When surprising Buffalo hosts Baltimore on Sunday with playoff implications galore on the line, the Bills will do so without a starting offensive lineman. When Kansas City looks to exorcise some demons in New England, the Chiefs will do so with two running backs in street clothes. The Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers are trying to keep pace in the playoff chase, but all three are missing their most important wide receiver again. No team is immune to injury this late in the season, but when a legendary kicker — and one of the most reliable players – in NFL history has to sit one out, the dog days of December are certainly upon us.
10. Seahawks DEs Ziggy Ansah, Jadeveon Clowney
Status: Questionable (Ansah, neck; Clowney, core)
Level of Concern: High, but hopeful
Next Man Up: At his Friday news conference, Seattle coach Pete Carroll sounded optimistic his pass rushers would play Sunday night against the Los Angeles Rams. But he added that each player would be re-evaluated before the game and that when it comes to injuries, he has backup plans. With such a slim margin for error in the NFC, a loss this late in the season could be devastating to playoff seeding. And the Rams are coming off one of their best offensive performance of the season. Should Ansah and/or Clowney not be able to go, L.J. Collier and Rasheem Green are their backups.
9. Bills OT Ty Nsekhe
Status: Out (ankle)
Level of Concern: Easing
Next Man Up: Seeing a starting tackle listed as out the week you’re playing the hottest team in the NFL is typically a recipe for panic. But there are a few reasons why the Bills should still feel good about their line when they kick off against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. When Nsekhe was originally injured on Nov. 17, the fear was his season is over, but the team continues to hold out hope he’ll back this season. Starting with that Miami game in which Nsekhe, Buffalo has won three straight. And OG Quinton Spain (illness) returned to practice Friday and is expected to be a go against the Ravens.
8. Steelers WR JuJu Smith Schuster, RB James Conner
Status: Out (Smith-Schuster, knee; Conner, shoulder)
Level of Concern: High, but dropping
Next Man Up: The two star skill position players keep missing time, but the Steelers keep winning without them. Last week, Pittsburgh also put Devlin Hodges in at QB and benched Mason Rudolph — and still beat the Cleveland Browns. At running back, Benny Snell Jr. and Jaylen Samuels seem to take turns moving the chains, while at receiver, James Washington is looking like the impact player the team was hoping to get when it selected him in the second round in 2018. Washington has at least 90 receiving yards and a touchdown in three of his past four games. Entering Sunday, the Steelers are in a playoff spot.
7. Panthers TE Greg Olsen
Status: Out (concussion)
Level of Concern: High
Next Man Up: A four-game losing skid has killed the Panthers’ playoff hopes and served as the final straw in Ron Rivera’s tenure as head coach. So Sunday in Atlanta likely won’t serve as anything more than an audition for some players hoping to stick in Carolina or catch on elsewhere next season. Olsen certainly doesn’t need to impress anyone, but his absence does serve as a reminder that if the recent era of Panthers football — spearheaded by injured QB Cam Newton — isn’t over, the end is near. Rookie Ian Thomas did show out in Olsen’s absence last season, and he should get a chance again this weekend.
6. Chiefs RBs Damien Williams, Darrel Williams
Status: Out (Damien Williams, rib; Darrel Williams, hamstring – injured reserve)
Level of Concern: Moderate
Next Man Up: Losing a pair of backs who have combined for more than 750 yards from scrimmage and scored a combined eight touchdowns would be a killer for most teams, especially those that still have a shot at a first-round bye though they have yet to even clinch a playoff spot. But the Chiefs aren’t most teams. With coach Andy Reid stockpiling depth at skill positions, QB Patrick Mahomes still has leading rusher LeSean McCoy, plus the club also brought back Spencer Ware this week. And one could probably expect speedy wideouts Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman to get more use as runners, as well.
5. Colts WR T.Y. Hilton, RB Marlon Mack
Status: Out (Hilton, calf); Expected to play (Mack, hand)
Level of Concern: Up and down
Next Man Up: Losers of two in a row and suddenly outside of the playoff picture, the Colts are in serious need of good news. Well, they got at least some good news of Friday when the club did not give Mack an injury designation after he missed the last two games with a broken hand. However, Hilton will be out for the fifth time in six games. This will be his sixth missed game in all in 2019, and the Colts’ record without him thus far is 1-4. They are 1-8 without Hilton since they drafted him in 2012.
4. Raiders OT Trent Brown, WR Hunter Renfrow, RB Josh Jacobs
Status: Out (Brown, pectoral; Renfrow, rib); Questionable (Jacobs, shoulder)
Level of Concern: High, could grow to extreme
Next Man Up: Brown’s pec injury is the latest in a series of ailments that has him unable to go this week. Second-year man Brandon Parker, who struggled as a rookie, gets a shot in Brown’s place. Renfrow was expected to miss another game with his injury. The eye-opener here is Jacobs. The star rookie did not practice until Friday, and even then only on a limited basis. If backup RB Jalen Richard gets more work, that could mean Oakland leans more toward the pass. But Brown’s absence will likely hinder the passing game. A tough spot either way for a team barely hanging on to playoff hopes.
3. Colts K Adam Vinatieri
Status: Out (knee)
Level of Concern: Moderate, but anxious
Next Man Up: While we covered the Colts earlier in this piece, Vinatieri gets his own entry here. The Super Bowl hero rarely misses games, and until this season, he rarely missed kicks. Sunday will mark the first time he has missed a game to injury since 2009. But this season has been the toughest of his 24 in the NFL. He has made only 68 percent of his field-goal attempts, and he has missed six extra-point attempts — twice as many as he had missed in any season prior. Nonetheless, would the Colts prefer Vinatieri be lining up a potential game-winning kick, or newly acquired Chase McLaughlin?
2. Giants QB Daniel Jones
Status: Unlikely to play (ankle)
Level of Concern: High
Next Man Up: It appears Eli Manning hasn’t made his last start for the Giants, after all. Jones, the first-round pick who took over as starter from Manning in September, injured his ankle last weekend and has yet to practice this week. Coach Pat Shurmur told reporters Friday it is “very unlikely” that Jones will play Monday at Philadelphia. So while the team doesn’t have to issue a final injury report until Saturday since the Giants play on Monday, it looks highly probable that the two-time-Super Bowl-winning Manning will be behind center — with a chance really damage the Eagles’ playoff hopes.
1. Vikings WR Adam Thielen
Status: Doubtful (hamstring)
Level of Concern: High
Next Man Up: One-time Vikings draft bust Laquon Treadwell certainly did his part with a career-long, 58-yard touchdown grab to spark a fourth-quarter comeback on Monday, but that rally came up short and the Vikings lost in Seattle. Once looking like a playoff lock, Minnesota is now embroiled in a multi-team battle for postseason positions. What’s more, the Vikings saw RB Dalvin Cook leave last week’s game with a shoulder injury, and even though Cook is expected to be fine this week, his absence showed just how vulnerable the Vikings’ depth has become.