NFL Week 15 Injuries: Analysis For 5 QBs, 13 Other Key Players

Written By Will Carroll on December 14, 2022
nfl week 15 injuries

Week 15 odds seemingly every year require NFL bettors to decide how much to downgrade teams for the rest of the season that no longer have their starting quarterback. This year’s edition also requires us to figure out how much to downgrade starters who may be playing hurt. Five of the spotlight players among NFL Week 15 injuries are QBs. Let’s get to the injury analysis.

Will 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 newly published “The Science of Football” and consults with several pro teams. Let’s dive into the injuries to these star players.

Editor’s Note

49ers at Seahawks (Thursday Night Football)

CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY, RB 49ERS (inflamed knees)

As if the Niners don’t have enough problems, they’re more concerned now about Christian McCaffrey being among NFL Week 15 injuries than they have been. He’s likely to be more of a focus of the offense with Deebo Samuel out, but his knees have become a maintenance issue. This isn’t new, but keeping the knees from being more of a problem hasn’t happened, with the issue getting a tiny bit worse every week. Where that saps function is unknown, but it’s closer than most think, according to my sources. Adding load to this won’t help, which means the Niners are smart enough to not do it too much, if possible.

In the longer term, McCaffrey’s knees are likely to keep him from playing at a high level for a long time. With the right maintenance, he can play for several more years, and there’s little doubt there’s going to be demand for McCaffrey. The Niners seem to want to keep him beyond a rental, which means they’ll have to focus on load in the short term and management in the longer term.

McCaffrey’s situation shouldn’t change things, but will obviously respond to everything else going on, with Samuel, Brock Purdy, and more injuries. The expectation that McCaffrey as the relatively healthy star will have to pick up more touches is out of step with the Niners’ needed outlook, so don’t fall into the prop traps here. The Niners are more likely to shift his touches down than up on the short week.

DEEBO SAMUEL, WR 49ERS (sprained knee/sprained ankle/high ankle sprain)

A new dynamic for NFL Week 15 injuries! The fact that Deebo Samuel has two injuries, not one, is a positive. That’s counterintuitive, but the body is pretty miraculous in protecting itself. Rather than the high ankle or the knee taking all the load, the connected nature of the leg put some of the force into both, keeping both less damaged from the same bad mechanic. Whether hit at the knee or the lower leg, this mechanism is increasingly seen as we see higher forces, especially at the syndesmotic joint, usually when the foot is planted and an external force is added (ie, someone hitting the outside of the leg or rolling up.)

With more injuries but lesser grades of the strains and sprains, Samuel should come back quicker. Not instantly, but quicker. They’ll also heal concurrently, with almost all the mild sprains on the same couple-week timeline. Samuel is already making progress and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him on the practice field late in the week, aside from the Thursday game. I’d expect to see him by mid-week of Week 16.

The sheer amount of injuries the 49ers are dealing with are epic. That they’ve been able to largely win through them, down the depth chart, is impressive from both a roster and a coaching standpoint. At some point though, this isn’t the same team that put up the previous wins and point totals, which make it much harder to model things. The short week makes it even harder, with almost everything down to the spread.

  • 49ers QB Brock Purdy has been listed as a limited participant in practice this week. More on him below in Quick Hits.

Ravens at Browns (Saturday)

LAMAR JACKSON, QB RAVENS (sprained knee)
TYLER HUNTLEY, QB RAVENS (concussion)

Lamar Jackson will be two weeks post-sprain this weekend and the broad “one to four week” timeline for recovery hasn’t narrowed just yet. Jackson has yet to return to practice and there’s no reports that he’s done any running. If he is, it’s likely very controlled and perhaps in a setting like the pool or an Alter-G. He certainly isn’t showing as close to a return, but if it’s not this week, we don’t know whether it’s the next, or even the next at this stage. This is within the initial expectations after the sprain, but the lack of visible progress starts to get concerning towards the end of the week.

The more proximate problem with Jackson likely out in Week 15 is that Tyler Huntley took an awkward hit to the head and went into the concussion protocol. He’s got a good chance to make it though, having participated in both practices so far this week (as of writing). There’s no way to tell with concussions until the clearance is given, but the Ravens would be back to Anthony Brown, who simply didn’t do much in his plays. 

