Ever since New Orleans opened the door by losing to the Eagles in Week 14, the Packers have latched onto that first playoff seed like an enraged bulldog.
Most of the benefits of the Pack’s top playoffs seeding are obvious: players get an extra week to rest, recharge, and not have to travel; the team gets home field advantage through the conference championship game; the coaches get an extra week to formulate strategy regarding the likely opponent. But there’s another, and perhaps less-mentioned advantage.
I would hazard to guess than in a typical NFL game from two to four players on each side suffer an injury that will keep them from playing for more than one week. One or two of these players will likely miss multiple games. Another handful of guys will likely play at less than full strength, or for fewer minutes than anticipated, in the following game. As the long season winds down, and the intensities of the games increase, the injury factor generally becomes even more pronounced.
In theory, therefore, Green Bay should be healthier and have a more nearly full complement of players than will the Los Angeles Rams. I think getting that #1 seed will prove to be a tremendous advantage for the home team on Saturday.
Packers’ Medical Outlook
How does this work out in practice? Going into the game against the Bears, David Bakhtiari was of course out and remains so. The only other player listed as out on the last injury report before the Bears was Kingsley Keke – he will almost surely be ready to go since he will have had two weeks to recover from a concussion. The Pack had some others who were dinged up going into the Chicago game, but were able to play: Za’Darius Smith had ankle and thumb ailments; Equanimeous St. Brown had a knee (as they say); Kevin King had a groin; Allen Lazard is still playing through his core injury; finally, Rick Wagner played every defensive snap despite having a bad knee.
Unless there were new injuries incurred in the course of the Bears game (I’m not sure), the Packers should have almost everyone on the roster ready to go.
Rams’ Medical Outlook
As for the Rams, wouldn’t they have loved to have last week off to physically get better, and avoid more injuries? Their QB had surgery on the thumb of his throwing hand just two weeks ago – three pins were inserted. Then his backup, John Wolford, left the game on Saturday with what appeared to be a serious neck injury.
Goff was forced to take his place. Given his condition, he did quite well, but it probably didn’t help his healing process. Sports writer Adam Shefter has tweeted that both QBs are “banged up, but in words of one source both ‘should be OK.’ ” I’ll believe it when I see it.
I suspect that the Rams will have to activate their secret weapon, Blake Bortles, against the Packers.
A long thread about the Rams’ injury situation, compiled by a “FanSided journalist” named Brent Stuter [here] was posted on Sunday. He comments on new injuries to WR Cooper Kupp, DL Aaron Donald, OLB Leonard Floyd, RB Cam Akers, and left Guard David Edwards. That list includes nearly every top player on the Rams’ roster.
Wide receiver Kupp clutched at his knee and limped off the field in the game’s closing minutes. Stuter, however, assures us: “But make no mistake, Kupp will play (against the Packers). And he will be a huge factor in the Rams playoff run.”
Stuter next describes how midway through the third quarter Aaron Donald left the field clutching at his side and ribs, and was escorted to the locker room. He claims initial reports showed no rib injury but that further diagnostic imagery should determine if there is any cartilage damage to Donald’s ribs. According to Stuter, this “could mean wearing protective gear and a pain-killing shot to allow Donald to go next week.”
Next, Stuter tells us that OLB Leonard Floyd took a shot to the head that resulted in a potential concussion at a critical point in the game. It required Floyd to leave the field and be evaluated for a concussion.
Offensive left guard David Edwards also left the game early after aggravating an ankle injury – he was replaced by Bobby Evans.
Stuter says that the “final straw” occurred when RB Cam Akers left in the latter part of the game with a reported high ankle sprain. He came back quickly, however, and proved to be the star of the game: Akers finished with 28 rushes for 131 yards and a touchdown, and he caught two passes for another 45 yards.
Ram fan Stuter sums up his optimistic medical opinions by concluding: “the Rams have emerged with some dings and dents, but no major injuries from the game.” He then goes even further: “(S)o far, the Rams not only appear to be getting everyone back but could be even healthier with another week of recuperation to Goff’s thumb. The Rams will match up well in round two as well. . .Go Rams.”
As the week progresses, we’ll see whether Stuter’s rosy forecast turns out to be accurate. Though I doubt it, Green Bay should still keep in mind the maxim that “a wounded animal is at his most dangerous.”