If I'm being honest, I'd say that this is the time of the football season when injury decisions are sometimes the hardest to read. Playoff-bound teams are comfortable resting players that they'd otherwise press back into service. Basement-dwelling teams will likewise rest their injured players, or send them to injured reserve, as there's no reward in rushing them back. Even teams that are still very much in the hunt for a playoff slot will often send a player to injured reserve for a mild-to-moderate injury in order to manage the roster and allow the most able-bodied players to be available on game day. Given all these different motivations, predicting any player's status can be murky at best. With that ringing endorsement, let's hop into this week's injury report.
Drew Brees, plantar fascia tear
If there's one thing I can say with confidence today, it's that Drew Brees should be done for the season. That's not a hot take, that's just logic. The Saints have been eliminated from the playoff race, so there is zero point in having Drew Brees attempt to play through a serious and painful foot injury. ESPN's Ed Werder (a man who has been accurate with Brees injury scoops in the past) reported on Tuesday that Brees suffered a torn plantar fascia in the loss to the Lions. Werder went on to say that Brees was consulting leading foot specialist Dr. Robert Andrews for a second opinion. If that name sounds familiar, it's because that's the guy that Peyton Manning has been working with in regards to his own plantar fascia tear. The only bit of the picture that is not yet clear is whether Brees suffered a full or only a partial tear, but really that's not important. A partial tear could get worse by playing on it, but a full tear could also leave Brees in great pain and with compromised mobility which would risk other injuries. In a lost season, there is absolutely no reason for Brees to play. It's not as though Brees is a rookie trying to win a roster spot or a young player heading to free agency and trying to secure a big contract. With proper rest and rehab, this is an injury that should not affect him next season. Of course, just because I say the Brees should sit out, doesn't mean that he will. The Saints listed him as a non-participant in Wednesday's practice, but there was actually no practice for the team, and that designation was just a hypothetical place-holder. There should be plenty of detailed reports later this week about Brees' status.
Andy Dalton, thumb fracture
There has been no new information as to Andy Dalton and his fractured right thumb, but I thought it was interesting that he was ruled out for Week 16's Monday night game a full seven days in advance. I would've thought that a Week 17 return might be possible, but this early ruling-out for Week 16 makes me think that the team isn't interested in rushing a regular season return. That would make sense given that the Bengals likely won't need Dalton in order to beat the Ravens next week. If the Bengals end up holding Dalton out, I would expect him to return and play effectively for the playoffs, even if the Bengals have to play as early as Wild Card weekend.
Carson Palmer, finger dislocation
Don't let a throwing index-finger dislocation scare you off of Carson Palmer. He was able to return to his game last week, and was able to put in a limited practice on Wednesday. He's played through way worse than this, and he should be fine.
Marcus Mariota, MCL sprain
With the Tennessee Titans eliminated from playoff contention, don't expect to see Marcus Mariota take the field again this season. Chris Mortensen reported that Mariota would miss Weeks 16 and 17, and in an amusing turn of events, coach Mike Mularky disputed the report, calling himself a, "real source."No matter what Mularky or Mariota say, MCL sprains tend to be multi-week injuries, and there's no reason to think that this one is any different.
Brian Hoyer, concussion
Brian Hoyer was able to put in a limited practice on Wednesday, which is a great sign for his future health. But it's not necessarily a sign that he has a shot to play this week, or even next week. A limited practice likely indicates that Hoyer isn't fully through the concussion protocol, and that could take plenty more time given Hoyer's concussion history this season. Before we can believe that he's ready to return, we'll want to see a full practice.
Adrian Peterson, ankle sprain
Every report I've seen so far indicates that Adrian Peterson is fine and will be ready to play Sunday night. Personally, I'm not yet convinced. When I hear Peterson (or coach Mike Zimmer, or the media in general) downplay this latest injury, I'm reminded of how we heard the same initial optimism back in 2011 right after Peterson suffered a high-ankle sprain. That injury eventually cost Peterson three games. This time around, the injury does seem more mild. Peterson has not been spotted with a boot or a limp. But most reports that I've seen of Peterson's injury mention that he was, "rolled up," or, "rolled up on," which almost always indicates a high-ankle sprain. Garden variety low ankle sprains are sometimes described as, "rolled," but almost never, "rolled up." I know that seems like an odd distinction, but it's one that I've seen play out dozens of times when I dig to categorize injuries. Peterson was held out of practice on Wednesday, though to be fair, he did mention earlier this week that he might miss practice time. Peterson doesn't play until Sunday night, so there's a chance that we won't have any concrete idea of his status until Sunday evening. Hopefully Peterson will return to practice on Thursday or Friday, even in a limited capacity, in order to give us some clarity. If that's not all murky enough, be sure to read about the many ways that Minnesota could clinch a playoff berth regardless of whether or not they win or lose on Sunday. So, depending on how Sunday plays out, the Vikings might not even need Adrian Peterson.
LeSean McCoy, MCL sprain
Karlos Williams, shoulder
There are varying reports as to the severity of LeSean McCoy's MCL injury. Adam Schefter has reported that McCoy's MCL is, "torn," but that's always a tricky read when it comes to injury reports, as any sprain is technically a tear. The term, "torn," is typically reserved for the most severe, Grade 3, sprains, but that's not always the case. However, even if McCoy only suffered a mild or moderate MCL sprain, I would still expect him to miss at least two weeks. Thankfully, McCoy's backup, Karlos Williams appears to be mostly over the shoulder injury that kept him out of Weeks 13 and 14, and should be ready to pick up the slack. Williams put in a limited practice on Wednesday.
