National Football League
Deebo Samuel, Tyrann Mathieu among key injuries ahead of AFC, NFC title games
National Football League

Deebo Samuel, Tyrann Mathieu among key injuries ahead of AFC, NFC title games

Updated Jan. 27, 2022 11:51 a.m. ET

By Dr. Matt Provencher
FOX Sports Injury & Performance Analyst

There are only four NFL teams left battling for the Lombardi Trophy, and health matters more than ever.

Here is the lowdown on the big injuries to keep an eye on ahead of Sunday's AFC and NFC Championship Games (Bengals at Chiefs, 3 p.m. ET on CBS; 49ers at Rams, 6:30 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app), including an analysis of their impact on production.

For more analysis of the NFL from Dr. Matt, follow him on Twitter or go to


Deebo Samuel, WR, 49ers

Injury: Knee contusion

Impact: Affects cutting, speed, power

Potential time missed: Zero games

Notes: Samuel took a helmet to the side of his knee at the end of the Niners' win at Green Bay last week. The team said he was sore following the game, but he has practiced this week, and with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, I expect him to be ready to go. 

Samuel is likely to spend the week working with the medical staff, using modalities for swelling and pain, and testing the knee to make sure he has the strength and stability to be ready for Sunday's game against the Rams. As long as he has the stability, expect Samuel to be on the field. 

Production upon return: If this is truly just a knee contusion, I don't expect to see any impact on Samuel's production after a week of treatment. He does have a higher chance of reinjury, but he should be ready to go at the start of the game. 

Trent Williams, OT, 49ers

Injury: Ankle sprain

Impact: Affects pass-blocking, run-blocking, stability, mobility

Potential time missed: Zero games to rest of season

Notes: Williams is dealing with an ankle sprain, and the team has said it is evaluating to see if it is a high-ankle or low-ankle injury. If it is a low-ankle sprain, Williams will have a much better chance of playing Sunday. 

If Williams can go, he will have to be heavily taped/braced to be able to be productive, especially considering he was on crutches following last week’s game. His X-rays were negative — a good sign — but the medical staff and Williams will have to work hard to get the swelling and pain down in order for him to see the field against the Rams.

Production upon return: Ankle sprains can cause a 15-20% decrease in production, sometimes more depending on the severity of the injury. This week's practices will be telling, but it's important to remember that even if Williams can play, he won’t be 100 percent.

Jeff Wilson Jr., RB, 49ers

Injury: Low-ankle sprain

Impact: Affects cutting, yards after contact, power

Potential time missed: Zero games to rest of season

Notes: Wilson was carted off with a low-ankle sprain against the Packers and did not return. His injury has been officially ruled a low-ankle sprain, which is good news for 49ers fans. I expect Wilson will have a good chance of playing Sunday if he can reduce pain and improve stability to the point that he is participating fully in practice by week's end. The 49ers might opt to use him more situationally, depending on how he feels once he tests the ankle pregame.


Production upon return: If Wilson can play, expect to see his snap count down at least 20%. Ankle injuries at his position are difficult to battle through due to the pivoting and strength that are needed. Ankle fatigue as the game progresses will be a battle in itself.

Tyrann Mathieu, S, Chiefs

Injury: Concussion

Impact: Affects cognitive ability

Potential time missed: 0-1 game

Notes: Mathieu went into concussion protocol during the Chiefs' victory over the Bills and remained there Monday. As he makes his way through the protocol, the Chiefs will make sure he passes each stage before he can return to the field. 

Fortunately, Mathieu is a veteran and won't need much practice time to be effective Sunday, so even if he passes the protocol late in the week, expect him to play. The team will put his health first and make sure that it is safe for him to return. 

Production upon return: If Mathieu can pass concussion protocol this week, I expect to see him at his normal, high-energy self, flying around the field making plays.

Joseph Noteboom, OT, Rams

Injury: Pectoral strain

Impact: Affects pass protection, strength

Potential time missed: Zero games to rest of season

Notes: Noteboom started in place of injured tackle Andrew Whitworth against the Buccaneers on Sunday but suffered a strained pectoral major muscle/tendon. A pec strain could keep Noteboom from playing in any capacity this weekend. 

The team will watch to see how he progresses, but this injury could worsen if not given the proper time to heal. Considering what his position requires to be effective, this injury isn’t something you want to rush. Fortunately for the Rams, Whitworth looks to be on track to return Sunday. 

Production upon return: Pec injuries are no joke, and if Noteboom has significant pain or issues in that arm/shoulder, I'd expect him to play Sunday only if absolutely necessary. Linemen use their pecs on every play, as they're important for pushing and pass-blocking.

Andrew Whitworth, OT, Rams

Injury: Knee/ankle

Impact: Affects mobility, strength, blocking

Potential time missed: 0-1 games

Notes: Whitworth is on track to play Sunday, according to coach Sean McVay. Whitworth was injured in the wild-card round, and even though he was able to finish that game, he was unable to play last week against the Bucs. 

The extra week of rehab has given Whitworth more time to heal and hopefully has helped him improve the stability and strength in both his ankle and knee, which he has hurt previously (PCL and MCL). Expect to see Whitworth on the field Sunday, especially with his replacement now injured.

Production upon return: If Whitworth can return, expect his productivity to be down 5-10%. He has had some time to rest, and he is a veteran who possesses knowledge that can help him play effectively even while injured. However, his injuries will most likely have an effect on his overall productivity. 

Josh Tupou, DT, Bengals

Injury: Right MCL

Impact: Affects stability, speed, pivoting

Potential time missed: 0-1 game

Notes: Tupou tried to play last week against the Titans but managed only five snaps before leaving the game. It was a good test for his knee at game speed, but it obviously seemed to cause him issues and decrease his effectiveness. We will have to watch his practice status closely this week. It might be tough for him to get on the field without a big change in his symptoms. And even if Tupou is able to suit up, I would expect his snap count reduced in order to not overwork him and risk reinjuring his knee.

Production upon return: MCL injuries lower snap counts in the first game back by 40-50%, and the reduction was even higher than that for Tupou last weekend. If he is able to play Sunday, expect to see that number drop some, but the data predicts that there will still be a minimum snap count reduction of 25-30%.

Cam Sample, DE, Bengals

Injury: Groin

Impact: Affects pivoting, speed, quickness

Potential time missed: 0-1 game

Notes: Sample left Saturday's game against the Titans with a groin injury after he had recently dealt with a hamstring injury. Although this injury hasn’t received too much attention, it’s important to remember that the Bengals already have a banged-up defensive line. Adding to that could prove to be important in a game in which a good pass rush will be vital. We will watch this week to see if Sample is able to get reps in practice and possibly suit up Sunday. 

Production upon return: Groin injuries can cause a 30-40% decrease in snap percentage upon return. I expect to see this with Sample. If he can play, I expect him to mostly be used situationally. 

Renowned orthopedist Dr. Matt Provencher and his company, Proven Performance Technology (PPT), deliver data-driven injury insights to football fans. In this first-of-a-kind role as Athlete Injury and Performance Analyst for FOX Sports’ digital platforms, Provencher provides important predictive player health and recovery information about post-injury performance, the impact of weather, field conditions and more.


Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more