In most leagues, the season is over. The trophy has been handed out. You've won, or you've lost and hopefully had some fun along the way. There is at least one league left playing: The NFL.
Injuries have been a big part of the NFL this season, as always. Concussions are slightly down, but there's plenty of work left to do there, starting with the failings of the concussion policy itself. ACL injuries are up, but the majority are non-contact injuries, so there's not much the NFL can do to reduce those, though prevention programs could help.
Instead, I'd point toward the Philadelphia Eagles. I've told you all season that their sports science focus would pay off, and here at the end of the season it is. The team doesn't appear to be slowing, and its injury count is among the lowest in the league. Nick Foles was able to fill in for Michael Vick when he had a minor injury and hasn't looked back.
The Eagles' opponents have been decimated. In the last few weeks, they have missed Aaron Rodgers, Reggie Bush, Adrian Peterson and now maybe Tony Romo. You can call that luck if you want. I have a feeling that a lot of teams will be looking to see whether they can implement a similar program soon, which will be good for the NFL.
The NFL will never be injury free, but for all the money it makes, it still loses billions to injuries and actively makes its product worse. Maybe the tide is turning, and we'll have a better, healthier NFL in 2014 and beyond. For now, let's look around the league...
INJURY: herniated disk
OUTLOOK: unknown for Week 17
The initial announcement from ESPN's Adam Schefter that stated Tony Romo was out for the season doesn't match up with anything that's been said since. Even when a team is being cagey about an injury, things have to match up.
Certain injuries cause certain symptoms. Certain treatments have certain timelines. When they don't match up, it's not that someone is being tricky, but usually simply that we don't have all the information yet.
That's definitely going on here. Romo had an MRI after the Cowboys' win on Sunday to check his back. Romo had been limping noticeably at the end of the game but didn't have much trouble with function. Reports of hip pain point to an L 4/5 disc issue, but other reports have it as a location further up the back.
Absent an unusual condition called cauda equina syndrome, which has noticeable and severe symptoms like loss of bowel function, there are usually several intermediate steps of conservative therapy before even discussing surgery.
Of course, it could well be that Romo has already had these steps and that the Cowboys were maintaining him throughout the season. That wouldn't be unusual, and no, that is not something that would need to be disclosed on the Official Injury Report.
The comp here is Peyton Manning with his neck injury. While in a different area of the spine, Manning did everything he could, including microsurgery and stem-cell injections to try and avoid surgery. For Romo to go from winning on Sunday to the operating table on Tuesday just doesn't match up at all.
There's a big distance between the possibilities, and with Jason Garrett saying Romo is not out according to NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal, we'll have to take him at his word for now.
INJURY: fractured collarbone
OUTLOOK: possible for Week 17
Aaron Rodgers watch starts the same way it did last week, but this week, we're likely to see a much quicker decision, according to Fox Wisconsin. The Packers are still alive after the Bears' utter collapse against the Eagles, and Rodgers once again could be the difference between the playoffs and going home.
The collarbone is getting as much interest as I've ever seen, with dueling leaks from all levels, which is not something you normally see from the Packers. While Rodgers, like every player, is pushing to play, there are mixed signals from the rest of the camp if the stories are to be believed. At the heart of them all, it appears the strongest voice is coming from the medical side.
The risk/reward ratio just hasn't tipped enough yet for the medical side to be overruled, but this gets tipped a bit more each week as the stakes get higher and the healing advances ever so slightly. While the bone is not going to be completely healed, Rodgers is getting better, a fact that has been overlooked by many of the talking heads.
The danger is apparent in the case of Clay Matthews, who refractured his thumb just weeks after surgery. While he had healed up and played in a brace, the fracture happened in a very similar if not exact area.
He's likely out for the rest of the season and may be facing a redo of the surgery. This is exactly the scenario the Packers are hoping to avoid with Rodgers, so the object lesson may affect their decision on him.
INJURY: sprained knee (PCL)
OUTLOOK: unclear for Week 17, should be available for playoffs
People love to guess. Even informed people like to guess what happens while seeing nothing more than the TV angles and a couple replays.
Even doctors doing the same thing missed this one, which is why I try hard not to speculate based on video. I've done it in the past, and I'm sure I'll do it again, but unless you're perfect, the mistakes are too costly.
That's why I wait to talk to direct sources and medical advisors to try to translate the information given, look behind the scenes and give you as much usable information as possible.
With Steve Smith, that system has worked well. It wasn't a hamstring strain, but the more unusual posterior cruciate ligament sprain.
This is a low-grade sprain, indicated both by the medical staff letting Smith try to come back and by later testing.
The PCL can be significant, but with a low-grade sprain like this, Smith has a chance to be back as early as this week. With the playoffs locked, the Panthers are more likely to rest him, but there's a chance.
This isn't a comparable injury in severity to Andre Johnson, but it does show that this kind of injury has a mechanism more common to receivers. Watch to make sure that Smith is practicing by next week.
