Super Bowl Handicapping: Dwight Freeney Injury
by Trevor Whenham - 2/3/2010
In a lead up to the Super Bowl that has been pleasingly short on drama, the biggest story out there from a betting perspective and otherwise is Dwight Freeney's ankle. The workhorse of the Indianapolis defense injured his ankle late in the AFC Championship Game, and that has created a great deal of uncertainty regarding his role and his potential impact in the big game - if he is even able to play at all. Because there hasn't been a whole lot to talk about, people are spending a whole lot of time talking about this injury. The more people talk about something like this, the more likely it is that they get ridiculous and overestimate the impact of the situation. In an attempt to approach this injury in the right way, here is a collection of thoughts on the situation:
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The injury - As you would expect around a big game like this there are conflicting reports about the ankle. Some sources are claiming that it is just a simple sprain - an injury that could probably be healed in time for the game. Most reports seem to agree, though, that the ankle is more significantly injured, and that a ligament is involved. There are three ligaments that stabilize the ankle and keep it in place. This is reportedly a grade three sprain which means that all three of those ligaments are strained. Those ligaments could be strained, or, as reported, they could be torn. Typical treatment for a grade three sprain would be immobilization in a walking boot for about six weeks, and potentially surgery if it isn't healing at that point. If it is a grade three sprain then it is very unlikely that he'd be ready to play on Sunday.
If Freeney were able to play, he would certainly be limited in his effectiveness. He'd need to be wearing a heavy brace on his ankle to avoid rolling and causing further damage. That brace would make it much harder for him to quickly change directions or twist away from coverage. He'd also likely be in a fair bit of pain, and he could be over-compensating for that. Freeney insists that he's feeling better and he'll be ready to play. Unless the scope of the injury has been grossly exaggerated, though, that seems doubtful. Even if he does find a way to play he'll only play limited downs, and he's not going to be at his best if he does. Assuming anything else is just a gamble.
The alternative - With Freeney below his best, the burden is going to fall on Raheem Brock. He'll be moving over from tackle, and he has big shoes to fill. Brock is confident about the move, and it's not like he's under-experienced - he's started more games than any other defensive lineman on the team, and he has 28.5 sacks. That's a long way from Freeney's 84, but the end generally gets more opportunities to pile up the sacks. Morris will be a step back from Freeney, but it's not a giant step.
The game impact - This is where I think people are getting a bit too excited about the situation. The Colts are a decent defensive team, and Freeney is unquestionably a beast, but they certainly don't win on the strength of defense, and they were right in the middle of the pack in the league in terms of sacks. The Colts weren't going to win this game on the back of Freeney if he were healthy, so it only makes sense that they aren't going to lose just because he's out (they still could lose, of course, but Freeney won't be the sole reason if they do). More significantly, it's actually far from certain that Freeney would have had a big impact even if he had been at full health. Only three teams in the league gave up fewer sacks during the regular season than the Saints, and the offensive line kept Brees' jersey entirely clean six times in the 17 games he played. Only Dallas and Miami were able to significantly rattle Brees with a pass rush, and both teams were significantly better at rushing the passer than the Colts were.
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Line impact - As you would guess from what I have already written I'm not of the opinion that Freeney should have a significant impact on the line regardless of his status. That opinion seems to be shared by a lot of people, but the public doesn't seem to be getting the message. The line jumped upwards as soon as it was released, and topped out at six points. Since then, though, it has steadily been falling, and can easily be found at 4.5. The fall corresponded with the Freeney issue, but it's hard to know if it is as a result of the injury or just because bettors are reacting to the line jump and the subsequent value on the Saints in some eyes.