Thirteen of 16 games Sunday have playoff implications, which means that 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 17 of the 2013 season:
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (clavicle): The Packers got the best news possible this week when it was announced that Rodgers was ready to return to the field for the first time since he broke his clavicle against the Bears on Nov. 4. Green Bay went 2-5-1 in the eight games Rodgers missed, though it's won two of its last three to put itself in position to take the NFC North if it can take Chicago in the rematch. Rodgers may be a bit rusty, but the Bears defense is not what it used to be, and you can bet that head coach Mike McCarthy will do everything possible to attack Chicago's league-worst run defense. If the Bears have to stack the box with Aaron Rodgers back under center ... well, that's pretty much game over.
Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers (leg): Cobb fractured the tibia in his right leg on Oct. 13 against the Ravens, but he'd been looking good in practice and the Packers activated him off the short-term injured reserve list this week. Cobb will indeed be active against the Bears, though he may be on a pitch count. At his best, he's one of the more versatile offensive weapons in the game, and his return could be huge for Green Bay in any sort of playoff run.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers (ankle): Lacy's sprained ankle isn't so bothersome that it will keep him out against the Bears -- and as we have intimated, you should expect the Packers to run Lacy as much as possible through Chicago's cheesecloth run defense.
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens (thigh): Rice has had a very disappointing 2013 season, with just 645 yards on 208 carries while dealing with a number of injuries behind a subpar offensive line. He's been battling a thigh issue, but he'll be good to go for today's key game against a Cincinnati Bengals defense that limited him to 30 yards on 18 carries on Nov. 10.
Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens (hamstring): Joe Flacco has been dealing with a knee issue, which has limited his pocket mobility of late, and it's good news for Baltimore's quarterback that Smith, his most dynamic target, will be available for the Bengals game. Smith caught five passes for 46 yards and a touchdown when these teams last met, and Cincinnati's secondary is not what it was then. If Flacco can stay upright long enough to get the ball to Smith downfield, big things could happen -- but Smith has not caught a single touchdown on a pass thrown 20 yards or more this season.
Jamaal Charles, RB. Kansas City Chiefs (playoffs): Chiefs coach Andy Reid had said that he would seriously consider resting a lot of his starters against the Chargers today, and the coach won't put his star running back and best offensive player at risk at all until the playoffs. Makes sense, as the Chiefs have the AFC's five-seed locked in. Charles will end the regular season with 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns on just 259 carries (a 5.0 yards-per-carry average), adding 693 receiving yards and seven more touchdowns on 70 receptions.
The Chiefs are also resting quarterback Alex Smith, receiver Dwayne Bowe, linebacker Tamba Hali, linebacker Derrick Johnson, offensive tackle Branden Albert, and defensive lineman Dontari Poe.
Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks (hip): The Seahawks gave up a first-round pick to acquire Harvin from the Vikings before the 2013 season began, and then signed him to a lucrative contract. They haven't received very much for their money and draft swag, as Harvin has played in just one game this season and has one catch for 17 yards. He'll be inactive for today's game against the Rams, and the Seahawks may very well have to put him on injured reserve to open a roster spot for the playoffs. Pete Carroll has said that he's not bothered about this season because he sees Harvin as a long-term investment, but the injuries are adding up through Harvin's career, and questions about this move will be frequent if the Seahawks fall short of a Super Bowl.
Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams (ankle): If the Rams want to beat the Seahawks, they'll have to do it without Austin, their version of Harvin. Austin suffered a sprained ankle in Week 14 and hasn't played since. The eighth-overall pick has alternated bursts of electrifying productivity with moments of frustration as he acclimates to the NFL. The Rams have big plans for him down the road.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings (foot): Reserve running back Matt Asiata scored three rushing touchdowns against the Eagles on Dec. 15, and he'll get another shot against the Lions in Minnesota's wrap-up to a disappointing season. Minnesota will keep Peterson on the shelf to protect the foot he sprained in Week 14 against the Ravens. Second-stringer Toby Gerhart is also out with a hamstring injury.
Devin McCourty, DB, New England Patriots (concussion): McCourty has done a great job transitioning to safety, but he'll be out for the regular-season finale against the Buffalo Bills due to the concussion he suffered against the Ravens last Sunday. All signs point to McCourty being ready for the playoffs.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions (knee): Johnson didn't practice all week, and he was listed as questionable. On Sunday morning, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Johnson's sprained knee has loose particles and may require offseason surgery. With the Lions reportedly looking to clean house in the coaching staff and front office after this season, it makes sense to keep the game's best receiver out of harm's way for whatever new regime might be arriving. Nate Burleson and Kris Durham will be the main men against Minnesota's defense -- a defense that looks pretty questionable most weeks.
Case Keenum, QB, Houston Texas (thumb): Keenum's thumb injury will keep him out against the Tennessee Titans, meaning that Matt Schaub will probably make his last start for the Texans. In other news, Texans general manager Rick Smith was on hand to watch Teddy Bridgewater's marvelous performance against Miami in Saturday's Russell Athletic Bowl.
Joe Haden, CB, Cleveland Browns (hip): Cleveland's best pass defender suffered a hip pointer against the Jets last Sunday, and he'll be out against a Steelers team trying to sneak into the playoffs. Rookie Leon McFadden will start in Haden's place, so expect Ben Roethlisberger to focus in that direction, especially when McFadden draws Antonio Brown in coverage.
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Cincinnati Bengals (hamstring): Gresham will not be available against the Ravens, robbing Andy Dalton of one of his better short-area targets against a Ravens defense that has been average against tight ends. In addition, rookie Tyler Eifert, who suffered a shoulder stinger against the Vikings last week, will miss this game.