Wes Welker is healthy this week. Because of that, you're going to hear his name a lot in both positive and negative arguments about resting players heading into the playoffs. Welker famously injured his knee last season in a "meaningless" game, inspiring many to think that resting him would have saved him from a random event. But injuries have an element of randomness that cannot be controlled, so the idea that limiting chances reduces risk is a bit shortsighted.
A player doesn't have a one-in-sixteen chance of being injured, or a one-in-a-whole-bunch-of-plays chance, either. It's a small, multifactorial number that is pushed and pulled by fatigue, position, the survivor effect, weather, and many other things, but in all of this there is one thing we know: it only takes one play.
Welker set his foot and felt his knee go. Would it have happened on the next play or in the next game if somehow the turf had given a bit more or if some of the other factors necessary to create ligament-shearing force were not in place? Maybe. Other players came through that game healthy, but we don't remember them. We remember the standout, highlight event. We remember Welker being carted off, his long rehab, and then his return. Every player is one play away from that fate and may not be quite as lucky in the timing or on the rehab side of things. That's why I always have things to write about.
This week is no different, so let's get to the injuries:
When I said last week that Jones-Drew could have surgery this week if the Jaguars were eliminated, I forgot one thing: they couldn't be eliminated last week. The tiebreaker rules are such that even with a Jags loss and a Colts win, their games this week will matter. That means Jones-Drew is going to delay the surgery, but the bigger question is: will a week off enable him to get back on the field in a way that will help his team make it to the playoffs? It doesn't look like it, as his knee remains swollen and painful, the cartilage tear continuing to cause problems inside the joint.
With David Garrard definitely out this week and for the playoffs after having surgery on his middle finger of the throwing hand, the Jags will have a real uphill battle. Garrard injured the finger during the Indianapolis game, and it showed in his subpar performance against Washington. Garrard's surgery has about a two-month recovery period, so Trent Edwards takes over with the playoffs on the line ... and a postseason game in store, if he's successful.
Clinching the NFC East is made for situations like this. Vick, for all the excitement he's given Eagles fans this year, still takes too many hits. I've often wondered why the option or one of its variants isn't used more in the NFL, and the reason that I'm always given is in that type of offense, the QB takes too many hits. (My solution would be to use two QBs, but that's for another day.)
Vick can make the big run, the great escape, and the big play, but he's also going to have to learn to slide more. People seem to forget that he missed several games after taking the kind of bonecrunching hit that he could take on any play. Vick took a beating from the Vikings, of all teams, on Tuesday and could use the rest heading into the playoffs. Not only will he get the extra time to heal his bruised quad, the Eagles will also get a chance to showcase Kevin Kolb, who will likely be dealt if Vick is re-signed. Kolb's a solid pickup this week if you're looking.
The Vikings aren't even lying well this season. Peterson was seen on the sidelines during Tuesday's game adjusting a brace on his injured knee. It wasn't a big heavy brace, but it was clear what it was. Last I checked, braces aren't necessary for bruises, so we'll chalk this one up as something minor, but even that can build into something major.
Peterson has been durable, but durable also means that he's taking a lot of punishment. His career looks a lot like Emmitt Smith's at this stage and that's a good thing. Smith had a huge peak at the start of his career, but instead of going into a sharp decline, he stayed at a solid level for nearly another decade. He did it, in part, by avoiding even minor injuries. If you compare him to someone else like Edgerrin James, who started great, but had a major knee injury, you'd see that while James came back, his decline was much sharper. There's a huge difference in career value between Smith and James, and most likely, Peterson will fall somewhere in the middle. How the Vikings deal with his injury and other situations like it over the next few years will be the most important factor in determining which of those NFL greats he's closest to overall.
One of these days, I'm going to tell you why the NFL's decision on "TextGate" was such a joke. Today's not that day. Instead, I'm going to tell you about how Favre and the Vikings played the drama heading into Tuesday night and what that tells us about Sunday.
Up to the last minute, people were watching to see if Favre was going to make a last minute move while all along, he had not taken the concussion screening since at least the previous Thursday. (One source insists that Favre only took the screening once: the day after his concussion. Late reports indicate that he did take a series of tests on Wednesday.) Baseline testing doesn't just happen, so Favre essentially would have needed a so-called independent doctor to sign off on it, bypassing the rest of the guidelines. Note here that the guidelines are just that, not hard and fast rules. By Tuesday, however, Favre wasn't going to play, but even the best journalists had been burned by this before and were leaving a tiny sliver of hope, playing right into Favre's hands.
Watch to see if he's throwing late this week. I still believe his shoulder is more limiting than his concussions. I'll tell you how this story will go: he'll be cleared late this week, amd called a GTD. He starts, then walks off the field at the end of the game, proclaiming that it's his last ... until some team loses a QB next season and they think, "You know, Favre could be a good stopgap."
The short week will not help Rice, though, again, concussion guidelines don't hurt him, either. It's simply a matter of having less time to recover, assuming that he has some continuing symptoms. It's hard to say whether missing practice on Wednesday means as much as it would in a normal week, but with a meaningless game and free agency ahead, both the Vikings and Rice (respectively) don't have much reason to push him out there. Rice has come back from the hip surgery without any significant problem, and that was what he needed to show before he goes looking for big dollars. Concussions are only an issue when they're cumulative and chronic. It doesn't mean we should minimize them, but Rice's head will have plenty of time to heal. Months, in fact.
