There's been a phenomenal series done by Bleacher Report's Will Tidey this week. Tidey got a chance to go inside of Liverpool FC, one of the top clubs in the English Premier League. His interviews with behind-the-scenes folks like nutritionists, medical staff and others gave real insight into the behind-the-scenes operations.
If you wonder what this has to do with the NFL, go read it. Ask yourself which of these things are done at your favorite NFL team, and the answer is likely to be "not much of it at all." In almost every area, from sales and marketing to sports science, American sports trend behind European sports.
Largely, this is because of something you often hear as a positive that is summed in one phrase: "next man up."
We hear this every week in the NFL, and while true, it's destructive. Sure, backups come in and win, but there's a reason those players were considered second-string when everyone was healthy.
Seeing players as expendable or replaceable rather than as investments is a structural construct of the attitude of owners and coaches towards their players. I often wonder about those players or coaches that say they treat each other like family. Do they stay in touch? How many players from a decade ago are still on the Christmas card list?
I hope all of you read the Inside Liverpool series, but I hope some people in the NFL do as well. It's a system that could be easily changed. Surprisingly, it's the Jacksonville Jaguars that have the best possible setup for this. Shahid Khan owns a club (Fulham) where he could siphon knowledge from, and he certainly has nothing to lose by thinking differently.
For now, there are lots of "next men" who will need to be up due to the injuries. Let's look around the league...
Injury: strained hamstring
Outlook: expected to play Week 9
The Texans had a bye last week to get healthy ahead of a make-or-break game at home against the Colts. It doesn't look like it made much of a difference.
Matt Schaub is on the bench (but healthy), while Ben Tate is getting ready to try and play through four fractured ribs. That leaves Arian Foster and his strained hamstring as the last major question.
With two full weeks of healing and a shortened game last time out, Foster should be at a stage where he's ready to play. There are still significant questions as his practice has been very limited. While he was listed as "full practice," Foster only did a set of scripted plays, according to ESPN.com.
Foster could very well be like Michael Vick last week or like Foster the week before. He's a very risky play even if he plays. It's a key matchup, so the team will do everything it can to put him in the best situation, but there's a balance between play and medical best that is tough to deal with.
He'll be officially a game-time decision (GTD), but expect him to play and share touches with Tate and Deji Karim.
Injury: high ankle sprain
Outlook: expected to play Week 9
C.J. Spiller tried to play through what we now know is a high ankle sprain for a couple weeks. Without his lateral motion, Spiller was ordinary and not suited to running north and south. The Bills went with Fred Jackson and Tashard Choice last week, but Spiller adds something when he's healthy. It looks like they'll have him back for at least a number of carries this week.
The story of the 2013 Bills is one of promise and problems. Their young made-over team does have a lot of promise, with young players like EJ Manuel and Robert Woods showing there's talent to build around with Steve Johnson and C.J. Spiller.
However, keeping them healthy hasn't been easy, and we've barely seen all of them together.
Spiller is set to go this week, as Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News notes in this piece. Watch to make sure that Spiller shows no setback in Friday's practice and that he has his lateral motion. He's likely to be called a GTD on Sunday, but that's really more about limits and making that final decision than needing to make a last second call on him.
Injury: sprained knee (MCL)
Outlook: game-time decision in Week 9
DeMarco Murray was very close to getting the nod from both the medical and coaching staff last week, so this week should be a lock, right?
Not so fast. It seems that there are still questions about Murray's function. The MCL limits his lateral motion, and without that, Jason Garrett wasn't sure he was the best choice, as Jon Machota of DallasNews.com reported.
Murray is practicing more and saying all the right things, but the lateral motion hasn't been seen publicly. The Cowboys are surely doing more and seeing what Murray can do in rehab situations, so this isn't that troubling.
I expect we'll see more in the next couple days and get confirmation on Sunday that Murray will be back. The indications are that he'll not only start, but that the extra week off has put him back at a near normal stage. Since Phillip Tanner and Joseph Randle didn't set the world on fire in his absence, Murray has a chance to get the Cowboys' brass back on his side.
Watch to see if Murray loses some touches, which would actually be a positive. Getting him into a platoon, where he's the larger, 18-25-carry back would be a plus, taking some of the workload and the hits off him. Absent that, Murray is going to have to change his style and take fewer hits, which doesn't seem likely.
Injury: post-surgical hip
Outlook: unlikely to play in Week 9
Percy Harvin has a chance to come back in Week 9, but only a chance. Harvin is still about a month ahead of the typical schedule, but there are not many players, especially true comparables to Harvin, to base that range on. It could well be that Harvin is resetting the range.
That said, Harvin still hasn't shown that his hip is all the way back. As yet, he has not demonstrated that he can make hard unanticipated cuts or do hard stops. That kind of lateral motion is going to be necessary to him playing effectively, but not to him playing.
