With the end of the NFL regular season, my weekly writing of the, "Injury Report Insight," column will also come to a close. At the risk of droning on like a windbag actor accepting an award, I'd like to thank everyone at Footballguys for giving me the chance and allowing me to join such a talented group. Hopefully my rookie campaign was successful and I was able to shine some light into the dark, murky corners of the injury report. I'm already looking forward to tackling some larger projects here during the offseason and continuing my contributions well into the future. But this is an injury column, so we should probably talk about injuries at some point. Thankfully, Week 16 was a fairly quiet week for injuries, at least as far as playoff-bound teams. Rather than dwell on new injuries, I'd like to take a look at the injury situations that might linger into the playoffs and affect the post-season rosters.
Andy Dalton, fractured thumb
Each week seems to bring more cause for pessimism in regards to Andy Dalton's return from a fractured thumb on his throwing hand. Originally, I had hoped that the fact that Dalton didn't require surgery meant the fracture was relatively minor and that there was at least a possibility that he could return during the regular season. Other quarterbacks have done so, though it's not common. The Bengals have been relatively quiet on the details on Dalton's fracture, so it was a tough situation to get an early read on. Lately though, I've seen a few details that concern me. Dr. David Chao is quite good at diagnosing injuries based on what he sees on television broadcasts, and he Tweeted that the cast on Dalton's hand leads him to believe that the fracture is at the base of the thumb. If true, (Dr. Chao has a good track record) this little detail changes everything, as it opens the door to the possibility that Dalton has what is known as a Bennett fracture. You might remember that as the injury that sidelined Clay Matthews and Jay Cutler in past seasons. Most Bennett fractures, such as those to Matthews and Cutler, require surgery. Perhaps Dalton has had surgery and we don't know about it. Perhaps Dalton's Bennett fracture was the, "lucky kind," that didn't require surgery. Or perhaps Dalton doesn't actually have a Bennett fracture at all, and his injury is less severe (there is some wiggle-room with the phrase, "base of thumb.") With the Bengals saying so little, all possibilities are still on the table. It's notable that most return-to-play estimates for Bennett fractures have an optimistic low-end of about six weeks, and that the extra strength and conditioning a quarterback would need might tack some extra time onto that.
Even without knowing the exact fracture placement though, it's notable that the Bengals have been so quick to rule Dalton out of each upcoming game. This does not seem to be a situation where Dalton is anywhere close to returning. Reports from NFL.com's Chris Wesseling and Ian Rapoport have all been focusing on games that are more than one week down the road, which means that even these well-connected reporters aren't hearing immediate optimism from any of their sources. The only glimmer of hope I've heard is a report that Dalton could have his cast removed this week, and that alone isn't all that helpful, as it doesn't necessarily indicate a return to play, or even a return to practice. The longer this stretches out, the more likely I think it is that Dalton suffered a Bennett fracture, and that his return should've been ballparked at about six weeks. If this were true, a return for the Super Bowl would be possible, but anything short of that would be unlikely.
Cecil Shorts, hamstring strain
Texans coach Bill O'Brien has already basically ruled Cecil Shorts out for Week 17 due to a hamstring injury. That's probably the right call, as Shorts has a huge history with hamstring and groin injuries, and a conservative approach here is warranted. It's premature to try to gauge Shorts' playoff availability (should the Texans advance, of course) at this time. But Shorts' injury is worth mentioning because his inactive status for Week 17 could be a huge boost to fellow wide receiver Nate Washington. In Weeks 7, 8, and 16, while Cecil Shorts was inactive, Washington saw increased targets, catches, and yards. Most notably, Washington has scored touchdowns in all games without Shorts, but failed to score in any game with Shorts. Some of these stat splits are skewed by Washington's monster Week 7 performance, so I'll leave it up to others to decide what sort of game Washington might be in line for this week. As an added bonus, Brian Hoyer has been cleared from his concussion and is expected to start at quarterback. The only thing that might slow down the Houston offense is that they're almost guaranteed a playoff spot even if they lose, though O'Brien has stated that they will play to win on Sunday.
Peyton Manning, plantar fascia tear
Good luck trying to figure out exactly where Peyton Manning is on his rehab from a partially torn plantar fascia in his left foot. After putting in a few practices prior to Week 15, Manning might or might not have suffered a setback. Most reports indicate that he experienced more soreness than he expected, and that he was subsequently held out of practice, though I'm not sure I'd categorize that as a true setback. Since then, Manning has been able to participate in one workout, but it should be noted that this, "workout," was not a practice, so might not really mean so much. Despite all this, Manning himself has said that he's ready to play in Week 17 if the Broncos need him. Clearly, his status involves factors other than just his health, otherwise we'd likely see coach Gary Kubiak slap a, "game-time decision," tag on Manning and leave the call down to the wire. Instead, Kubiak wasted no time and already declared Brock Osweiler the Week 17 starter. Taking this all together, it looks like Manning will likely remain on the sideline for as far as the Broncos playoff run takes them, unless Osweiler gets injured.
Marshawn Lynch, core muscle surgery
Marshawn Lynch has not practiced with the Seahawks since his November 25th core muscle surgery (aka sports hernia surgery). There has been some optimism that he could return soon, but I have yet to see any concrete evidence. There were reports last week that Lynch was coming along well in his recovery, but it's notable that the source was Lynch's personal trainer, Tareq Azim in San Francisco. No offense to Azim, but he's not the most reliable source on Lynch's game status. A Tweet from the Seahawks this week looked optimistic, but upon a closer read basically said nothing beyond (if I may paraphrase), "Lynch will return after he's cleared to return." Not a real scoop there. According to Wednesday afternoon reports, Lynch did not practice on Wednesday and will not suit suit up this weekend. Compared to historical examples of other players who had core muscle surgery, Lynch should be getting close to a return. But before Lynch can return to the lineup, he must obviously return to practice, and there's no sign of that yet. No matter whether Seattle wins or loses this weekend, they will be playing in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. If Lynch is still not practicing next Wednesday, he can safely be ruled out of that playoff game as well.
Danny Amendola, knee sprain
Julian Edelman, foot fracture
Both Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman returned to limited practices last week, but both were ultimately held out of the Week 16 game against the Jets. In similar fashion, they both had limited practices on Wednesday, December 30th, and I would still expect them both to be inactive for this week's game against Miami. If only one of them plays this week, I would expect it to be Amendola, as his knee sprain is easily the more mild of the two. Edelman has missed six weeks already with his fractured foot. For comparison, this is the point that Dez Bryant returned to the lineup from a similar foot fracture. But most people would admit that perhaps Bryant returned too early, as he never looked 100% healthy, and eventually ended the season on injured reserve needing another foot surgery. No matter if the Pats win or lose, they get a Wild Card bye week, so the choice here should be easy. Either they risk re-injury by bringing Edelman back against Miami, or they use the extra two weeks to bring him back slowly and conservatively. Which would you choose? Ian Rapoport reported that Edelman might return this week simply to get him acclimated, but I find that a little odd, as this is Edelman's seventh season in the NFL and he probably doesn't need the same acclimation that a younger, less-experienced player would. Still, Rapoport is right more often than I am, so perhaps we'll see Edelman get mixed into the rotation on Sunday. Regardless of their status this weekend, there shouldn't be any medical reason (barring a setback of course) that either Amendola or Edleman aren't ready to fully contribute in the Divisional round of the playoffs. Man, they still really need a better name for that round.
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