Projecting Impact of Key NFL Injury Scenarios During Season's Home Stretch
Many of the NFL's playoff contenders are laboring into the final three weeks of the season with key players injured.
Some teams, like the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Kansas City Chiefs, should get star players back as the holidays approach, while others will be without their stars for quite some time.
Let's take a look at the biggest injury scenarios and project how much impact they'll have down the stretch as the playoff pictures come into focus.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
The Packers have gone 1-4-1 without Aaron Rodgers this season, but the former NFL MVP is set to practice Tuesday and be evaluated Wednesday morning, according to head coach Mike McCarthy via the team's Twitter account:
MM: Plan for Rodgers is to work out Tuesday and be evaluated Wed. morning. Still not medically cleared.
He's been sidelined with a broken collarbone since November 4.
After watching Green Bay experience a precipitous drop off with Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn at quarterback during Rodgers' absence, there's no way to undersell the impact No. 12 will have on the Packers when he returns.
At 6-6-1, Rodgers' team is only a half game out of the NFC North and plays at the Dallas Cowboys in Week 15, hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16 and visits the Chicago Bears to end the season.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
Rob Gronkowski made his way back to the field in 2013 after forearm and back surgeries this offseason, but now, he'll start 2014 rehabbing a serious knee injury.
The All-Pro tight end tore his ACL in the third quarter of the New England Patriots' win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 14, per Pro Football Talk:
MRI confirms torn ACL for Rob Gronkowski, per league source.
Gronkowski caught 39 passes for 592 yards with four touchdowns in seven games this year and was targeted a whopping 67 times by Tom Brady.
The Patriots experienced vast growing pains on offense before Gronkowski returned, and while Tom Brady has established rapports with his new pass-catching targets, New England won't be the same without Gronk.
The Gronkowski-less Pats head to Miami in Week 15, travel to Baltimore in Week 16 and end the season at home against Buffalo.
Tyrann Mathieu, CB, Arizona Cardinals
To many, Tyrann Mathieu was a dark horse to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, but his debut NFL season will be cut three game short due to a knee-ligament tear.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport broke the somber news regarding the former Heisman candidate:
Bad news for #Cardinals DB Tyrann Mathieu. Tests confirmed not only a torn ACL but also a torn LCL. More significant than originally thought
The gadgety defensive back was credited with 68 tackles, nine defended passes, two interceptions and one sack for the Arizona Cardinals this season.
At 8-5, Bruce Arians' team sits in third place in its division but is only a game behind the San Francisco 49ers for the final wild-card spot in the NFC playoffs.
After a trip to Tennessee in Week 15 and a road contest in Seattle the following week, the Cardinals could be playing for their playoff lives at home against the 49ers in Week 17.
K. J. Wright, LB, Seattle Seahawks
K.J. Wright is an unheralded but important player on the Seattle Seahawks defense. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the veteran linebacker has played 756 defensive snaps for Pete Carroll's team in 2013, and only Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas have played more.
He left Sunday's 19-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers with a foot injury and didn't return.
Pete Carroll says in his postgame presser that K.J. Wright broke a bone in his foot.
Boyle went on to report that Wright will have surgery.
He's started 13 games for Seattle and has accumulated 80 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2013.
Wright and Bobby Wagner are important pieces behind the Seahawks' menacing defensive line.
Seattle travels across the country to face the New York Giants in Week 15 before finishing with two divisional home game against the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams.
Wes Welker, WR, Denver Broncos
Wes Welker is dealing with multiple head injuries, and the latest might keep him out of Week 15's AFC West battle with the San Diego Chargers.
Here's what Rotoworld.com wrote about the concussion Welker suffered in Week 14's blowout victory over the Tennessee Titans:
Welker went low to try to catch a Peyton Manning pass and got his neck bent awkwardly by Titans S George Wilson. It's even scarier than usual because Welker also sustained a concussion in Week 11.
The Denver Broncos have already clinched a playoff berth, but they haven't won the division just yet and could still lose their current No. 1 seed.
Peyton Manning has plenty of weapons at his disposal, but Welker has 73 receptions for for 778 yards on 110 targets this season.
Terence Newman, CB, Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the best defenses in the AFC, and they've played admirably without All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins for most of the year.
But now, they could end the regular season without veteran cornerback Terence Newman, who was injured in Week 14's beatdown of the Indianapolis Colts.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen tweeted the news about the former Dallas Cowboy:
Bengals relieved that CB Terrence Newman will miss only 1-to-3 weeks with MCL sprain, per sources.
Already without stud cornerback Leon Hall, Cincinnati's secondary depth will be tested.
Only safety George Iloka and linebacker Vontaze Burfict have played more defensive snaps than Newman's 830 in 2013.
Aiming for an AFC North crown while jockeying for playoff positioning, the Bengals take a trip to Pittsburgh in Week 15 before home affairs against the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers
Jonathan Stewart had surgeries on both feet this offseason, and finally made his first appearance of 2013 during Week 9's win over the Atlanta Falcons.
Unfortunately, the injury woes continue for the former first-round pick out of Oregon.
Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer tweeted the news about an injury Stewart suffered in the loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football:
Panthers spokesman says Jonathan Stewart did tear his MCL.
While Carolina would have loved to have Stewart available to keep the running back stable fresh, he carried the ball only 48 times for 180 yards this season.
The Panthers are 9-4 and sit in the NFC's No. 5 seed heading into Week 15, when they'll host the New York Jets.
After that, the Saints come to town, and the season finale is at home against the Falcons.
Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs
Justin Houston has missed the last two games dealing with an elbow injury, but he could return to the Kansas City Chiefs lineup soon.
The third-year pro accumulated 11 sacks in 11 games at his outside linebacker position in the Chiefs' 3-4 defense.
Kansas City goes on the road to Oakland in Week 15 before a huge trip to Indianapolis. Andy Reid's team ends the season in San Diego.
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears
Jay Cutler has played in only one game over the past six weeks due to groin and ankle injuries, and the Chicago Bears have gone 2-2 in outings the former first-round pick has not played in during that stretch.
As his replacement, Josh McCown has completed 65 percent of his passes and has tossed nine touchdowns to only one interception.
Before being forced to the sideline, Cutler had only one full game with a quarterback rating below 90, and the Bears were 3-2.
Chicago has road games in Cleveland and Philadelphia before hosting the Green Bay Packers in the season finale.
Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers
Randall Cobb went down with a broken leg all the way back in Week 6 on October 13.
The Green Bay Packers subsequently placed him on the IR/designated for return list.
According to Ty Dunne of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a determination regarding Cobb's availability for Week 15's matchup with the Dallas Cowboys could come early this week:
MM on Cobb: Not ready this week. Tuesday a big day for his availability. See how it sorts out then.
In just a little over five games in 2013, the speedy slot guy amassed 29 receptions on 44 targets for 378 yards with two touchdowns.
After the trip to Dallas, the Packers host the Pittsburgh Steelers and finish the season with a huge showdown against the Bears in Chicago.