Some of the big stories for Week 6 could all be swept aside by the storm that hit football Tuesday night. The NFL has been braced like beach-side dwellers for the incoming storm of League of Denial. The excerpts are out, the books are in media hands, but it's the two hours on PBS that could be a tipping point for the NFL.
The Venn diagram of NFL fans and PBS watchers doesn't have the biggest overlap, and removing the promotional machine of ESPN will take some away from the audience. We're not looking at Downton Abbey kind of numbers, but the thought leaders may amplify the impact. There were reviews at every sports site imaginable and news sites like Breitbart, Variety and The Verge.
Roger Goodell sent out a nice letter and the concussion settlement helps quiet some of the ex-player outcry that would have come, but we'll have to see how the documentary's compelling story affects fans. Will they follow the path it guides toward Gladwell's dogfighting analogy? Will more youth players be guided away from tackle football? The impact is going to be difficult to find in the short term, much in the way that it's still difficult to find the true impact of Game of Shadows.
I have read the book, and while I found it a good read and a compelling story, it wasn't aimed at someone like me who's followed this story since 2007. It's aimed at those who have only casually noted the concussion issue and have only seen the occasional story or the soundbite mentions on highlight shows. For that viewer, I think it will be very jarring.
It's as jarring as looking at that picture above. You might not realize it at first glance, but that's Steve Gleason in 2006. Imagine where you were just a handful of years ago. Players today have to look at themselves in the mirror, knowing they might be in Gleason's place just a few years from now.
The reaction now will be the interesting part. I expect the league to be very quiet and hope the storm passes. If the game misses this opportunity to drive change, it may not get another chance. There are lots of questions still to ask and even more to be answered, but the uncomfortable conversations have started. I just don't know how long they'll last, and that will be the true impact of League of Denial.
For now, let's look around the league...
INJURY: fractured foot/high ankle sprain, hamstring strain
OUTLOOK: done for season/limited in Week 6
The Falcons are having a tough time of it. Roddy White has spent the year fighting through a high-ankle sprain, forcing himself onto the field despite severe limitations. He gets credit for adjusting and getting out there, but he hasn't been able to do much, making it something of a Pyrrhic victory.
Julio Jones had some mild knee swelling, but was it related at all to the problem he's having with a pin in his foot? There's no way to know, but some suggest the change in his gait may have contributed. Jones first fractured the foot heading into the 2011 combine, but ran a 4.34 despite the fracture. He had the bone pinned together and didn't miss time. Now, he will, as he is having the pin replaced by Dr. Robert Anderson, one of the top foot doctors around.
I spoke with Dr. Kenneth Jung of the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic, who explained this type of injury to me. The likely culprit here is the navicular bone. Usually, a hardware failure like this is insidious.
"Think of it like a wire hangar," Dr. Jung said. "It's hard to just grab one and snap it, but if you twist at it a while, it can break."
There's also likely a combination of biomechanical and support issues in Jones' foot.
With both either out or limited, Matt Ryan is going to have a tougher time. Tony Gonzalez is already getting double covered and Harry Douglas is a nice WR3, not a WR1. Jones is a drop in all leagues aside from keeper, though you'll have to make a decision there on how deep your roster goes.
With Steven Jackson out until after the bye, the team's medical staff is going to have to be the best player. Jackson has to come back and stay healthy, and White has to improve rapidly with the week off. If not, the Falcons are going to sink fast.
INJURY: strained hamstring
OUTLOOK: out for Week 6
The interesting part about Michael Vick is that while he could be called injury prone, he's also a pretty good healer. The two aren't mutually exclusive, though they tend to follow that pattern. Vick does come back, though the gap in the middle of his career makes finding real comps difficult.
Vick's hamstring strain, the result of a very questionable hit by Justin Tuck, will keep him out for Week 6, but it's not considered a significant strain. The Eagles are holding him out in part to make sure he doesn't reinjure it, and in part because the confidence level in Nick Foles is high.
The Eagles won't be the same team with Foles as they were with Vick, but it's different, not worse. Foles isn't going to run, which gives more touches to LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown. There could also be more passes as the offense adjusts somewhat from the read-option to a more spread-option look. Foles could excel on quick slants and package routes.
Vick should be back for Week 7, but a lot depends on how Foles plays and how the team dynamic plays out. There's even some speculation that Vick could be the active backup on Sunday, ahead of Matt Barkley, but we'll have to wait for Sunday for more clarity on that.
INJURY: post-surgical back, post-surgical forearm
OUTLOOK: expected to play Week 6
At what point do we as writers just say "I don't know?" It's not a satisfying response to any question, but sometimes it's right.
Those of you that know me, or at least read me, know I hate—HATE—being wrong, but I'm not scared to be wrong. When I guess, I'm clear about it and try to lay out the best evidence I can for why I'm saying it. While it's not always facts by the definition, it's the best interpretation at a given time.
When things change, everything changes. Injuries often feel like shifting sands. New context here. A setback there. An unknown lurking behind the next corner. Rob Gronkowski is day to day, according to the latest ESPN report, which is football for "We just don't know."
