NFC West: Injury situations that matter


Arizona: A hamstring injury sidelined running back LaRod Stephens-Howling for the Dallas game, depriving the Cardinals of their best return specialist. Stephens-Howling also factors into the game plan on offense. The team misses him when he cannot play, and it's unclear whether he'll return Sunday. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald suffered a head injury against Dallas and doesn't remember much of the game, Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic notes. He kept playing and made a key 26-yard reception on fourth-and-15 to help win the game. Fitzgerald apparently came out of the game OK. His name wasn't on the injury report Wednesday.

San Francisco: Pro Bowl inside linebacker Patrick Willis will miss the final game of the regular season after undergoing surgery on his broken hand. The 49ers are out of the playoff race, making it easier for Willis to step away. He has never missed a game previously in his career. He was playing at a high level despite the injury. Rookie NaVorro Bowman will start in his place. Bowman hasn't gotten many reps with the defense lately. He needs the playing time. The 49ers are keeping left tackle Joe Staley on their roster even though he will not play. They'll name him inactive Sunday. The rule allowing the 49ers to keep Lance Long on the practice squad for a third season requires them to keep 53 players on their active roster, so the 49ers will not move players to injured reserve unless they need the roster spot.

Seattle: Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will not practice before Friday at the earliest after suffering what he termed a "butt" injury against Tampa Bay. Charlie Whitehurst will take the starting reps. It's possible Hasselbeck could play if he feels better by kickoff. The Seahawks are talking as though Whitehurst will likely be the starter. Hasselbeck has not played well enough recently for his injury to dramatically affect the outlook for the game. Even if he starts, will he be able to finish? Cornerback Marcus Trufant struggled against Tampa Bay after back spasms limited him in practice. The Rams do not have elite receivers, but Sam Bradford's accuracy can put cornerbacks in a bind at times. The Seahawks were without receiver Brandon Stokley in practice Wednesday. He's recovering from a concussion. Left tackle Russell Okung is practicing despite ankle problems. He's not near full strength, but he's been fighting through the injury to stay on the field.

St. Louis: The Rams have been hopeful tight end Mike Hoomanawanui might return from ankle trouble in time for one of the final two games. He did not play in Week 16. He did not play against Seattle in Week 4. He could resume practicing Thursday. Getting Hoomanawanui back would help against the Seahawks, who had trouble against Tampa Bay's Kellen Winslow. Hoomanawanui has a scoring reception in each of his last two games. He has three in his last five games. His presence also allows the Rams to play without a fullback on their 45-man gameday roster; Hoomanawanui lines up in the backfield sometimes. The Rams have significant concerns on special teams after losing fullback Brit Miller to a season-ending knee injury. Another top specialist, Chris Chamberlain, is starting at linebacker. The 49ers' Ted Ginn Jr. beat the Rams for a 78-yard return touchdown last week. Seattle's Leon Washington presents an even greater threat. He has three scores on kick returns this season and nearly scored on a punt return, too.