Football injuries are random but inevitable. Every year, some teams will spend the season in an MRI machine, and others will end up pretty much unharmed (outside of thousands of micro-concussions). Just as predictably, some coaches will try to obfuscate their team's health to screw with their opponents' game plans, while still adhering to the NFL's flawed injury-reporting regulations.
So which teams got hit the worst by injuries in 2012? And which coaches were the most misleading about the health of their players?
To answer these questions, we turn to Pro Football Reference, which has compiled 2012 injury report information in a series of delightful colored charts. The graph below is based on their data, showing, by team and injury tag, the number of players per week put on the injury report.
Two caveats. First, this analysis is focused on injures that happen during the season, so players who began the year on the Injured Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform lists and never saw action in a game were not included. Second, this analysis does not attempt to differentiate between the value of different players. Here we go:
The AFC East had the longest injury reports, with the Jets, Pats, and Bills all cracking the Top 5 and listing more than 18 players each week. The Seahawks, Rams, Saints, and Bears all posted the shortest reports, listing fewer than 10 players each week (including playoffs).
Of course, injury reports are really just guesses at the probability of someone playing, useful mostly for gamblers and fantasy football managers. The real measure of health is whether the player actually sees game time the next week. Here's a breakdown, by team and initial injury tag, of the number of players each week who did not play after appearing on the report:
The 49ers, Vikings, and Dolphins all showed either remarkable resiliency or insane good fortune this year, losing fewer than four players each week to DNPs. Over the course of the season, San Francisco had only two players (Jewel Hampton and Brandon Jacobs) who landed on the injury list and did not see action for at least eight weeks, including playoffs, and neither of them was exactly tearing up Candlestick. The Vikings lost only one player for at least eight weeks, but it was their best receiver, Percy Harvin. The Dolphins lost only cornerback Richard Marshall.
Green Bay and Dallas, on the other hand, got rocked, losing more more than 10 players a week. Here's a list of players who missed at least eight games for each team:
- Cowboys: Orie Lemon (LB, 8 games), Kevin Kowalski (C, 9), Kenyon Coleman (DE, 9), Jay Ratliff (DE, 10), Sean Lee (LB, 10), Chris Jones (P, 12), Barry Church (DB, 13), Phil Costa (G/C, 13), Matt Johnson (S, 16).
49ersPackers: Greg Jennings (WR, 8 games), Davon House (DB, 9), Andrew Quarless (TE, 9), Charles Woodson (DB, 9), Frank Zombo (LB, 9), James Starks (RB, 10), Nick Perry (LB, 12), Brandon Saine (RB, 12), Cedric Benson (RB, 13), Sean Richardson (S, 13).
These might not all be household names, but that's a lot of holes on the depth chart to fill. The Cowboys defense and Packers backfield were hit particularly hard this season, which helps explain why the Packers took a big step back from their 15-1 in 2011 and the Cowboys once again underperformed in the NFC East.
The eight teams shaded in white had the most "misleading" injury reports, showing the greatest discrepancy between the number of players reported as injured and the number of players who were actually out that week. Let's dig a little deeper into these reports and see if we can't tease out what some of these coaches were doing.
Below is a chart showing, by team, the chances that a player tagged as "Questionable" actually appeared in the next game:
The eight teams in question are again marked in white. While "Questionable" players should theoretically play 50 percent of the time, across the league this figure was actually 63 percent, and seven out of eight of these teams were above the league average. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is famous for his meaningless "Q" tags, but while the Pats were above the average this year (71 percent), Minnesota, Buffalo, Atlanta, and Houston played the loosest with the tag, putting their "Questionables" on the field about 75 percent of the time. Green Bay, Indianapolis, and San Diego were under 50 percent, but New Orleans was the real outlier. Saints players got "Q" tags 69 times this year and ended up playing only 25 times (36 percent).
Football causes an untold numbers of "minor" injuries that are usually ignored until the end of the season. The "Probable" tag covers these sorts of injuries, and "P" players should theoretically play 75 percent of the time. These players ended up in the game 90 percent of the time. Below are the percentage of players on the initial injury report each week listed as "Probable":
Once again, the eight most misleading teams are listed in white. On average 25 percent of injury report players were "Probable," and outside of the Patriots and Cardinals six of the misleading teams reported these minor injuries more than the league average. The Jets were the leaders in ticky-tacky injuries, with 49 percent of all reported injuries getting the "P" tag. The 49ers, Texans, and Dolphins all were close, coming in at over 40 percent. The Falcons, Rams, and Panthers weren't dicking around this year, with less than 10 percent of their injuries reported as "Probable." Only the serious stuff for these guys.
The four remaining teams are relatively healthy, as teams that make deep postseason runs tend to be. The Patriots lost Rob Gronkowski for the rest of the playoffs, but have just three players listed as "Questionable" for the AFC championship. The Ravens have three of their own. The 49ers and Falcons, the third- and fourth-healthiest teams of the season, combine for three "Questionables" between them. Two of these teams will get one more chance to fill up the Super Bowl injury report.