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Injury Aftermath: Wild-Card Round

Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

With the regular season over, we shift our focus to the remaining playoff teams.

Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers (Saturday, 4:35 EST, NBC)

The Vikings approach the divisional round with ongoing concerns at cornerback. Though it is not a new ailment, they finally placed Mike Hughes on injured reserve with a neck injury before their game in New Orleans. Slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander missed that game with a knee injury that has been bothering him for two weeks, but he does have a chance to return against the 49ers. Another cornerback, Xavier Rhodes, injured his shoulder during the game and missed a chunk of the second half, but Rhodes was able to return and is not currently expected to miss the divisional round. That all forced safety Andrew Sendejo into the nickelback role against the Saints; he is likely to remain there if Alexander cannot play in San Francisco. Fortunately, no other areas of the team are affected: halfbacks Dalvin Cook and Alex Mattison have both missed time recently, but both looked back to full strength in New Orleans. The same is true of receiver Adam Thielen, who led the team in receiving and made amends for his early fumble with the key reception in the overtime victory.

The bye week has done the 49ers a lot of good: they expect to welcome back defensive end Dee Ford, safety Jaquiski Tartt, and, more surprisingly, linebacker Kwon Alexander against the Vikings. Alexander suffered a similar pectoral injury to that of Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, and was also expected to miss the rest of the season. Either would have bucked the usual recovery timetable for that injury to return in time for the Super Bowl, never mind earlier in the playoffs. Based on Watt's usage for the Texans, we might expect Alexander's snap count to be somewhat limited on his return, but he adds a valuable piece to a linebacker corps that has continued to excel in his absence. Tartt and Dee Ford should be able to take on their usual workload. Preferred starting guard Mike Person is still dealing with the stinger injury he suffered in December; depending on his recovery this week he may return to the starting lineup, or he may continue to be an active backup behind Daniel Brunskill.

Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens (Saturday, 8:15 EST, CBS)

Titans receiver Adam Humphries has missed just over a month with a high-ankle sprain he suffered against the Colts in Week 13. Most high-ankle sprains keep receivers out for around five weeks, so Humphries is now at the point when we would normally expect to see him return. He did not practice at all last week; his participation this week will tell us more about his status for the game. Two other receivers missed the game: Kalif Raymond, who usually serves as the team's kick returner, did not clear the concussion protocol in time to play against New England, while Cody Hollister returned to practice after his own ankle injury but did not recover sufficiently to play. Cornerback Adoree Jackson did return, however, with no ill effects. Linebacker Jayon Brown hurt his shoulder on the opening drive against New England, then aggravated the injury later to force him out of the game, but most shoulder injuries other than fractures or dislocations cause no missed time and no outlets have reported that Brown suffered any kind of major injury. He should be able to play against Baltimore.

The Ravens are effectively coming off two weeks of rest for their starters, so they expect to have their entire 53-man roster available for selection on Saturday night. Mark Ingram is three weeks removed from a calf injury that usually carries a one-week recovery period. Mark Andrews should return after missing the meaningless Week 17 victory over the Steelers. Marcus Peters' chest injury was not serious enough for his team to keep him out of that game, and there is no reason to expect anything different this weekend. Marquise Brown also played in that game, and likewise he appears in no danger of missing this one. There are some lingering bumps and bruises, but right now the Ravens are the healthiest team in the postseason.

Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday, 1:05 EST, CBS)

The big news ahead of Houston's wild-card game was the return of J.J. Watt, who appears to have suffered no ill effects from his accelerated return from a pectoral injury. Watt is expected to take on a larger workload against the Chiefs, assuming his pectoral holds up in practice. Receiver Will Fuller is on schedule to return this weekend from the groin strain he suffered in Week 16. Tight end Jordan Akins and defensive back Johnathan Joseph both missed the wild-card victory with hamstring injuries, but both have a strong chance to return against Kansas City. Cornerback Bradley Roby played the full game against Buffalo with no recurrence of the hamstring injury that had him listed as questionable. Safety Jahleel Addae struggled with his Achilles injury, however, and was eventually replaced by veteran Mike Adams. Addae is currently considered day-to-day and is likely to be active against the Chiefs, but Adams is likely to play a portion of the game. That could be very significant: the 38-year-old Adams had the worst success rate against the pass and allowed the highest yards per target of any safety last year while with the Panthers, and the Chiefs receivers aren't exactly slouches.

Kansas City should be back close to full health but will have to cope without standout rookie safety Juan Thornhill, who tore his ACL in the bye-clinching Week 17 victory over the Chargers. Thornhill's likely replacement is veteran Daniel Sorensen, who played 76 of 77 possible snaps in that game. The Chiefs will also miss long-term absentees Alex Okafor and Emmanuel Ogbah, who were important contributors at defensive end prior to their season-ending injuries. However, Tanoh Kpassagnon has been an effective contributor and veteran Terrell Suggs claimed his first sack in a Chiefs uniform against the Chargers. Guard Andrew Wylie should be back to full health after his ankle injury, and defensive tackle Xavier Williams will have had another fortnight to get back up to speed after his return from injured reserve. The one further question mark is cornerback Morris Claiborne, but Claiborne has still not reached 200 snaps this season and appears to be battling for the fourth cornerback spot behind Charvarius Ward, Bashaud Breeland, and Kendall Fuller. His possible absence is unlikely to be a major factor.

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers (Sunday, 4:40 EST, FOX)

In sharp contrast to the health of the two No. 1 seeds, Seattle is the least healthy team remaining in the postseason. Defensive end Ziggy Ansah left with a stinger against the Eagles, adding to an injury list that is almost a "who's who?" of the 2019 Seahawks. Left tackle Duane Brown and left guard Mike Iupati both missed the visit to Philadelphia, adding to the loss of Justin Britt and Ethan Pocic on the offensive line. Each of the team's top three running backs and top two tight ends is on injured reserve, and receiver Jaron Brown missed the Eagles game with a sprained MCL, leaving only quarterback Russell Wilson, receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, and right guard D.J. Fluker as opening-day starters on offense. On defense, the injury situation is much less dire. Mychal Kendricks recently joined Tedric Thompson on injured reserve, but the trade for Quandre Diggs brought an upgrade at Thompson's spot and Diggs returned from his ankle injury against the Eagles. Jadeveon Clowney has been on the injury report recently, but he has played over 60% of snaps during the last two games. The team will have to monitor Ansah's stinger during the week, but otherwise the defensive personnel should all be available. The situation on offense is much less clear.

Packers receiver Allen Lazard, guard Elgton Jenkins, fullback Dan Vitale, and tight end Robert Tonyan missed the first practice of the week, but in general the Packers have been one of the healthiest teams in the league this season. Most of their wounded players spent last week rehabilitating, and Jenkins in particular was absent due to illness rather than injury. Most observers expect all of their 53-man roster to be available against Seattle, assuming they can contain the seasonal illness that has afflicted several players during the bye week.

Eliminated Teams

Saints linebacker Kiko Alonso suffered the third torn ACL of his football career against the Vikings. This injury will cost Alonso most, if not all of the offseason, and he is very likely to begin the 2020 season on the Reserve (PUP) list. This would keep him out until at least Week 6, assuming he is on a team -- the Saints were already likely to cut Alonso due to his $6.4-million cap hit next season, and his contract is not guaranteed for injury.

Comments

1 comment, Last at 06 Jan 2020, 8:53pm

1 One other note on the Packers

They have a spot available on the 53-man roster for activating Raven Greene should they choose to go that route.