Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith sprained his PCL in Week 16 against the New Orleans Saints very early on in the team’s key win that got them a playoff bye and into a game against the San Francisco 49ers this afternoon. The belief has always been that Smith would heal up and not miss a playoff game, and the playoff bye allowed that to be possible.
There was some doubt earlier this week that Smith would be able to play in the Panthers first playoff game, though, because Smith suffered a minor setback in Thursday’s practice. But he’s always been determined to play, and he was able to participate in the team’s walkthrough and stated several times that he wouldn’t miss this week’s game. Smith is one of the toughest players in the league, and it would be a big surprise for him to miss today’s game against the 49ers.
Smith is such an important player to the Panthers as the No. 1 receiver, because they use him as a key decoy to take pressure off of the other receivers. The Panthers offense is predicated on making things easier for Cam Newton by spreading the ball around, and Smith’s ability to draw coverage is a huge part of that.
He is expected to play today, and it sounds like his determination will be more than enough to overcome any knee pain or stiffness. The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that Smith reiterated that he is “positive” he will play.
San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews is also set to be a game-time decision, but, like Smith, he is also expected to play. Mathews has been dealing with some nagging ankle injuries, and he re-injured his ankle last week against the Cincinnati Bengals. Even though he missed practice everyday this week, he is still only listed questionable and is expected to play.
Despite the pain Mathews is in and the significance of the ankle injury, the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport also reports that the Chargers expect him to play. The expectation has always been that Mathews would play, and that thankfully hasn’t changed here on gameday. He’s a huge key to this team, and his emergence this season has really had a huge effect on the offense. Philip Rivers is a great quarterback, but the Chargers assert themselves on the ground and will need to do so if they want to beat the Denver Broncos for a second time in a row. Mathews was a huge part of their win over the Broncos the last time these two teams played, and they’ll be hoping for an effective day out of him.