If you had to tell the story of the NFL this season, what would it be? In my niche of the industry, we've had a number of storylines, but I'm not sure any dominate. The "ACL epidemic" has been a bit overplayed due to a lack of context. Big injuries don't seem significantly up on anything more than an anecdotal basis.
Still, we haven't seen any reductions. Concussions are steady with the past two seasons, despite an increased awareness and in spite of an abandonment of the agreed-upon rules for how they're handled. The concussion lawsuit settlement hasn't seemed to have any effect, positive or negative, on how things have been handled. Darren Sproles was held out of a game with a concussion (positive!) but was returned in just three days (negative), though he wasn't allowed contact for seven (positive?). Parsing this data is difficult, as you can tell.
I'm curious what you see. As I've watched and shared things with you here in the first year this column has run at Bleacher Report as well as the interaction on Twitter, I want to know what you think and see. Please let me know in comments what you think have been the biggest injury stories and trends. These are important to fantasy teams and to the sport in general and until we get everyone on board, it's harder to make things improve.
For now, let's look around the league...
INJURY: multi-structure injury to lower body
OUTLOOK: will play in Week 11
"Lower body injury" sounds like a hockey-style cover-up, but in the case of Peyton Manning this week, it's a pretty accurate description. Manning has the high ankle sprain, the anatomic ankle sprain, some bruising on his foot as well as a sore knee.
That it's going to limit his mobility is true, but that's the least of the issues. Manning can run, but he's hardly a mobile QB. Where the worry is for Manning is that his feet have made up for some of the shortcomings in his arm. If you watched the Broncos-Colts game, you saw that many thought his arm was hurt in that game. No, it was the legs that made it look that way.
If Manning is forced to throw with just his arm or to try and readjust his mechanics again, that's not going to work as well. That means he'll have to adjust in other ways. Look for shorter, quicker throws as well as screens and play action to confuse the rush. Manning's always been able to adjust, so I don't expect we'll see a significantly reduced Manning on Sunday.
INJURY: post-surgical hip
OUTLOOK: unlikely to play Week 11
Percy Harvin would love to make his debut against his old team, but even with an activation from the PUP, it's unclear whether that's going to happen. Harvin has a couple more days to convince Pete Carroll and the Seahawks to let him in, but it's going to be on a very limited basis, if at all.
Harvin is still not performing hard stops or unanticipated cuts, so he's in much the same position now as Robert Griffin III was in the preseason. Putting him on the field is possible, but they would be putting him at risk and placing him in situations where his limitations were known. Harvin could easily run a go route, but I'm unsure whether anything else would be handled normally.
With the bye in Week 12, the Seahawks have even more reason to be cautious. Sources tell me the team has always aimed at getting him back in the last three or four games so that he can integrate into the offense before the playoffs. The Seahawks have been playing the long term with this one. I don't anticipate them changing just yet.
INJURY: fractured ribs
OUTLOOK: will start Week 11
Ben Tate has done a nice job playing through a painful set of fractured ribs. (No, it's not a half-rack.) It's been a combination of pain tolerance and good adjustments, plus a masterful job by the Texans medical staff. Tate should be no different this week, but in fantasy terms, remember that Tate is just the larger slice of a running back split with Dennis Johnson, who's been a real sleeper find.
Tate hasn't had any real apparent setbacks with the ribs, so we have to assume that he's healing up. Bones heal regular and predictably in most cases and they're easy to check with X-rays. That means that each week he plays without major issue he's closer to being normal. That's not to say the pain may not be significant, but even that should be less.
Expect Tate to continue to produce in the RB1 role for the Texans, but remember that beyond the ribs, Tate has always been as injury prone or even more so that Arian Foster, who he's replacing. With Foster out for the rest of the season, this is Tate's chance to show that he can stay healthy. That doesn't mean he will.
INJURY: sprained knee
OUTLOOK: will play in Week 11
One of the more interesting things to watch with run-pass QBs in the NFL is how they progress. Donovan McNabb and Randall Cunningham went through periods where they tried to become "standard" QBs, pocket passers that abandoned one of their strengths. In the modern NFL, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III are in the same situation.