Whoever the Panthers play will try to jam him and make him cut against the knee and push hard. It's actually a strength of Smith's, so the opponent will be trying to use the injury against him. Adjustments could be tricky for a situation like that, especially with a stubborn player like Smith.
I guess he'll have to ice up.
INJURY: sprained knee
OUTLOOK: likely to play Week 17
The recurrent knee sprain has derailed EJ Manuel's rookie season and hurt the development of the Bills offense. The young team has talent and has shown bursts of success, but without a chance to put everything together, it's been disjointed and unsuccessful.
Manuel was out after re-injuring the same LCL that cost him time earlier in the season. The knee was unstable enough to completely shut him down in Week 16, letting Thad Lewis take control again. Doug Marrone was confident that Manuel would be back for Week 17, but he backed off slightly at the start of this week of practice according to the Buffalo News.
Manuel has nothing to gain by returning except maybe some confidence. It's better to go out on the field than standing on the sidelines. It makes the fans and even some teammates wonder. I think Manuel will play this week given what we know now, but the slightest setback will have him back on the bench. Moreover, he's likely to have a very short leash if he shows any deficits come Sunday.
INJURY: arthritic knee
OUTLOOK: unclear for Week 17
Last week on Fantasy Live, Calvin Johnson was the one we were sweating. It was a late game, and with championships on the line, we wanted to get it right. I was working the phones hard all morning, and you can even see me texting while I was answering questions with Josh Zerkle. Yes, that's multitasking for you!
In the end, I got it mostly right. Johnson played, but he was severely limited by both the knee and ankle injuries. With the Lions eliminated, there's no need to risk Johnson exacerbating the injury, and I expect he will sit. We'll see if he agrees or if Jim Schwartz pushes for a win to close out the season. At best, expect a similar performance from Johnson in Week 17.
Johnson has taken a lot of hits, and while he plays well through pain, there's clearly a toll that's been taken. As good as Johnson is, I wonder if we'll see a decline start rapidly.
I don't think so, and while I wouldn't make him the first WR taken in next year's draft, I would keep him. I think that a big bodied WR like Johnson could evolve into a Tony Gonzalez type if need be. Pairing him with a big TE like Joseph Fauria would make him a red-zone star at worst.
INJURY: sprained knee (ACL)
OUTLOOK: done for season and playoffs
Von Miller's season started with a suspension and ends with an injury. He may yet end up with a Super Bowl ring, but he won't be playing in it. The injury to Von Miller comes at a bad time and puts even more of a load on Peyton Manning to carry this Broncos team to the Super Bowl.
Miller's isolated ACL sprain should cost him anywhere between nine and 12 months, but if there's no other damage inside the knee, he could be participating by training camp.
The interesting part of this injury is the mechanism. As shown in this video on NFL.com, Miller was simply blocked. It wasn't an unusual or awkward move and certainly not the type of high-torque maneuver that usually results in a significant ACL sprain.
While Miller's injury will be counted among the many in this season's "epidemic" of ACL sprains, the injury itself is hardly instructive. It's a freak trauma that tells us little or nothing about how to prevent these kinds of injuries. Painting injuries in broad strokes doesn't get us closer to making the game better.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Peterson admitted after Week 16 that his foot and his groin are more of a problem than he's been letting on. Peterson usually only speaks about his injuries at the end of a season, and they're seldom an excuse. It does lead some to think that he might be shut down for Week 17, which is possible, though Peterson will push to play.
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
Lacy had a mild recurrence of his ankle sprain, but this appears to be under control. It's obviously affecting him, but Lacy's not reliant on lateral motion. James Starks will have to carry more of the load if Lacy does degrade again, but he's been able to come back with the help of a week's rest and a solid medical staff.
Shane Vereen, New England Patriots
Vereen aggravated his groin strain, and there are questions about whether he'll be available at all for Week 17. With a bye locked up, the Pats will likely chain the final game with the bye week in hopes of having Vereen ready to go for the team's first playoff game.
Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks
If you've been waiting on Percy Harvin to come back and save your fantasy team, you missed out. It was a gamble I took, and the extended absence doesn't bode well for his future. He is unlikely to return unless the Seahawks go deep into the playoffs, and even then, it's not probable that he'll be able to help the team much, if at all.
Jake Long, St. Louis Rams
Long injured his knee on a very odd looking play. The diagnosis of ACL and MCL sprains combined with his size are a tough combo. The start of next season might be in jeopardy, which means the Rams medical staff is going to have a very busy, very important offseason.
Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans Saints
The Saints defense will miss Vaccaro through the playoffs. He fractured his ankle and will have surgery this week. That will put him out through the playoffs, and for defensive backs, this is a tough one to come back from in the short-term. The Saints hard, sticky turf won't do him any favors either, so watch to see how Vaccaro moves in camp next year.