Nicks' absence from Giants' lineup hints at season-long problem
Hakeem Nicks may be facing surgery for knee issue in the coming weeks
Arian Foster on pace for volume of carries that may hurt him next season
Rahsard Mendenhall will get bulk of carries in Week 5 but not a full workload
I'm not a fan of the bye weeks. I understand why it's done -- television revenue -- and accept that as a modern reality, but I don't like the spin that the NFL puts on it. Sold as a break to the fans and players, bye weeks simply don't work. A look through data collected from 2008 through last season shows that there's no quantifiable jump or reduction in injuries in the week following the bye. It's difficult to control for all the variables, including, but not limited to, strength of schedule, team strength, and injuries that had already occurred. While some players get lucky and have the bye fall at just the right time, it's random.
Random occurrences don't help the league reduce injuries or hurry back those who have minor injuries. Other schedule methods don't seem to work either, which seems to imply that external influences have limited effect on reduction of injuries or time lost. That leaves us with on-field measures, which would include rule changes, better protective equipment and more preventative measures from the medical and conditioning staffs.
Week 4 brought another set of new injuries so let's get to it:
DOWNGRADE: Steven Jackson
This game looked like a head-scratcher for national attention when the schedule was announced. Now we have a breakout team in the Kevin Kolb-led Arizona Cardinals. Yeah, I just wrote that sentence. The Cards have succeeded, in large part, because of their defense. They have some injuries here and some depth issues on top of that. If Paris Lenon, Adrian Wilson and Darnell Dockett are on the field and near 100 percent, they should go 5-0. Ryan Williams is again the RB1 and seemed to get more comfortable as the game went on last week. He continues to emerge as a fantasy RB/Flex play. The Rams will go with a banged up Steven Jackson, who could lose some carries to Daryl Richardson. With Rodger Saffold still out, keeping Sam Bradford upright will continue to be a huge challenge.
Back in 2003, I read a book about network science. It changed how I looked at injuries and created a term that carried over from computers to athletics. Athletic bodies, like computer networks, are interrelated systems. If one thing changes, something else will, even if you don't notice it. The best example I have of this is as simple as they come: put a small rock in one shoe, then walk. You'll try to stay normal, but no matter how hard you try, things change. You might limp or take a shorter stride. It's this kind of compensation issue that the body does unconsciously that leads to a failure somewhere down the line. Dr. Barabasi called it "cascading," and I borrowed the term. That's what's going on with Nicks. His injured foot led to some systemic change that has led to a knee problem. The Giants aren't giving much indication what the knee problem is, though signs are pointing to either an arthritic issue or, more likely, a meniscal issue. This is easily corrected, but not quickly. Nicks is a very risky play and could be facing surgery in the upcoming weeks. All that aside, don't forget the initial problem still exists. The foot that started this is still there, part of a recovery issue. Upgrade Victor Cruz, who is further locking in the WR1 slot, and consider both Domenik Hixon and Martellus Bennett as long-term upgrades as well.
It took a lot of tests to put a clinical diagnosis on what most of us knew the minute SantHolmes went down and the ball went up. Holmes has a Lisfranc fracture (and likely a Lisfranc sprain as well -- they don't always go together), found after a second round of scans showed the break. How did they "miss" a fracture the first time around? First, swelling around an injury can make it difficult to get a good scan, which is why you'll often see teams waiting a day or two for the scans. Second, the mid-foot is made up of a complex web of small bones and soft tissue. Unlike an arm or leg, it's difficult to get just the right angle in order to be sure there is a fracture. Finally, fractures come in a lot of shades. A minor break isn't as apparent as a clean or devastating one. The mid-foot, even after a fracture, can stay in line -- what doctors would call "nondisplaced" -- and make the reading even more difficult. Holmes is going to need surgery to fixate the fracture and is done for the season. That puts more pressure on Mark Sanchez at the same time he's lacking Stephen Hill and Dustin Keller. Jeremy Kerley becomes an interesting speculative pickup who's available in most leagues.
I'm about to bring up a point that will worry fantasy owners and cause a freak out among analysts. A few years back, Aaron Schatz at Football Outsiders discovered a trend in which running backs who had more than 370 carries in a season often suffered a major drop-off in the following year. There was an exception, Eric Dickerson, but it was one of those guidelines that was very good to know coming into a fantasy draft. Some of it is wear, some of it is simple regression, but a lot of analysts argued against the suggestion. Mention it in some circles and you get a near-religious argument going. In today's NFL, even though we're just a few years past the point where Schatz noted the trend, few backs approach that number. Through the first four games, Foster is on that pace. Foster is notoriously injury-prone to begin with, but has Ben Tate to take some of the load off. Tate has done that, but the team is generating enough runs that even that isn't "enough." Add in a toe injury that could derail Tate some or shift the secondary role to Justin Forsett, and there's the potential for Foster's carries to increase. Add in a schedule that is very tough -- playing the Packers and Ravens after a Monday night game at the Jets, who remain a very physical team -- and Foster's risk goes up. It's something that his owners have to be aware of. Now is the right time to make sure you have a very solid backup, just in case.