Gronkowski has not yet taken full contact. While NFL teams are doing less full-contact practices in this day and age, it's hard to believe that they'll send a star tight end out without testing him, if only for his confidence level. Watch for that in Friday's practice, which would give him time to get treatment for normal soreness.
The Pats get a bad rap for playing games with the injury report, but the team has been kind to fantasy players, leaving Gronkowski home and making the roster decision clear. I feel we'll get another one like that this week. If he practices and if he travels, he's going to play. If he plays, you want him in your roster, question marks and all.
INJURY: neck injury, unclear
OUTLOOK: out for Week 5, unclear beyond
David Wilson may be facing something similar to what Ahmad Bradshaw is going through. Wilson is headed to the same doctor that will do Bradshaw's surgery, Dr. Robert Watkins. Watkins famously worked on Peyton Manning and Rob Gronkowski, and he delivers results.
What we don't know is the severity or location of Wilson's problem. The location is less germane to us than to the surgeon. Any cervical disc issue is serious, but we don't know whether we're looking at something like a microdiscectomy, which kept Manning going for a couple seasons of solid production before eventually needing fusion, or whether Wilson's beyond that point.
The hit that caused this is intriguing, since paired with Bradshaw's clear trauma, it's not the normal pathway. A single traumatic incident can push things to the point of needing a surgical fix, but there's usually a slow, insidious problem that has to be managed up to that point. There's no sign of that with Wilson. Bradshaw has more of a history of neck issues.
Wilson's immediate future is clear, but beyond that, there's such a broad range of possibilities that I'm loathe to guess. Get the Plan Bs ready and do your best to deal from a position of strength. I'm with many of you that expected more from Wilson this season.
INJURY: inflamed knee
OUTLOOK: expected to play Week 6
The "inactive" that came across last Sunday for Calvin Johnson was a stunner. Up to 10 minutes before he was listed as out, sources were telling me he was expected to play. Even in his pregame warm-ups, there was sign that he was limited, but not that he was out. But he was.
The Lions made that last-minute decision with the long term and the short term in mind. Johnson, like almost all players, pushed to be in the lineup. The medical staff said no, discretion is the better part of valor and having a healthy Johnson in the next 10 weeks was more important than a limited Johnson in one.
It seems this is more than simple inflammation, but it does seem that this is a maintenance issue more than an acute issue. The Lions don't seem to have a great hold on it even with missing a game, as Adam Schefter has reported that Johnson will be a game-time decision due to continued swelling. If they can't get this under control, surgery will be explored.
You'll have to have a Plan B for Johnson this week. He's a must-start if he plays, and yes, there's a chance he will be in the lineup despite the missed practice. It's just too bad that those inexplicable Diddy commercials don't mean Johnson could take a healthy knee from him.
INJURY: post-surgical hip labrum
OUTLOOK: out for Week 6, expected back no sooner than Week 10
Yes, Percy Harvin is running, which is a bit ahead of schedule, and says he is aiming for a Week 7 return. No, I don't think he'll hit that goal, but he is ahead of the December timelines that were originally put out for him. I can't imagine him back in less than two weeks after starting to run, but we should get very good notes from his practice changes.
Many of the timelines had Harvin coming back somewhere between Week 10 and Week 14, which would be reasonable, but still faster than most. Given the timing of the surgery, it's not surprising that he would be a little ahead. There's usually a bit more urgency for in-season rehabs than offseason ones for obvious reasons.
More than running, look for when Harvin does functional activities like hard cuts and stops. Those will put more pressure on the repaired hip. The success rate with this kind of surgery is high, but resetting the clock altogether is something you want to hope for, not something you want to count on.
Ryan Mathews: Mathews' concussion hasn't gotten a lot of notice, as yet another injury on his long list of them has a lot of people cutting bait. Mathews will need to clear the concussion protocols before playing this week, and the Chargers have offered little in the way of updates ahead of their Monday night matchup. If Mathews isn't cleared, Ronnie Brown gets more of the workload than usual.
Owen Daniels: The move to place Daniels on the IR-return is a bit of a surprise. A fractured fibula should keep a player out six to eight weeks, so Daniels' return time frame is in the IR-R sweet spot. He can return, but the Texans' are facing some mighty struggles. Daniels' return may hinge on how the team does in the interim and if Garrett Graham continues to emerge. He's the smart pickup here if available.
Clay Matthews: This video tells you more than I can type here about Clay Matthews' thumb injury. This is a difficult injury to read. On one hand, it's an unstable injury in a bad location. On the other, we know Matthews is the type of intense player that will push to get back on the field. I'd say the low end of the range is reasonable at four weeks, but it won't surprise me to see less.
Luke Joeckel: The fractured ankle is a tough one for Luke Joeckel and for the Jags. They're now down both tackles in just a week, so that can't mean anything good for the offense. Justin Blackmon was a nice boost for Blaine Gabbert last week, but he can't throw from his back. Joeckel should be fine next year, which is more than I can say for Jacksonville.
Zac Stacy: Stacy was the hot pickup after a nice first half for the Rams. A rib injury has kept him out of practice and will have him as a game-time decision this week. He's more likely to end up as a productive part of a committee. Watch closely this week, as his usage might be lower than usual but could give us some idea what Jeff Fisher is thinking.