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NFL Playoffs injury news: Who’s kicking off at full strength and who’s limping in?

By Dr Rajpal Brar

Published: 15:03, 13 January 2022 | Updated: 0:23, 15 January 2022

The NFL’s Wild Card round is finally upon us, one week later than usual, on account of the NFL’s change to an 18-week, 17-game regular season.

All the matchups are set for Super Wildcard Weekend, with six games taking place over the course of three days, starting on Saturday.

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Let’s go through each game and review the injuries to key playmakers that could have an impact:

Kansas City Chiefs (2) vs Pittsburgh Steelers (7)

Chiefs

RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (say that three times fast) was inactive for the final game of the regular season, but is expected to return for the Chiefs’ playoff opener. According to head coach Andy Reid, though Edwards-Helaire was limited in practice on Wednesday, he is making great progress with the shoulder injury that’s limited him lately.

It’s worth noting that backup RB Darrel Williams was also limited in practice, due to a toe problem.

WR Tyreek Hill exited last week’s game with a heel injury but isn’t expected to miss any action. He was a full participant in practice on Wednesday.

Steelers

RB Najee Harris injured his elbow in the first half against the Ravens in Week 18, and has been receiving aggressive treatment, according to head coach Mike Tomlin. Tomlin added that, while Harris was held out of practice on Wednesday, he expects the running back’s participation to ramp up gradually as the week progresses.

Buffalo Bills (3) vs New England Patriots (6)

Patriots

Running back Damien Harris has been battling a hamstring injury, but was available (if a bit reduced) in Week 18, when he gained over 100 total yards (37 rushing, 66 receiving) on 15 touches.

Bills

After missing the Bills’ final two regular season games with an undisclosed knee problem, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders has been a full participant in practice this week.

Cincinnati Bengals (4) vs Las Vegas Raiders (5)

Bengals

Quarterback Joe Burrow missed week 18 with a reported knee problem, though that designation was very likely ‘precautionary’, as the Bengals had nothing to play for, with their playoff seeding locked in. Burrow has been a full participant in practice this week.

Elsewhere on the Bengals offense, running back Joe Mixon has been activated off the COVID-19 list and will return this week, while wide receiver Tee Higgins was limited in practice with a foot injury that was reported on Wednesday.

Raiders

Running back Josh Jacobs has been limited in practice due to soreness in his ribs that he’s been dealing with for multiple weeks. It’s worth noting, however, that Jacobs not only played through the injury vs the Chargers in Week 18, but posted a season-high 132 rushing yards.

Meanwhile tight end Darren Waller, who’s been plagued by injury issues for the majority of the season, returned last week and was targeted nine times. However, he, too, has been limited in practice this week, with a knee issue. However, this may only be a precaution, intended to limit his overall workload so soon after his return to the lineup.

Now, for the NFC…

Tampa Buccaneers (2) vs Philadelphia Eagles (7)

Bucs

Running back Leonard Fournette is expected to return from a hamstring injury that kept him out of Week 18, while his backup, Ronald Jones, hasn’t practiced this week due to an ankle injury.

The passing game, which is already without Chris Godwin (out for the year with a torn ACL) and Antonio Brown (not sure how concisely sum that up), may now also be missing unsung hero Cyril Grayson, who’s dealing with a hamstring injury. Meanwhile, star wideout Mike Evans has been dealing with a hamstring injury of his own, which has limited his practice time this week. This may largely be precautionary, as hamstring issues are particularly tricky to manage, and carry a high risk of reaggravation. 

On the bright side for the Bucs, edge rushers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul have both returned to practice, after missing the last two weeks.

Eagles

Though running back Miles Sanders missed the last two games with a broken hand, the Eagles are hopeful that he’ll be able to play against the Bucs. Sanders’ season has been marred by injury – prior to the broken hand, an ankle injury cost him a chunk of the season – but he’ll be hoping to return to form with a strong performance vs the defending Super Bowl champions.

Meanwhile, both running back Jordan Howard and tight end Dallas Goedert have been activated from the COVID-19 list.

Dallas Cowboys (3) vs San Francisco 49ers (6)

49ers

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been playing through ligament damage and an avulsion fracture (a chip) in his. His last time out, he overcame a rough start to throw for 316 yards and help the Niners secure a playoff spot. He should be good to go.

Starting running back Elijah Mitchell is dealing with an unspecified knee issue and will be limited in practice this week, according to coach Kyle Shanahan. In fact, Mitchell was held out of practice on Wednesday. He is, however, expected to play against the Cowboys.

Meanwhile, left tackle Trent Williams – who missed last week’s critical make or break game due to an ongoing elbow injury – has not yet returned to practice.

Cowboys

Running back Tony Pollard, who had been dealing with a foot problem, was a full participant at practice on Wednesday. Meanwhile, both left tackle Tyron Smith and likely Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons have both been activated from the COVID-19 list, though Smith has still been limited in practice by ongoing knee and ankle injuries.

Los Angeles Rams (4) vs Arizona Cardinals (5)

Rams

Running back Cam Akers, who incredibly returned from an achilles rupture in under five months, got eight touches in Week 18 and, by all accounts, his body responded well to the game action. Expect the Rams to increase his workload going forward, as part of a dual-headed running back attack, alongside Sony Michel.

Cardinals 

Running back James Conner left in the 4th quarter of Week 18 with a rib injury. At the time of writing, his status is in doubt, as is that of fellow running back Chase Edmonds, who missed the Week 18 game altogether with a rib injury. The good news for Arizona is their playoff opener against the Rams is on Monday, meaning the running back duo has an extra day to heal up.

Dr. Rajpal Brar, DPT, (@3cbperformance) is a physiotherapist, movement expert, fitness trainer, sports scientist and mindfulness coach. He runs the LA and online based physiotherapy and athletic performance clinic 3CB Performance, and you can subscribe to his Youtube channel (which posts analyses of Lionel Messi and more).

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