For Terrelle Pryor, it's even trickier. Many didn't believe he'd be a valid NFL QB at all, so taking away one of his biggest skills seems folly. Injury is forcing it, which creates an interesting calculus for Dennis Allen. Is Pryor affected more by a lack of mobility than other mobile QBs? Is the offense better off with Pryor on the sideline?
The Raiders will make a very late decision on Pryor, and if he can't go, it will necessitate a roster move to get Tyler Wilson on the 53-man roster. I expect the Raiders will let Pryor go but will have a much quicker hook this week if he's as ineffective. His inability to run is going to affect Rashad Jennings, with Darren McFadden out another week.
INJURY: high ankle sprain
OUTLOOK: unclear for Week 11
CJ Spiller is just one of a handful of NFL players that have struggled trying to play through a high ankle sprain. Jay Cutler, Peyton Manning or, the better comp for Spiller, Roddy White, have all had varying degrees of adjustment in coming back from the oft-lingering syndesmotic problem.
Spiller got the week off after struggling through, but a setback in Week 10 really put him back at square one, which is one of the dangers with this kind of injury. He simply isn't able to do the one thing he does well—move laterally quickly—with this injury, so it affects him more than it would someone like Fred Jackson. Spiller isn't a north-south back.
Spiller is questionable heading into Sunday and is likely to be a GTD, but I expect he'll play. The question is whether he'll have the mobility and burst he needs, or whether the Bills are just setting things back again by trying to play through it. I'd much rather have Jackson and Tashard Choice this week if I were Doug Marrone, giving Spiller another week off to see if he can come back to get an end-of-season look at a fully healthy Bills offense.
INJURY: strained groin/strained back
OUTLOOK: questionable for Week 11
Stevie Johnson has gone from injury to injury this season. As positive as things look for the skill positions with the Bills, staying healthy has been an issue at every slot this season. The sports science commitment the team has made isn't paying off in the short term.
Johnson came back from back and hamstring issues last week and left early with a groin strain. It's hard to say whether the issues are connected in any way, but it's equally hard to say they're not. Johnson has been fragile over his career so the short term of the issue doesn't matter. Like with Arian Foster, we're likely seeing a team treating symptoms rather than the underlying cause.
With EJ Manuel back on the field, Johnson has a chance to be more productive if he was healthy enough. He's a tough fantasy start this week given all the other issues on top of his own. The hope for the Bills is that they can build on the promise they've shown from time to time this season and keep the full team on the field next season to make a real step forward.
Jay Cutler: Cutler is out this week after a high ankle sprain on top of his groin strain ended his return early. The lingering issue with his ankle will give the groin a bit more time to heal, so the Bears have to hope that Josh McCown can hold things up well enough for Cutler to return to meaningful football in a couple weeks.
Michael Vick: Nick Foles is making the time line on Vick's return moot, but Vick is making progress. The Eagles have Vick back at practice and while there's no chance he'll be active for Week 11, he could well be the backup by Week 12. We'll have to see how Chip Kelly handles this, but Foles is making it easier with his play.
Vincent Jackson: There's a lot of stories to the Buccaneers 2013 season, but injuries will be hidden under most of the more sensational ones. Mike Williams and Mike James are out, so Vincent Jackson becomes even more key, but he's got a minor knee sprain. The team seems to think he'll be able to play this weekend, but sources tell me he's more limited mid-week than they expected. If he's out or even just limited, Mike Glennon won't have much out there he trusts aside from Tim Wright. He's the smart play this week.
Jermichael Finley: Finley will undergo spinal fusion (C3/4) to stabilize his neck. This surgery is being done with the clear intention of returning, so Finley will have every chance to come back next season. The recovery is relatively straightforward, so we'll have a good look at how Finley is progressing by OTAs. This surgery is similar to what Peyton Manning and Ahmad Bradshaw underwent, so we'll have to see whether Finley is another success story.
Sean Lee: Without Sean Lee, the Cowboys looked worse than normal. Lee's hamstring strain is detailed in this video, so I'll let you watch rather than repeating myself. Some of Lee's return will depend on how the team does in the next couple weeks, but the Cowboys have been institutionally reluctant to shut players down.