The Seahawks could elect to activate Harvin and use him as a decoy of sorts. If he can run a pure go route or a small curve on an end-around, that's one thing, but defenses will pick up quickly on that and front him. Even players who have a hard time cutting to one side get solved quickly, and with this kind of hip issue, both sides will be problematic until it's fully healed.
Watch to see if Harvin practices more. I don't anticipate the Seahawks will wait until the last minute on this decision. I still like Harvin in the long term, but I'm definitely staying away from him as anything more than a desperate flex this week, and that's only if he plays, which isn't likely.
Injury: plantar fasciitis
Outlook: expected to play in Week 9
Explaining what's going on with Jimmy Graham is tough. Plantar fasciitis isn't an uncommon injury, but it is misunderstood. The painful inflammation causes signficant pain in the foot, but Graham's performance last week shows either that the Saints managed it well or that he has great pain tolerance.
Where it gets dicey is in how Graham could play through it, but still be at significant risk. With every step, the stretched and inflamed fascia could tear (or likely, tear further). This tear would release the pressure, but it would be intensely painful and cause a compromise in the foot. His arch would drop, often literally.
Surgery to correct the problem is almost the same thing, just cleaner and under sedation. The problem is fixed and the player can come back in four to six weeks. The Saints are hoping they can keep Graham healthy enough to stay on the field and have this procedure done after the season.
Graham hasn't practiced this week, so his status is unclear right now. He'll be a game-time decision. But even in a limited state, Graham's proven he can be productive. If you have another good tight end, it might be the right time to trade Graham. There's downside if he keeps producing, but you'd be mitigating your roster's risk.
Injury: bruised knee
Outlook: expected to play Week 9
Go ahead and watch the Sports Science segment above on Jamaal Charles. I'll wait.
OK, now that you've watched it, we can all say together "WHAT WAS THAT?" Charles is a freakish athlete to be sure, but remember, as amazing as that was, he's not the best player in the league. He's up there and certainly has potential, but skipping rope doesn't help your fantasy team.
ESPN's Adam Teicher notes that Charles is dealing with another injury. While a bruised knee doesn't sound serious, the concern is that there's one at all. Worse, the Chiefs haven't been clear about the location. If Charles bumped his knee, that's one thing, but if the bruise is internal and causing pain and swelling, that's a much different situation.
That's not to say that Chiefs fans and fantasy owners should panic. There's no indication yet that this will keep Charles out of the game or even limit him. Rick Burkholder had a lot of success with Brian Westbrook in Philly dealing with his myriad knee issues and keeping him tuned up in between games.
The switch to Charles' practice routine is something of note, but not something that changes anything yet. I'll be watching practice reports from Friday, but as of now, Charles is expected to start, though Knile Davis becomes a more valid handcuff option.
Outlook: expected to play in Week 9
With Michael Vick out for at least the next few weeks, Nick Foles is all that's standing between the Eagles and another dose of Matt Barkley.
Barkley has shown he's in over his head for now and ill-fitted to the Chip Kelly offense. Foles has had one good game and one awful one, but he's definitely got a better chance to succeed than Barkley.
Foles isn't going to run and is going to need more protection, so Kelly is going to have to adjust to that. A read-option isn't going to fool anyone with Foles unlikely to be a real threat to run. The delays and programs might work, but the more conventional sets might help Foles even more.
Foles has cleared the league's concussion protocols, as noted by the Associated Press (via the LA Times), so he shouldn't have any problems with that, though it is of course always a concern. There's no real defense against concussions in the NFL. So far, rule changes and fines aren't doing anything to drop the numbers.
Foles is a tough start this week, but your team may be like the Eagles. He could be your best available option.
Tom Brady: Brady is on the OIR this week, but not for the hand that got so much speculation last week. Brady says he's fine so we'll have to keep an eye on him again, but it's hard to recommend not starting Brady in most formats and rosters.
Peyton Manning: Manning adjusted well to his ankle sprains and showed that he could win despite an injury. Manning's long streak of starts is in part because of his toughness and smarts. This week should be no different. It's not like he was going to run anyway. And the shoulder? Just fine.
Robert Griffin III: Griffin had a very mild sprain of his knee late in last week's game. There's much panic, but when I say very mild, I mean it. Dr. James Andrews was on-site for the game and checked Griffin. Griffin didn't need any further tests. While he got treatment this week, it's unlikely to cause him much of a problem. The mobility is still a question and cascades have to be a worry, but no one is being watched more closely.
Zac Stacy: Zac Stacy had a nice night on Monday against Seattle, but he once again showed signs of fatigue. He sprained his ankle late in the game and wasn't back at practice on Wednesday. We'll have to see if he gets back on the field by Friday, but it's clear that he needs someone to lay off touches on.
James Jones: Jones made it back to practice, but he was very limited. It's progress, but the guess now is that he's not ready to go by Sunday. That leaves Jarrett Boykin in a good position and gives Jones another week of treatment and practice before he tries to go. The Packers will give Jones every opportunity to prove he can contribute or even be active, but playing significant minutes is unlikely.