In this weekend's season finales, Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme could be back to face his former team, several teams are making changes at quarterback and the Philadelphia Eagles are dealing with a banged-up secondary with playoff seeding on the line. Sunday's result will decide whether the Eagles are division champs or go to Seattle for the wild-card round.
The availability of several key players will likely be decided on that team's playoff chances, so quite a few backups may see significant playing time.
Let's go to the injury report and find out who's in, who's out and who might be getting the start for the regular-season finales.
Delhomme missed the past three games with an injured right thumb, but is looking like a good bet to start a must-win contest against the Saints. The Panthers have used veteran Chris Weinke, although the direct snap to running back DeAngelo Williams seemed to be their best bet against the Falcons a week ago. If Delhomme plays, he will be wearing a protective glove, which the team hopes will protect his right thumb and give him a better grip on the ball.
The Arizona Cardinals will have an old, new face under center as Kurt Warner returns to the starting lineup after rookie Matt Leinart injured his shoulder last weekend against the 49ers. Leinart's shoulder should be fine in time to begin 2007 as the team's starter, so this could be Warner's last game in a Cardinals jersey.
Charlie Frye of the Cleveland Browns has been unable to practice or throw since suffering an injury to his right wrist nearly a month ago. The team turned to backup Derek Anderson, who gave them some steady play until last weekend's contest. However, he is out for the season, too, after suffering a shoulder injury. That leaves Ken Dorsey to start against the Texans. His lack of arm strength could lead to a larger role for Jerome Harrison, who hopes to impress the front office enough this week to keep running back off their offseason wish list.
Miami Dolphins tailback Ronnie Brown had his hand examined after the team's loss to the New York Jets. Brown is expected to be in the team's starting lineup against the Indianapolis Colts this Sunday, a very favorable matchup for the second-year pro considering Indy's problems against the run. Brown will receive handoffs from Cleo Lemon, who will start in place of Joey Harrington after Lemon performed well in the second half of Monday night's contest.
Ron Dayne of the Houston Texans is expected to be in the starting lineup against the Browns on Sunday. He had his best game of the season against the Colts last week and wants to give the front office a reason to let him carry the load in 2007. Undrafted rookie Chris Taylor will get about 10 carries this week. He possesses the best straight-line speed of any back on the roster and the staff wants some tape to evaluate in the offseason.
Chester Taylor of the Minnesota Vikings is banged up and could be limited to first-half action against the St. Louis Rams. Either Artose Pinner or Ciatrick Fason will get the bulk of the carries in his place, though the situation could also serve to display the versatile Mewelde Moore, who could be put on the trading block in the offseason.
Cadillac Williams of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has been unable to practice this week due to an ankle injury, so it may be a wise move for the team to not risk further injury that could linger into the offseason. Williams may need to add 5-10 pounds before next season to increase his durability. If Williams sits Sunday vs. Seattle, veteran Michael Pittman will get the bulk of the carries with Earnest Graham projected to get 5-8.
WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END
New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey, who had several missed opportunities last week, is questionable with an ankle injury that has bothered him for most of the season. He is expected to play in what figures to be a "win-or-miss-the-playoffs" contest against the Washington Redskins, but do not be surprised if he passes up the Pro Bowl to rest and rehab the ankle, which has become a lingering issue. The Giants have also added fullback Robert Douglas to the active roster in case starter Jim Finn (back) cannot go.
New England Patriots tight end Ben Watson is likely to miss this week's contest with the Tennessee Titans in order to give his knee more time to improve before the playoffs. The Patriots received plenty of production out of Daniel Graham and rookie David Thomas a week ago against the Jacksonville Jaguars, so getting Watson healthy for the playoffs is more important than rushing him back a week too early.
Dolphins wide receiver Marty Booker missed the team's loss to the Jets because of an ankle injury, which could keep him out Sunday at Indianapolis. Booker has rebounded with a solid campaign, but re-injuring himself in Week 17 would put him off course for the team's offseason training schedule, so look for Wes Welker to replace him in the lineup again.
The Seahawks are fairly certain that they will be without wide receiver Darrell Jackson (toe) once again this week against the Buccaneers, but hope to have him back for the playoffs. Their new go-to guy has been veteran Bobby Engram, as speedy Deion Branch has had several costly drops the past few weeks while they have been without Jackson's services.
The San Francisco 49ers likely will be without offensive tackle Jonas Jennings, who injured his shoulder last week. Jennings would be replaced by versatile blocker Adam Snyder, who has played all over the line but lacks the footwork of a starter. The 49ers line has opened enough holes to give running back Frank Gore his best season to date, but could struggle against the Denver Broncos' quicker defenders.
The Baltimore Ravens may opt to rest All-Pro tackle Jonathan Ogden again this week as they have secured a first-round playoff bye and do not want his injured toe to get re-aggravated against the Buffalo Bills.
The San Diego Chargers are playing it safe with standout rookie tackle Marcus McNeill, who injured his neck last week. Many believe it was a stinger, but the effects of a stinger can create issues down the line. McNeill is expected to be in the starting lineup against Arizona, but could be removed with the other starters by halftime.
The Eagles are banged up in the secondary. Cornerbacks Lito Sheppard (back) and William James (calf), and safety Michael Lewis (knee) all missed practice this week. The Eagles need a win against the Falcons on Sunday to capture the NFC East title, so all three are expected to play, but could be susceptible to big plays, especially if Sheppard declines before gameday.
The Vikings will be without cornerback Fred Smoot for their season finale after his jaw was broken in a car accident after last week's loss to Green Bay. Smoot was expected to be the team's shutdown cornerback, but has failed to live up to expectations and has created issues both on and off the field. Teammates are wondering if he has played his last game with the franchise.
The Giants suffered through a miserable performance against the Saints last weekend, which was compounded by the loss of defensive end Michael Strahan, who re-injured his foot and was placed on the season-ending IR list. Rookie Mathias Kiwanuka will take his place in the lineup.
San Diego is likely to rest defensive tackle Luis Castillo (ankle) and Randall Godfrey (hamstring) in Week 17 in the hopes of having both back at full strength for the team's first playoff game the weekend of Jan. 13-14.