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Week 11 NFL injuries: NFC North hurting

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Things looked bleak when Adrian Peterson was carted off the field Sunday, but dodged a bullet when the diagnosis was just an ankle sprain. (Brace Hemmelgarn/US Presswire)

The biggest injury news in Week 11 came out of Chicago, where the Bears may be without Jay Cutler for the rest of the regular season after the QB broke his thumb Sunday. We've covered that topic here.

Helping us run down the rest of the key Week 11 injuries is injury expert Will Carroll, who gives his diagnosis for the players that suffered bumps and bruises (and, in some cases, breaks) Sunday:

Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings (ankle): A bad season in Minnesota nearly got a lot worse when Peterson had to be carted off in Sunday's loss to Oakland. But Peterson avoided any broken bones and was diagnosed instead with an ankle sprain. injury expert Will Carroll: Cascade injuries are one of the biggest dangers of "playing through it." When the body is injured, it makes slight, unconscious adjustments to protect the injured part. Unfortunately, some of those changes create an increased level of risk for other injuries. Strain one hamstring and you have an increased likelihood of straining the other. (Right, Julio and Miles?) Peterson's ankle sprain earlier in the season didn't stop him from playing, but it also contributed to a more serious sprain. The worry in Minnesota is that it's actually a high ankle sprain, which could keep him out 2-4 weeks. There's a broader range if it's just an exacerbation of the previous "classic" ankle sprain.

Who takes Peterson's spot?: Toby Gerhart would be first up, though he managed just 18 yards Sunday. Percy Harvin could slide to the backfield at times, too.

Greg Jennings, WR, Packers (leg): Mike McCarthy said Jennings hurt his shin, though the Green Bay receiver said that wasn't the issue. The challenge for Jennings will be the short week ahead -- Green Bay plays Thursday in Detroit.

Carroll: We've all been kicked in the shin. It hurts like bleep. Remember that when you're told that Greg Jennings wasn't able to play because of a bruised shin. As with any leg injury, the worry is not just the initial pain and trauma, but the worry that there will be -- as just discussed with Peterson -- a cascade injury. If Jennings limps on a fly pattern, he puts the rest of his legs at risk. It's much easier to hold him out, deal with a bruised shin, and avoid the hamstring strain that could cost him weeks.

Who takes Jennings' spot?: Green Bay is not at a loss for depth at receiver. Jordy Nelson is always ready to step up, and James Jones could see an increase in targets.

• Ray Lewis, LB, Ravens (toe): Lewis did not suit up on Sunday, missing his first regular-season game since 2007. His status going forward is still up in the air.

Carroll: Ray Lewis is a Hall of Fame player. He's also Hall of Fame crazy. A source told me that when Lewis' inflamed toe was checked by a physician last week and Lewis was told it could be a multi-week healing process, Lewis' first question was whether it could just be amputated. Luckily, Lewis didn't have Ronnie Lott's doctor. The toe is severely inflamed and limits his acceleration and lateral movement. He's undergoing a series of injections to try and calm things down, but he's likely headed for surgery. Lewis and the Ravens just hope it's during the offseason, after the playoffs.

Who takes Lewis' spot?: Dannell Ellerbe started in Lewis' place Sunday, and he may have to do so again Thursday against San Francisco.

Fred Jackson, RB, Bills (calf): Buffalo's players are dropping like flies, but Jackson sounds like he avoided serious injury. He missed a huge chunk of Sunday's game after taking a shot in his calf.

Carroll: Jackson may be calling his calf injury "just a bruise," but remember that a severe strain will bleed through and create that same kind of image. It can often look worse than it is, so Jackson's assertion that it's not that bad holds some weight. I hate self-diagnosis as any sort of indication, but we'll have to wait and see whether Jackson is back running quickly. If he's able to run mid-week, it would indicate either "just a bruise" or some low-grade strain.

Who takes Jackson's spot?: It'd be C.J. Spiller initially, if Jackson can't go. Just ask Buffalo fans how excited they are about that prospect.

Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Titans (elbow): The Titans had to sit Hasselbeck in the second half Sunday with what Tennessee announced as an elbow sprain, opening the door for rookie Jake Locker.

Carroll: The Titans are calling this an elbow issue, but on the sidelines, they were doing manual tests that indicate they're worried about the flexor tendon. Imagine trying to throw the ball without moving your wrist or having that snap, and you'll see why Locker was forced into the game. A minor flexor strain could be a matter of a game or two, but a more serious one could be season-ending. QBs don't tend to have elbow problems, so comparisons to baseball pitchers aren't ideal, but it's this kind of injury that ended Ben Sheets' career.

Who takes Hasselbeck's spot?: Locker would be the starter for the foreseeable future -- the rest of this year and beyond, if he plays well.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Raiders (head/neck): In one of the scarier moments of Week 11, Heyward-Bey had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. The Raiders later announced that he had full use of his extremities.

Carroll: Heyward-Bey was hit in the back of the helmet by a knee after coming to the ground on a crossing pattern. That's a bad scenario made worse by something Heyward-Bey didn't do -- snap his helmet. All the protection in the world isn't worth anything if it's not fitted and strapped on properly, and far too many players skip both those steps. Heyward-Bey was monitored for both spinal injury and a concussion as he was taken off the field, and then monitored after the game. The worry now is a neck sprain, which is painful for a player that needs to be able to turn back and look for the ball.

Who takes Heyward-Bey's spot?: Chaz Schilens, Louis Murphy or even T.J. Houshmandzadeh could be in line for a start, assuming Heyward-Bey can't go in Week 12.

Dan Williams, DT, Cardinals (arm): Williams fractured his left arm Sunday and is reportedly done for the year.

Carroll: Wrong place, wrong time. That's where Dan Williams' arm was on Sunday. He reached out to make a tackle and had his arm forcibly hyperextended when he was hit by a teammate. The bone snapped and Williams' season is done.

Who takes Williams' spot?: Williams' presence in the center of Arizona's 3-4 won't be replaced easily. Nick Eason or David Carter, who each run about 30 pounds lighter than Williams, could slide in to the lineup.

Trent Williams, OT, Redskins (knee): Williams injured his MCL while blocking on a field goal try in overtime. Williams appeared to be in a great deal of pain as he was helped off the field.

Carroll: Sigh. I'm pretty sure that my epitaph will read "a sprain is a tear." Trent Williams got rolled up and sprained his MCL on Sunday. After the game he told the media there was a sprain, but no tear. What Williams means to say is there's no rupture, which is a complete tear of a ligament. Williams has a low grade sprain and could be back on the field as early as next week. This is a similar injury to what LaDainian Tomlinson is dealing with.

Who takes Williams' spot?