Posted December 31, 2012

Packers, Falcons banged-up late: NFL Week 17 injury updates

Injury Roundup
The Falcons defense will have a hard time in the divisional round if it has to play without John Abraham. (Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI)

The Falcons defense will have a hard time in the divisional round if it has to play without John Abraham. (Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI)

Finally, the NFL playoffs have arrived. And some teams are in better shape, health-wise, than others as the second season gets set to begin.

One of the most injury-plagued rosters stands in Baltimore, where the Ravens will be counting on several wounded players to carry them starting next weekend. The Ravens are not alone in boasting a long injury list, though — and several teams suffered key blows during Week 17′s action.

SI.com injury expert Will Carroll explains which of Sunday’s action could linger into the postseason (and how Jake Locker’s pending surgery could impact his 2013).

EARLY LOOK AT WILD-CARD WEEKEND

Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers (knee): Nelson returned in the fourth quarter after briefly leaving Sunday’s game. He should be OK for the playoffs, but his injuries are mounting.

Carroll: Jordy Nelson isn’t 100 percent yet. On his long TD, he was taking shorter strides on the affected side. He was still fast enough to outrun the defenders. He had a minor knee injury during the game, but there was no information at this time on specifics. Nelson has been injury-prone all season, but his performance on Sunday was enough to make me think he’ll be close to this level next week.

Who takes his spot?: The Packers hope to have Randall Cobb back next week, so that will lighten the load.

Jerel Worthy, DE, Packers (knee): Worthy went down in a heap and seemed to suffer a serious injury Sunday.

Carroll: The Packers did get Jerel Worthy back, but he didn’t last long. Worthy had one tackle before being carted off with an apparent knee injury. He’ll have scans to determine exactly what is going on inside the knee, but early signs were not positive. Worthy’s availability for next week is very much in doubt, even if the injury is on the low end of the scale, once again showing why teams fight for that bye week.

Who takes his spot?: Losing Worthy thins the Packers’ depth, but he has played a limited role.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots (arm): Gronk caught a TD pass in his return to the lineup, though he appeared to be taking extra precaution with his left arm while blocking.

Carroll: Gronkowski was able to play in Week 17, showing no significant issues with his forearm. The padding was cloaked, so it’s unclear exactly what the Pats medical staff did there, though it is clear it worked. With the bye week. Gronkowski should be very close to fully healed and may have nothing more than a simple pad on his arm when the Pats next take the field.

Who takes his spot?: Gronkowski has an extra week to rest up with the Patriots earning a bye. He should be back to his full role in the lineup by then.

Rob Ninkovich, LB, Patriots (hip): Ninkovich was barely able to hobble off the field after a play in the second quarter, then immediately headed to the locker room.

Carroll: Ninkovich was hobbled early in the game and was helped off the field. The Pats will have tests on him early this week, but the bye might be everything for the Pats LB. Hip injuries affect not just speed and lateral motion, but can really be tested by backpedaling, something a LB has to be able to do.

Who takes his spot?: This could be a big loss. Trevor Scott or Jermaine Cunningham (returning from a PED suspension) would slide into the starting lineup.

John Abraham, DE, Falcons (ankle): Playing late in a meaningless game, Abraham injured his ankle and had to be carted off the field.

Carroll: The difference for football sprains as opposed to basketball is that they tend to have additional weight of falling bodies coming at various angles to add to the damage. At worst, a basketball player has his own weight and the force of gravity acting on it when he rolls it over. Abraham will have scans on Monday. Anything more than a Grade I sprain will make it a race to get him ready for the next game, even with the bye.

Who takes his spot?: Abraham has two weeks to get ready. Behind him on the depth chart are Lawrence Sidbury and Jonathan Massaquoi — either would constitute a substantial drop-off.

Dunta Robinson, CB, Falcons (head): Another Falcons starter down in Week 17. Robinson suffered a head injury tackling Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin.

Carroll: By Week 17, you’d think teams would be past all the games. No, the Falcons still refuse to call Dunta Robinson’s injury a concussion. Maybe Robinson has something else … a skull fracture, a broken jaw? No, all the signs point to concussion and we can only hope that the Falcons are treating Robinson’s symptoms with all the care it deserves. Again, the bye helps here, though when concussions are treated properly, a return within a game week is not unusual.

Who takes his spot?: Chris Owens backs up Robinson, though Asante Samuel also left Sunday’s game early, raising concerns about how healthy Atlanta’s secondary will be in the playoffs.

Jerome Simpson, WR, Vikings (head): Simpson’s legs buckled as he tried to stumble off the field following a collision. He later returned.

Carroll: Simpson took a big hit in the end zone, wobbled and fell to the turf. He was tested on the sideline and cleared, returning to the game and showing no deficit. We have to trust the medical staffs for each team to make these kind of decisions, but there’s that little part of me that worries about the possible conflicts of interest, the coach who needs his player for this big game, the owner who’s roaming the sidelines. I’m not questioning Eric Sugarman here at all — he and his staff deserve some of the credit for Adrian Peterson’s amazing return — but that little doubt that everyone has could be fixed by taking that decision out of the team’s hands and putting it onto an independent evaluator.

Who takes his spot?: The Vikings don’t have a ton of options at receiver. Jairus Wright continues to see more playing time and Devin Aromashodu might be asked to pick up his play, if Simpson has to sit.

Antoine Winfield, CB, Vikings (hand): Winfield played Sunday, but he reportedly did so with a very swollen hand. Minnesota opens the playoffs on Saturday night.

Carroll: Winfield broke his hand last week, though the Vikings have been careful to not say exactly which of the bones is broken. He tried to play through it this week, but the pain was too much. The Vikings will test some more protective devices and ways to get that hand functional or at least less dysfunctional before next week’s playoff game. He’ll definitely give it a go, but the Packers will test it early.

Who takes his spot?: Josh Robinson would play in place of Winfield, but the Vikings plan to have the latter in the lineup for the postseason.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Bengals (hamstring): Green-Ellis tweaked his hamstring during warm-ups Sunday, then was pulled from the lineup. It’s possible that Cincinnati just played it extra cautious with its No. 1 back.

Carroll: Green-Ellis injured his hamstring during pre-game, so no one outside the stadium got to see how it happened or how he reacted. That makes it tough to tell from the outside. Green-Ellis had missed time with illness this week, so there’s some concern that he was deconditioned or even dehydrated. Look for indications early in the practice week as to how limited Green-Ellis is for their Saturday game in Houston.

Who takes his spot?: Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman would be the backs in the playoffs. For now, expect Green-Ellis to play.

Jake Locker, QB, Titans (shoulder): Locker struggled to stay healthy all season, and he revealed Sunday that he will go under the knife soon.

Carroll: Jake Locker is expected to have surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. He’ll have plenty of time to heal up and should be near 100 percent by minicamp, though the Titans will assuredly be very careful with him. By July, there should be no limitations. There is some worry that there could be recurrence, but the bigger worry is keeping the throwing shoulder healthy down the line. Less hits and a bit of luck is the only way to make that happen.

Who takes his spot?: Matt Hasselbeck has one year left, so the Titans may open up the QB competition in camp, even if Locker is healthy.

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