So tell me—are injuries up or down?
The story of the NFL is always rife with injuries, but this year, it seems like there are more stories, bigger stories, harder hits and more expensive losses. Without data, though, we have no idea.
We hear about an "epidemic" of ACL injuries, yet we've had no major knee injuries over the past two weekends.
We hear more and more about concussions, but it seems that concussion numbers are down this season.
Quarterbacks are falling to a variety of injuries, in spite of rule changes for the last decade that have created a safer environment for them than ever.
Is bigger, stronger, faster finally catching up to the NFL and becoming broken, beaten and injured? We simply don't know because the NFL and its media haven't made it possible. While the NBA is breaking down data in ways we've never seen before, the NFL is begrudgingly giving up all-22 tape. We can find out route and snap info at a place like Pro Football Focus, but we can't get simple injury data out of the NFL.
After following this sport professionally for nearly a decade, I don't think the NFL really can fundamentally change how it deals with injuries. The changes it makes seem to be so rife with unintended consequences that I'm tempted to just say "stay out of the way and let the medical staffs improve things." That would work better.
For now, let's look around the league at all the injuries...
OUTLOOK: expected to play Week 12
Wes Welker was concussed but was able to get back out on the field for at least a couple plays. I haven't been able to confirm just how many snaps he was on the field after returning, but Welker is just the latest example of how the NFL's safeguards are failing.
That's not to say this doesn't come with an explanation. Talking to several sources this week, the story seems to be that when Welker went down late in Sunday's game, he initially complained of an issue away from his head. I want to be delicate here, but I'm told that in the pileup, Welker took an elbow to the groin. That would definitely be an issue for most men and probably the first thing mentioned.
However, on tape, while it's easy to see what might have happened to Welker below the belt, above the belt he did seem to take a hit to the head. Moreover, he looked wobbly going to the sidelines. While his complaint might have been to the acute, no one, including the NFL's "eye in the sky," pointed anything out in time to keep Welker from getting back on the field.
I have conflicting reports from sources on whether the eye in the sky asked the Broncos sidelines as to why Welker had returned in a time that clearly precluded a normal screening. It may have been that when the observer saw Welker back out there, he asked. This would insinuate that the observers assumed Welker would be checked as he came off, which is reasonable, but this is precisely the time that there should be a redundancy. "Check him!" should be the default, not the assumption.
Welker is expected to be cleared in time for Sunday's tilt with his old team, the New England Patriots. Peyton Manning, who once bragged of sandbagging his baseline tests, will want his top target, and I can only hope that the facts outweigh the quarterback's desires. I'm not sure they do.
INJURY: lower body injuries
OUTLOOK: will play in Week 12
That's a lot of tape on Peyton Manning's ankle. There's also something, likely an AirCast, underneath the tape, acting as both splint and padding for the ankle and high ankle issues that Manning is dealing with. You might also notice a bigger knee brace and some padding at both the heel and lace area of his foot.
As Larry from Bull Durham might have said, had he been a football coach rather than baseball, "We're dealing with a lot of **** out here."
Manning is dealing with a number of issues, but both his play and the shift in blocking schemes allowed any shortcomings to be easily masked. The Chiefs knew they wanted to make Manning move or at least feel pressure, but it didn't work. That not only allowed Manning to be effective in-game, but didn't add anything to the in-week healing that he normally does.
Look for Manning to be better physically next week as the team tries to lock up a playoff bye, which would be huge for the team. Brock Osweiler might end up a fantasy playoff sleeper if Manning could take off Weeks 16 and 17.
INJURY: fractured clavicle
OUTLOOK: expected to return Week 14
The Packers and Aaron Rodgers are dropping hints that he could be back as soon as Week 12. That's not likely. Rodgers himself is explaining that until the bone has healed enough to take another, similar hit, he's not going to be able to play. The risk is just too high, as Rob Demovsky notes.
That's not to say that the Packers (and Rodgers) don't want him back on the field ASAP. Rodgers acknowledged that the team's record is factoring into his return.
Hints or not, though, it's going to be Scott Tolzien again in Week 12 absent a wholesale toss of the medical staff's advice. Simply, Rodgers can't play yet because the fracture is not yet solid. One good hit could give him an injury that might affect or even shorten the rest of his career.
