Injuries are ubiquitous in the NFL, and by the week of the Wild Card Round, most players are probably hurting in one way or another.
Some, though, likely feel it more than others.
For example, players like San Francisco 49ers defensive back Carlos Rogers and Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham are fighting against steep odds to take the field on Sunday.
On the other hand, minor or nagging injuries—like Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy's ankle—may only minimally affect the outcomes of the first playoff weekend's contests.
Which injuries fall into which category? Read on to find out, starting with those that may impact the early game.
For a review of injuries that may affect Saturday's games, click here.
Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers
Ryan Mathews, RB (ankle)
According to Pro Football Talk's Darin Gantt, Ryan Mathews missed his second straight day of practice on Thursday as he continues to nurse an ankle injury. Mathews also sat out during practice for Week 17, but responded with an excellent performance on Sunday.
Friday's practice status will go a long way in projecting his availability during the Wild Card Round.
Should he practice, it would seem the Chargers were simply resting their running back in preparation for the playoffs. On the other hand, if he sits out again, the concern that developed after he came off the field in a protective boot may gain steam.
In the end, it comes down to pain tolerance and stability. Supportive taping can help with the latter, and treatment can help with the former.
That said, an entire game's worth of reps may prove taxing on his ankle, and increasing pain can limit his production. His injured ankle will also likely remain at higher risk of more serious injury until the Chargers season comes to an end.
Eddie Royal, WR (toe)
U-T San Diego's Michael Gehlken tweeted Thursday that while Eddie Royal stayed on the sidelines during practice on Thursday, he will likely play Sunday. A turf toe injury continues to nag at the wideout—and has for several weeks.
Turf toe derives its name from the fact that artificial turf is harder than grass, providing for a surface that does not give way as much when a player uses his big toe to push off into a sprint. If a player does so too forcefully, the soft tissue underneath the toe can stretch and tear as the toe hyperextends.
A minor tear produces pain and inflammation, but players can sometimes play through the injury. Conversely, more extensive tears can lead to very serious tissue damage. Seattle Seahawks lineman Russell Okung comes to mind.
The fact that Royal has played with this injury for multiple weeks suggests it lies on the minor end of the severity spectrum.
However, every time he plants his foot, the injury can worsen—even though it has not already. As such, fans may want to pay extra attention to the wide receiver on Sunday if and when he starts.
Others (via the Chargers' official injury report):
- Sean Lissemore, DL (shoulder)
- Kendall Reyes, DL (ankle)
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
Tyler Eifert, TE (shoulder, neck)
A stinger occurs when a hit to the side of the head sharply bends the neck to one side. The motion stretches and stuns the brachial plexus—a large group of nerves that control sensation and motion in the arm and shoulder—leading to symptoms such as numbness and weakness.
Stingers usually fully recover—eventually. The exact timetable depends on factors such as the extent of symptoms and the number of stingers a player has suffered in the past.
A return to practice implies Eifert's symptoms are resolving. Hopefully, he does not sustain any more significant hits to the upper body that whip his neck to one side.
A.J. Green, WR (knee, rest)
The official Bengals injury report listed wide receiver A.J. Green as a nonparticipant on Wednesday with a knee injury. He returned on Thursday in a limited fashion, and according to Bengals insider Geoff Dobson, he should play on Sunday.
For now, the assumption that Marvin Lewis' squad is merely resting its superstar is a safe one.
Jermaine Gresham, TE (hamstring)
Jermaine Gresham missed Week 17's game with a strained hamstring that he suffered in Week 16. Fortunately, per the Enquirer's Reedy, he returned to practice this week, albeit with limited repetitions.
The fact that Gresham is already approaching a return seems to imply his injury is only a Grade 1 strain—or an over-stretched muscle with microscopic tearing but no muscle disruption. Grade 1 injuries usually constitute a week-to-week evaluation and rehab process, whereas Grade 2 strains or worse almost always lead to a multiple-week stint on the sidelines.
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees with hamstring strains. A player uses the muscle group with every single step, and re-injury is common.
In other words, even if Gresham starts on Sunday, he remains at a relatively high risk of not finishing all four quarters.
Others (via the Bengals' official injury report)
- Anthony Collins, T (ankle)
- Kyle Cook, C (foot)
- Chris Crocker, S (knee)
- Wallace Gilberry, DL (concussion)
- Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (illness)
- Terence Newman, CB (knee)
- Vincent Rey, LB (ankle)
- Andre Smith, T (ankle)
- Andrew Whitworth, G (ankle)
Carlos Rogers, DB, San Francisco 49ers
Carlos Rogers, DB (hamstring)
A hamstring injury took defensive back Carlos Rogers out of Week 17's matchup against the Arizona Cardinals.
On Thursday, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said—via the official 49ers Twitter account—that Rogers' strain "is not as bad as originally feared." However, Comcast Sports Net's Matt Maiocco reports he missed Thursday's practice, his second DNP tag in a row, according to the 49ers injury report.
While the developments suggest an MRI showed less muscle tearing than doctors expected based on a physical exam, Rogers remains iffy for Sunday. A strained hamstring can tear further at any time, especially in the days immediately following injury.
The fact that, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Kurtis Alexander, Sunday's contest between the 49ers and the Packers may turn out to be one of the coldest games in NFL history only serves to further complicate matters.
Others (via the 49ers' official injury report)
- Jon Baldwin, WR (illness)
- Navarro Bowman, LB (wrist)
- Tarell Brown, CB (ribs)
- Jonathan Goodwin (not injury related)
- Frank Gore, RB (knee)
- Mike Iupati, OL (knee)
- Dan Skuta, LB (foot)
- Justin Smith, DT (shoulder)
- Eric Wright, CB (hamstring)
Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
Eddie Lacy, RB (ankle)
As the season's final weeks approach, running back Eddie Lacy may continue to battle an ankle sprain into the offseason. He has aggravated the injury multiple times this year.
Luckily, ESPN Wisconsin's Rob Demovsky notes that Lacy practiced on a Thursday this week for the first time in about a month. The development suggests his ankle feels the best it has in some time, but until he can rest for multiple weeks in a row and allow it to definitively heal, a significant re-injury risk will remain.
By this time of the year, few players are playing without pain, and Lacy is no exception. It seems he will start on Sunday, but his playoff productivity will depend in large part on one factor: How long will his ailing ankle hold up?
Aaron Rodgers, QB (collarbone)
Aaron Rodgers' collarbone healed in time for a triumphant Week 17 return that cemented a playoff berth, and he looked only somewhat rusty in the process.
His collarbone will not completely heal until well into the offseason, and another large hit to the left side may still prove disastrous. Fractures continue to remodel themselves over the course of months—not weeks.
Others (via the Packers' official injury report)
- Brad Jones, LB (ankle)
- Clay Matthews, LB (thumb—out)
- Mike Neal, DE/LB (abdomen)
- Nick Perry, LB (foot)
- Ryan Pickett, DT (knee)
Dr. Dave Siebert is a resident physician at the University of Washington and medical analyst for Bleacher Report. He plans to pursue fellowship training in Primary Care (non-operative) Sports Medicine.