If the NFL season is a river, flowing inexorably toward the Super Bowl, then this week seems like flood season. There are storms and lulls, but it seems that here, after the expected peak, that the survivor effect we normally see is unseasonably late. The raw numbers aren’t up significantly, depending on which you look at, but the impact of the injuries is undeniable. The question that NFL teams are asking now is when it might let up so they can focus on football. It’s really too late to do much of anything, aside from continuing their conditioning work and hoping that the medical staffs have a miracle hidden in their gear. I don’t think we’ve seen the waters start to recede just yet, so let’s look around the league:
Denver vs. San Diego
Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian is in line to start, less than two weeks after suffering an AC sprain and bruise to the same area of his non-throwing shoulder. While sources continue to insist to me that reports of a complete rupture are incorrect — in fact, the Broncos went out of their way this week to highlight the “bruised” part — Siemian is going out there at some risk. Another hit where he lands on his non-throwing side could be devastating to the shoulder, creating more damage. Keeping him upright will be a key, but Joey Bosa and the Chargers will be going for exactly the opposite. The rest of the Denver team is relatively healthy, with no major issues that should affect the game.
On the San Diego side, the biggest problems are on defense. The entire secondary could end up being backups, with Craig Mager a game-time decision. The offense is relatively healthy, given Danny Woodhead and Keenan Allen are long gone. Antonio Gates should be back to his normal level, which should give quarterback Philip Rivers two good tight end targets, along with Hunter Henry. That could be a real matchup problem for Denver’s small but fast defense.
Cam Newton, Carolina (concussion)
Newton was cleared to practice earlier this week and is in line for a normal start for the Panthers at quarterback. In the short term, the concussion shouldn’t have any affect once the symptoms have dissipated. Newton should have no issues in the game, but another hit to the head, combined with the rest of the hits he’s taken this year, are a concern. While the long term and CTE are a major concern, there’s also been research into whether there’s a “puncher’s effect” with concussions. That is, whether repeated subconcussive blows to the head can do damage in the short term.
Newton would do well to avoid some contact, but it’s hard to change from a natural style, especially one that’s been so effective. My guess is we’ll see less running, if only in the designed and called runs. Without Jonathan Stewart for another week, Newton’s going to have to resist the urge to go Superman and let the offense play itself out normally.
Tony Romo, Dallas (fractured back)
Romo is getting closer to a return, but the Cowboys risk making a conservative rehab look like a quarterback controversy. Romo still has some minor swelling around the area of the fracture, which is normal, but the burst fracture has largely healed. Romo should be getting back to practice soon, especially if he’s going to make the return just after the bye, as many expected. Now, it seems like the team is willing to let this go longer with Dak Prescott and the team playing well.
People I spoke to around the league say that this is starting to feel a lot like Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady’s situation. Some even have wondered if Romo would be a good replacement for Jay Cutler in Chicago or perhaps Minnesota if Sam Bradford doesn’t return. Those kind of speculative moves were almost unthinkable for Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett just a few months ago, but if Romo’s absence goes beyond Week 8, we’re going to see them get louder. There’s no medical reason we shouldn’t see Romo back at practice in the next 10 days.
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay (sprained ankle)
Speaking to a scout this week, he asked me about Lacy’s sprained ankle. “Did it help, the weight loss?” he asked, and the fact is, we don’t have an answer to that. Logic says that being in shape and carrying less weight would be a positive for an NFL running back, but Lacy was highly functional last year, just disappointing against the high expectation of him and of Green Bay’s offense. The answer then has to be an unknown, at least at this point.
Lacy’s injury is a simple sprain. He’s trending towards being able to play, which would be key since James Starks also is dealing with a knee injury. That would leave the Packers with only FB Aaron Ripkowski if neither were available. Normally, you’d expect Lacy to split carries coming off the ankle, but if he plays and Starks doesn’t, that will be less of an option. Throwing more will be a real option, so this could be a good week for Aaron Rodgers and his receivers.
Stefon Diggs, Minnesota (strained groin)
Receivers are really about function more than position. Size, speed, precision — we need better descriptions than just where they line up. Stefon Diggs is a modern precision receiver. He’s big enough (6 feet, 195 pounds) and fast enough (4.46), but it’s his fluid running and precise routes, as well as a competitive nature, that have turned him into a real weapon. (Compare those measurables to Cordarrelle Patterson!) Those qualities are what makes a groin strain tougher for Diggs to overcome.
