Injuries will help determine NFL playoff spots

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez warms up prior to a game against the Steelers at Heinz Field in...

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez warms up prior to a game against the Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 19, 2010. (JARED WICKERHAM/Getty Images)

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:52 PM ET

Injuries are always a big factor in any sport and in the NFL at this point of the season, they can make or break a season.

Almost every game this weekend has playoff implications, with the health of key individuals providing the tipping point on whether a team can keep its playoff hopes alive.

In that light, we’ll focus on the status of three individuals whose presence or absence could tip the scales one way of the other — Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Barring miracles or a disaster, Sanchez and Rodgers will be playing Sunday while Jones-Drew will be on the sidelines in a pivotal game against the Redskins. With Jets coach Rex Ryan and all the off-field soap operas that he is starring in, you never really know if you are being conned about the status of Sanchez’ right shoulder or if it is just another shell game. Sanchez apparently has torn cartilage in his right shoulder and during the week there were conflicting statements regarding its severity and the status of Sanchez for their big game against the Bears in Chicago. The latest news is that Ryan rates his quarterbacks chances of starting at “maybe a little over 90%.”

Ryan later upped that figure when talking to the Daily News.

“We think he’s going to be right around 100% for the game,” Ryan said “That’s where we’re hoping he’s at.”

We think that Ryan just likes to keep every-one guessing.

Sanchez, meanwhile, said he’s good to go.

“It felt good, really good,” he reported in a statement released to the media. “I felt better than the two days prior ... I’m going to be ready to play on Sunday.” Now it comes down to how good he’ll play.

For that, we’ll need another day.

Jaguars jolted

While they are high-fiving in New York regarding Sanchez, the Jaguar fans are quietly shovelling another grave to bury another season of hope. The expected loss of Jones-Drew for Sunday’s game against the Redskins is the absolute worst news the Jags could receive following the bummer last week when they failed to wrap up their division with their loss to the Colts. The Jags now need the Colts to lose one of their final two games and win out themselves to emerge as division champs.

It is now a monumental task for Jacksonville as the Jags offence runs on the powerful legs of Jones-Drew, the NFL’s second-leading rusher with 1,324 yards. If he can’t make it, it will mark the first NFL game that he has missed due to an injury.

“There was a bunch of talk about (the knee) at the beginning of the year, but it wasn’t hurt to the point that I couldn’t play on it,” Jones-Drew told the Times-Union on Friday. “But we knew that if I did play on it this could happen. I chose to do it. I wanted to play football and I love playing the game. This is the price you pay sometimes.”

The knee bothered Jones-Drew to the point that he didn’t practise this week and the Jags this season have not played anyone on Sunday who missed Friday’s practice. As unlikely as it seems, this could be an exception.

“Every case is different,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “One thing I always say is that individual players and their ability to have convinced me over time, those types of things can enter into it. I prefer to have it go where a guy’s practising and I see and we know what we’re going to get on Sunday.”

This week, he doesn’t have that luxury.

Rodgers' neighbourhood

When Rodgers got knocked silly two weeks ago in Detroit, who knew it would almost knock the Packers out of the playoff picture?

They lost that game to the Lions and last week, despite a solid effort, were defeated in Foxboro, Mass., by the Patriots.

Now the Packers have to beat the Giants this week and then the Bears next week to advance as a wild card.

But with Rodgers back on the job, at least they’ve got a shot.

“I have zero doubts taking the field,” Rodgers said regarding his second concussion of the season. “I feel confident. I’ve been cleared. The doctors are confident.

“I’m going to continue to play the way I play and what happens will happen. I’m confident in the medical clearance I’ve gotten and confident in the way I play.”

To keep Rodgers on the field, the Pack have to limit the number of times he is hit and that may mean they will put added emphasis on their not-so-hot running game. That and quick releases.

“For us, it’s all about protection,” Rodgers said. “We have to find ways to block it up and try to get the ball to our playmakers.”

Keeping Rodgers on his feet, though, is their No. 1 priority.


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