In a normal year, the NFL injury report hid the midpoint right now, at the start of Week 2. The last couple seasons have had obvious challenges, but also overlapped with changes in practice rules, contact, and even workout time.
While it’s easy to blame COVID for everything, this continuing change might have changed the clock on injuries more strongly. We’ll know in the next few weeks, but the uptick in NFL injury incidents in Week 1 looks a lot like last year.
Add in big-name quarterbacks, and NFL injury news looks worse than it actually is. Again, it looks almost identical to last year – so let’s get to it.
Chargers at Chiefs (Thursday Night Football)
KEENAN ALLEN, WR CHARGERS (strained hamstring)
A tough NFL injury for the position. A speed player gets an injury that saps speed, like a hamstring strain, and somehow, people don’t recognize that for someone like Keenan Allen, a hamstring strain is going to impact his game more than a physical receiver like Godwin. Yes, they both run, but the key is how they get open, how they get separation. Take that into account, even if a low-grade hamstring strain is all that Allen is dealing with.
The short week is really going to bite Allen here. With word that it’s a Grade I strain, there’s a chance he could have come back by Sunday or at least a better one. There’s just not enough time for healing to take or for treatments to make much of a difference. Allen would be at a higher risk of recurrence and exacerbation if he plays, so I do not expect him to play and if he does, I think there will be limits.
DeAndre Carter seems to have gotten the extra looks after Allen left, but it’s unclear if that’s going to be the case against Kansas City. Justin Herbert doesn’t have a deep set of receivers anyway, so he’s more likely to stay with Mike Williams, Gerald Everett, and Josh Kelley for the target distribution than go down the chart. Allen takes away some explosiveness as well, so the 54.5 line might have to come more from the Chiefs than the Chargers.
Patriots at Steelers
MAC JONES, QB PATRIOTS (back spasms)
You’ve watched NFL games. You’ve seen quarterbacks hit from every angle, including those blind side plays where the spine is hyperextended brutally. Mac Jones had one of those in the fourth quarter, but stayed in the game. He could be seen on the sidelines trying to stay loose, but it was no surprise he was having back spasms. The medical staff did x-rays after the game and found no issues, so Jones will be spending some time on the treatment table this week.
It shouldn’t affect him, though I will be watching for any reports of recurrent spasms or movement deficits in practice this week. He’s sure to take more hits, but less of those would be better, as would be wearing a more advanced flak jacket. In pictures and video I could find of Jones, he doesn’t appear to wear anything back there. I’m sure that will change this week.
If Jones plays, he’ll be normal so I’d keep all models standard for the Patriots offense. While the team lost, Jones was accurate and the interception came on a brilliant defensive play rather than a bad throw. He spread the ball around a lot, with Jakobi Myers the high with 4 catches and six targets. That could make props hard and the Pats offense isn’t going to be explosive at its best.
NAJEE HARRIS, RB STEELERS (sprained foot)
Najee Harris dealt with a foot injury, thought to be a mild Lisfranc sprain, in the preseason. When it appeared to recur during Sunday’s game, everyone thought the worst, including me. Recurrences aren’t good, but a minor recurrence of what was called a minor sprain is, you guessed it, minor. Harris appears confident that he will play normally in Week 2 and even if he’s given some light practice, there’s optimism about him.
The Steelers need it after a tough first week offensively. They got the win, but had a hard time moving the ball. Harris was thought to be one of the top runners this season with a chance to have a QB-induced touch increase. He’ll have to stay healthy to do that and his usage against the Bengals may show it wouldn’t happen anyway. Both Harris and Jaylen Warren had 2.3 yards per carry and that’s no good.
Season props on Harris are looking rough, but they have the Patriots at home this week, then a short week to a Browns matchup. Give me unders on both of those and a hard look at rushing total unders on Harris for both as well.
