Michael Crabtree will make his 2013 season debut on Sunday. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
In the NFL’s constant war of attrition, injuries can decide games, seasons and a whole lot of futures. Here’s who will give it a shot, and who will not, as we head into Week 12 of the 2013 season:
Tamba Hali, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs (ankle): Hali left last Sunday's loss to the San Diego Chargers in the second quarter with an ankle sprain, and his absence through the rest of the game was a primary reason Philip Rivers had enough time in the pocket to slice and dice Kansas City's generally impressive secondary. Head coach Andy Reid said during the week that he felt good about Hali's prospects to start against the Broncos, and Hali will indeed go. Justin Houston, Hali's edge-rushing partner in crime, will miss this game, however, with an elbow injury, and he could miss the next couple of games as well. The Chiefs are trying to avoid a 9-3 start after winning their first nine games. Their defense has just one sack in the last three games.
Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams (concussion): Stacy was taken from the Rams' 42-21 win over the Bears in the second quarter with a concussion, but he passed the protocol and was able to practice this week. The fifth-round rookie from Vanderbilt has helped to redefine the Rams' run game with some impressive performances this season (127 yards against the Titans; 134 yards against the Seahawks), and he'll be a stern test for San Francisco's front seven today. He had gained 87 yards on just 12 carries against Chicago before he was hurt.
Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers (Achilles tendon): Crabtree hasn't played since the 49ers lost Super Bowl XLVII to the Baltimore Ravens in February, because he suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the preseason. He will likely see limited snaps in his return, but according to head coach Jim Harbaugh, there are no specific physical limitations preventing Crabtree from running the full route tree. The 7-4 49ers are trying for a wild-card slot and playing the St. Louis Rams and their tough defense on Sunday. Crabtree and quarterback Colin Kaepernick developed a productive chemistry at the end of the 2012 season, and it was one of the main reasons the 49ers were able to roll through the playoffs.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots (back, forearm, hamstring): Gronkowski has been dealing with a litany of injuries this season, but he's caught touchdown passes in three straight games, and he'll be good to go against the Houston Texans on Sunday. Tom Brady has thrown to his main tight end on 26 percent of his passes since Gronk made his 2013 debut, and the 8-3 Patriots are 3-2 in those games, including last Sunday's crucial win over the Denver Broncos. New England still has an outside shot at the AFC's top seed, and having Gronkowski in the lineup every week is clearly a force multiplier on that quest.
Darrelle Revis, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (groin): After missing the second half of Tampa Bay's win over the Detroit Lions last Sunday, Revis will draw Carolina's Steve Smith when the Panthers welcome the Bucs to town. Despite scheme changes and his recovery from last year's knee injury, Revis is currently rated as one of the league's top cornerbacks once again.
Stephen Paea, DT, Chicago Bears (toe): Paea has been out of action since Week 11 with a toe injury, and his return is welcome news for the Bears' league-worst run defense -- especially since Chicago will have to deal with Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Paea is a strong interior player with a knack for stuffing runs at the line.
Santonio Holmes, WR, New York Jets (hamstring): This is Holmes' third week back in the lineup after missing five straight games with a hamstring injury. He was listed as questionable on Friday's injury report. Holmes was limited to one catch for 12 yards against the Ravens last Sunday, and the Jets' passing offense can use all the help it can get ... as TheMMQB's Peter King pointed out in graphic detail.
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Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos (knee): The Broncos got a little bit of good news in that running back Knowshon Moreno will be able to go against the Chiefs despite a lower leg injury he suffered in last Sunday's loss to New England. However, tight end Julius Thomas, one of Peyton Manning's most productive and surprising targets this season, will miss his second straight game after suffering a knee sprain in Denver's first game against Kansas City two weeks ago. Only Jimmy Graham has more touchdowns among tight ends than Thomas' 10. He was limited in practice all week, and no sure thing to suit up for this game. Veteran Jacob Tamme will continue to replace him.
Stevan Ridley, RB, New England Patriots (healthy inactive): Ridley's fumbling issues have caught up to him yet again. He's coughed up the ball in three straight games, and despite no declared injuries, he'll be a scratch against the Texans today. He was benched for most of last Sunday's game against the Broncos after yet another fumble.
"I think when things happen like this in back-to-back games, or in this case a few games in a row, I think that you certainly have to address what you can address in terms of trying to fix the problem," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said this week. "I have great confidence in Stevan as a runner. He’s been very productive in our offense, he’s done a lot of good things, and at the same time obviously ball security is the most important factor for our offense and for our team when we have the ball. We have to be part of the solution. We have to work with him, and he certainly wasn’t the only one that put the ball or got the ball knocked off of him the other night."
No NFL back has more touchdowns than Ridley since Week 6, but a 7-4 touchdown-to-fumble ratio isn't good enough for Bill Belichick.
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals (knee): The sixth-round rookie out of Clemson has been tremendously productive in spot duty (he's averaged six yards per carry), but Ellington will be sidelined for today's key matchup against the Eagles. Like the 49ers, Arizona is 7-4 and fighting for position behind the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West. A great defense has carried them this far, but adding more Ellington to Carson Palmer's recent stretch of productivity would make the Cards a dangerous team on both sides of the ball. The onus is now on Palmer to match Chip Kelly's offense point-for-point.
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers (quadriceps): It will be Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert toting the rock against Tampa Bay's underrated front seven, because Williams missed practice all week and will not play due to a quad injury. He had been dealing with the injury for a while, and apparently aggravated it against the Miami Dolphins last week.
Alfonzo Dennard, CB, New England Patriots (knee):
Despite a knee injury suffered in practice in mid-November, Dennard has been an underrated factor in New England's impressive pass defense. He had a setback after he tried to tough it out in last Sunday's game against the Broncos, and Dennard didn't even make the trip to Houston. Kyle Arrington will start in his place, and the Pats will have Aqib Talib to deal with Andre Johnson. Dennard is expected to be sentenced Thursday for a probation violation, and the Pats could be without his services for other reasons down the stretch as a result.