After a messy slate of Wild Card games that was bookended by a thrilling National Championship rematch, the Divisional Round is looking much better from a multitude of angles. Outside of New England versus Houston, every games’ point-spread is within five points. What’s more, the NFC favorites (Dallas and Atlanta) are getting healthy at the right time for their Super Bowl push while Kansas City and New England are close to 100 percent as well.
Let’s run down this week’s injury news to track for the short slate...
The biggest storyline this week surrounds Jordy Nelson’s ribs. After playing less than 20 snaps in the Packers’ Wild Card win over the New York Giants, Nelson took a massive shot from Giants’ CB Leon Hall that resulted in “at least” two fractured ribs. Needless to say, barring a miracle, Nelson likely won’t play in Dallas. Nelson’s injury leaves Davante Adams and Randall Cobb as the Packers’ two main wideouts with Geronimo Allison playing more on the boundary.
While Aaron Rodgers is absolutely firing right now, Nelson’s absence definitely puts a damper on Rodgers’ and the Packers’ offensive expectations. Over the past six years, Rodgers has averaged 284 yards (8.50 YPA) and 2.5 passing touchdowns per game when Jordy Nelson is active. When Nelson misses, Rodgers’ per-game output is sliced sharply (241.3 YPG, 6.88 YPA, 1.95 passing touchdowns/game). Rodgers is undoubtedly playing some of the best football of his career, but he’ll have to overcome some fairly dramatic splits in Jerry’s World on Sunday afternoon.
Just like Dallas and Atlanta, the Chiefs are getting healthy at the right time. Kansas City does not have a single player on their Week 19 practice report, which includes Spencer Ware. Ware (ribs) was a game-time call in Week 17 and ultimately did not suit up. Now with two weeks of rest under his belt, Ware is ready to rock. However, there are some underlying issues that should be mentioned here. First off, Ware has not carried a monster ceiling all season long. In fact, Ware has not eclipsed 70 yards rushing since Week 7. For context, Ware finished as a RB1 (top-12 in PPR) just four times during the regular season. Jamaal Charles finished as a RB1 in four straight games to open 2015 before getting injured in his fifth appearance. While Ware is finally healthy, he is also catching the Steelers’ run defense at the wrong time. Pittsburgh has allowed just 81 rushing yards/game to enemy backs over their past six games and they have not permitted a single running back to rush for over 60 yards against them in that span, with the exception of Isaiah Crowell (19-152). Ware is a home favorite, but his ceiling is murky and the Steelers are a sneaky tough draw.
It feels weird, but Atlanta’s offense is still being slept on at this point. For a team that finished the 2016 regular season second in first down conversions, first in percentage of drives ending in a score, and second-from-last in turnover percentage, Atlanta is seemingly still not a “public” team. Just 56% of the bets are coming in on the Falcons for the Divisional Round, even though they are setting up to peak at just the right time. Julio Jones (toe) is fully practicing heading into the Divisional Round and is seemingly over the lower-extremity issue that caused him to miss Weeks 15 and 16. Fully rested off an additional bye week, Jones’ “on paper” matchup looks bad, but Seattle’s pass defense just isn’t the same without stud S Earl Thomas (broken leg). The Seahawks have been torched by long passes (attempts traveling 20-plus yards in the air) without their field general, which is troublesome given that 25% of Julio Jones’ targets came deep downfield in 2016 (fifth-most among qualified wide receivers). Down Earl Thomas, Aaron Rodgers ripped Seattle for 246 yards, a 10.7 YPA average, and three touchdowns in Week 14, but they have not been truly tested since then. With Julio fully ready to roll, Atlanta could severely task the ‘Hawks weakened no-fly zone.
The Broncos hired former-Dolphins’ DC Vance Joseph as their new head coach on Wednesday… The Bills hired former-Panthers’ DC Sean McDermott as their new head coach… In his first participation with the team since Week 11, C.J. Prosise (shoulder) was limited in Wednesday's practice… Ladarius Green (concussion) didn't practice Wednesday... After missing Weeks 15-17, Falcons’ rookie TE Austin Hooper (knee) practiced on Wednesday… As a precaution, LeGarrette Blount (illness) was held out of Wednesday's practice… Malcolm Mitchell (knee) was limited at Wednesday's practice while Danny Amendola (ankle) is practicing fully… Packers’ RB Ty Montgomery (ankle) was removed from Green Bay’s injury report on Wednesday… Cowboys LT Tyron Smith (knee) was limited in Wednesday's practice, but he is fully expected to return for the Divisional Round…Cowboys’ CB Morris Claiborne confirmed he'll play Sunday. He hasn’t been active since Week 8 (groin).