With a number of pivotal players including Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Packers WR Jordy Nelson, and Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew not expected to play in Week 15, the injury report is short. It still has a big impact, with Robert Griffin III's LCL injury looming large over the playoff hopes for the Redskins and fantasy owners alike. Here’s the scoop on three key players whose statuses are in question, and the impacts of their injuries, for Sunday’s games:
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (knee)
WAS (7-6) @ CLE (5-8), 1 p.m.
After suffering a gruesome-looking knee injury in the fourth quarter of Washington’s 31-28 OT win over the Ravens, Griffin was diagnosed with a sprained right lateral collateral ligament (LCL), although he avoided major structural damage to the knee. Despite participating on a limited basis during practice this week and being officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, word came from Washington late last night that Griffin would not start Sunday's pivotal game against the Cleveland Browns, with Kirk Cousins getting the start instead.
During the week, Redskins coaches emphasized that their greatest fear wasn’t whether Griffin would be able to play at his usual tempo, but whether he will be able to sufficiently protect the vulnerable knee from further damage. In fact, skepticism regarding whether Griffin will be able to place significant amounts of pressure on the outside of the knee without enduring significant pain was warranted. Any right-handed QB with an LCL sprain is likely to face some discomfort when planting to throw, as Griffin clearly did in the few attempts he made after suffering the injury last week. But where such an injury could affect Griffin’s effectiveness more than most QBs is in escaping the pocket and making hard cuts in the running game.
Cousins has limited playing time this year, subbing for Griffin after he suffered a concussion against the Atlanta Falcons, and throwing a long touchdown pass to Santana Moss before coming back to Earth with two interceptions to close out the game. However, Cousins did lead the Redskins' late fourth-quarter heroics last week to tie and then defeat the Ravens, so he has proven capable in the clutch. As for a timetable for Griffin's return to the field, head coach Mike Shanahan is famously coy when it comes to discussing injuries. Given what news came out of Redskins Park this week regarding the severity of the injury, early indications are that he stands a good chance to take the field next week in Philadelphia.
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (finger)
DAL (7-6) vs. PIT (7-6), 4:25 p.m.
Bryant has been absolutely dominating in the second half of the season, making his status for Sunday’s matchup with the Steelers, which carries massive playoff implications for both teams, of paramount importance. The Cowboys’ receiver suffered a fractured left index finger in the fourth quarter of last week’s comeback win over Cincinnati, an injury that had the rumor mill spinning at high speed earlier this week. Was it dislocated? Was there ligament damage? Was it a season-ending surgery?
After the dust settled, Bryant decided to play through the injury, opting to wear a splint on the finger and hand. That would seemingly make catching the ball far more challenging than usual, and doesn’t even take into account the pain that he will most likely have to deal with when the ball hits the finger. It is too early to speculate on the long-term complications of playing through such an injury – the Cowboys haven’t released medical information, including the exact location of the injury and whether the bones remained aligned or not, which would help determine just what type of risk Bryant is facing. That said, it is quite possible the longer he goes without addressing the injury, the less likely it is that the finger will ever return to its original level of function. A risky decision by a player whose heart and determination should no longer be questioned.
Brandon LaFell, Carolina Panthers (toe)
CAR (4-9) @ SD (5-8), 4:05 p.m.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has been on fire the past several weeks, and last week’s monster performance against the Atlanta Falcons was even more impressive given the absence of LaFell due to a turf toe injury. The Panthers’ second wide receiver is listed as questionable for this afternoon’s game with the Chargers with lingering symptoms from the injury, although he has been able to practice on a limited basis this week. Turf toe refers to inflammation and stretching of the ligaments and/or tendons of the large toe, due to trauma and most commonly occurring when suddenly bent upward. The biggest issue with this type of injury: pain, which is often severe and can take weeks to resolve. If LaFell cannot play today, expect WR Louis Murphy to get the start for the Panthers.
Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons (knee)
ATL (11-2) vs. NYG (8-5), 1 p.m.
White has been held out of practice this week due to an injured knee, and is officially listed as questionable on the team’s injury report. The injury is serious enough to have required an MRI earlier this week, although the Falcons’ coaching staff has been mum regarding the results. That said, earlier in the week head coach Mike Smith presented an optimistic appraisal of his star receiver’s chances to play against the Giants, and White is a tough guy to bet against, having never missed a game in his eight-year NFL career. He is another game-time decision.