The 2022 NFL Divisional Round will not soon be forgotten. Thankfully, this is owed to a weekend’s worth of heart-stopping action and not the loss of a marquee star with the Super Bowl in reach.
We’re halfway through (if you count the Super Bowl, which we probably should) the NFL playoffs. The field of Super Bowl contenders has been narrowed to a neat and tidy final four. In two games apiece last Saturday and Sunday, each of these four victors dramatically battled some combination of legendary competition, brutal elements and, frankly, themselves, to punch their tickets to their respective conferences’ championship games.
Competitively, the Divisional Round was the diametric opposite of Wild Card Weekend, which was packed with blowouts that allowed the winning sides to rest their stars and other banged-up contributors. Fortunately, there is a common thread between the last two weekends of playoff action: a relatively minimal the injury toll.
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That being said, as we head into the AFC and NFC Championship Games, each of the four remaining teams is contemplating the status of at least one key contributor, and hoping to avoid the need for an 11th-hour contingency plan.
NFC Championship Game – 49ers at Rams
It’s been well-chronicled that 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been playing for some time with a torn ligament in his right (throwing) thumb. Heading into the Divisional Round in Green Bay, Jimmy G was also nursing a sprained shoulder suffered over Wild Card Weekend. Neither knock even cost time on the practice field! Incredibly, this week, Garoppolo is no longer even listed in the injury report. Say what you will about his play, but do not question the man’s toughness!
Unfortunately, one of the guys responsible for keeping Jimmy G upright, offensive tackle Trent Williams, missed practice on Wednesday due a an ankle injury he suffered during the Divisional Round win in Green Bay. There are genuine questions regarding his status for the NFC title game in Los Angeles, Sunday, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan is optimistic that Williams will be able to play: “In Trent’s mind, there’s no way he is not playing.”
Also missing practice on Wednesday for the 49ers was starting running back Elijah Mitchell, who’s still nursing a knee injury that he suffered in Week 13. Meanwhile, cornerback Ambry Thomas (knee) and backup running back Jeff Wilson Jr. (knee) were limited participants.
On the bright side, star pass-rusher Nick Bosa (concussion), his fellow defensive lineman Jordan Willis (high ankle sprain), and linebacker Marcell Harris (Achilles) are no longer on the injury report.
As they did in the aftermath of Wild Card Weekend, following their dramatic (near-disastrous-collapse) win on Sunday in Tampa, the Rams had only a light walk-through on Wednesday, rather than a full practice. Thus, their injury report is, in part, estimated. That being said, offensive tackle Joe Noteboom (pectoral muscle), wide receiver Van Jefferson (knee) and defensive lineman Greg Gaines (toe) did not take part in the walk-through.
Meanwhile, offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, who missed the game in Tampa with a knee injury, was limited on Wednesday, but head coach Sean McVay has said that Whitworth is expected to be on the field come Sunday. Also limited on Wednesday were and backup running Buddy Howell (hamstring) and safety Taylor Rapp (concussion), neither of whom played against the Buccaneers.
Finally, three players who were previously listed on the injury report and believed to be limited in practice –return man Brandon Powell (ribs), wide receiver Ben Skowronek (back), and linebacker Troy Reeder (ankle) – are no longer listed in the official injury report.
AFC Championship Game – Bengals at Chiefs
On the heels of their second playoff win in over three decades, the Bengals are still flying high. The good news is that all of their headline stars will be on the field at Arrowhead Stadium in the AFC Championship Game. It’s worth noting that ascendant superstar QB Joe Burrow and wide receiver Tee Higgins were listed on the official injury report with, respectively, a sore knee and a sore thumb, but both participated fully in practice and, frankly, would not miss this under just about any circumstances.
On another positive note, Pro Bowl defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who left the Wild Card win over the Raiders with a concussion, took part (in a less-than-full capacity, but took part none the less) in last week’s win over the Titans, and is no longer listed on the injury report.
However, Cincy’s woes on the defensive line continue. Pass rusher Cam Sample missed practice midweek (no one else did) with a groin injury, while backup defensive tackle Josh Tupou is still limited by a knee injury. Both of these knocks come on the heels of the team placing defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi on injured reserve with a foot injury following the Wild Card round.
Finally, backup wide receiver Stanley Morgan, who missed the Divisional Round with a hamstring injury, has once again been limited in practice.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, also had only one player miss practice on Wednesday. Unfortunately for K.C., that player was superstar safety and defensive linchpin Tyrann Mathieu, who remains in concussion protocol. His status will be monitored closely, though Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has said that he’s progressing well and is likely to suit up on Sunday.
Also listed on the injury report but not limited in practice were a trio of key contributors: running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (shoulder), wide receiver Tyreek Hill (heel), and defensive tackle Chris Jones (groin).
Elsewhere on the roster, starting cornerbacks Rashad Fenton, who missed practice last week due to a back injury, and L’Jarius Sneed, who didn’t miss practice, but was listed as having a knee injury, are no longer listed on the injury report.