Injuries often play a significant role in the playoffs, with the healthiest team sometimes having the best chance to win. The status of a key player can potentially swing a tight playoff matchup one way or the other. With that in mind, let's look at the injury-related headlines in advance of the wild card round.
Kansas City No. 1 receiver Dwayne Bowe was cleared to return to practice following a Week 16 concussion. Bowe suffered the injury against Indianapolis and sat out Week 17. The Chiefs rested a number of starters in the season finale, so there was no need to rush Bowe back. While he was cleared to practice, he will still need to pass additional tests in order to be cleared to play on Saturday against the Colts.
Bowe had a down year in comparison with previous seasons, but still led all Kansas City wide receivers with 57 receptions and 673 receiving yards. Jamaal Charles was the Chiefs' leading receiver with 70 catches and 693 receiving yards. Charles is likely to get plenty of touches, but Bowe's status will be important for Kansas City. Matt Verderame of Arrowhead Pride wrote the Chiefs need to have other options for quarterback Alex Smith.
The Colts are dealing with their own injury issues heading into the game on Saturday, with three injuries in the secondary of particular concern. Indianapolis' top three cornerbacks missed practice on Tuesday, leaving just three healthy corners on the roster. Vontae Davis sat out with a lingering groin injury. Davis played through the pain late in the year, but was forced out of Week 17 early after appearing to re-injure it. A MRI came back negative, but his status is still uncertain.
Darius Butler and Greg Toler also missed practice on Tuesday. Toler missed seven games due to a groin injury before playing limited snaps in the last two regular season games. Butler is dealing with a quad injury. All three could return later in the week and play on Saturday, but there is a chance none will be 100 percent. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Bjoern Werner also missed practice on Tuesday. Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue weighed in on the situation:
Davis is one of the most important players for the defense to have healthy, as especially early on in the season he was playing at a very elite level. Just like everyone else on the team, Davis struggled mid-season but he has improved in recent weeks. He is made especially important since Greg Toler (who is supposed to be the number two corner whenever he gets fully healthy) is still recovering from a groin injury that kept him out for seven weeks, limited him to 7 snaps a week ago and then 19 this week - and Pagano said that after those 19 snaps, he was a little sore. Darius Butler has done a decent job filling in, but his best spot is in the slot anyways. Having Davis out there this week would be huge for the Colts.
Green Bay is healthier than it was late in the regular season, but the Packers will be without Clay Matthews on Sunday against San Francisco. Matthews re-injured his surgically-repaired thumb in Week 16 and missed the regular-season finale. He was forced to have surgery last week and Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said Matthews was out this week:
"I really don't have a feel for Clay as far as where he is. I really haven't even seen him to talk to him," McCarthy said, via Acme Packing Company. "You're always cautious with players after surgery. Right now, he's out for this week, and that's really what we're focused on."
While injuries limited Matthews to 11 games this season, he still finished with 7.5 sacks on the year. Green Bay was able to find some success without him, however, going 4-1 in the five games he missed. With Matthews being ruled out early in the week, Jason Hirschhorn of Acme Packing Company doesn't expect Matthews back anytime soon:
Typically, when the Packers rule out a player this early in the week, it indicates a heightened level of severity regarding the injury. In other words, Matthews probably isn't anywhere close to a return.