NFL Injuries: 15 Key Starters Banged Up Among NFL Playoff Contenders

Written By Will Carroll on December 28, 2022
nfl injuries

The NFL postseason is two weeks away, and the NFL Playoff Picture has not completely formed yet. That leaves several franchises scrambling in Week 17, trying to survive and advance while dealing with injuries to key positions, including quarterback.

Each week, TheLines provides the latest expert NFL injury report analysis and reporting to help you make smarter bets.

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Analysis For Week 17 NFL Injuries

Will Carroll has covered injuries in sports 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

Miami Dolphins Injuries

Tua Tagovailoa, QB Dolphins (concussion)

Given how Tua Tagovailoa was dealt with last time, actually creating change in the NFL’s concussion policy, I’m sure this one will be looked at again. Be sure to read my deep dive into this third Tua concussion for what’s going on with the injury, the handling of concussions in the NFL and what other doctors are saying.

Philadelphia Eagles Injuries

JALEN HURTS, QB EAGLES (sprained shoulder)

The Eagles took the cautious route last week, letting Gardner Minshew take a start while Jalen Hurts healed up an injury that was different than what was initially thought. Instead of being the more common AC joint sprain, Hurts has a Grade I SC joint sprain. The sternoclavicular joint is the other end of the clavicle, where it attaches to the sternum. The ligament there is thick, extremely immobile for functional reasons, but can be very painful. 

While Hurts is likely in no danger by playing, the pain and change to his throwing motion, as well as the surety of taking more hits and putting motion in that joint – yes, it’s a joint – made missing last week the right move. This week remains in question and will be decided by practice and Hurts’ response to the work. They won’t simulate the hits, but the medical staff should have a good idea of the pain levels.

Minshew moved the offense, even against a solid Cowboys defense, so there’s little worry there. Losing Lane Johnson is a bigger issue, but getting Hurts back to hold on to the bye over the last two weeks is important to gain the Eagles some extra rest. On that note, if the Eagles win and Vikings lose, look for a full bench clear in Week 18 for the Eagles to gain even more rest for a team that is showing some fatigue.

LANE JOHNSON, OT EAGLES (strained abdomen)

The Eagles appeared to be coasting into the playoffs with the bye nearly locked up and perhaps the top record in all of football. Philly fans were checking hotels in Phoenix and brushing up on Rihanna tunes. However, injuries are getting in the way and show the toll the season has taken on the team despite the record and seemingly easy wins. There’s always a physical toll and on any play, something like an abdominal strain can happen. 

Lane Johnson was simply blocking. He stepped, twisted, pushed, and something in his core gave, dropping him to the turf like he’d been gut punched. He pointed just above his hip on the left side when the medical staff came out, but he was also rubbing his right side as he walked off, so I don’t have much clarity about where it is or which muscle is strained. None of them are good, but there’s a big range in best case to worst that we don’t have clarity on yet. The official word is that Johnson strained a tendon in his abdomen, though which isn’t given. All of those are painful and will take a matter of weeks to heal. That puts Johnson out through the regular season and makes the bye even more important.

Losing Johnson probably equals getting Hurts back. The Eagles have some line depth and flexibility, but their unique offense, built around Hurts’ abilities, is largely enabled by the offensive lines abilities and cohesion. Giving seven seems like a lot, even with Hurts back and even against a confusing Saints team that hasn’t found an identity without Sean Payton. The Over 44 seems high as well, given Johnson’s absence and Hurts return still in some question.

Tennessee Titans

RYAN TANNEHILL, QB TITANS (high ankle sprain)

On the TheLines Injury Podcast last week, I told Stephen Andress that it sure felt like something more was going on with Ryan Tannehill. He was moving less and less well, the ATs were struggling to tape him up enough — there was no brace, by the way — and sure enough, there was. Tannehill had a high ankle sprain and a severe one. That he was playing with it shows his athletic ability and pain tolerance, but it kept getting worse, eventually giving way. 

Tannehill had surgery, installing a kevlar system over the repaired ligament, called Tightrope surgery. Players can come back from this in six to eight weeks (pretty miraculous timing, honestly) but there’s not that much time left in the season and the way the Titans are playing, it’s probably much less. The team is battered, losing players all over the field and it seems like more are falling in a classic death spiral.

Tannehill is functionally done for the season, absent some miracle run to the Super Bowl and even then, it’s unlikely. Tannehill shouldn’t have issues with the ankle in the future, especially with six months to get ready for his next action, wherever the free agent to be lands. For now, Malik Willis gets a couple weeks to make the case that Tannehill isn’t needed in Tennessee next year, but Tennessee shouldn’t get your bets either. 

DERRICK HENRY, RB TITANS (bruised hip)

Workhorse. Battering ram. Derrick Henry’s been called a lot of things, but he is in the end, only human. He missed half the season last year after a freak broken foot and has come back well. With the absence of Ryan Tannehill, it’s no wonder that Henry has taken on even more load, especially without much behind him. He’s become more involved in the passing game and is even kept in as a schemed blocker. That increased load is taking a toll, becoming more and more apparent every week. He’s had a couple games where the game script takes away carries in the second half, but he’s also very clearly worn down in games.

Right now, missing practice time with a hip issue – there’s no detail on it, but reports make it sound more like a bruise than a strain – doesn’t sound like it’s that bad, but the Thursday game against the Cowboys isn’t make or break for the Titans either. Henry could get a full two weeks rest ahead of a de facto play-in game with the Jags in Week 18, if the Titans choose. Henry was back at practice Tuesday, in a very good sign.

