FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The right ankle injury to Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney is one of the major storylines heading into Super Bowl XLIV. The three-time All-Pro, who has not practiced this week, tore a ligament in the ankle late in the AFC Championship Game almost two weeks ago.
The absence of Freeney would be a critical loss for the Colts. Veteran Raheem Brock is a capable replacement, but the Colts' rush is built off the speed of Freeney and Robert Mathis off the edges. Freeney's absence would allow the Saints to adjust their pass-protection schemes against the Colts. They wouldn't be forced to double-team his side, freeing up the tight ends and receivers for spread formations.
Either way, Freeney's health will have a major impact on the outcome of the game. So we put the question to NFL Network analysts Warren Sapp, Rod Woodson, Marshall Faulk and Jim Mora: Do you expect Freeney to play?
Read what they had to say and enter into the discussion below:
"I don't think Freeney is going to play. He'll make a cameo appearance, make one rush up the field and then come out. You never know about the weather and what type of shape the field is in. This is the worst type of injury to enter into a football game with other than having hamstring problems."
"I think it's going to be tough to play through this one. Ligament damage is ligament damage, no matter what part of the body it's in. If this was in his knee, would we really be talking about Dwight Freeney playing in the Super Bowl? More than likely we'd be talking about him not playing. There's no magical shot to heal ligament damage in any part of the body. I know he's going to give it a try and that he wants to play, but the likelihood of him playing is not good."
"Earlier in the week I would have said, 'Absolutely.' But after watching him gimp around a little bit during the news conferences, I don't think he's going to play. And if he does, I don't know how effective he'll be. He has to be able to do a lot of things to play effectively. The Colts will take him out before the game and run him around and check him out, if he's even to that point. I don't know that he is right now. If it's close at that point, he's going to play.
"I believe that he will play. But I don't know how effective he's going to be if they decide to spot play him -- that could be even worse for him. When you hurt your ankle, the last thing you want to do is be resting on the sidelines because when you come back in, that ankle is now stiff. It's not about if he plays. It's about, when he does play, if the coaching staff thinks that he can get the job done, and if they don't, who makes the call, 'Hey, come sit down here.'? That's the bigger picture."