NFL playoffs odds continue to shift ahead of kickoffs this weekend on Saturday and Sunday. With only eight teams remaining, there are still plenty of significant NFL injuries to track before placing bets. Let’s dive in, with hopes to understand the extent and trickle-down effect of the injury report.
Will Carroll has covered injuries, including NFL injuries, for more than 20 years and has written four books, including the newly published “The Science of Football”. He also consults with several pro teams. Will is currently the Director of Bioanalytics for Northstarr, a sports science startup company.Editor’s Note
Jacksonville Jaguars at Kansas City Chiefs
CLYDE EDWARDS-HILAIRE, RB CHIEFS (high ankle sprain)
Clyde Edwards-Hilaire hasn’t become the star many expected, but has he been supplanted by Isiah Pacheco already? First, they don’t play the same role in the Chiefs offense, even if they do play the same position. Second, I always look at depth charts as tells. Andy Reid and Eric Bienemy know what they’re doing and preferred CEH at the start of the season, though we knew it would be a role split. Pacheco has asserted himself and things may be very different next year, but there’s still room for CEH when healthy.
Is he healthy yet after a severe high ankle sprain? Again, the Chiefs know what they’re doing on the medical side as well, so opening the practice window means he’s at least close and the team will use this week’s practice to finalize whether they think he could help. We should have a very good indication well ahead of game time. The Chiefs have enough depth to go into this week’s game without him so it feels like next week is more likely, especially for a meaningful role.
The Chiefs’ depth and their improvisational offense seem to play better with a big band, giving Reid and Patrick Mahomes the ability to sub in and to stay fresh depending on situation and play. Whether CEH plays or not isn’t going to change things significantly on the line or the totals, and playing that committee for props is always a bad bet.
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MECOLE HARDMAN, WR CHIEFS (inflamed pelvis)
The Chiefs have depth at running back but not as much at receiver. Getting Mecole Hardman and his speed back would be a plus, if not a game changer. He’s functionally the 3, maybe the 4 WR when Ladarius Toney is healthy, but his speed is the differentiator. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what his pelvic issue costs him.
I don’t expect Hardman to play and he’s risky if he does. At best, he’s likely to be on a very low pitch count and used in a situation where the team is going over the top. Think of him not unlike the early weeks we saw Jameson Williams return for the Lions. It’s a different injury and Williams was building up rather than still healing.
Active or not, Hardman’s presence wouldn’t change the line, but it could affect the already high totals. One long play can alter the way the overs and totals play and that’s precisely what Hardman would bring if healthy. If you’re already leaning that way, an active designation on Saturday could make that an easier bet.
New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
JALEN HURTS, QB EAGLES (sprained shoulder)
Jalen Hurts has had a couple more weeks of rest and treatment on his sprained SC (sternoclavicular) joint, but it’s likely that he won’t know just how much it will hurt until he gets hit again. Hurts isn’t listed among NFL injuries this week, but remember that’s about availability. Hurts *will* play, but the sprain is likely still problematic. Hurts showed he could play through it, but he’s going to be tested by the sheer number and mechanism of the hits he takes on Saturday.
The pain is really the issue, with the possible changes in his throw-side mechanics altering his throws and his accuracy. Again, we saw this two weeks ago and it was manageable, so two more weeks should help and minimize the effects, though the wrong hit could take this back to where he was when he missed time. It’s a risk, but a known risk.
Hurts makes the Eagles offense run and a healthy Hurts is MVP caliber. The 7.5 give might seem like a lot if you stare too hard at the 6 point win in Week 18 and ignore that Week 14 with a healthy Hurts on the road was a blowout for the Eagles. It’s hard to get too specific, but I think the bye helps the Eagles and Hurts enough to cover easily.
LANE JOHNSON, OT EAGLES (strained groin)
Lane Johnson is – pardon the phrasing – going to cowboy up on Saturday and try to play through a severe groin strain. This is similar to what Joey Bosa dealt with and cost him most of the season, so coming back in a couple weeks is unlikely at best and painful to be sure. I’m unconvinced that Johnson will be able to move and have a stable base with these type of NFL injuries, or deal with the pain that he’ll definitely have.
Postponing surgery is pretty hardcore, but the bigger question is whether Johnson will be effective. Jalen Hurts doesn’t need to take more hits, or run more if his protection is off. With some tight lines, Johnson’s risk of playing short is tough to work into opening lines, but could shift in-game lines if you have access to those. This one’s very tough to read since it by definition relies on something most humans wouldn’t even try.
JAYRON KEARSE, S COWBOYS (sprained knee)
Jayron Kearse injured his knee in the Wild Card game … or did he re-injure it? Kearse had a very similar MCL sprain back in Week 1, but has played since Week 5. Given that a mild MCL sprain is usually quoted at 2-4 weeks, that’s standard and expected. So let’s assume that the MCL healed well and didn’t take significant damage throughout the season. The fact that he injured the same one is more about knees and how the game treats them than Kearse’s specific knee. He got rolled up and being human, was injured. That’s not re-injury, it’s bad luck.
