NFL Handicapping: Key Players Returning From Injury
by Robert Ferringo - 7/15/2010
“Football For $200, Alex”
Answer: Bad Calls, Turnovers and Injuries.
Question: What are the three things that you can’t handicap in football?
Bad calls by officials, crippling and unsightly turnovers, and devastating injuries are all part of what makes football betting the masochistic masterpiece that it is. All three are at the whim of Gravity and the Gambling Gods, and that unholy trinity is at the core of luck, losses, and/or liquor-induced comas each and every season.
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Bad calls are a byproduct of authority. And all authority is preternatural, anomalous and unaccountable. It is the weapon of oppression and the cost of doing business in any civilized system that encourages rage from 300-pound sociopaths.
Turnovers come in all shapes and sizes and are a mixture of gravity and miscalculation. Turnovers are fickle business, but while they aren’t always predictable they can be expected. They are like craziness in your wife or girlfriend: you know that it’s in there, but you never really know when it might come out. Same goes with turnovers. And just like there are certain girls where insanity is more plentiful than others, there are some teams that you can always expect more turnovers from.
And then there are injuries, which are the most random of all. And while the others are freak occurrences of nature that exist within the confines of the game, injuries can creep up any time, anywhere and have a result that can never completely be quantified. You can try all that you want to tell how a team is going to respond to losing its defensive captain, a key running back, a nickel corner, or a star quarterback. But in the end you never really know. Time after time I have seen teams lose a critical component to injury, yet rally through it as if the injured player was never really that important.
A perfect example from last year was Jammal Brown. He was a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle for the New Orleans Saints and we suffered a damaged hip and a sports hernia in the preseason. He never took a regular season snap. But despite losing their best offensive lineman, the Saints offense didn’t miss a beat. They had the highest scoring offense in the NFL and allowed only 20 sacks (No. 4 in the league) all year. Oh, yeah, and then there’s the small matter of winning a Super Bowl.
So that’s one direction things can go in with regard to injuries. But that’s more the exception rather than the rule. Most times an injury decimates a team’s depth chart. And some losses are so catastrophic that the entire team – all 52 other players – crumbles like a house of cards.
But while you can’t always predict how a football team is going to respond to an injured player you can generally predict how they will respond to getting an injured player back healthy and into the fold. And in all but the rarest of occasions getting a key player back from injury is a boon to any squad.
Below is a list of 10 players (and then two honorable mentions) whose return from injury could have a big impact on their respective teams in the 2010 NFL season:
Stewart Bradley, MLB, Philadelphia
Philadelphia lost all three of its defense’s leaders prior to last season, one via tragedy (the death of Jim Johnson), one via free agency (Brian Dawkins) and the other via injury (Bradley blowing out his knee the first week of practice). Bradley’s loss opened a revolving door at middle linebacker and the Eagles defense was stuck in “mediocre” all season long. He’s back now in what is a key transition year for the franchise.
Brian Urlacher, MLB, Chicago
Urlacher is no longer a Defensive Player of the Year performer, but he’s still one of the best middle linebackers in the business and he’s the undisputed leader of Chicago’s defense. He didn’t even make it through one game last year but will be back in the fold for Chicago this season. But he may still be left exposed until the Bears wake up and go back to their old formula of mammoth defensive tackles taking on blocks so Urlacher can make plays.
Brian Williams, CB/S, Atlanta
Atlanta’s pass defense was a train wreck heading into last season. But the addition of Williams late in training camp (he was cut by Jacksonville) breathed some life into the secondary. The Falcons defense surrendered just 15.4 points per game in the five games he started before being injured and lost for the season. In the five games after he went out the Falcons allowed an average of 30.2 points per game.
Kenny Phillips, S, New York Giants
Most of the tabloid drama surrounding the Giants last year concerned the New York pass rush. But perhaps the guys up front weren’t getting sacks because they Giants secondary couldn’t cover anyone. Phillips will be back this year but rumor has it that he won’t be 100 percent. The Giants made some offseason acquisitions in case Phillips can’t go, but he really is one of the keys to New York’s season this year.
Nate Clements, CB, San Francisco
Clements has been an underachiever in his time with the 49ers. But his return from a broken shoulder blade is key for a Niners team that people have tabbed as a sleeper this year. Clements is still one of the best secondary players on the roster and the Niners need him to be a difference maker.
Will Allen, CB, Miami
It’s been a rough few months for Allen. The former Giants No. 1 pick blew out his knee after just five games last year and then endured a drunk driving arrest in the offseason. Last year the Dolphins got by with a pair of talented rookie corners. But there is no doubt that the Fins need Allen’s veteran leadership and his skills if they are going to make a move on the Patriots and Jets this year.
Kris Jenkins, DT, New York Jets
Jenkins is starting to wear down a bit, but he’s still a 360-pound difference maker when he’s healthy. He is an expert at the nose in a 3-4 defense and if he returns to his 2008 form then the Jets defense could – gasp – be even better than it was last season. That the Jets played a majority of the 2009 season without Jenkins means that they have bolstered their depth and experience behind him, meaning they can keep him fresher this season.
Roy Williams, S, Cincinnati
Cincinnati’s defense underwent a sea change last year, storming into the Top 6 in both total defense and scoring defense. And they could be even better with a full season of Williams. He’s played only six games in the last two years, but prior to that he was a premier safety in Dallas. He doesn’t cover the deep ball as well as he once did. But in the rugged AFC North, his powerful support against the run is invaluable.
Bob Sanders, S, Indianapolis
Obviously the Colts have gotten used to playing without Sanders. He’s only suited up for eight games in the past two years and in his six-year career he has only played over 14 games twice. That said, Sanders is a force when he is on the field for the Colts. And on a team that likes to bend but not break Sanders is a guy that can make plays and be a difference maker.
Jamal Williams, DT, Denver
When he’s healthy, Williams is the best nose tackle in football. He’s a three-time Pro Bowl player and two-time All Pro. But he’s been slowed the last two seasons and missed all but one game last year. Williams’ move to Denver could have a twofold impact: first it’s going to hurt his former team, San Diego, a division rival of the Broncos, and second, it should help bolster the No. 26 rush defense in the league.
Robert Gallery, OG, Oakland
I know that some people still consider Gallery to be a bust. But the former second overall pick has been very good since his move to guard. And the 6-7, 325-pound interior lineman is a key piece to Oakland’s tenuous offensive line. With Gallery the Raiders were No. 10 in the NFL in yards per carry in 2008. Without him they were just No. 24 in 2009.
Honorable Mention: Kawika Mitchell, LB, Buffalo; Thomas Davis, LB, Carolina
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Robert Ferringo is a writer and a professional sports handicapper for Doc’s Sports. Last year he brought home +62.5 Units for his clients in the NFL and he is regarded as one of the top totals players in the sport. He guarantees a winning football season this year or he will work for free until you turn a profit. You can sign up for his college football and NFL picks and get more information here.