One of the great things about fractures is that they're very easy to monitor. X-rays give good comparison, and the pace of healing can be monitored. Rodgers has had several X-rays, according to sources, and the healing just isn't where it needs to be yet, though I do get the sense that the definition could be floating a bit.
And for those asking why Rodgers didn't have the clavicle plated, an orthopaedist I spoke to on Monday looked at me when I asked him the question and said, "Do you really want an answer to that, or should I just laugh at you?" Gotta love FaceTime.
INJURY: strained groin
OUTLOOK: expected to play Week 12
The fact that Adrian Peterson is playing through a mild groin strain is neither that surprising nor that instructive. The fact that he's been relatively ineffective this year has more to do with the lack of a valid quarterback than with Peterson. The worry is in connection to the forgotten surgery he had at the end of 2012, where a sports hernia was repaired.
The Vikings haven't given detail on Peterson's current injury, but either way, this is a bit worrisome. If it's on the contralateral side, there's question about there being some inherent weakness in the area. If it's on the same side that was repaired, there's a worry he's doing something that is negative or that the repair failed, which would be exceptionally rare.
"Actually, it was bothering me a lot," Peterson said Sunday, according to Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press. "There were a couple plays in the first half, oh man, I knew if I was able to explode the way I normally do I could have gotten some big chunks, even taken it to the house."
Peterson has shown his ability to play through pain and injury before, but his effectiveness remains steady. With a great deal of first-rounders, especially top-tier running backs, being draft failures, Peterson's health and ability to perform next year is something we'll all be watching over the last few weeks of the season. I'm currently doing some research into projection deltas that might be the first reflection of the devaluation of running backs in fantasy.
INJURY: strained hamstring
OUTLOOK: unclear for Week 12
The Raiders have been without Darren McFadden for the last two weeks, much like they've been without him for extended periods during every year of his tenure there. The question now is more about how much he'll be used when he's ready during the last few weeks of his time as a Raider rather than when he's coming back.
The Raiders aren't sure yet if McFadden will be back in Week 12, though sources tell me that the team is in no rush given the play of Rashad Jennings and the instability at the QB position. Jennings isn't the long-term answer, though ironically, the Raiders appear to already be scouting Jennings' former teammate Maurice Jones-Drew as a potential replacement.
McFadden is expected back at practice this week in some form, though how much he will be able to play, if any, remains to be seen. Expect the Raiders to be conservative with a return, and even so, Jennings will get at least a large share of the carries. It's also unclear how the shift from Terrelle Pryor to Matt McGloin might affect McFadden, who appeared to mesh well with the running threat of Pryor.
INJURY: strained knee
OUTLOOK: unclear for Week 12
Julius Thomas has been a breakout star this season, becoming one of Peyton Manning's favorite targets. The downside is that the only question left about the Broncos TE is his durability. He's dealt with several injuries, including a new knee strain.
Note here that this is a strain, not a sprain. It's easy to confuse the two, but a strain indicates a muscle or tendon, and with a knee, that almost always means patellar tendon. This could be a discrete injury or a cascade from a changed gait as the result of his foot/ankle issue. Either way, the strain is considered low-grade, and the Broncos will work to get his function back.
Thomas played as expected in Sunday's game, giving Manning another quick target for his short game and a physical presence that can work the crossing and pick patterns. There's no reason yet to think that Thomas will be sidelined or even diminished by this injury, but it's worth monitoring this week.
Gonzalez played well through his toe injury, showing no limitations. The Falcons certainly didn't hesitate going to him, even well outside the red zone. With the idea of this being his last few games and the Falcons playing somewhere between spoiler and tanking candidate, it's hard to get much of a read on the rest of the team, but Gonzalez seems to be playing for pride.
Vereen came back well after being on the IR-R for most of the season. He was the most targeted Patriot in Monday's game, and he appears to be back in. The idea of "easing him in" went to the wayside quickly. There's little recurrence risk, so Vereen is a must-play as the Pats fight for their playoff lives.
Johnson missed last week with a cascade groin strain. He's expected to make enough progress this week to at least give it a go, but the Bills may be conservative with this one. Johnson is key to their plans down the line, and they want to get a look at a fully healthy offense at some point.
The Panthers' pass-rusher got leg-whipped hard, sending him to the turf in obvious pain. Speculation in the booth centered on the ACL, but smarter Twitter people focused on the MCL. Johnson was back in the game later, so both could be wrong. The Panthers will surely do more tests, but his results do seem positive.