Injuries are a way of life in the NFL. As we head into the season's final Sunday, there aren't any truly healthy players left in the league—just ones who are less banged-up than others. Every player has knocks, bumps, bruises and other ailments that would probably cause the average adult to take a week off work, and yet the opportunity to help their teams win keeps them in the lineup.
In Week 17, those players will have one last chance to suit up in the 2013 regular season. And with so many playoff implications tied to the results of some of these contests, players who may otherwise have sat out are pushing through.
In the NFC, no division crown or playoff seed has been decided. Both the NFC North and NFC East will be decided in winner-take-all contests between two contenders, and the Seattle Seahawks have the potential to either have home-field advantage in the playoffs or be the No. 5 seed.
While the AFC has five of its six playoff teams decided, only the Kansas City Chiefs have locked themselves into a seed. To put it mildly, all these clubs will want all hands on deck.
With that in mind, let's check in on the status of a few notable players and look at how all the Week 17 injuries shake out.
Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys won't have Tony Romo to blame should they not win the NFC East this season. After multiple fits and starts throughout the week, the Cowboys announced Friday that Romo underwent back surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back and would miss the remainder of the season.
“We felt like the surgery went well, and Tony should be able to come home hopefully later today and start to begin his rehabilitation for the 2014 season,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said.
It's unclear when Romo actually suffered the injury, though he did not miss time and led the Cowboys to a comeback victory over the Washington Redskins in Week 16 while playing through the pain. The victory kept Dallas in contention for the NFC East championship, which will be decided in Week 17 when Dallas takes on the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kyle Orton will start in Romo's place. Orton, one of the league's most prominent backup quarterbacks, appeared in only two games this season, throwing for 40 yards on his five pass attempts.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Speaking of prominent quarterback injuries, the Cowboys will be losing their franchise star at the time the Packers are regaining theirs. Aaron Rodgers' long-awaited return from a broken collarbone will happen Sunday, with the team confirming that the 2011 NFL MVP would start earlier this week.
“We feel it’s time for Aaron to play,” head coach Mike McCarthy said. “We need to go down there and win this game as a team. This is a decision everyone was waiting for. We wanted to get this done on Tuesday.”
Rodgers returning to the lineup is a boon for the Packers, who went 2-4-1 in his seven games on the sideline, not including Week 9's loss when the injury occurred. Green Bay featured three quarterbacks without Rodgers, with Matt Flynn taking over each of the past five weeks. Flynn, who started the season with the Oakland Raiders, kept the Packers in the playoff hunt by earning victories in two of the past three weeks.
Rodgers' return, though, couldn't come at a better time. Green Bay's matchup with the Chicago Bears will determine the NFC North winner.
Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers
With an opportunity to clinch their first division title since 2008, the Panthers will be without their all-time leading receiver. Although he's improving, wide receiver Steve Smith has been ruled out for Carolina's Week 17 contest against the Atlanta Falcons.
"Steve actually improved a lot," head coach Ron Rivera said, per the Panthers' official site. "And in Steve's way, he basically said, 'If I had to, I'd play this weekend.' He probably couldn't, but he'd have tried."
Smith suffered a PCL sprain in last week's win over the New Orleans Saints, and it seems the Panthers wanted to be as conservative as possible with his injury. The 34-year-old veteran will finish below 1,000 yards receiving for the first time since 2010 and only the third time in the past nine seasons.
With Smith out, Cam Newton will need Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn to step up. The Panthers are ranked 28th in passing with Smith, so Atlanta may be able to play the spoiler if Carolina struggles to put points on the board.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
After battling through a knee injury throughout the season, it seems Calvin Johnson's pain is finally too much to bear. Tim Twentyman of the Lions' official website indicated that Johnson would sit out:
No Calvin Johnson for #Lions today. Also inactive: Houston, Green, Bentley, Waddle, Gandy and Moore. Slay, Fox and Ogletree to start.— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) December 29, 2013
Johnson has been listed on the injury report for much of 2013, though the exact extent of his ailment is unknown. It's also unclear whether Johnson sitting out has more to do with an aggravation of the injury or is simply a team reaction to being outside the playoff hunt.
Seemingly handed the NFC North on a platter, the Lions responded by losing three straight and five of their last six. Johnson, while still fantastic, has actually gone under 100 yards in each of the past three games—the first time that's happened since midway through 2011.
Despite being less than 100 percent, Detroit's offense will likely struggle without Megatron. The Lions scored only nine points when Johnson sat out a Week 5 loss to the Packers, with Matthew Stafford rendered unable to make plays down the field.
Tony Gonzalez (TE, Atlanta Falcons)
Unsurprisingly, Tony Gonzalez won't allow his final NFL game to kick off without him in the lineup. Gonzalez was officially activated for Sunday's game despite being listed all week on the injury report with a toe injury.
Gonzalez's 2013 campaign has gone far differently than he ever could have expected. Viewed as a preseason Super Bowl contender, Atlanta's season quickly went downhill amid defensive struggles and key injuries. Gonzalez was one of the few constants in the lineup, suiting up for all 16 games.
He has 79 receptions for 803 yards and eight touchdowns coming into Week 17.
