As the playoff race heats up, a number of key players remain questionable ahead of Sunday’s Week 15 games. After missing practice all week, Atlanta Falcons star wide receiver Julio Jones is listed as questionable due to a hip injury he suffered against Green Bay last week.
The Falcons are clinging to the NFC South lead with a 5-8 record, and Jones was red-hot before the injury. In his last two games, the 25-year-old has totaled 21 receptions for 448 yards and three touchdowns, serving as quarterback Matt Ryan’s No. 1 target. Atlanta does have veteran receiver Roddy White to turn to, but need a ton of help on offense to hang with a Pittsburgh Steelers squad that’s scoring 27.8 points per game and has eclipsed the 30-point mark in the last two games.
But the Falcons could hold Jones back in order to assure his health for the last two games of the season against division foes New Orleans and Carolina.
The San Diego Chargers face a similar dilemma with starting running back Ryan Matthews. San Diego’s running game has struggled all season as Matthews has missed seven games, but his latest ankle injury comes at a critical time for the second-place AFC West squad.
The 8-5 Chargers are two back of their Week 15 opponent Denver in the division, but hold the AFC’s last wild card spot thanks to its 34-33 victory over Baltimore in Week 13. After the trip to Mile High, San Diego hits the road for its final two games at San Francisco and Kansas City, two of the top defenses in the league.
Listed as questionable, Matthews has struggled with injuries throughout his short career, but when healthy has played a crucial role in the Chargers offense. Since returning in Week 11, he’s gained 259 yards at a 5.0 yard per carry clip.
A Chargers loss and a win by Baltimore over 2-11 Jacksonville makes the road to the playoffs that much harder for San Diego.
The Detroit Lions know what it’s like to prevail without running back Reggie Bush, but the presence of their No. 1 back would make their pursuit of the NFC North and a playoff berth that much more simple.
Bush missed three straight games but returned in last week’s 34-17 victory over Tampa Bay that kept the Lions in the NFC’s final wild card spot. Bush gained 26 yards on eight attempts, and caught four passes for eight yards, but is once again listed as questionable ahead of Sunday’s home matchup against rival Minnesota.
Detroit does have leading rusher Joique Bell to fill the void, a task he’s done very well this year with 664 yards and six touchdowns, two of which came against Tampa Bay.
But Bush’s versatility out of the backfield gives the Detroit offense an extra lethal dynamic against an underrated Minnesota defense. And to Bush’s credit, head coach Jim Caldwell said he thinks Bush will return to form at some point this season, according to NFL.com.
Lastly, no other team is banged up as much as the New England Patriots. A total of nine Patriots were listed as questionable after Friday’s practice session: offensive lineman Dan Connolly (ankle), receiver Julian Edelman (thigh), offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (ankle), linebacker Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), defensive end Chandler Jones (hip), receiver Brandon LaFell (shoulder), defensive end Rob Ninkovich (heel), running back Shane Vereen (ankle), and linebacker Chris White (ankle).
Defensive lineman Dominique Easley (knee) has already been ruled out, and there are plenty of holes New England might have to fill against a Miami Dolphins squad vying for the playoffs.
The Patriots lost the season opener to Miami, 33-20, a loss that stained the team well into Week 4 when they started to roll and now hold the top seed in AFC. Already owning the tiebreaker thanks to its 43-21 drumming of Denver in Week 9, New England is in the driver's seat in the conference and resting Edelman, who's tops on the team with 85 receptions, could prove beneficial when the playoffs come around.