Our NFL handicapping professional take an early look at the opening NFL odds for this upcoming weekend’s conference matchups. He also touches upon some injury issues.
NFL Championship Games: Early Injury Report
The Carolina Panthers suffered a major injury loss in their win over the Seahawks, when Hall of Fame caliber pass rusher Jared Allen broke his foot, expected to miss the rest of the playoffs. Look for backups Kony Ealy and Ryan Delaire to have much more responsibility for generating pressure moving forward. Ealy, the second year pro out of Missouri, has been effective in the backup role all year, notching five sacks and three forced fumbles. The rookie Delaire out of Towson hasn’t seen much playing time (only eight tackles all year), but he did notch 2.5 sacks when on the field.
And Carolina’s banged up secondary was at least a part of their second half meltdown against Russell Wilson and company. Once Wilson found his stride, the Panthers had no answers, allowing three TD’s and a FG (that could have been a TD if they had more time) on Seattle’s five second half drives. With Charles Tillman and Bene Benwikere both still out, the Panthers enter the NFC Championship Game minus two of their top three cover cornerbacks.
The Arizona Cardinals emerged from their win over the Packers relatively unscathed in the injury department. But cornerback Justin Bethel was forced to leave the game, bad news for a team that is already without pro bowl safety Tyrann Mathieu. The Cards suffered some cluster injury issues at running back earlier this year, and rookie David Johnson was largely ineffective against the Packers suspect run defense, held to 35 yards on the ground with his 15 carries. His backup Andre Ellington notched only three yards with his three carries. Carolina’s run defense is one heck of a lot better than Green Bay’s.
The Denver Broncos suffered a major injury on Sunday when star cornerback Chris Harris Jr re-aggravated a left shoulder injury that he suffered in their Week 17 win against the Chargers. The Broncos sat him for extended stretches against the Steelers, forcing Bradley Roby into the starting cornerback spot.
Denver also lost punt returner/backup cornerback Omar Bolden to what looks like a serious knee injury. Bolden had one punt return TD during an injury plagued regular season that saw him miss seven games. For a team that had gone through 22 straight playoff possessions without a touchdown prior to their lone TD drive in the fourth quarter against the Steelers, losing a punt returner could result in some poor field position for this suspect offense.
Of the four teams still standing, the Patriots dealt with the most injury issues throughout the regular season. And while New England has gotten healthier – pass catchers Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman were all on the field together for the first time in months on Saturday – the Pats are still dealing with numerous key injuries moving forward.
Linebacker Jamie Collins couldn’t finish their win against KC, suffering a back injury in the third quarter from which he did not return. LB Dont’a Hightower has been battling injuries for weeks; he limped off the field as well. LB Jered Mayo hurt his shoulder, unable to finish the game. And DE Chandler Jones played on Saturday following his own injury absence, but he didn’t finish the game after hurting his knee. DeKota Watson, signed off the waiver wire in late December to help on special teams was forced onto the field at linebacker for 13 snaps, due to the Pats cluster injuries at that position.
And New England continues to have offensive line issues as well. Starting guard Tre’ Jackson was unable to suit up against KC (questionable this week). Center Bryan Stork suffered an ankle injury, although he did return to the game. OL starters from last year’s Super Bowl team Nate Solder and Ryan Windell are both still languishing on injured reserve; bad news against the NFL’s #1 defense on Championship Sunday.