If you’re looking to place the right bet on this weekend’s NFL Divisional action, keeping up on the injuries will be a good place to start.
Dr. David Chao is a practicing orthopedic surgeon and former head team physician for the San Diego Chargers. He utilizes his almost two decades of NFL experience to help fans understand injuries and boasts a documented 90-plus percent accuracy rate in deciphering injuries in real-time video analysis. Dr. Chao is the SiriusXM sports medical analyst, has been featured in the New York Times and has become the go-to injury analyst for the NFL.
Injuries play a big role each week in the outcome of games. Come playoff time, no team is immune from health issues. Here are some of the key players to watch for in this weekend’s games.
Colts vs. Chiefs
The forgotten story is that quarterback Andrew Luck was injured. Many questioned if he would ever play again before this season. The shoulder issue has long been forgotten as he is in top form and has his offensive line and center Ryan Kelly back to protect him. Top receiver T.Y. Hilton continues to miss practice because of his ankle. I have said for weeks he would play after missing practice during the week and this week should not be any different. Expect a big game despite the injury. Tight end Eric Ebron is limited this week with a hip issue but don’t expect that to limit him on Saturday for the game. On the defensive side, the Colts are thin at safety. Mike Mitchell has been place on injured reserve with last week’s calf injury. Malik Hooker was in a boot this week but the hope is that was precautionary.
The Chiefs offense should be close to full go with the possible exception of wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who was limited with a foot injury that has kept him out since December. Running back Spencer Ware is finally poised to return from his hamstring. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill and his heel are still on the injury report but he should be close to 100 percent. On the defensive side, safety Eric Berry may not be able to go given his downgrade from limited practice to not practicing. The heel has bothered him all year and his status is iffy at best. Cornerback Kendall Fuller should be in good shape despite recent thumb surgery and will play with a small cast.
The Chiefs should be well rested after their bye. The Colts may be hot but this marks the third straight “win or go home” road game for them.
Cowboys vs. Rams
Quarterback Dak Prescott was a surprise on the injury report on his knee but he was full practice. By video, the right knee injury on the “helicopter” goal line play was a distal thigh contusion. He
wore a sleeve but is not a risk to miss the playoff game and should have minimal limitations to his game. Running back Ezekiel Elliot turned his ankle in the Wildcard game but should be a full go,
too. Wide receiver Cole Beasley is the big concern. Two days of not practicing after what appeared to be a mild high ankle sprain that he played through. Even if Beasley plays, the Cowboys slot receiver may be limited. The offensive line seems to be getting healthier each week which could be a big plus.
On the other hand, the Rams are as healthy as they have been. Of course, they would like to have wide receiver Cooper Kupp back but his season is done. Running back Todd Gurley returned to practice for the first time since Week 15. I expect him to be near full go. My belief is he could have played through inflammation in his knee but now that he has had a month of rest, look for good things to happen with him.
Chargers vs. Patriots
The Bolts continue to have key issues at running back. Running back Melvin Gordon suffered a MCL sprain on his “good” knee last week and was a warrior to finish the game. He missed practice time this week and my feeling is he won’t be close to 100 percent. It’s hard enough to play with two knee braces as a fluid running back, but with the previous right knee MCL (and right mild high ankle sprain) and now the left MCL … I just don’t see how he can be himself. I am not doubting that Gordon will try to play but the question is how effective he will be.
His backup, Austin Ekeler, has played through a groin issue. Center Mike Pouncey should be fine with his thumb issue. The Chargers are likely to get some offensive help from tight end Hunter Henry. He was just activated to the 53 man roster and I feel he could contribute this weekend. Henry tore his ACL in May minicamp and this would be his first return. He may only see a dozen plays of action but could be effective in spots as the Chargers will use him to run routes friendly to his still-recovering right knee.
The Patriots are the healthiest team still playing. No one missed practice Wednesday and safety Devin McCourty looks to be cleared from his concussion. Of course, tight end Rob Gronkowski may not be his old self but he’s no longer on the injury report.
Eagles vs. Saints
Quarterback Nick Foles’ rib issues are essentially behind him. Carson Wentz remains on the active roster but will not play with a back stress fracture. The Eagles have been banged up all season but appear to be on the health upswing. The return of running back Darren Sproles has been key. I don’t expect wide receiver Golden Tate’s knee issue to be a big deal. The offensive line is playing through issues and the decimated secondary is still hurting but is better than a few weeks ago. Whether the defensive backs hold up to the Saints passing game is a big question.
The Saints should have deep threat wide receiver Ted Ginn back finally. However, their offensive line is banged up. Three tackles and two guards were on the injury report and limited. All should
play but left tackle Terron Armstead is the big one to watch. With his injured pectoral muscle, even if he plays, he could be one play from re-aggravation as from his first return. I think it will be hard to play and even if he does, he might be vulnerable to an inside bull rush given his injury.
That’s a rundown of key injuries in the Divisional round. Look for official game status two days before the game and the inactives 90 minutes before kickoff.