T.J. Yeldon, MCL sprain
Denard Robinson, foot sprain
T.J. Yeldon is still sidelined from practice due to an MCL sprain, and it appears he will miss his second-straight game on Sunday. Unfortunately, Denard Robinson, filling in for the injured Yeldon, suffered a foot sprain in Week 15. Luckily, it sounds like the injury isn't serious, as Robinson was able to practice in full on Wednesday.
Jonathan Stewart, foot sprain
It's too early in the week to know for sure, but it looks like Jonathan Stewart might not be ready to return this week. After sitting out last week, Stewart was held out of Wednesday's practice, indicating that he is questionable at best for Sunday's game against the Saints. Panthers beat reporter Steve Reed pointed out that Stewart seemed very non-committal on his chances of suiting up.
Andre Ellington, turf toe
Looks like it might be another week of missed practices by Andre Ellington, as he was already held out on Wednesday. Obviously, with David Johnson absolutely tearing it up, there's no reason to rush Ellington back. Hopefully coach Bruce Arians will spare us another of his, "game-time decision," designations on Ellington this week.
Shaun Draughn, knee
There still aren't any details on the exact knee injury that Shaun Draughn suffered in Week 16. All we know for now is that Draughn was unable to practice on Wednesday, so this is a situation that bears monitoring.
Alshon Jeffery, hamstring strain
It's too early to know what to make of Alshon Jeffery's latest hamstring injury. He left Week 15 with what he later described as, "hamstring tightness," and no update has been given since. Jeffery has dealt with plenty of lower-body soft-tissue injuries this season, including missing four games with a hamstring injury. It's unclear how severe this injury is, but it's notable that Jeffery was held out of practice on Wednesday. If he doesn't return to practice on Thursday or Friday, it's safe to rule him out for Week 16.
Danny Amendola, knee sprain
Julian Edelman, foot fracture
Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman were both limited participants in practice due to their injuries, but my hunch is that neither will play this week. Both are far too valuable to the Patriots postseason for the team to risk any setbacks by rushing either of them back. Missing no time due to a knee sprain would be very lucky for Amendola, and returning less than six weeks after after surgery for a foot fracture would seem too early for Edelman.
Vincent Jackson, MCL sprain
Tampa Bay hasn't moved Vincent Jackson to injured reserve yet, but most people expect them to. Jackson missed last week with an MCL sprain, and the fact that he missed Wednesday's practice means he's doubtful to play this week either.
Stevie Johnson, groin
After missing the last two weeks due to a groin injury, it appears Stevie Johnson is getting close to a return. He was able to put in a limited practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, marking his first practices since the injury. He is listed as questionable for Thursday night, but I expect him to play.
Cecil Shorts, Hamstring
I can't think of any current player that has more of a history with hamstring and groin injuries than Cecil Shorts. Maybe Arian Foster. Due to this history, it was alarming to me when Shorts was listed as having suffered a groin injury in Week 15, and no less alarming when that was updated on Wednesday's practice report to a hamstring injury. Either way, Shorts did not practice, and coach Bill O'Brien has said he is unlikely to play Week 16. If the Texans were eliminated from the playoff race, I would say that Shorts has probably played his last game this year, but that might not be the case. I already suspect that he might miss Week 17 as well, but that's just speculation based on his injury history.
Rishard Matthews, fractured ribs
After missing the last three games with multiple fractured ribs, it looks like Rishard Matthews is ready to return for Week 16. He was able to put in a full practice on Wednesday, so I would expect to see him taking some snaps on Sunday against the Colts.
DeSean Jackson, knee and foot injuries
DeSean Jackson was held out of Wednesday practice with knee and foot injuries, though no other details are yet known. The knee injury is likely a hangover from Jackson's Week 14 kneecap bruise, but the foot issue is a new one. Jackson will probably return to practice and be fine for Sunday, but be sure to check back on this one.
Doug Baldwin, hamstring
Much like with DeSean Jackson, file Doug Baldwin's hamstring injury away in the, "things to check back on," category. Baldwin did not appear to be injured in his Week 15 game, but he missed Wednesday's practice with a hamstring injury. If he misses any more time, it could signal that this is a real injury which could affect his Week 16 status.
A.J. Green, back bruise
After leaving Week 15 with a back injury, it's great news that A.J. Green suffered only a bruise and that he's on track to play on Monday night, according to reporter Jim Owczarski. Due to the fact that the Bengals don't play until Monday, their first official practice report won't come out until Thursday afternoon. I would expect Green to be listed as a limited participant, but as long as he continues to practice without a setback or downgrade, he should play on Monday.
Tyler Eifert, concussion
As is the case with A.J. Green, we don't have full information on Tyler Eifert's status due to the fact the Bengals don't hold their first official practice until Thursday. I've read conflicting reports about the team's plans for Eifert and his recovery, so the best bet is just to watch the practice reports. As long as Eifert is listed as a limited participant, it might signal that he has not been fully cleared from the concussion protocol.
Ben Watson, knee
As I mentioned with Drew Brees, Wednesday's practice for the Saints was only really theoretical and the report was submitted based upon the team's guess as to how the player would've participated if there had been an actual practice. Still, it's notable that Ben Watson was listed as a non-participant due to a knee injury. This is likely just a team limiting the reps of a veteran player, but this bears watching on Thursday and Friday.