But an injury picked up in Northampton's defeat to Midlands rivals Leicester was worse than first feared and he will be now out for three months.
A Northampton spokesman said: "He's damaged a medial cruciate ligament and is expected to be out for around about three months.
"But we expect him to play before the end of the season."
Together with Tom Palmer, Lawes started all four autumn internationals and looked set to be the second-row partnership to carry England through to the 2011 World Cup.
With David Attwood, another impressive performer on the summer tour of Australia, receiving a nine-week suspension, Johnson is likely to return to some familiar faces for the opening game against Wales on February 4.
Former captain Steve Borthwick has not featured in the set-up since being dropped for Lawes for the final game of the 2010 Championship against France.
Johnson's former Leicester teammate Louis Deacon also underlined his own credentials with a stunning performance in same game Lawes was injured - the Tigers' 27-16 defeat of Northampton.
With Lawes joining Leicester flanker Tom Croft on the unavailability list, Johnson and the rest of the England coaching staff will be crossing their fingers they receive no more bad news before the historic Friday night clash in the Millennium Stadium.