Full Inactive List
Inactive lists will be updated as they become available, via NFL.com.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
Browns: QB Alex Tanney, CB Joe Haden, OGs Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao, TE Andre Smith, DL John Hughes, DE Phil Taylor
Steelers: OLB Jason Worilds, QB Landry Jones, CB Isaiah Green, DE Brian Arnfelt, C/G David Snow, NT Hebron Fangupo
Washington Redskins at New York Giants
Redskins: QB Robert Griffin III, OG Josh LeRibeus, DB Chase Minnifield, WR Josh Morgan, C J.D. Walton
Giants: LB Allen Bradford, WR Victor Cruz, OG Eric Herman, OG Brandon Mosley, QB Ryan Nassib, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, TE Adrien Robinson
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
Ravens: DL Art Jones, CB Asa Jackson, S Omar Brown, C Ryan Jensen, WR Deonte Thompson, LB John Simon, TE Dallas Clark
Bengals: CB Terence Newman, RB Rex Burkhead, WR Ryan Whalen, OG Tanner Hawkinson, DT Devon Still, TE Jermaine Gresham, TE Tyler Eifert
Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans
Texans: QB Case Keenum, WR DeVier Posey, RB Dennis Johnson, FB Toben Opurum, ILB Joe Mays, G Alex Kupper, G Cody White
Titans: QB Tyler Wilson, WR Michael Preston, WR Kenny Britt, CB Khalid Wooten, C Kevin Matthews, T David Stewart, DT Jurrell Casey
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts
Jaguars: QB Ricky Stanzi, CB Dwayne Gratz, RB Delone Carter, LB Geno Hayes, TE Allen Reisner, C Patrick Lewis, DE Gerald Rivers.
Colts: LB Daniel Adongo, S Sergio Brown, DE Ricky Jean Francois, C Mike McGlynn, CB Sheldon Price, DE Cory Redding, G Joe Reitz
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins
Jets: QB David Garrard, RB Darius Reynaud, LB Jermaine Cunningham, RG William Campbell, OG Ben Ijalana, OL Oday Aboushi, TE Chris Pantale
Dolphins: QB Pat Devlin, RB Mike Gillislee, CB Will Davis, CB Jalil Brown, G Danny Watkins, OL David Arkin, DT A.J. Francis
Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Lions: CB Bill Bentley, C Dylan Gandy, CB Jonte Green, CB Chris Houston, WR Calvin Johnson, QB Kellen Moore, OT LaAdrian Waddle
Vikings: QB Josh Freeman, RB Toby Gerhart, DT Letroy Guion, RB Adrian Peterson, OT Mike Remmers, CB Xavier Rhodes, WR Rodney Smith
St Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks
Rams: WR Tavon Austin, RB Daryl Richardson, DB Quinton Pointer, LB Sammy Brown, OG Harvey Dahl, DT Matt Conrath, OT Mike Person
Seahawks: WR Percy Harvin, DE Benson Mayowa, OT Caylin Hauptmann, LB KJ Wright, OL Michael Bowie , DT Jordan Hill, RB Christine Michael
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons
Panthers: WR Tavarres King, CB Josh Norman, RB Jonathan Stewart, LB Dan Connor, OL Travis Bond, WR Steve Smith, DT Colin Cole
Falcons: OT Sam Baker, RB Jacquizz Rodgers, LB Sean Weatherspoon, DT Adam Replogle, OT Terren Jones, G Garrett Reynolds, OT Sean Locklear
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Packers: WR Chris Harper, CB Jumal Rolle, LB Clay Matthews, LB Brad Jones, G Lane Taylor, C/G JC Tretter, DE C.J. Wilson
Bears: OT James Brown, OT Joe Long, QB Jordan Palmer, OT Jonathan Scott, DE Cornelius Washington, WR Chris Williams
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders
Broncos: RB C.J. Anderson, QB Zac Dysert, OG Sione Fua, C Steve Vallos, CB Kayvon Webster, WR Wes Welker, DE Derek Wolfe
Raiders: WR Brice Butler, WR Jacoby Ford, C Andre Gurode, CB Mike Jenkins, DT Ricky Lumpkin, OG Lamar Mady, OT Menelik Watson
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Buccaneers: SS Mark Barron, LB Ka'Lial Glaud, DE Matthew Masifilo, G Carl Nicks, RB Lonnie Pryor, LB Scott Solomon, LB Dekoda Watson
Saints: Isa Abdul-Quddus, RB Travaris Cadet, DE Keyunta Dawson, DB Terrence Frederick, QB Ryan Griffin, DT Tom Johnson, WR Nick Toon
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals
49ers: WR Jon Baldwin, TE Derek Carrier, G Joe Looney, OLB Nick Moody, G Ryan Seymour
Cardinals: QB Ryan Lindley, LB Dontay Moch, OT Nate Potter, TE Kory Sperry, DE Ronald Talley, DB Curtis Taylor, RB Ryan Williams
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
Bills: QB EJ Manuel, WR Stevie Johnson, WR Cordell Roberson, RB Ronnie Wingo, CB Brandon Smith, OL Antoine McClain
Patriots: DE Jake Bequette, OL Chris Barker, DT Isaac Sopoaga, CB Alfonzo Dennard, S Devin McCourty, LB Steve Beauhais, WR Josh Boyce.
Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers
Chargers: QB Brad Sorensen, WR Lavelle Hawkins, S Brandon Taylor, CB Marcus Cromartie, G Steve Schilling, OT Kenny Wiggins, DT Kwame Geathers
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