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TJ WATT, DE STEELERS (strained pectoral)
The pectoral is the large muscle of the chest – the Terry Crews muscles – but for many football players, they discover that it’s also involved in the shoulder. If you do a bench press motion, you’ll feel how the muscle thins as it goes up and attaches in the shoulder area. If you do an “arms out to the side” motion, you’ll see how exposed this area is. When a football player gets his arms out wide, then takes more force from an opposing player, pushing it out of the normal range, that muscle attempts to get it back, creating yet more force. Any question how the muscle ends up tearing?
That’s exactly what happened to TJ Watt on Sunday. He got his arm exposed, and that thinnest part of the pectoral muscle ripped. A source tells me that this is about a half (50 percent) strain, right at the point where surgery or rehab is debatable. Watt consulted with several doctors and has opted to avoid surgery for now. The caution here is that it might not work. There’s no downside, since the option of surgery would cost him the entire season. This at least gives a chance of a return, with a risk of re-injury and surgery then. The other risk is that JJ Watt has often overworked his rehab, famously injuring himself just days after back surgery, requiring a second procedure. We can hope that TJ will be a bit smarter, or have better supervision.
As good as the Watt boys are, they’re also injured a lot. Most of those have been soft tissue like this – muscles, tendons, and ligaments. JJ was injured in a similar fashion, ending his season last year with a torn rotator cuff. With the good genes come the bad, apparently.
Bengals at Cowboys
DAK PRESCOTT, QB COWBOYS (fractured thumb)
For a simple injury, there have been a lot of storylines with Dak Prescott’s fractured thumb. The team quickly said that he’d need surgery. By Tuesday, Jerry Jones was saying he felt Prescott could come back faster the the four week IR limit. That’s extremely unlikely. The normally quoted range for an injury like this is 6 to 8 weeks, but let’s remember that the key factor is going to be function, not healing.
Yes, the thumb will have to heal at least somewhat, even pinned together as it was during Prescott’s Monday surgery. Team doctors also inserted a plate along the bone for additional strength. I am told that doctors altered the normal procedure slightly, placing the plate where it would least affect motion. His hand was tested a bit under anesthesia, though clearly the grip strength and “touch” will have to come under far different conditions.
Multiple sources I spoke with believe that Prescott will be able to play by Week 4. There’s risk, but quarterbacks are taking similar risk on every play. Prescott won’t be in severe pain and in the worst case, he re-fractures it, which is less likely with the plate. The biggest danger is actually in trying to catch himself when he falls, but the hardest part will be the touch he’s able to put on passes. Prescott, a longtime disciple of Tom House, has a good base to be able to handle any mechanical issue.
While the whole Cowboys offense is going to be off model due to this injury, many are going to underestimate Prescott, especially if he comes back quickly and we get a “rushed back” narrative. Once Prescott is back, treat him as normal. Doing so might give some advantage over the line and on props, especially if Michael Gallup is back concurrently.
Seahawks at 49ers
ELIJAH MITCHELL, RB 49ERS (sprained knee)
The Niners can’t seem to keep a running back healthy. Over the past several years, they’ve cycled through a bunch of them. They’re all of a type, fast and shifty and apparently not durable. The hope was that Elijah Mitchell would break the streak, but instead he didn’t get out of Week 1 before he was sidelined by a knee sprain.
It could have been worse. The hit on Mitchell came more laterally, putting more stress on the MCL than the ACL. No sprain is good, but Mitchell can recover more quickly from the low grade sprain to his MCL than the same to the more key ACL. Estimates are that he’ll be out about eight weeks, with Jeff Wilson Jr getting first shot at his touches.
While Mitchell was a fantasy breakout candidate, that’s gone. It shouldn’t change much in terms of the Niners offense, which has regularly used multiple runners due to NFL injury anyway. Trey Lance remains the key point, with his development more and more the big question, especially with Jimmy Garoppolo right there.
JAMAL ADAMS, DB SEAHAWKS (strained quad)
It was as clear as it was brutal. Jamal Adams tore his quad tendon and the replay showed the way the muscle retracted as it ruptured. An MRI will confirm it and Adams is done for the season, heading for a surgery that doesn’t have a great success rate. The immediate impact to the Seattle defense isn’t clear. Adams is much more a run-stopper and is best suited for three safety defenses. His skill set won’t be a one for one replacement, but last year, when Adams was out after shoulder surgery, the defense didn’t drop off much.