Of course, this time he doesn’t have 2-4 weeks to heal up, but there’s some question about whether this is as severe or if it’s just being presented that way because it’s the playoffs. Kearse wasn’t at practice on Wednesday and it’s more likely that he won’t play than he will. He could brace up and get out there, but it’s hard for me to think the Cowboys would risk playing a strong safety that had lateral movement issues, especially with as much nickel as they play.
There’s another issue here that could be huge – field condition. The flooding in northern California taxes even the great drainage at stadiums and unsure footing would be even more problematic for someone who isn’t stable. Without a ton of depth there, George Kittle could find himself having more looks, or Christian McCaffrey out of the backfield. I like those props and the under here, especially if there’s rain (which isn’t in the current forecast.)
Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills
JONAH WILLIAMS, OT BENGALS (dislocated kneecap)
“Dislocated kneecap” sounds painful – and it is – but remember that dislocations are often painful, but not serious in terms of damage. Pop a finger back in, and a player can go right back in the game. The underlying soft tissue is the question and for a bone that ‘floats’ like the patella, there’s seldom much soft tissue damage when it’s isolated. The bigger question is the ligaments, tendons, and blood vessels in the area.
For Jonah Williams, his kneecap popped out of place, but he seems to have escaped the worst of it. In fact, we should probably be thinking of this more like a mild sprain or strain than a dislocation at this stage. Williams is going to have to be stable and not have significant inflammation restricting his movement. As well, the patella itself is going to need to be stable as it can pop right back out again if not fully healed.
Losing a lineman is the last thing the Bengals want for Joe Burrow, but he’s dealt with it a lot over his career. The cold shouldn’t affect NFL injuries, but I’m expecting Williams to be bundled up on the sidelines rather than on the field this Sunday. I don’t think it significantly changes the line, but a key sack does and that’s more likely. I like the Bills more than I did if Williams is out.
JAMISON CROWDER, WR BILLS (fractured ankle)
ISAIAH MCKENZIE, WR BILLS (strained hamstring)
The Bills brought back Cole Beasley, which should be an indication of their depth at WR. Losing Jamison Crowder isn’t going to help and so far, the signs are pointing to him being out on Sunday. Crowder was windowed last week after fracturing his ankle in Week 4 and while he practiced he wasn’t activated. It’s unclear what the plan is, but with Isiah McKenzie dealing with a hamstring strain as well, the depth is even more tested.
McKenzie’s hamstring is tough. He says he’ll play, but cold weather and muscle injuries can be problematic, just in getting and staying warm. Crowder’s return could give some depth, but it’s more likely to be Beasley back in the slot, while Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis take the wides. Khalil Shakir had a nice game in McKenzie’s absence as well, so Josh Allen won’t lack for targets, it’s just unclear now which it will be.
With the top two healthy, the Bills are on-model for their scoring and while cold, the weather doesn’t look to hold down scoring much for either side. Having one or both of the other receivers is a bonus rather than a line changer.
LAMAR JACKSON, QB RAVENS (sprained knee)
The season is done for the Ravens and with it, Lamar Jackson’s late season knee sprain heads into the off-season with more healing to be done and a lot of questions that will be left unanswered. The expectation is that the Ravens will tag Jackson if a long-term deal can’t be done, locking him in, but there’s sure to be questions about how his knee was handled from both sides.
A PCL sprain at near Grade III is often surgical and even with Jackson’s comments, no one’s suggested that was considered strongly and there was suggestion that the ligament was healing, just not enough to play. With a full off-season, there’s no reason Jackson’s knee shouldn’t heal well and be ready for mini-camp, let alone by late summer. If you want to get crazy, he should be able to clear a physical well before the Combine if he’s a free agent. Let the madness begin in Baltimore.
Quick Hits: NFL Injuries Heading Into Divisional Round
Russell Gage is doing well after a scary looking spinal concussion. Those are transient, but there’s so little the NFL can do to prevent these. Leading with the head is dangerous for both offense and defense and needs to be wiped out … Damar Hamlin continues to make progress and all signs are that he’s recovered well. I haven’t seen anyone indicate he has any sort of cognitive difficulties, which was the last remaining concern … Micah Hyde won’t play this week for the Bills and it’s sounding less likely that he’d be available next week as well … Jimmy Garoppolo is making progress with his broken foot but the Niners are sticking with Brock Purdy regardless. Having Jimmy back as a backup would help, given how injured their QBs have been all year … Alex Cappa hasn’t been ruled out officially yet, but sources tell me he’s unlikely to play again this week for the Bengals … Ryan Jensen made a nice comeback on Monday, but goes out with the Bucs. Coming back from a standard ACL reconstruction in six months is no joke and he’s likely to continue the rehab process now.