Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

08 Jan 2018

Injury Aftermath: Wild-Card Round

by Andrew Potter and Zach Binney

Thanks to staff writer Zach Binney's analysis of NFL injury data, we are now able to provide more detailed injury return (number of games missed) and recovery (number of weeks limited in practices or games) estimates based on historical data for select injuries. These estimates also consider the position of the injured player. Details of our methodology are available here.

Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles (Saturday, 4:35 p.m. EST)

The Falcons appeared to suffer no new significant injuries in their wild-card victory in Los Angeles. Quarterback Matt Ryan was treated after suffering a cut to the back of his head, but the injury is not considered serious. All of the other Falcons players who appeared on the injury report appeared to emerge unscathed.

Eagles defensive lineman Brandon Graham sat out of the team's Week 17 loss to Dallas, but is expected to play against the Falcons. Every other player on the current 53-man roster is expected to be available to play.

Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (Saturday, 8:15 p.m. EST)

Titans halfback DeMarco Murray is still considered day-to-day with a knee ligament sprain ahead of the team's trip to Massachusetts. Murray missed both Week 17 and the wild-card victory over the Chiefs, and Derrick Henry excelled in his absence. If Murray is unable to return, Henry will again be the Titans' primary -- and effectively lone -- running back.

The status of the injured Patriots players is, as usual, unclear. Three of the team's top four running backs, in one of the deepest backfield depth charts in the league, are currently hurt: Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee are battling knee injuries, while James White has an injured ankle. Dion Lewis has excelled as the primary back, and it is likely that two of the other three will be healthy enough to suit up against the Titans. Receiver Chris Hogan is still recovering from the significant shoulder injury that caused him to miss most of the second half of the regular season, while fellow receiver Malcolm Mitchell has returned to practice after a knee injury cost him the entire regular season. One or the other may be able to play on Saturday night, but it would be a surprise to see both.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers (Sun, 1:05 p.m. EST)

Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, an important veteran stalwart in this young Jaguars defense, suffered a hip injury against the Bills and did not return. Fortunately, hip injuries usually are not too severe; just a quarter of those injuries keep linebackers out for a full game. The odds favor Posluszny to be available next week, although the fact that he was unable to return to Sunday's game raises some concerns. Typical recovery times are one to two weeks, so there is hope that he will be fully healthy if the Jaguars can get past the Steelers. Receiver and punt returner Jaydon Mickens injured his hamstring and did not return. As we have mentioned here before, hamstring injury recovery profiles depend on severity. About 50 percent of hamstring injuries to wide receivers cause them to miss at least one game, so pending additional information Mickens may be a coin flip for next week's game. Typical recovery times are one to four weeks; it is difficult to project Mickens' status beyond next week at this time.

Steelers receiver Antonio Brown caused a panic when he suffered a calf injury late in the regular season, but after rest and rehabilitation Brown is expected to be fully fit and unhindered by the injury this coming Sunday. He is the only current injury concern for the well-rested Steelers.

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, 4:40 p.m. EST)

An often-banged-up Saints offensive line suffered a major blow against the Panthers when left guard Andrus Peat was lost for the season with a fractured leg and associated high-ankle injury. A key player on the offensive line, Peat has started regularly at both left guard and left tackle as preferred tackle Terron Armstead dropped into and out of the lineup with injuries of his own. Backup Senio Kelemete, who filled in at left guard when Peat was moved to left tackle, will now start in his stead. Peat marks the sixth starter the Saints have lost during the season, following defensive end Alex Okafor; linebackers A.J. Klein and Alex Anzalone; safety/moneybacker Kenny Vaccaro; and tight end Coby Fleener to injured reserve (would-be starting defensive tackle Nick Fairley was also lost for the year in preseason due to a heart problem). The good news is that the remainder of the existing roster is healthy: cornerback P.J. Williams and defensive tackle Tony McDaniel were treated on the sideline during the game, but both were able to return.

The Vikings are perhaps the best demonstration of the value of a playoff bye. Rookie center Pat Elflein -- our pick at the position on the Scramble All-Rookie Team -- missed the last two weeks of the regular season to injury, but has returned to practice and is expected to play this weekend. Quarterback Sam Bradford, who was placed on injured reserve with a tibial plateau bone bruise early in the season, has also returned to practice, though he is not expected to be activated for Sunday's game. Long snapper Kevin McDermott dislocated his shoulder in Week 16, and had surgery this week; John Overbaugh will snap on special teams in his stead. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes missed some practice time last week with an undisclosed injury -- injury reports are not due until this week -- while tight end Kyle Rudolph should be back close to full strength after playing through an ankle injury late in the regular season. Neither player is expected to miss Sunday's game, however; despite regular-season bumps and bruises, all 53 active players are expected to be available for selection.


The NFL is reportedly investigating whether the Carolina Panthers followed the correct protocol when quarterback Cam Newton temporarily left the game during the fourth quarter of Sunday's defeat in New Orleans. Newton appeared to demonstrate symptoms consistent with a traumatic brain injury, but was cleared to return to the field -- reportedly without being subject to the required locker room concussion evaluation. This evaluation was mandated in the new guidelines issued to teams late in the regular season, following a similar investigation into the Texans' handling of quarterback Tom Savage. Though Newton has since claimed that the problem was his eye, not a concussion, the players are quite simply not given the power to make that determination, and the protocol mandates that any player who is visibly unsteady on his feet be evaluated in the locker room by the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant. The league is investigating whether the Panthers followed those guidelines, though it is not yet clear what discipline is available if Newton's assessment was not handled correctly.