I was curious to see if lines started high and adjusted over the week, and sure enough the 49ers are now double-digit favorites at the time of publish after opening -8.5.
Bucs at Saints
CHRIS GODWIN, WR BUCCANEERS (strained hamstring)
You might remember The Fixx, a great and often overlooked eighties band from Australia. Their song “One Thing Leads To Another” often comes to mind when I see compensation injuries like what happened to Chris Godwin. Godwin is coming back from his ACL reconstruction and clearly isn’t physically 100 percent. Note that it’s very different from being medically cleared; that means the graft is stable and healing inside the knee is complete. Getting back to physical function, especially at the elite level, is a much different thing.
It’s impossible to say that the hamstring strain and the knee situation are directly related, but it’s very likely that they are. Godwin is likely making compensations and movement changes, even different muscle-firing patterns, all of which can lead to things like gait changes and muscular issues. While Godwin’s injury is said to be low-grade, all these factors mean they’ll likely be very conservative with him.
Tom Brady did what Tom Brady does and spread out the targets. Godwin’s latest NFL injury makes it tougher to see if he’s the true WR2 – he is – but Julio Jones looked more effective than Russell Gage. I’d expect Godwin to be down on targets if he plays, so props are also down. The bigger question is if the team will find a go-to in the red zone for both points and fantasy points.
DONOVAN SMITH, OT BUCCANEERS (hyperextended elbow)
Speaking of JJ Watt, his famous arm brace is the result of an elbow hyperextension he suffered years ago. That same NFL injury is what happened to Donovan Smith, who’s set to protect Tom Brady’s blindside. The first concern is that this can be very painful. Once that’s clear, they can brace him up and get him used to it, seeing if there’s any technique limitations with the brace on. I spoke to one source, a former NFL player, who said he’s seen very short periods for players on either side of the ball to get comfortable with those. This week is the test, but is more about pain. We’ll see how or if Smith practices. If he’s in there Friday, he’s more likely to play.
While every team has speed rushers, the Bucs don’t face any elite ones for the next couple weeks so Smith may have time to heal up and get used to the brace. The team may also make some adjustments to blocking schemes, but I don’t think this will make big changes in a Brady offense. I’m holding my model on yardage and points for them, even if Smith misses a couple weeks. There’s always extra “protect Brady” modes that they can activate.
NFL Injury Quick Hits
Alvin Kamara has bruised ribs. He’s looking in to better rib protectors, which all players should be wearing. I don’t think this should alter his touches much in Week 2 … Packers WR Alan Lazard’s “minor” ankle injury was enough to keep him out and is now lingering into a second week. Once again, we’ll have to watch practice reports for signs he’ll play in Week 2 … Bengals WR Tee Higgins is in the concussion protocol, which means there’s no way to put a timeline down. Remember, severity doesn’t always align with timeline. If he’s practicing by Friday, there’s a good chance he plays … 49ers TE George Kittle has a severe enough groin strain that it’s not only Week 2 in question, but there’s a chance the Niners could use the IR … Aaron Rodgers didn’t have either starting tackle and lost Packers guard Jon Runyan to a concussion in the game. Runyan could be back, depending on how he progresses through the protocol. The tackles look to be in the same gametime mode this week … Ravens LT Ju’Wuan James tore his Achilles, again. He’ll miss the rest of the season … The whole thing with Justin Reid kicking in the preseason seemed cute, but did Andy Reid know something? When Harrison Butker went down with an ankle injury, Reid stepped in. That’s roster flexibility … A source tells me Colts LB Shaq Leonard was never really that close to playing, but that’s he’s been pushing the Colts to let him on the field. They’re holding him back since there’s still physical deficits … Titans DE Da’Shawn Hand tore his quadriceps, plus there was tendon involvement, in Game 1. He’s done for the season … The short week is bad for Chargers CB JC Jackson as well. His ankle sprain isn’t considered serious, but he doesn’t have much time to get better. He’ll be spending a lot of time with the medical staff looking for stability.
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