There’s going to be a lot of debate across the league about whether it’s better to rest players to avoid NFL injuries or to keep them out there and on rhythm. There’s no definitive study on this and the anecdotal evidence can be piled on any side of the argument, with examples of rest teams winning and losing, and play teams doing the same.
I spoke with several NFL staffers about the issue and most fall in the middle. Seeing players play some, but removing them when the game is either in hand or at half, as well as limiting some plays – receivers over the middle, adjusting to max protect or shorter drops – seems to be the preferred path.
Week 18 Injuries Analysis
In past years, we’ve seen the pattern of injury be front loaded, with the midpoint coming in Week 2. This year and last, we’ve seen that move closer to the midpoint of the season. (My guess is it’s week 7 or 8 from the current data.) That means more injuries are likely in NFL Week 18 and into the playoffs, making protecting those players even more important.
For your bets, it’s easier to go with the known – adjusting to rested players – rather than trying to guess the unknown – when/if Tom Brady gets pulled from the game, for example. Personally, I avoid unknowns, but it might be tough this week to completely keep your bankroll out of those games.
Philadelphia Eagles Injuries
JALEN HURTS, QB EAGLES (sprained shoulder/chest)
JOSH SWEAT, DL EAGLES (unspecified neck issue)
Jalen Hurts has been out two weeks with the shoulder (SC) sprain and two losses put the Eagles in a must-win spot. Losing could put the Cowboys over them, losing the division and the bye in one fell swoop. A win would all but lock up the week off the team appears to desperately need. Ian Rapoport reported that Hurts was an “if this was the playoffs” decision, which makes the Week 18 the functional equivalent.
Hurts was seen throwing ahead of Week 17, so an extra week of rest and treatment should help, though there’s still some recurrence risk. My guess is that they’ll be a little more cautious with their offense, especially given what the Giants did to Nick Foles last week. The Eagles offensive line is down Lane Johnson, but has been effective all year, largely due to Hurts’ ability to extend plays or just run. If that changes a bit, it could affect scoring and fourth down algebra. I’ll take the under this week on almost everything, with the Giants likely to be a bit cautious with their playoff spot locked in place.
Josh Sweat dropped to the ground and players immediately started waving to the sidelines. Sweat has been a key figure at the front of Philly’s solid defense and losing him opens up holes as the Eagles appear to be wearing down at the end of the season. An injury like this, what’s called a “neck injury” by the Eagles but has all the hallmarks of a spinal concussion, could have happened at any time, but if it’s luck or luck balancing, the Eagles medical staff will be key to overcoming it.
As serious as these kinds of injuries look at the time, they tend to be transient. Once the shock has worn off, the spine begins functioning quickly and in days, there’s no sign at all. There’s no long period where cardio or muscle tone is gone, nor do they tend to recur without some underlying cause like spinal stenosis. In other words, if Sweat is back out there in Week 18, he’s more likely to play normally and help the Eagles hold onto the bye, which could really help them.
Miami Dolphins Injuries
TUA TAGOVAILOA, QB DOLPHINS (concussion)
TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, QB DOLPHINS (dislocated finger)
Tua Tagovailoa is out again this week and with the injury to Teddy Bridgewater, it’s likely that the Dolphins slim playoff hopes are in the hand of Skyler Thompson. I can’t remember a year where third string quarterbacks have been so key to so many teams, but that’s likely something NFL teams will need to think about going forward. Just as backup quarterbacks have become something teams are willing to pay for, I think third and even fourth quarterbacks will be soon. This partially goes with the trend of “athlete backs” or Taysom HIll type hybrids as the roster hybridizes.
Bridgewater dislocated his pinkie on his throwing hand and while it was reduced, reports are that Bridgewater had issues with grip. Those should resolve unless there’s an underlying soft tissue injury and we should know by Wednesday if he’ll be able to play. If so, he’s likely to play normally. While a dislocation is painful in the moment, there’s seldom long term consequences or likelihood of recurrence, unless he hits another helmet with his hand. If he plays, Bridgewater hasn’t been as high scoring as Tagovailoa was, but he’s shown he can move the ball around the field, something Thompson hasn’t been as good at. Bridgewater’s status is key to all the receivers, but especially Tyreek Hill, who’s been a near-automatic over on yardage.
As for Tagovailoa, he’s not in the standard protocol. He is, technically, but the Dolphins don’t seem to be moving him through it. It could be as simple as him having symptoms, but deciding that he’s not going to play is a bit of a slippery slope. He or anyone does have to clear the protocol steps, so how is that done potentially weeks later? Or not at all, if Tagovailoa doesn’t play again this season. (The answer there becomes the exit physical.) I get holding him out and protecting him, but that shouldn’t preclude doing the standard steps to see if he can clear, which is why there’s a standard protocol at all.
Baltimore Ravens Injuries
LAMAR JACKSON, QB RAVENS (sprained knee)
We still haven’t seen Lamar Jackson run or cut five weeks after his knee injury, as of my Tuesday writing of this column. We’re still being told that he’s doing this behind the scenes, but for a second week, if it was going as well as the team is saying behind the scenes, they’d put at least some of it in front of the curtains. John Harbaugh has continued not to tell the media anything, nor has much leaked, even positive news. With Ravens-Bengals odds getting sharp money on Cincinnati, it seems clear the market has doubts Jackson or his back-up, Tyler Huntley, will play.
