Injury Report: Next Man Up, Championship Round
It’s hard to remember a Championship Sunday more anticipated than this season’s, filled with as much history, rivalry, and legacy as we could have possibly hoped for back in August.
Most have noticed the differences between the AFC contenders and their NFC counterparts, from their quarterbacks to their defenses, but the dichotomy extends even further to the injury report.
After dealing with some absences on their offensive lines and secondaries during the season, both the 49ers and Seahawks enter this weekend relatively healthy. The same can’t be said for the Patriots and Broncos, whose list of players on injured reserve (Ryan Clady, Vince Wilfork, Von Miller, Jerod Mayo, to name just a few) reads like a Pro Bowl roster.
Nevertheless, we know by now that injuries are no excuse, especially not when the Super Bowl is this close. Let’s dive into some of the key injuries that could decide which two teams will soon be planning a trip to New York.
Injury: Aaron Dobson, Patriots WR (Foot)
Next Man Up: Kenbrell Thompkins
What They’re Losing: Dobson has struggled with injuries throughout the season and missed New England’s Divisional Round win over the Colts. His 15 targets on Deep Passes are tied for the most by a Patriot, but he’s botched too many of his opportunities with one of the worst Drop Rates in the league.
What They’re Getting: Thompkins hasn’t been particularly productive as a rookie, but did lead the team in yards on Deep Passes in the regular season while having more reliable hands than Dobson.
Outcome: The Patriots offense is diverse and flexible enough to find other ways to move the ball without Dobson. Consider that Tom Brady has averaged 80 yard to his slot receivers in games where Dobson is active, versus 114 yards in games when he isn’t. New England will surely appreciate the extra threat on the outside, but I expect them to concentrate more of their effort versus Denver on the slot anyway, considering our next injury.
Injury: Chris Harris, Jr., Broncos CB (Torn ACL)
Next Man Up: Champ Bailey
What They’re Losing: Regular Next Man Up readers may remember Harris as our second-best sub of the 2012 season thanks to the great work he did filling in for, and then completely replacing, Tracy Porter. He didn’t have a letdown in his first full season as a starter, as his +8.9 coverage grade (including playoffs) was the sixth-highest of any cornerback.
What They’re Getting: Quentin Jammer came in for Harris last week and surrendered 95 yards and a touchdown in just 22 coverage snaps. But the greater pressure will fall on Bailey, who will take Harris’ role as Denver’s main slot cornerback. Bailey has always been an outside cornerback, but took all of his snaps versus the Chargers inside.
Outcome: Bailey allowed a completion on all three targets against him Sunday, with two of them going for first downs. He now has to contend with Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, who both ranked among the Top 15 wide receivers in yards from the slot this season. Harris is a tough loss regardless of the opponent, but his absence will be particularly tough for the Broncos defense to overcome this week.
Injury: Will Tukuafu, 49ers FB (Knee)
Next Man Up: Anthony Dixon
What They’re Losing: I lamented the loss of the versatile Bruce Miller back in Week 16, but Tukuafu has filled in nicely for him since. Though he hasn’t replaced Miller’s production as a receiver (his only catch was a two-yarder last week against Carolina), he has provided solid blocking in San Francisco’s diverse running game.
What They’re Getting: Three weeks ago I noted how Dixon has been playing a lot more snaps at fullback this season than in previous years. In an era where some teams don’t even carry a fullback on their roster, San Francisco has very good depth at the position.
Outcome: Brandon Mebane and Secret Superstar Tony McDaniel both ranked in the Top 5 defensive tackle run defense grades this season, and Red Bryant and Michael Bennett add even more muscle to Seattle’s formidable front. The 49ers can get by without Tukuafu, but they’ll surely appreciate the extra muscle if he does suit up.
Injury: Percy Harvin, Seahawks WR (Concussion)
Next Man Up: Doug Baldwin
What They’re Losing: We all know what Harvin is capable of and the Seahawks clearly had big plans for him. He tied for the team lead in targets last week despite running just 10 routes.
What They’re Getting: Though he can’t match Harvin’s versatility, Baldwin has done a great job this season of filling his role as a slot receiver. He slowed down in the last three weeks but still has a healthy +10.0 pass grade on pass plays this season and the seventh-most slot yards of any wide receiver (including playoffs).
Outcome: Can you really miss something you never had? A loss Sunday will certainly bring a lot of “What if?” questions, but between Baldwin’s production between the hashmarks and Golden Tate’s elusiveness (he leads all wide receivers with 21 forced missed tackles on his receptions), the Seahawks receiving corps still has plenty of firepower.
Follow Pete on Twitter: @PFF_Pete