The NFL Players Association asked the NFL to bring back the normal referee crews, in part because they believed the replacement referees led to a deterioration in player safety. I'm not here to take sides on a labor issue, especially one just settled, but player safety is something I definitely take sides on. But I failed to see any great difference in safety with the replacement refs. Were there big hits, like the one that de-helmeted Matt Schaub or nearly decapitated Darrius Heyward-Bey? Yes, but even with the lack of a flag on the Heyward-Bey hit, I don't see how a normal ref would have stopped the hit.
Darrelle Revis and C.J. Spiller, a big star and a breakout player, hit the injury report this week, but one was a non-contact knee injury and the other was a traumatic injury on a garden-variety tackle. Having Ed Hochuli and his crew on the field wouldn't have stopped either. The scab refs were definitely affecting the quality of play on the field, but there's no evidence they might have affected safety. Perhaps we'll get that now in some sort of comparison between ref sets, but I've never seen any sort of breakdown from crew to crew, which tend to remain consistent. There's plenty of room for research here and perhaps another avenue for injury prevention and reduction.
There are plenty of injuries, whether or not the officials had anything to do with it, so let's get to it:
UPGRADE: Greg Little
DOWNGRADE: Mohamed Massaquoi
The Ravens are playing their fourth game in 19 days, so fatigue and wear likely is an issue. If so, the OIR doesn't show it. The Ravens have only three players on the list, and only Jah Reid is likely to be limited. The Browns have several key players, including Trent Richardson and Mohamed Massaquoi, on the list. Richardson should play normally, but Massaquoi is out this week. That keeps Greg Little in the starting lineup and gives him a chance to make catches. Joshua Cribbs could also pick up some looks at WR, if his calf holds up. Cribbs is a GTD+.
There was a time things looked bleak for the Bills. Spiller was down on the field, clutching his shoulder. Jackson was in street clothes, sidelined by a knee sprain. A couple days later, things are looking up. Jackson is back at practice, testing his knee, while Spiller has only a mild shoulder sprain and could be back as soon as next week. It's not ideal, and they may still be down to their RB3, Tashard Choice, in Week 4, but the long-term prognosis is decidedly better. Jackson is the one to watch as it's possible, but not probable, he could return this week. His lateral mobility will be the key and it's possible that it will be compromised even after he returns. At best, Jackson would split carries and would be limited to more straight ahead runs, making him a tough fantasy play even making a gutsy start.
The "grab test" is one of the best and simplest injury diagnostics. When a player is injured, where he grabs is almost always an accurate indicator of where the injury occurred. (The major exception is the foot and ankle, since some players cannot easily reach that area.) Bush reached down and grabbed his leg and initially appeared to be protecting an area just behind his knee. Further looks make it seem like he was stabilizing the patella, and that the team calked this a bruise further confirms that. Bush is not yet back at practice, so it's likely that the bruise is still tender and swollen. How quickly it heals up and he regains pain-free motion will determine whether he can play or if he'll be limited. The patella is relatively easy to protect with additional padding, so this shouldn't be a recurrence issue, "hot sauce" or not.
Forte has an extra day to heal this week, but indications are that won't be enough to get him back on the field. It's not just that he won't be a better option than Michael Bush at this stage, but that the Bears don't believe Forte will be ready to contribute. Putting Forte out there at this stage might also cause a setback and more missed time as well. Given their medical results and Bush's production, this is the safe, smart play and an easy decision to make for both the coaching and medical staffs. The question for fantasy players now is whether or not Forte's absence is costing him touches once he does return by virtue of Bush establishing himself. This almost never occurs in the way that most think. There's the occasional breakout of a backup -- Ryan Grant or C.J. Spiller come to mind -- but in most cases, the coaching staff has the entire off-season to make plans and tip any sort of timeshare well in advance. Bush is a semi-fragile player himself but is a suitable backup for Forte, who's had the occasional injury himself. Bush is doing exactly what the Bears wanted. Don't expect more -- or less.
The NFL's new schedule, with a game every Thursday, cost the Giants last week. Had Bradshaw and Nicks had the full, normal week for treatment and recovery, they likely could have played. In the end, the Giants won, and given the extra time before their next game, things have balanced out to some extent. I'm just not sure there's a perfect balance and how it might affect records, playoff standings, and of course, fantasy scoring. Bradshaw will be back this week after recovering from his stinger and should have no deficits. Nicks is a more interesting case as he continues to have some recovery issues with his foot. This should be abating as he gets further from the fracture, but he has reached something of a plateau. Some have wondered if a turf/grass issue might be in play here, and while there's no evidence that is the case, it's certainly one possibility. Nicks is expected to play and he's shown he can be very effective through this injury.
