Steelers Nation held their breath when T.J. Watt went down in agony late in the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens. Pittsburgh's best player had sustained a knee injury with roughly eighteen minutes to go in the season finale. The following afternoon, Mike Tomlin's team learned that they had officially made the NFL Playoffs.
While this is a joyous moment for fans, we couldn't help but think about the health of Watt and whether or not he would stand a shot at suiting up for the postseason this year. Thankfully, Watt avoided a major knee injury. An ACL tear this late in the process, for example, could have forced Watt to miss time early next season as he rehabbed his way back.
The diagnosis proved to be much better. After it was believed that Watt had suffered a Grade 3 MCL injury (which would have been a tear of the MCL), the MRI concluded that the Steelers star had sustained a Grade 2 MCL sprain.
How long will T.J. Watt be out with the knee injury?
While it's encouraging that the rest of Watt's knee is pristine, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that the 'absolute best-case scenario' is two weeks. From there, Watt would have to play with a brace over his knee.
Rapoport reiterated that this scenario is if everything goes well and he recovers quickly. Based on this timetable, the Pittsburgh Steelers would need to make it past the Wild Card round and Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs -- meaning that Watt might be able to play with a brace if the Steelers make it to the AFC Championship Game.
Can T.J. Watt return sooner than anticipated?
We've got to remember that T.J. Watt isn't your typical human being. Heck, he's not your typical professional athlete, for that matter. We have seen both T.J. and his older brother J.J. Watt return from serious injuries far sooner than anticipated.
Of course, every injury is different. Right now, there's no question that Watt is dealing with both swelling and pain surrounding his left knee. However, if this becomes a matter of what he can deal with, we wouldn't put it past him to give it a go. After all, there were reports that Watt wanted to come back into the game during Pittsburgh's season finale against the Ravens.
If we take Rapoport's 'best case scenario' and cut it in half, that still has Watt missing Super Wild Card Weekend in which the Steelers will be on the road against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. We wouldn't be shocked if Watt is rearing to go by the Divisional Round if Pittsburgh can come away with the upset on Sunday.
What will be the Steelers' plan without Watt?
All season long, Watt and Alex Highsmith had earned a lion's share of the snaps among Pittsburgh's edge defenders. With Watt now out, it's safe to assume that rookie Nick Herbig and veteran Markus Golden will see a heavy rotation alongside Highsmith.
When Watt went down, the Steelers moved Highsmith around and he rushed from both edge rusher positions. We would expect Highsmith to rarely leave the field while a healthy combination of Herbig and Golden aiding him in getting after the quarterback on Sunday.