With the 2021 regular season firmly in the rearview mirror, we can finally focus on the 14 teams who still have their sights set on capturing the Lombardi Trophy next month.
With 12 teams in action this weekend, here’s a look at the biggest injury storylines for each team as we enter the postseason:
The Cardinals have struggled down the stretch this season, (1-4 in their last five games), but they could be getting some reinforcements after J.J. Watt was designated to return from the Injured Reserve last week. The former two-time Defensive Player of the Year has been absent since Week 7 due to a shoulder injury that required surgery.
Watt was having a monster season as a pass-rusher prior to the injury, despite recording only one sack. He had 28 pressures and his 11 quarterback hits led the NFL at the time of his injury.
While it still isn’t a sure thing that Watt will return for Wild Card Weekend, he will have to be activated by January 28th, or be ineligible to return.
Emmanuel Sanders hasn’t played since injuring his knee in Week 16 and Sean McDermott didn’t have an update on his condition this week.
The Bills passing offense has sputtered since Sanders went out with Josh Allen completing less than half of his passes and averaging just 3.7 adjusted yards per pass attempt.
Gabriel Davis has stepped into Sanders’ spot in the starting lineup, but has really struggled, catching just three of the 14 targets he saw in Week 18 for 39 yards.
Sanders has had some big games in his career against the Patriots, earning over 90 yards four times, although none of them came with the Bills. In his lone playoff contest against New England, Sanders caught five passes for 62 yards.
Outside of a couple of defensive reserves, Josh Tupou, Vernon Hargreaves and Ricardo Allen, the Bengals don’t have any active players whose status for the Wild Card matchup against Las Vegas is in doubt.
It will be worth monitoring Joe Burrow’s practice participation this week after he was inactive in Week 18, although that absence was most precautionary. Burrow did tweak his knee at the end of the Bengals’ Week 17 win and is also dealing with a sore finger on his throwing hand.
The Cowboys were missing both Trevon Diggs and Micah Parsons on Saturday night due to illness. However, only Parsons tested positive for COVID-19. Neither player should have any injury designation by the end of the week.
Offensively, Tyron Smith was also placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list last week and Tony Pollard sat out due to a foot injury. However, Pollard is expected to be a full go at practice and this weekend.
The former fourth-round pick has been the Cowboys’ most effective running back this season, averaging 5.5 yards per carry and out-pacing Ezekiel Elliott in the passing game as well, despite receiving 19 less targets.
Green Bay Packers
David Bakhtiari made his season debut on Sunday, playing 27 snaps against the Lions before bowing out with the rest of the offensive starters. The former All-Pro should assume his starting role again in two weeks when the Packers return from their bye.
Having the left tackle back in the fold will be huge for Aaron Rodgers, who has been among the league’s worst quarterbacks when under pressure this season. Rodgers has completed just 38 percent of his passes under pressure, ranking ahead only of Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson. His 5.1 yards per attempt is also third-worst.
Kansas City Chiefs
Tyreek Hill was limited to just one catch for three yards against the Broncos as he dealt with a heel injury that was suffered during pregame warm-ups. However, Andy Reid told reporters that the star receiver is expected to be fully ready for this weekend.
The Chiefs were also down both of their top running backs on Saturday with Clyde Edwards-Helaire still out due to a shoulder injury and Darrel Williams missed the second half with a toe problem.
Edwards-Helaire’s status remains questionable, but Williams is expected to be fine. Derrick Gore and Jerrick McKinnon played well late in the Broncos’ game, rushing 12 times for 54 yards, combined. McKinnon added a 14-yard touchdown catch as well.
Las Vegas Raiders
Defensive tackle Darius Philon was enjoying a great game on Sunday night against the Chargers, but he suffered a torn patellar tendon and will miss the postseason.
The Raiders interior defensive line is already thin with Gerald McCoy on the IR and Kendal Vickers still on the reserve/COVID-19 list after being moved there two weeks ago.
Against the Chargers, Solomon Thomas and Quinton Jefferson both played over 50 snaps at defensive tackle and Johnathan Hankins added 29 unproductive snaps of his own.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams will be without safety Jordan Fuller for the postseason after he suffered an ankle injury in Week 18. Fuller was a versatile part of the Rams defense, playing over 100 snaps in the box, in the slot and at free safety.
Nick Scott filled in for Fuller and should be the starter in the postseason. The former seventh-round pick was targeted once in the passing game, but struggled as a tackler, missing on three of his six chances.
It’ll also be worth checking in on the status of Darious Williams this week as the cornerback deals with a shoulder injury. Williams didn’t miss a snap against the 49ers in Week 18, so the guess here is he will be lining up against the Cowboys.
New England Patriots
Bill Belichick said on Monday that he is “hopeful” both Christian Barmore (knee) and Isaiah Wynn (ankle) are both available on Saturday when the Patriots play the Bills in an AFC East grudge match.
The rookie Barmore did have an MRI that came back clean on Monday, so that is a good sign for the second-round pick. His 48 quarterback pressures rank second on the team to Matthew Judon.
Justin Herron filled in for Wynn at left tackle against Miami and actually finished as the team’s highest-graded pass blocker on Pro Football Focus. Herron made two starts at left tackle earlier this season and allowed just two total pressures.
The Eagles are hoping to get running backs Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard back this week against Tampa Bay. Sanders has missed the last two games with a broken hand and Howard was inactive due to COVID-19, although he’s also been dealing with a neck injury.
The Eagles finished 2021 with the most rushing yards in the NFL and Tampa Bay’s rush defense has struggled recently, allowing 4.8 yards per carry in the last eight weeks.
The rushing attack will also rely on Jalen Hurts, who sat out Philadelphia’s season finale to rest his ailing ankle that caused him to miss one game earlier in the season. Hurts led all quarterbacks in rushing yards and touchdowns this season and the Bucs defense allowed the fourth-most rushing yards to opposing QBs.
The Steelers were missing left tackle Dan Moore Jr. in their win over Baltimore on Sunday. He suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 17, so his return could be delayed beyond Wild Card Weekend.
Joe Haeg filled in for Moore and allowed just one hurry all afternoon and was the team’s highest-graded run blocker among offensive linemen. However, he did commit a facemask penalty that wiped out a 20-yard gain.
San Francisco 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo was a game-time decision on Sunday due to his thumb injury, but managed to play through it and average 9.8 yards per pass attempt. Although, he did throw multiple interceptions for the third time in his last five starts.
Expect Garoppolo to be limited in practice again this week, but he’s in “good shape.”
Trent Williams is trying to work his way back from an elbow injury that cost him Week 18. Williams, who has never won a playoff game in his 11-year career, was PFF’s highest-graded tackle this season, allowing just one sack and 16 pressures in 15 games.
Replacement Colton McKivitz really struggled against the Rams allowing two sacks and four pressures in the win.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Underdog wide receiver Cyril Grayson suffered a hamstring injury early on in the Bucs win against the Panthers and his status for Sunday is firmly questionable.
In his first two years in the NFL, Grayson had just one catch for three yards, but has become a Tom Brady favorite in recent weeks, catching nine passes for 162 yards since Week 16.
The Bucs do have Mike Evans healthy as well as Breshad Perriman. Scotty Miller can work out of the slot like he did before Antonio Brown arrived.
Derrick Henry was designated to return from the IR last week, but remained inactive for the season finale against the Texans. Mike Vrabel was very vague when talking about Henry’s recovery on Monday, but the Titans have an extra week to monitor their franchise running back.
Expect his status to be monitored very closely as we near next week’s Divisional Round.