aaron Rodgers is not playing vs. the Lions and Matt Flynn will start. #Packers— Tom Silverstein (@TomSilverstein) November 26, 2013
The Packers need Rodgers back as soon as possible. The NFC North is wide open, but Green Bay hasn't taken advantage of the struggles from the Lions and Bears. The Packers are just a half game back from the lead, but a loss on Thursday would put them back even further with four games remaining.
Based off what we've seen from the rest of the NFC, there's a good chance that only one team from the NFC North will go to the playoffs, so Rodgers will need to come back and help the team try to win out in order to take the division.