The NFL postseason is here, and the NFL Playoff Picture is set. However, several teams are nowhere near full strength in win-or-go-home games on Super Wild Card Weekend. Most notably, the Ravens and Dolphins are dealing with quarterback issues among their NFL playoffs injuries.
Each week, TheLines provides the latest expert NFL injury report analysis and reporting to help you make smarter bets. Here are nine starters to monitor before making your bets this weekend.
Will Carroll has covered injuries, including NFL Playoffs 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
Chargers at Jaguars (Saturday)
MIKE WILLIAMS, WR CHARGERS (bruised back)
Should Mike Williams have been in the game? The Chargers had nothing to play for, really, but the starters were in for at least part of the game and there had been no previous indications of back issues for Williams. When they did come up – in Week 18, not Week 1, where no one would have questioned his playing – he was treated and luckily, appears to have escaped any serious damage.
As with any back issue, even a transient one, perhaps especially a transient one, it’s tough to say it won’t come back if one isn’t sure why it came in the first place. It can come back as fast as it goes. Williams’ is said to be a back contusion rather than anything muscular or structural, but he wasn’t back at practice on Wednesday. Sources tell me he’s expected back Thursday, but double check that. I can’t see him not playing, but his effectiveness will be tested early.
The Chargers are favorites on the road and with a day less to heal, Williams is one of the bigger question marks for the models. The line and the total, perhaps surprisingly, moved towards L.A. this week, despite his lack of practice participation.
JOEY BOSA, DE CHARGERS (strained groin)
A week after returning from surgery to re-attach his groin muscle to the bone, Joey Bosa came up a bit sore again. This isn’t unexpected, but why would the Chargers have Bosa out there at all? I got a couple stories from various sources and while both make sense, I’m not sure there’s a great reason for him to have been out there at all.
The first story I got was that Bosa “just needed reps.” That seems reasonable, given his absence from Week 1 to Week 17 and even then, it’s a relatively quick return from putting a muscle back into the bone and getting everything to work properly. Want the meat analogy? Pop a chicken flat open to get the meat, then stitch it back together. Yeah, not easy.
The second story was that Bosa’s injury was to the groin, but was to the belly of the muscle, not the attachment which was previously problematic. Sure, it’s different but it’s expected. There’s likely still some atrophy and some healing going on in the area, so the bursty sprint that makes Bosa so dangerous on the edge is exactly the type of thing that would cause issues here.
Regardless of why Bosa was out there, the injury doesn’t appear serious enough to keep him out. There’s question about effectiveness and if the burst isn’t there, it’s enough to make the Jags, who are getting points at home on Saturday (a day less to heal), an intriguing play, even straight up. Bosa’s a question, despite full practice participation this week.
Ravens at Bengals
LAMAR JACKSON, QB RAVENS (sprained knee)
TYLER HUNTLEY, QB RAVENS (inflamed shoulder)
Lamar Jackson wasn’t back at practice on Wednesday or Thursday, leading most to believe that Jackson won’t make it for Saturday’s game with the Bengals. The “one-to-four week” injury is now heading into its sixth week, and while reports continue to insist that Jackson is running, no one has seen it or has given any guidance as to why a minor knee sprain has gone on longer than expected. With Jackson not under contract (but sure to be franchise tagged at least next year), there’s rumblings that Jackson isn’t rushing back, but for the playoffs? I find that hard to believe. He tweeted some details about his injury this week, and I offered my reaction:
If running is causing pain and swelling, it is putting Jackson and the Ravens medical staff into a vicious circle. Is he hobbling? If so, the Ravens had no issue putting JK Dobbins back on the field despite a noticeable limp after his mid-season cleanup for a similar issue. Jackson can’t be a stationary quarterback. So the idea the Ravens play him at significantly less than a hundred percent is very unlikely.
To make things even worse, Tyler Huntley’s shoulder tendinitis is a real problem, and he has only returned to limited practice Wednesday and Thursday. A lot can change in a couple days, but there’s a real shot that Anthony Brown gets another start. That changes everything for the offense, even down from where Huntley was. In a season where we’ve seen more third-stringers than ever – and not the anticipated change to a third “package” quarterback ala Taysom Hill – this could be a real line mover. Keep your eye on both Jackson’s unlikely return and Huntley’s status before putting money near this game.
JK DOBBINS, RB RAVENS (inflamed knee)
When JK Dobbins came back from his cleanup procedure earlier this season – a common side effect with ACL surgery rehab – he had a noticeable limp. He was productive and didn’t appear to be doing any damage, nor would the Ravens have put their lead back in a bad situation unless they thought his knee wouldn’t hold up long term and there’s no indication of that. Instead, I suggested that the limp was something positive. Not of itself, but of the indication that he’d get better over the coming weeks.
The limp is still there, if not quite as noticeable. Dobbins has been effective since his return, but he’s also not gotten better. There’s some question about whether the knee is causing issues again, though sitting out of Week 18 was designed to help clear up things along with the rest of his team. We’ll see if that works and if Dobbins looks more like he did in the first couple weeks of each return rather than the last few. Dobbins isn’t taking many touches – around 15, all season – and not that many in the red zone. (The Ravens just don’t run in the red zone, it seems.)
With Gus Edwards questionable with a concussion suffered in Week 18, Dobbins is in line for a big day, but questions on his durability in-game and who’ll be around him make him tough to bet on, along with the Ravens. Depending on who’s handing him the ball, the Ravens might be playing from behind and passing, or they may have no choice but to run Dobbins more than he can handle as their most talented player on the field.