On a short week, this is a bit more of a problem for Henry. Willis will be in front, so Henry will be facing eight man fronts again, if he’s in there. If not, the Titans would be starting Hassan Haskins and along with a rookie QB, there’s just no reason to do anything but take the Cowboys and the points.

Week 18 Look-Ahead Line: Titans at Jaguars

Detroit Lions

JAMAAL WILLIAMS, RB LIONS (sprained knee)

Sometimes, there’s almost no information you get from a player leaving a game. Jamaal Williams left last week’s game in the third quarter and didn’t return until late in the fourth, but at the same time, the Lions were almost exclusively in hurry up, where D’Andre Swift is the preferred back. Williams is the power back, the goal line guy, and there were only a few situations where that came up with the Lions surprisingly down three scores at the point Williams went out.

Reports from the Lions are scarce on details, but a source tells me that Williams has a mild sprain of his knee. The return was a good sign and we’ll get more if he practices, but the Lions are deep at running back and could rest Williams – or at least reduce his load – against the Bears. Late week practices should be the best indicator here and Williams’ power role means he could have one of those 5 carries for 5 yards and 2 TD games that make a player a Fantasy Championship legend.

A Williams absence or reduction wouldn’t affect the Lions lines against the Bears, even after a poor performance against the Panthers. The Bears could follow that script and run at them with two healthy backs plus Justin Fields, so the numbers on the early week lines feel about right to me, regardless of Williams’ status.

Seattle Seahawks Injuries

TYLER LOCKETT, WR SEAHAWKS (fracture finger)

Just two weeks after having his fractured finger pinned back together, Pete Carroll is going to give Tyler Lockett every chance to play. Carroll said that Lockett wouldn’t need to practice to be activated. He knows the routes, after all. Lockett doesn’t have to practice to see whether he can catch. That can be done indoors and away from the team (and the press). If he can or can’t is all the team needs to know. If he can, he plays.

Interestingly, Tyler Boyd had a similar but not identical injury and came back after two weeks. In Week 15, he had a setback and while we don’t have details, there’s some indication from reports that Boyd re-injured the repaired finger. While that doesn’t mean Lockett can’t go or that he’ll suffer the same fate, it’s not a positive either.

The risk here is that Lockett comes out, plays a couple plays, and goes out, rendering all your research moot. If Lockett can play and take some of the Jets’ focus off DK Metcalf, that’s valuable. There’s only one Sauce Gardner out there and he can’t cover both, though the Jets DBs have been good overall. There’s just no surety about Lockett being able to be effective or even stay on the field. We won’t know the former until later in the week and we simply won’t know the latter. Bet cautiously here on this game. 

Cincinnati Bengals Injuries

LA’EL COLLINS, OT BENGALS (sprained knee)

La’el Collins went down with what looked like a severe knee injury, and it was. The initial reaction and pain came from what he said was a dislocated kneecap (patella.) That’s very painful, but can be resolved by getting it back in position. While we didn’t see that clearly, Collins walking off the field and not writhing in pain gives us the indication. Later tests showed a severe sprain of the knee, including the ACL, and Collins is done for the season.

Early reports from Cincinnati said seven months to a return, which is an oddly specific number. I can’t tell exactly where it came from, but the normal rehab time from a standard ACL/MCL is nine to twelve months. (An isolated standard ACL is six to nine.) Several players – think Chase Young – have gone longer than that due to complications and challenges, so being so specific makes no sense at all. Give Collins’ need for lateral mobility and stability, plus his sheer size, I’d go on the longer side of the rehab even if things go perfectly well. That puts the start of next season in doubt.

For this week, Joe Burrow already takes a lot of hits. That’s not going to get better with Collins out and no, Andrew Whitworth is not walking through that door. The Bills are currently a 1 point favorite on the road and a lot of that feels like uncertainty about Burrows having enough time to throw. My expectation is we’ll see shorter throws as Zac Taylor judges just how well the line is playing without Collins, which could lead to longer drives and a lower total.

NFL Injuries: Quick Hits

Cardinals star DB Budda Baker has a fractured shoulder. Chris Banjo will slot in to replace him … Jets QB Mike White has been cleared to play. His rib fractures likely aren’t healed, but are stable. There’s some risk he takes another big hit and has an issue, but the doctors must be comfortable and I hope White is too … We still haven’t seen Lamar Jackson running, though reports are he’s doing it behind the scenes. Having clinched a playoff spot, I’m certain that will factor into whether Jackson returns in Week 17 or even 18. If we don’t see Jackson by Thursday, we won’t this week … Anyone telling you they have info on Jimmy Garoppolo is a couple weeks too early. There’s nothing to know from outside before the four week mark … The Cowboys haven’t given much detail on the thigh injury to Tony Pollard, but word is he’s likely to play in Thursday’s game. I’d expect a reduction in his run game if he plays … Chandler Jones’ hyperextended elbow will keep him out the remainder of the season, so Brock Purdy can breathe a bit easier this week … Bud Dupree left the game with a chest injury and hasn’t practiced this week. He’s unlikely to play Thursday for the banged up Titans … JJ Watt was one of the best defensive players of his era despite a number of injuries. Imagine Watt without missing time to  knee, back, and elbow surgeries. We may never have really seen what a healthy Watt could do, but what he did will end up in Canton in five years.

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Will Carroll Avatar
Written by
Will Carroll

Will Carroll has covered injuries in sports for more than 20 years, working at places like ESPN, Baseball Prospectus, Football Outsiders, and FanDuel. He’s written four books, including the upcoming “The Science of Football” and consults with several pro teams. He is currently the Director of Bioanalytics for Northstarr, a sports science startup company.

View all posts by Will Carroll