The Seattle Seahawks have already been fined $100,000 for mishandling a brain injury to their quarterback, Russell Wilson, during the regular season. The Tom Savage incident prompted modification of the evaluation protocol, coming shortly after the Colts were also heavily criticized for their handling of an apparent concussion inflicted on quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Criticism has been levelled at the handling of other players too, but the spotlight always shines brightest where the quarterback stands. It certainly appears that teams still view the incentive -- getting the starting quarterback back on the field quickly -- to outweigh any potential disincentive the league might toss their way.

By contrast, Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor also appeared to suffer concussion symptoms in the fourth quarter of his team's game against the Jaguars. Despite the narrow deficit, Taylor was correctly removed from the field and did not return to the game. Likewise, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce did not return after suffering a very obvious concussion against the Tennessee Titans.

Posted by: Andrew Potter on 08 Jan 2018

14 comments, Last at 12 Jan 2018, 5:00am by RobotBoy


by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 5:02pm

If the Vikings are as healthy as they claim, they'll beat the Saints, but Zimmer is pretty secretive. In addition to Rhodes, Griffin's unlisted plantar fasciitis is undoubtedly slowing him up in the 2nd half of the season, and there isn't any way that Rieff and Remmers are fully recovered. If they are healthier than I suspect, then the Vikings really should win. We'll see.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 6:02pm

In point of order, Taylor was KTFO.

That would have gotten you removed at any point in the history of the NFL. Football rules allowed injured players to reenter the game well before the 1920s.

by rpwong :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 6:33pm

That was a really unfortunate ending to that game. Not that I seriously believed the Bills would stage a comeback, but it sucks that Taylor wasn't able to complete the game, and that Peterman was thrust into the worst possible passing situation.

by The Ninjalectual :: Fri, 01/12/2018 - 4:52am

Teams are SUPPOSED to remove a player knocked unconscious. I don't think any rational person believes it actually happens that way.

by Steve in WI :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 7:21pm

"Though Newton has since claimed that the problem was his eye, not a concussion, the players are quite simply not given the power to make that determination, and the protocol mandates that any player who is visibly unsteady on his feet be evaluated in the locker room by the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant."

This is where it gets thorny for me. Does the protocol define "visibly unsteady" in a more specific way (not that I think it could ever be an objective measure)? We all know what an obvious concussion looks like, but the guys who get those tend to get laid out like Kelce or Taylor and it's easy to remove them from the game.

I don't trust a QB like Newton to be honest and say "yeah, I think I might be concussed," and step out of the game at a crucial moment, but eye injuries and other non-concussion injuries do happen. The problem is that taking the QB off the field to be evaluated carries with it an immediate penalty even if he is ruled safe to return one or two offensive drives later. There's no way to get that disadvantage back if it turns out that he isn't concussed. Also, isn't there the potential for a false negative where the player passes the assessment but is revealed later to have a concussion?

Meanwhile, a significant percentage of players across the slate of games last weekend will develop CTE later on. We know that with certainty. It seems a bit strange to me that the handling of the concussion protocol is 99% of what we as a fandom fixate on; I think it's because it gives us something to point to and say "see, we're doing something about it." And I'm not arguing that more concussed players staying in the game would be good, of course; I just don't see how it fundamentally changes the safety (or lack thereof) of football.

by Lebo :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 11:22am

Good points. I wonder if there is need for an injury timeout (that doesn't penalise the team with the injury) to be applied when it's a QB that goes into concussion protocol.

Plus, getting poked in the eye often causes some concussion-like symptoms such as stumbling (in my experience, at least).

by BobbyDazzler :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 9:07am

Newton wasn't poked in the eye though - he wears a visor - but was instead hammered by Saints DT David Onyemata after trying to escape a sack.

It was pretty obvious watching on TV that he had a (even if only minor) concussion, but what was even more obvious was that the Panthers were going to get him back on the field as quickly as possible, regardless of the concussion protocol.

Let's face it, a $100k fine is less than a drop in the ocean for an NFL team, so until such time as the league makes any penalties for not following the protocol more meaningful, we're most likely going to see teams continue to violate this rule.

by RobotBoy :: Fri, 01/12/2018 - 4:58am

You definitely can't trust a highly competitive athlete to admit that he's woozy and needs to sit. Also, part of being woozy is not knowing how woozy you are! If you haven't been concussed but have been drunk, think of it as being hammered past the point that you're aware of being hammered.
I wonder if teams, or the NFL, would ever admit to a 'false negative'? Given how bad the public perception would be, not to mention the legal risks, I'd guess 'no.'
As you note, although concussions are really bad, they're not the worst thing happening on the field, that being the steady erosion of the brain from repeated trauma.
I wonder if the NFL has just reached the tipping point on the issue. There are just too many contradictions around the entire edifice.

by burbman :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 8:02pm

Watching Cam run off the field, it almost looked to me like someone from the sideline told him to "Get Down" so that they could have a little more time to get Anderson ready to come in without using a time out. Granted, his drop to a knee was less than graceful, so I do understand the concern regarding a potential head injury.

by ChrisS :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:13pm

That was my take as well. There was also a replay that showed his visor was knocked out of alignment by the hit and that could certainly cause an eye injury. However I do prefer a more conservative approach erring on the side of assuming a possible head injury.

by RickD :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 2:35pm

Pats update: the only player on the active roster not at practice today is Gillislee. Sounds like Burkhead and White will be back.

by morganja :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 5:50pm

Looking forward to the Vikings-Saints game. It will be the best game of the post-season.

by RickD :: Thu, 01/11/2018 - 1:47am

Well it should certainly be the best game of this weekend. There are a lot of potentially exciting games in the conference championship games and the Super Bowl.

by RobotBoy :: Fri, 01/12/2018 - 5:00am

As of yesterday, DeMarco Murray is out.