Here’s one other complicating factor: The Ravens haven’t given Jackson a long term deal. I don’t think Jackson is sandbagging here at all; it wouldn’t make any sense. But if he had that security, would he be more likely to play at less than 100 percent and risk a bit? I don’t know, but it’s a question I’ve heard more than once in the past couple weeks.
Tennessee Titans Injuries
DERRICK HENRY, RB TITANS
Last week, the Titans rested much of their team in a meaningless Thursday game, giving Derrick Henry and a shocking amount of injured starters the game off, many of them necessary rather than precautionary, to get the full benefit of the long week to heal up as much as possible for the de facto play-in game with the Jaguars.
We don’t know how Henry will play with Josh Dobbs handing him the ball, but if we can take something from last week and from the normal tendencies of Mike Vrabel teams, Henry’s going to get volume when he starts. Hassan Haskins took a slight bit more outside rushes, which could be because Dobbs can get out to stretch plays where Ryan Tannehill couldn’t on his damaged ankle. That could open up a bit more of the field for Henry, who can excel in either a power or one-cut scheme. While it’s unlikely Henry will do to the Jags defense what he does to Houston on the regular, he’s likely to be high volume while the game is close, hip issue or not.
Arizona Cardinals Injuries
JAMES CONNER, RB CARDINALS (bruised shin)
James Conner has been a bright spot in a rough season for the Cardinals, but there’s sign that what looked bright had some burn to it, or at least some fatigue. Next Gen showed that Conner was slower, but after the game, there’s word that Conner was playing with a bruised shin. That could be as simple as getting hit or kicked there, something I’m still stunned doesn’t happen more often.
Assuming that Conner is back at practice by Thursday, he’s likely to get at least the bulk of carries but they probably won’t overdo it either. Taking him out seems like an option, but the Cards want to be at least a credible offense and Conner’s been it right now since Kyler Murray has been sidelined.
Conner and the Cards are facing the best run defense in the game, with nothing to play for. Conner has been at 100 yards combined since returning from injury, but his last game against San Francisco was his season low. Things don’t match up well on any level for yardage props here, or for the Cards putting up big points.
Minnesota Vikings Injuries
AUSTIN SCHLOTTMAN, OT (strained calf)
BRIAN O’NEILL, C VIKINGS (fractured fibula)
The Vikings had a big setback last week and it could get worse after losing two key linemen. Kirk Cousins needs time in the pocket both to find receivers and to let his speed guys get further down field. Losing Brian O’Neill to a calf injury is bad, but losing Austin Schlottman might be even worse, given the Vikings were already down a center. Garret Bradbury has missed four games with a back injury, leaving a big hole at a key spot.
After both were gone, pressure was turned up, and Cousins simply didn’t get things done. Some credit goes to the defensive scheme and the DBs just blanketing Justin Jefferson, but with a week to adjust and facing a defense that doesn’t have the same skill, I’m not knocking too much off what the Vikings can do. Call it counter-intuitive, but I think this will look like a bounce-back game when in fact, it’s merely adjustment to quicker passes and perhaps a bit more running, which could lead to the occasional deep ball. Give me the Vikings and Jefferson over this week.
Los Angeles Chargers Injuries
JOEY BOSA, EDGE CHARGERS (strained groin)
The Chargers got Joey Bosa back just as the team seems to be getting hot and heading into the playoffs. Adding him to their pass rush certainly helped against the struggling Rams and could be a big add if he can play. He missed most of the season after having his groin re-attached (yes, go ahead and cringe), not the sports hernia repair most thought this was. Bosa played 20 snaps and should see a light load against the Broncos, but with a mobile QB like Russell Wilson, we might get some looks at how well he moves. The Chargers are in place to get the AFC South winner in the wild card round (Jags or Titans), and his ability could be key against either team’s rushing attack and pass rush.
NFL Injuries Quick Hits:
Trey Lance had the plate on his ankle (fibula) removed because it was irritating the soft tissue nearby. It’s a common issue and while it definitively ends his season, it’s not a complication at all as he and the Niners look to next season … Nick Foles landed on the ball, injuring his ribs (the Colts won’t confirm fracture) and bruising his diaphragm, causing him to lay on the turf gasping for air. He won’t play this week as Sam Ehlinger closes out the season and perhaps the Jeff Saturday era … Christian McCaffrey has a mild ankle sprain, which could affect how much he plays. The Niners and Eagles play in the same late Sunday window, so there will be some scoreboard watching … Tony Pollard is expected to be back in his normal 1A role for the Cowboys in Week 18 … Still no details on the knee issue that kept DeAndre Hopkins out last week, but it’s sounding like it will do the same this week …Tyler Lockett only got a couple targets, due to missing much of the game with a minor leg issue. We still don’t have a good look at how the finger would hold up, but another week of healing should help as well. The Seahawks need him in a must win game after having to go to WR8 on the depth chart last week … Leonard Williams suffered another stinger and left the game Sunday. The recurrence is becoming concerning for Williams’ longevity … Derwin James missed Week 17 after not clearing concussion protocol. He was concussed on the play he was ejected for. Leading with the head makes no sense and I’m not sure ejection is enough of a deterrent. If he clears protocol, he’ll play for the Chargers.