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Injury roundup: Byron Leftwich injury creates dilemma

"Next man up" only works as a philosophy when the next man up is capable. That's why one injury we learned about Monday stands apart from the rest.

The Pittsburgh Steelers can't afford to fall behind any more in the AFC North, but backup quarterback Byron Leftwich's broken ribs will thrust 37-year-old quarterback Charlie Batch into the spotlight for a team that's desperately searching for wins. Suddenly, a game against the Cleveland Browns looks like a toss-up.

A disaster could happen the following week if Ben Roethlisberger isn't healthy enough to play against the Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers could be staring at a 6-6 record.

The New England Patriots, on the other hand, own a three-game lead in the AFC East. They can survive tight end Rob Gronkowski's broken arm. They have Aaron Hernandez ready to return from an ankle injury and Visanthe Shiancoe coming off the bench.

Gronkowski, who underwent surgery on his forearm Monday, should be back in the Patriots' lineup before the games really count for them again. NFL.com's Albert Breer believes Gronkowski will push to return as soon as Week 14.

The Denver Broncos can similarly survive running back Willis McGahee's knee injury. They have a three-game cushion in the AFC West and a talented backup in Ronnie Hillman. Most running backs ultimately are replaceable, and there's a decent chance McGahee will be back for the playoffs.

All of the injuries above are costly, but the Steelers' problems stand out most. They were forced to call on free-agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress because Antonio Brown (ankle) and Jerricho Cotchery (rib) are hurt. That's the act of a desperate team. The Steelers need help -- and some tough wins -- to avoid tumbling in the AFC standings.

Here are the rest of the injuries we'll be tracking all week:

1. Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (foot) and Tyron Smith (ankle) aren't expected to play on Thanksgiving against the Washington Redskins, according to The Star-Telegram. Smith told The Associated Press he would be a game-time decision.

2. Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz announced that wide receiver Titus Young will be inactive on Thanksgiving against the Houston Texans because of behavior issues. Lions left tackle Jeff Backus (hamstring) is expected to miss the first game of his 12-year NFL career.



A four-part series on player health and safety with reporter Andrea Kremer aired Tuesday through Friday on NFL Network:

Tuesday: Football's safety issues
Wednesday: Virginia Tech's helmet technology, The "Hit System"
Thursday: Inside Darrelle Revis' rehab
Friday: The lack of common safety standards in youth football

» For more information on player health and safety, visit NFLEvolution.com.

3. Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather's star-crossed season ended on injured reserve after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his first game of the season, a 31-6 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert (right elbow) might be healthy enough to play this week against the Tennessee Titans, but Chad Henne will start anyhow. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) is expected to miss another week.

5. Bad news for the Minnesota Vikings: Wide receiver Percy Harvin didn't practice Monday because of his injured ankle as the team returned from its bye week. Wide receiver Michael Jenkins (foot) also sat out practice.

6. Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson (concussion) hasn't been cleared by doctors yet, but he might be healthy enough Sunday to play against the Indianapolis Colts. Defensive end Chris Kelsay (neck), who has missed the past two games, told The Associated Press he's planning to play this week.

7. The Arizona Cardinals are expected to activate running back Beanie Wells from injury reserve this week, making him one of the first players in NFL history "designated to return" under the new rules to actually return.

8. Quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy haven't yet made any progress with their post-concussion testing with the Philadelphia Eagles' training staff. Eagles coach Andy Reid believes McCoy's injury isn't as severe as Vick's.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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