Some of the NFL’s top stars battled injuries in the regular season, and that has continued into the playoffs. But with so much on the line in the coming weeks, several players will return to the field on Wild-Card Weekend.
The top teams in the NFC have lost key players, but they’ve been largely unaffected by injuries. Running back Jonathan Stewart is expected back for the playoffs for the Carolina Panthers, and the No.1 seed cruised through the regular season with a 15-1 record. The Arizona Cardinals lost Tyrann Mathieu for the year and Chris Johnson won’t be able to play before the Super Bowl, but the team went 13-3 and are tied for the best Super Bowls odds.
Below is a look at the playoff teams that have most been affected by injuries, and key players that could return in the postseason.
The Seahawks might be playing better than any NFC team, and they’ve done so without a few key components from their back-to-back NFC championship teams. Safety Kam Chancellor has missed the last three games with a pelvis injury, and running back Marshawn Lynch hasn’t played since Nov. 15 after undergoing abdominal surgery. However, both players are expected to suit up on Sunday.
According to head coach Pete Carroll, Lynch is ready for Seattle’s game against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, and he’ll be able to handle a full workload. Lynch played just seven games in the regular season, totaling a career-low 417 yards. Carroll is optimistic about Chancellor, who missed five games because of injuries and an early-season holdout. He recorded two interceptions and 74 tackles. Chancellor was selected to the Pro Bowl for a third consecutive season, and the fourth time in his six-year career.
Kansas City Chiefs
Another four-time Pro Bowl defensive selection is expected to return this weekend, as well. Justin Houston has missed the Chiefs’ last five games, but the star pass rusher plans to play against the Houston Texans.
Even though Houston missed five games, he still led the Chiefs with 7.5 sacks in the regular season. Houston did play in Kansas City’s first game of the season, recording a sack and three tackles in a 27-20 win over the Texans. Jeremy Maclin is also expected to play after the wide receiver sat out practice on Tuesday because of a hip injury.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers haven’t been as lucky with Sam Shields. The cornerback remains in concussion protocol after getting injured in Week 14. Shields has three interceptions in 12 games.
Left tackle David Bakhtiari is also a question mark for Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins. Green Bay’s offensive line has struggled this season, allowing Aaron Rodgers to rank second in the NFL with 46 sacks. The quarterback was sacked just 28 times in 2014.
Many of the NFL’s top quarterbacks have been hit with injuries this season. Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning both missed time, but they are healthy for the playoffs. Andy Dalton has missed the Bengals’ last three games, and it’s still unknown if he’ll play this weekend. The quarterback had his cast removed as he recovers from a broken thumb, but he might not be ready to take the field, potentially giving AJ McCarron his fourth consecutive start.
Other than the injury to Dalton, Cincinnati is one of the healthiest teams in the postseason. Tight end Tyler Eifert didn’t play in Week 15 or Week 16, but he was back on the field in the regular-season finale.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots got a scare in Week 17 when Tom Brady injured his ankle, but he’ll almost assuredly play in the divisional round, following the team’s bye. The quarterback told reporters on Wednesday that his ankle is feeling better, and he was seen walking without a limp.
Brady’s top wide receiver, Julian Edelmen, hasn’t played since Nov. 15 because of a broken foot. He’s expected to play next week, and New England could sure use him. The team went 9-0 with him in the lineup, and just 3-4 in the next seven games.