The strain is not severe, but the Vikings are focused on the longer term, so the bye week is going to be almost nothing but rest and treatment. That will give Diggs almost a full three weeks to come back from the moderate strain. That should be enough, so expect Diggs back in Week 7.
Eric Decker, New York Jets (strained shoulder)
The Jets took a shot with Eric Decker’s injured shoulder, waiting two weeks to see whether or not his strained rotator cuff would heal up on its own. The images from earlier this week showed not just limited progress, but further damage to the biceps-labrum complex. It was worth the shot, but now, Decker is headed for extensive shoulder surgery.
There’s almost no comparables here for a receiver. There’s going to be comparisons to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, but the function is different. The hope that Decker doesn’t need big strength is also something of a false hope. He still has to hand fight, to go up and pull down the ball, and he’ll land on that shoulder inevitably. Decker has every chance to come back, but it’s an unknown on how long or how well he’ll be able to do so. It definitely won’t be this season, elevating Quincy Enunwa and raising more questions about Enunwa and Brandon Marshall’s durability.
Sammie Coates, Pittsburgh (lacerated hand)
Coates showed up at practice this week with a big cut and a big cast on his hand. Those two don’t normally go together and Mike Tomlin didn’t offer anything in terms of detail. Word is that Coates has a laceration that took multiple stitches on the top of the hand, but there’s almost no information beyond that. If it’s on the back, it shouldn’t be much of an issue unless something opens it back up. It’s difficult to protect the hand in-game, especially for a receiver, so Coates comes into this week as something of an unknown.
I think we’ll know Coates’ status early and his active or inactive status will be the final tell. If the Steelers are willing to put Coates on the field without a lot of depth, they’ll have to have confidence in his ability to produce and stay on the field. Markus Wheaton is also dealing with a shoulder injury, so we could see more of an emphasis on running this week in Pittsburgh.
Jordan Reed, Washington (concussion)
Su’a Cravens, Washington (concussion)
Repeat concussions are scary, but one of the concussion facts that is poorly understood is how the brain heals. The working assumption now is that the brain can recover from most concussions given time and treatment. The analogy is a bruise. Imagine bumping your shin on the coffee table. It hurts, you curse and hop around, but a few days later, it’s fine. If you bump your shin again — I hate that coffee table — then it hurts again, but it’s seldom worse because of the previous injury, unless it didn’t fully heal.
Reed has had multiple concussions and if he’s contemplating walking away from the game, as reports have it, it would be a brutal blow to Washington. However, that would be his decision based on the long term, not the short. The curious case of Cravens is complicating things, given that Cravens is saying things on social media that have confused a lot of people. Cravens is having visual symptoms, giving him issues tracking objects. This is common and one reason why “follow my finger” is a quick field test for concussion. Whether this is permanent or not remains to be seen, but it’s definitely scary for someone going through it.
Neither will play this week, and as with any concussion, there’s simply no way to put a timeline on it.
Bumps & bruises:
Carson Palmer was cleared early this week and should play as normal. That upgrades the entire Arizona offense. … Detroit signed Justin Forsett for a reason. It looks like Theo Riddick isn’t going to be ready this week and Dwayne Washington is also questionable, both due to ankle sprains. … The Bucs are worried about how slow the progress is for Doug Martin as he heals from a strained hamstring. This isn’t a reflection on him, but a reality that there’s always variance in injury. … Steve Smith isn’t having much problem with his sprained ankle. His Achilles repair had nothing to do with it, but it also held up through it, which is a good sign. … Randall Cobb was never in the concussion protocol after his big hit last week. While his neck was sore earlier this week, he’s expected to play. … Will Fuller has a great matchup this week against the Indy secondary, but if his hamstring isn’t right, he won’t run past them. Watch his Friday practice closely for indications. … Justin Houston has been cleared after his ACL reconstruction, but according to Chiefs ATC Rick Burkholder, he’s not allowed back at actual practice for another week due to rules. He’s making progress and may be slightly ahead of his expected November return. The Chiefs once again show that being open and respecting your fans with medical information isn’t a disadvantage. … Reports that Jaylon Smith, the Cowboys draftee, is making progress with his foot are incorrect. Smith is working out with the team, but the nerve is still an issue and he cannot play with the brace on his foot. It is extremely unlikely that he will play this season and the future is looking cloudier as there’s been no progress for his foot in almost a year.