MARK ANDREWS, TE RAVENS (inflamed knee)
Mark Andrews was a scratch for Week 18, along with much of the Ravens key personnel. It’s not a bye week, but a week off should count for something, right? With Andrews, it appears it has. The physical tight end takes a lot of contact and even initiates a lot of it, looking for mismatches and unready, undersized corners to torment as he goes upfield.
Back in Week 9, John Harbaugh said Andrews was dealing with two minor injuries, a sprained shoulder and an inflamed knee. The Ravens might need to look up ‘minor’ in the dictionary since Andrews has been dealing with these since. The big target can play through them, but it’s clear he’s dealing with it even when it hasn’t called his availability into question.
His production is down since the injuries, but Lamar Jackson’s absence makes it hard to read in isolation. He’s had down stats absent a big game in Week 17, though he hasn’t found the end zone in the second half of the season. Looking at what they’ll do in the re-do with the Bengals on Sunday is more about who they’ll have available. Andrews will be on the field, but who else is there is key to whether they’ll cover or go over again. It’s too uncertain for my bankroll to go near the Ravens.
Dolphins at Bills
TUA TAGOVAILOA, QB DOLPHINS (concussion)
TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, QB DOLPHINS (inflamed finger/inflamed knee)
Tua Tagovailoa is “in” the concussion protocol and will not be cleared for this weekend’s game. That said, the Dolphins have basically not been following the protocol and instead have held Tagovailoa out of the normal processes, the five steps that lead to being cleared to play post-concussion. I get ruling him out, or even him opting out, but simply not following the procedures in place complicates a lot of things. Again, I have no issue with him not playing, but an issue with not attempting to clear protocols. If nothing else, researchers should know whether or not his symptoms lingered with multiple concussions.
Tagovailoa’s long term viability as a quarterback comes down to whether or not he chooses to play. We simply don’t know if he’s even having symptoms at this stage, and the knowledge the field has about long term – years down the line – consequences is near-zero. Assuming Tagovailoa’s symptoms, if there are any, don’t linger long term, there’s no reason he couldn’t come back. Physically, he’s come back from a lot and a head doesn’t become more concussion-likely because of past injuries, at least as far as current research knows. The fact that he’s had concussions is a bit of bad luck and a bit of susceptibility. If he keeps being in the same situations, it’s likely he has more down the line.
Beyond this, both Teddy Bridgewater and Skyler Thompson are banged up. Bridgewater’s swollen finger post-dislocation should be monitored, since the drop to Thompson would move lines. Right now, Thompson is prepping as the starter but practice on Thursday and Friday will be the key indicators. This will come down to Bridgewater’s ability to grip and throw, with the knee more of an annoyance than a limiting factor to his game. It could be a three point value swing between Bridgewater and Thompson, as well as hurting yardage props for Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill.
Philadelphia Eagles (Bye Week)
JALEN HURTS, QB EAGLES (sprained chest/shoulder)
Perhaps this one is the key to the NFC picture among all NFL playoffs injuries.
Jalen Hurts was reported to be in significant pain. I spoke to a source with the Eagles that confirmed this, but specified that it was only when he was hit. That’s to be expected after the SC sprain. The damage to the thick, relatively immobile ligament is painful, largely to force the body to acknowledge and protect the key area of the sternum. If it only hurts when he’s hit, well, the solution is on the Eagles to figure out how to minimize that while still maximizing his talents in a playoff run.
There’s very little the medical staff can do here. Could he take a painkilling injection? Unlikely, as with a general painkiller. This isn’t something a couple Aleve would help much. In essence, the bye gives him some time, but it’s probably not enough to completely get rid of this. With the playoff schedule the Eagles face, the two weeks of play in the Division and Championship rounds, are the issue. Keeping Hurts as healthy as possible through that Division game is key, with only a week to get ready.
Hurts gets the week off and again, there’s not much that can be done here. There’s been some suggestion that he’s gotten PRP injections, but there’s no studies on the specific efficacy there with this uncommon injury. My expectation is that Hurts will play much as he did in Week 18 – in pain, but still effectively. It’s not enough to change my opinion on the Eagles as a whole, assuming the medical staff can get players like Lane Johnson and Josh Sweat better.
NFL Playoffs Injuries: Quick Hits
Damar Hamlin is out of the hospital but there’s still not a lot of detail on exactly what happened. The key is going to be neurological function, but there’s at least positive signs there. Play again? That’s going to be up to him, his doctors, and his God … Jimmy Garoppolo is beginning workouts. The NFC Championship remains a long shot, but we’ll see how his workouts ramp up over the next ten days. Kyle Shanahan is in position to have one interesting decision to make … There have been rumors that Aaron Rodgers had a minor surgery to pin his broken thumb, but no confirmation. That would surprise me as he played with it and wasn’t re-breaking it every week … Raheem Mostert may try to play through a broken thumb, but it will impact his role as the pass catcher in the committee … Lane Johnson has a nearly ruptured adductor (groin) and it has a risk of rupture in game. He knows it and is facing surgery regardless, but that’s a real Sword of Damocles right there and a tough prep for Nick Sirianni, knowing Johnson could be out on any play … Leighton Vander Esch has been out since Week 15 with a nerve issue in his neck. He’s expected back this week as the Cowboys seem as healthy as they’ve been all season … The Bills are teasing Micah Hyde’s return, but the DB won’t play this week. He could be back if they advance