The Lions had hoped to be playing for something this week. Not a playoff spot, not pride, their future. This was the week they thought they'd see all the growth and all the hope and be able to sell it, not just to their fans, but to themselves as well. It's not going to work out that way. Matthew Stafford is on IR and now Johnson might not be on the field, either. With not much to play for, the Lions don't seem to be pushing Johnson despite the chronic ankle issue that's plagued him as much as the uncertain QB situation this season. Between the two, he's had less yardage, but he's still been productive due to his size and skill. He'll be a GTD this week whether he returns to practice on Friday. All that's holding him back is the supporting players.
When Johnson and Matt Schaub are healthy, they might be the best QB to WR combo in the NFL. The problem is, they're seldom healthy at the same time. Johnson has been playing through a severe ankle sprain since early in the season and his productivity is a testament to his toughness and the game plan adjustments that have been made to make up for the things he can't do. He won't practice this week, but the team still hopes he can get out there on Sunday, at the very least to make a couple catches and be a decoy. The game does have playoff implications and sources tell me that his is a pain issue. "He's not going to do any more damage," one team source said, "but it's hard to ask a guy to 'man up' over and over when he knows what the record is." Don't take Johnson's status as a sign of how he and the team feel about Gary Kubiak, either. This one will be purely a pain management decision.
My pals at Rotowire projected Tony Romo to go for almost 4,500 yards this season. A broken collarbone ended that notion, but it gave us an interesting point:. Romo threw for 1,600 yards in his six games, while Kitna played nine and went for 2,300. Together (and with one game remaining to add to Kitna's total), they were within shouting distance of those projections despite the utter collapse of the Cowboys' running game. It's hard to comprehend, but from the numbers, Kitna was actually a slightly better QB than Romo. Who knows how Romo would have fared under Jason Garrett's head coaching, though it's hard to think it would have changed much given their relationship. With Kitna out this week with an oblique strain and Stephen McGee getting the start, we'll get another look at just how system-oriented Garrett's offense really is, something that could be very telling heading into an offseason where the Cowboys could be the single most interesting team to watch.
Wes Welker is this year's success story for knee reconstructions. Brown, not so much. It's not that he was bad, but he wasn't what we expected. Part of that goes on the team's lack of success, but how much can we put on his knee? Of that, how much can we expect to see improve next year? It's well known that proprioception is the last physical part to come back after surgery. That's the body's ability to sense itself in space. If you close your eyes and move your fingers or wave your arm to the side, you know where it is because of proprioception. It takes time and some rehab for athletes get it working right after surgery, and then it takes confidence in that ability. Welker talked about his hesitation, but Brown showed the same sort of things without talking to the press about it. He was tentative during runs in the first half of the season, but my worry is that he didn't improve over the second half. Look back to the section above about Peterson. Brown, at age 29, is looking like he'll be in that kind of steep decline. Don't be the one who drafts him next year expecting a bounceback campaign, no matter who is at QB.
Matt Hasselbeck is a GTD for the Seahawks. His hip was very painful as of Thursday, so that they're pushing him tells you just how badly they misjudged Charlie Whitehurst ... Mark Sanchez's shoulder will be fine -- the injury is minor -- but there's no way he plays much this week ... Darren McFadden is talented, but fragile. His sprained ankle makes him a GTD this week ... The Colts had a run split that made it very difficult to read, but they did use Joseph Addai late in the game, showing some trust in his grip that surprised me. I expect him to be the No. 1 to Dominic Rhodes' 1A this week ... Mike Tolbert's scary-looking injury turned out to be a neck sprain and bruised spine. Yes, a bruised spine. He'll be fine, but is out this week as the Chargers take a hard look at Ryan Mathews, who one scout told me this week might be better suited for a time-share than as a feature back ... The Broncos aren't ruling out Knowshon Moreno for this weekend despite his painful rib injury, largely because they're hoping to see Tim Tebow play with as much of next year's supporting cast as possible. Moreno is still unlikely to play much, if at all ... Someone please tell me that Larry Fitzgerald was checked and cleared please ... Arrelious Benn might sound like a Harry Potter character, but he's been one heck of a WR2. His season ends on the IR with a torn ACL, but don't forget about this guy in the next draft ... Chad Ochocinco is out again this week. That makes it a big week for Carson Palmer -- another big game without the two TV wide receivers and Palmer has a case that it wasn't his fault this season. Right or wrong, that's a case that GMs will buy ... It is very unlikely that Antonio Gates will play this week, but the Chargers aren't ruling him out just yet ... Think I had a lot to write about this year? Wait until we get that 18 game schedule ... If I don't get the chance in the hustle of Sunday morning, I want to thank everyone at SI.com, especially Paul Forrester and Jay Clemons, for making this a great season for me. I also want to thank each and every one of you for reading, for all the questions, and for allowing me to share this with you all season long.