The Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos, each one game behind the Baltimore Ravens in the chase for the AFC's second wild card, suddenly are dealing with troubling injuries to indispensable players.
The 6-6 Dolphins said Wednesday that CB Xavien Howard, who leads the NFL with 7 INTs in a breakout third season that should result in his first Pro Bowl honor, has a knee injury jeopardizing perhaps even more than his status Sunday vs. the New England Patriots.
"I think he'll be back at some point this season," Adam Gase ominously told reporters Wednesday, per the Miami Herald's Armando Salguero.
Howard has four of his seven picks over the past two weeks, including a pair in Sunday's fourth-quarter comeback over the Buffalo Bills. While struggles and attrition at cornerback have mired Miami this season, from Cordrea Tankersley's torn ACL to Bobby McCain's regression, Howard has blossomed into one of the game's premier playmakers at the position. Not having him Sunday vs. Josh Gordon and in Week 15 when Miami visits Minnesota's Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen could cripple Matt Burke's unit.
Meantime in Denver, where the Broncos are riding high amid a three-game winning streak including upsets of the L.A. Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers, leading receiver Emmanuel Sanders had to be helped from the practice field to the locker room Wednesday without putting any weight on his left foot, according to Mike Klis of 9News.
The Broncos fear that Sanders suffered a ruptured Achilles, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport.
Sanders is having his best season in several years, with 71 catches for 868 yards — both totals more than double the Broncos' second-leading receiver, rookie Courtland Sutton. Remember, Denver sent Demaryius Thomas to the AFC South-leading Houston Texans at the trade deadline and have since lost TE Jeff Heuerman to a season-ending injury.
The Broncos actually have the easiest path to knocking Baltimore off its wild-card perch, with a trip to San Francisco on Sunday and the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders also remaining prior to hosting the L.A. Chargers in the regular-season finale.
But Denver's win Sunday came at a steep price with Pro Bowl CB Chris Harris breaking his leg, and now it appears the Broncos' recently revitalized playoff aspirations have been dealt another brutal blow.