If Huntley isn’t cleared, the Ravens offense has to be considered a non-play, at least for me. There’s no indication Brown can move the offense and it’s likely to become very conservative. The team can win that way, especially with the running game getting healthier, but even 38.5 seems high in that scenario. The running back split makes it tough to hit any prop as well for the Ravens. Among NFL Week 15 injuries, these two could cripple the team this week.

Jets at Lions

MIKE WHITE, QB JETS (bruised ribs)

Among NFL Week 15 injuries, the injury report on paper doesn’t do what Mike White went through justice. He took a pounding in his start against the Bills. He was like Rocky, getting up after huge shots had him down. But was he at risk? The answer appears to be no. Despite the car-crash force of those hits, White appears to have avoided major injury, a testament to the way the human body can absorb force and protect internal organs. I’m also told White wears rib protection, though I couldn’t find out exactly what kind. 

There was one occasion where White stayed down, clearly having trouble catching his breath, then another when Joe Flacco (not Zach Wilson) came in for him. As with concussions, there was some question about cumulative effect (and maybe some PTSD from Tony Romo.) The Jets medical staff pulled White after the second, going as far as taking him to the hospital after the game for tests. He was cleared and returned with the team. 

With no fractures and no internal issues, White should be back and may want to look into even more padding (or blockers). Wearing that shouldn’t be an issue. So with time, White should be normal. He’s been a solid player for the Jets offense, lifting them some and there’s little reason to believe this injury will have much effect on him or the offense. Put him in with the normal totals, or maybe more as they go against the Lions, who often go high on both sides.

Steelers at Panthers

KENNY PICKETT, QB STEELERS (concussion)

The play where Kenny Pickett took a concussion was an odd one. He dodged a sack, only to get flung to the turf by Roquan Smith in a spinning play that had the announcers far more concerned about Pickett’s leg then head. Indeed, Pickett grabbed initially at the leg. While the Steelers haven’t discussed this, I do think there was initial concern here before the concussion became an issue, largely because the coaching staff was talking to Pickett about the game after the initial tests.

Concussions are odd and however it happened, Pickett was ruled out. Most concussions will resolve relatively quickly and we should know whether it will be Pickett or Mitchell Trubisky back in the starters role by Friday. While Pickett is clearly the future, there hasn’t been a big shift in the offense with either in the role. That means if Pickett is starting as expected, the line won’t move much and the plays all remain the same.

Cardinals at Broncos

RUSSELL WILSON, QB BRONCOS (concussion)

It’s been a rough year for Russell Wilson and when he finally has a game where his stat line matches the expectations, he ends up sidelined, a nasty knot appearing on the side of his head. Ignore the knot – this is a simple concussion and will be managed according to the protocol, step by step with clearance in time for this week possible. 

The knot is simply an indication that Wilson’s helmet was either fitted improperly or that, as many QBs do, he didn’t have it fastened. I couldn’t tell from video if this was the case on that particular play. If you haven’t touched a helmet in a while, there’s both give and stop in the padding. It has to be hard enough to stop the contact and if it’s not tight to the head, or moves, it can impact it. Remember, football helmets are designed first to stop skull fractures and they’re very good at that.

If Wilson clears the protocol, he should be considered normal to play. Take that for what it’s worth the way this year has gone for the Broncos. Wilson’s physical data still looks good and last week’s production was more in line with what everyone expected. I doubt the concussion will change the physical, if he clears, but the Broncos don’t seem to be too worried about going with Brett Rypien either. With no top pick, tanking isn’t a concern.

KYLER MURRAY, QB CARDINALS (knee sprain)

Grass doesn’t solve everything, as Kyler Murray and the Cardinals can tell you after the athletic quarterback went down with a non-contact knee injury. An MRI confirmed that it’s an ACL sprain and that, plus the timing, puts the Cards in a very difficult position. Given the time frame on rehabs, Murray’s going to be very questionable for the start of the 2023 season. Does Colt McCoy ride again, or do the Cards take the opportunity to upgrade the position in a deep draft, knowing that they might have to use a young QB at the start of the season, which isn’t usually the way you want to get a QB ready.

