Friday NFL preview: AFC wild card injury situations getting clearer

With the wild-card teams prepared to do battle this weekend, NFL Nation reporters look ahead to what Friday has in store for each playoff team.


Kansas City Chiefs: Linebacker Dee Ford returned to work as the Chiefs wrapped up their practice week. Ford missed the first two practices of the week because of a concussion. Having Ford, who registered four sacks over the past four games, available against the Texans is important because the Chiefs' top two pass-rushers, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, are also battling injuries. -- Adam Teicher

Houston Texans: Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney returned to practice on Thursday, which is a good sign. Clowney didn't practice on Wednesday after suffering a foot injury that caused him to miss the Texans' Week 17 win over the Jaguars. Texans coach Bill O'Brien called Clowney day-to-day. Clowney wasn't available to reporters on Thursday while having his foot examined. -- Tania Ganguli

Pittsburgh Steelers: With running back DeAngelo Williams missing his second straight practice, the Steelers are trending toward a split-carry workload between tailbacks Fitz Toussaint and Jordan Todman for the wild-card matchup with the Bengals. Toussaint will be "the guy" to start, offensive coordinator Todd Haley said, though Todman will play a significant role. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he is not concerned about throwing to either player. Williams will travel with the team after Friday afternoon's practice in Pittsburgh. -- Jeremy Fowler

Cincinnati Bengals: The game plans are set; the practices are finished. The Bengals have just one thing left to do this weekend: go out and play. The intrigue regarding quarterback Andy Dalton's status has dominated much of this week's headlines in Cincinnati, but it's all beginning to fade as it appears likely he won't play in Saturday night's wild-card game against the Steelers. As a result, the focus has begun to shift to his replacement, AJ McCarron, who looks poised to start his first career playoff game. McCarron told ESPN on Thursday he was approaching Saturday just like it was an ordinary game. Nothing about his preparation changes. -- Coley Harvey

Denver Broncos: Just how much the Broncos needed a playoff bye was evident at Thursday's practice, when several front-line players were held out of the workout, including linebacker Brandon Marshall, safety T.J. Ward, cornerack Chris Harris Jr., linebacker DeMarcus Ware and tight end Owen Daniels. Of that group, Ware is the biggest question mark with a left knee injury. Marshall, Ward, Harris and Daniels are all expected to be in uniform for the Broncos in the Jan. 17 playoff opener, but Ware's status will bear watching in the coming week. -- Jeff Legwold

New England Patriots: The Patriots have had walk-throughs on Wednesday and Thursday, with coach Bill Belichick scaling things back on the team's playoff bye week. They are currently scheduled to practice again on Friday -- before players turn into fans and watch the playoff action over the weekend. Tight end Rob Gronkowski, for example, said, "I've always been a fan of football. It will be fun to sit back and enjoy the games, pop a little sports drink." -- Mike Reiss


Seattle Seahawks: The one team that had success slowing down the Seahawks' offense in the second half of the season was the St. Louis Rams, and they did it with a lot of five-man pressures. The Vikings only blitzed quarterback Russell Wilson five times in their Week 13 matchup with the Seahawks, and he was able to sit in the pocket and pick them apart. Don't be surprised if Vikings coach Mike Zimmer dials up more pressure this time around. -- Sheil Kapadia

Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings allowed Russell Wilson to account for four touchdowns the last time they played him, but they feel like they have a better handle on how to defend the quarterback this time around. It will help that the Vikings have linebackers Anthony Barr and safety Harrison Smith back, but Barr also said the Vikings know they can't expect to keep Wilson in the pocket all the time and will have to stay on their coverage longer when Wilson does escape. -- Ben Goessling

Green Bay Packers: We don't know yet who will be playing the all-important left tackle spot for the Packers on Sunday, but at least we know who won't be: Josh Sitton. Coach Mike McCarthy moved his Pro Bowl guard there for last week's game against the Vikings, and it didn't work. Sitton will go back to left guard this week. Perhaps regular starter David Bakhtiari will return after missing the past two games because of a sprained ankle, but McCarthy said it will take all week to determine whether Bakhtiari is ready to return. -- Rob Demovsky

Washington Redskins: The Redskins are supremely confident in what tight end Jordan Reed can do. So when Redskins coach Jay Gruden was asked about Green Bay's success versus tight ends -- the Packers rank 11th in number of receptions allowed by this position -- he said, "In fairness to Jordan, they haven't seen a tight end like Jordan in the last couple weeks. He's different, he's a different animal." -- John Keim

Carolina Panthers: Coach Ron Rivera learned from his 2013 postseason experience that ended with a home loss after a bye week that perhaps keeping everything as normal as possible will help. So Rivera plans to practice again on Friday to maintain the routine he has all season. He has kept players around as much as possible to keep them from losing focus. They'll get Saturday and Sunday off, but it will be back to work on Monday to prepare for either Seattle, Washington or Green Bay. -- David Newton

Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals have one more day of preparing for one of three potential opponents in their divisional game on Jan. 16. Arizona prepped for Green Bay on Wednesday, Minnesota on Thursday and will look at Washington on Friday. Quarterback Carson Palmer said this week he would like to play the Redskins, since Arizona hasn't played them yet this season. -- Josh Weinfuss