It appears the Cowboys will enter Sunday's contest for the division crown without the services of Romo. Romo suffered a back injury during the team's come-from-behind win over the Redskins and a MRI taken Monday revealed a herniated disc in the lumbar region of the spine.
Earlier this season I compared running back Arian Foster's disc injury to a jelly donut. The same comparison holds true for Romo. Intervertebral discs that act as shock absorbers sit between the individual vertebrae of the spine. Each disc consists of an outer ring of cartilage that houses the nucleus pulposus, a softer, semi-fluid center. If outside pressure or torsional stress is applied to the disc, the cartilage can fail causing the center to bulge or herniate out of the disc.
The Cowboys have yet to officially rule Romo out and while it seems unlikely he will be available against the Eagles, it's not impossible. If the bulging disc is not impinging on nearby nerves than the associated symptoms, like inflammation and instability, could be addressed and playing would come down to pain tolerance. Pain and anti-inflammatory injections would help with these symptoms while corrective exercises could help strengthen the surrounding musculature and reduce the stress on the spine.
However, if the herniation is significant enough to impinge on a neighboring muscle, Romo would experience pain, a potential loss of muscle strength, or both. Any kind of motor nerve involvement would result in a significant functional limitation and make it difficult for the former Pro Bowler to effectively perform against the Eagles. Looking at various clues there's plenty of reason to suspect this is happening. Following the play that apparently caused the new injury, Romo appeared to favor his right leg. The quarterback also used the word "trigger" and "sent something" when describing the injury postgame, suggesting it is not a simple, localized injury. Furthermore the Cowboys have begun auditioning additional quarterbacks in anticipation of Romo sitting. Dallas will continue to insist that Romo may play but it is more likely Kyle Orton is behind center on Sunday night.
Like the Cowboys, the Panthers will enter a pivotal game without one of their top offensive weapons. Smith suffered a sprained posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in the team's win over New Orleans and is considered "week-to-week."
Not as well-known as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the PCL sits directly behind its counterpart. Together the ACL and PCL stabilize the knee with the PCL preventing hyperextension of the knee. The PCL also plays a role in rotation of the knee, creating a stable axis point. Additionally the PCL is stronger than the ACL, making it less likely to tear but still vulnerable to minor sprains. Smith will spend his immediate future controlling and minimizing the associated symptoms including, pain, edema, and instability. However securing a first-round bye would be a big step toward insuring Smith's availability for the postseason. Green Bay receiver James Jones suffered an isolated PCL sprain earlier this season and missed two games for the Packers. However he was limited in his return to action and played just 28 snaps in his first week back. Look for Smith to follow a similar timeline, effectively ending his regular season and making him a risky addition in playoff leagues.
In the midst of his best season as a professional, Mathews is once again nursing an injury. Mathews suffered an ankle injury in San Diego's win over Oakland. He left the stadium in a protective walking boot but remains optimistic he will be available to play in Week 17 against the Chiefs. The sight of Mathews in a boot may be discouraging to some but it shouldn't. Walking boots are a sign of an injury but the fact that he is able to put weight on the injured joint is promising. It would have been much worse if Mathews had left the locker room on crutches, unable to load the ankle. He will spend the week treating the area and could return to practice if the symptoms diminish. If he is able to take the practice field later in the week, expect Mathews in the lineup. However, the Chiefs present a tough matchup so plan ahead and have suitable alternatives available.
Calvin Johnson: MegaTron was a statistical no-show in Week 16, finishing with three catches for 43 yards. Now, with the Lions once again eliminated from postseason contention, Johnson may be shut down completely. He has been battling ankle and knee injuries for a majority of the season and Detroit may look to protect their wide receiver.
Adrian Peterson: Peterson was a limited participant Sunday after the team elected to sit him for the second half of Minnesota's loss to Cincinnati. Peterson remains hampered by a midfoot sprain and a lingering groin strain and is likely candidate to sit for the season finale, a meaningless game against the Lions.
Aaron Rodgers: The weekly Rodgers update is the same as it has been for the last few weeks. The Packers quarterback will participate in practice but will not be cleared to return to games until the doctors feel the collarbone is strong enough to withstand a hit. Green Bay should release their plans later in the week, providing fantasy owners ample time to find other options.
Von Miller and Jake Long: Both linemen suffered ACL tears in Week 16, injuries that will likely have carryover effect into next season. With the injury and subsequent surgery occurring so late in the year, both players will be hard-pressed to be ready for Week 1 of the 2014 season.
Shane Vereen: Vereen suffered a groin strain shortly after scoring a receiving touchdown in New England's win over Baltimore. He was later seen riding a stationary bike on the sideline, suggesting the injury is not a serious concern. Try to look past New England's usual cryptic updates and monitor his workload throughout the week to determine his availability for Sunday.
Wes Welker: The Broncos will continue their push toward the postseason without Welker as he recovers from multiple concussions. Andre Caldwell will see extended action with Welker out.
Jeff Stotts is a Certified Athletic Trainer, MAT, PES and the Injury Analyst for Rotowire.com. You can follow him on twitter @RotoWireATC.