No concussion? Schaub lost his helmet and a part of his ear on a big hit Sunday. It appeared to be something like having an earring torn out, but I couldn't find any pictures that indicated that would be a normal thing for Schaub, on or off the field. Joe Mays was suspended for the hit, but the interesting part was that Schaub came out without any signs of concussion. It's unclear if he received any sort of concussion screening -- there was certainly only a very short period he was off the field. I asked Dustin Fink, a certified athletic trainer and writer of The Concussion Blog, about this: "Popular belief is that the helmet staying on the head will always be better for brain safety. In the case of Schaub, had the helmet stayed secure on his head the force from the blow would have forced his neck and head into hyperextension (forcefully and quickly) and the resulting flexion of the head and neck. Against popular belief, in this case it is entirely plausible and possible the helmet being ejected from his head reduced the risk of this type of concussive injury." I wouldn't recommend other players trying to duplicate this, but it does appear that Schaub got lucky, aside from that ear.
There's no injury that is perfectly predictable. Even with good knowledge and good medical care, there are factors out of anyone's control. There's certainly a genetic component, one that the NFL has hinted at working on. (They tried to take DNA samples in 2011, but were rebuffed.) What that means is that we don't know exactly why it's taking Garcon's foot a bit longer to come back to health. There are an endless number of reasons, but none have to do with toughness or the wrong diagnosis. Garcon continues to improve, but slowly enough that playing in Week 4 is in question. He's a tantalizing fantasy situation -- a clear WR1 in a system that has potential, but missing three games is enough to test any roster as we head into bye weeks. Hold onto him, or grab him if someone gets twitchy. Even if he doesn't play this week (and it's 50-50), he'll pay off down the stretch as Robert Griffin develops.
Beanie Wells has hit the IR, but the Cardinals get the option to have him return. There was some confusion about when that return could be with the new rule, but it's eight weeks from placement. That means he's out until late November at best. This is more than a simple case of turf toe, but in combination with his chronic knee problems, the Cardinals simply didn't trust Wells to play from week to week. Ryan Williams is the RB1 with LaRod Stephens-Howling becoming a deep option ... Matthew Stafford is questionable with a hamstring and a hip strain. His mobility and throwing will be watched right up to game time ... Willis McGahee is likely to play on Sunday, but his touches will be limited. The score could determine things as much as his pain tolerance ... Ryan Mathews got 10 touches last week and came out healthy, but the fumble might limit his touches again this week. At this stage, it appears the collarbone is healed and he's out of my turf ... Steven Jackson played last week after not practicing. It appears that's Jeff Fisher's plan again this week ... Peyton Hillis appears to be limited this weekend due to an ankle sprain. That means even more touches for Jamaal Charles, who proved his knee is healthy last week ... Turf toe can linger and be painful, but it was a surprise when the Redskins placed Roy Helu on the IR so they could roster Ryan Grant ... Julio Jones should have no trouble with his lacerated hand by Sunday, but they will be careful with him in practice. Don't worry too much about his being limited this week ... Jeremy Maclin appears to be on track to play normally on Sunday. His hip flexor issue has recurred a couple times, so it bears watching and noting even if he's rostered ... Marques Colston is dealing with plantar fascitis, an injury that lingers and will be exacerbated by the turf he'll play on at home. There's a lot of risk here, as has been shown the last two weeks ... DexterMcCluster's elbow injury might have been gruesome, but it appears to have been more looks than damage. The elbow clearly hyperextended, but that can be protected and tends to heal well if the internal structures don't tear significantly. He could play this week ... Darrius Heyward-Bey has not yet cleared his concussion tests. It's amazing that he's even at that point after that hit ... Austin Collie will have surgery to repair his ruptured patellar tendon, but his football career is likely over ... Jared Cook should be good to play on Sunday, but his sore shoulder bears watching. The Titans may have to split him out more and use a blocking tight end, which could limit his snaps ... With Adrian Clayborn done for the season after a terrible knee injury, the Bucs are thinking they could get Da'Quan Bowers back for Week 8. He's currently on the PUP recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. This would be a bit quick, but it's not impossible. And Bowers' knees are fine ... The NFL needs to fix this situation now. I've called for an independent evaluator to make concussion decisions for years now. There's no excuse for the NFL to not do this. None ... And if they need more reason, or just a reminder, read this.