For Murray, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to come all the way back from this. Receivers his size do it all the time and in fact, his size shouldn’t be a part of this. It wasn’t why he got hurt at all. He simply took a step the way the human knee can’t and it gave out. For all the prevention work and time the medical staff put it, they couldn’t have prevented this and likely reduced the likelihood, before the bad luck step.

The Cards will roll with McCoy for the rest of the season, and perhaps beyond. McCoy has looked less comfortable in ’22 than he had in past seasons stepping in for Murray in this complex offense, despite mostly healthy receivers. While McCoy is a capable backup, he’s a big drop-off for the Cards offense and is going to cost points on totals, as well as make the team less likely to even push for wins.

(NFL Week 15 injuries included has put the count at 44 ACLs this season, which is in the normal range for a season. What isn’t normal is the pattern, which seems to have changed after the pre-season non-contact and less game action.) 

Bengals at Buccaneers

TEE HIGGINS, WR BENGALS (strained hamstring)

Yes, I get that your fantasy team was hosed by Tee Higgins leaving one play into the game. No, it’s not a violation of NFL rules and should remind you that no one cares about your fantasy team, least of all Roger Goodell. Higgins’ known hamstring issue was aggravated during warmups, but the team thought he would loosen up. Higgins knew better after one play, so the Bengals are back where they were last week, waiting to see if Higgins will be available against the Bucs.

With Higgins very questionable and Tyler Boyd also having a finger issue, there’s some depth concerns heading into a key game. The Bucs haven’t played well, especially last week, but there’s still talent on the team and dropping down to fourth and fifth receivers, even with Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase at the top, isn’t ideal. With just one receiver out, the Bengals offense has produced at its standard level, but two? That’s where the under starts looking good and the points for the Bucs get tempting.

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NFL Week 15 Injuries: Quick Hits

Brock Purdy has an oblique issue and with the short week, there’s some risk that he has a setback. That would mean Josh Johnson is back … Tons of confusion about Jimmy Garoppolo’s timeline in the media. Ignore it. Garoppolo will have more x-rays early next week that will be the first real indication of how quickly the fracture is healing … Rhamondre Stevenson looked bad on his few touches and came out quickly. His ankle remains an issue and he’s back in treatment. Watch his practice reports for an indication of progress… A front office type suggested to me that it’s 49ers players that are injury prone and that even when they shift somewhere, they stay that way. I’m not sure that’s the case, but with someone like Jeff Wilson Jr, it sure seems that way. His hip makes him a question mark and likely loses some touches if he does make it to active … JK Dobbins had some nice runs in his return game, but his gait did not look normal. Ravens fans can be a bit excited that he can do what he did at less than 100 percent … Last week on TNF, Odell Beckham Jr said he’d be ready for the post-season. The Cowboys went with TY Hilton and the Bills brought back Cole Beasley. Two teams that saw Beckham picked retired players over him, though cost has to be part of the calculation as well. It certainly doesn’t speak well for his knee, especially if it’s true that he did not allow any of the teams to do a full examination. Dr. Neal ElAttrache did the knee revision, so his word is gold around the league … Kudos to Nelson Agholar, who had refs stop the game to get a clearly concussed DeVante Parker off the field. That’s how this is supposed to work, with everyone looking out for everyone … The Eagles should get Dallas Goedert back after time on the IR with a shoulder issue. He’s expected to practice in full on Friday. Just what they need – more weapons … My understanding of the Cam Jordan situation is that the fine had to be issued if there was a question and that it could be adjudicated on appeal. It’s hard to say “no harm, no foul” here and it would be easy to ask a team doctor to certify an injury. It’s hard to imagine a team doctor certifying a fake injury, which would put their license on the line. Some are suggesting Jordan would be out this week to help his case, but that would be just as fake, so expect his injury to be treated properly with his game status being very clearly documented.

Best of luck analyzing NFL Week 15 injuries in your betting this week.

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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.

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