Handicapping the Manning and Brady Injuries
by Trevor Whenham - 08/26/2008
In a strange parallel, neither of the two best quarterbacks in the NFL have taken a snap in a preseason game. Peyton Manning is trying to recover from a knee surgery, while Tom Brady has been hobbled by a foot problem. Both players are expected back for the start of the regular season, but they both could be rusty. Determining how to deal with the two of them could be a major challenge for NFL handicappers.
Manning had bursa sac surgery on his left knee. Basically, the bursa sac is a cushion between joints that helps them move smoothly and painlessly. When it becomes inflamed it's called Bursitis, and it's painful. Manning had problems with his knee last year, and the surgery was meant to remove the problem area and clear up the irritation. The team is being tight-lipped about the whole situation, as you would expect them to be. Manning was returned to the active roster and cleared to start practicing today, but questions still remain. For starters, there's a rumor floating around that Manning actually needed two surgeries on his knee. It hasn't been confirmed, but notably there also hasn't been a strong denial. That has to draw into question whether he will be able to start the first game of the season. There also may be some dissension brewing on the team between stars. Manning's surgery is the same kind that Marvin Harrison had the previous year, yet Manning has reportedly not asked Harrison about the experience of the surgery and what to expect in recovery. Is there trouble in paradise? Harrison certainly hasn't had a smooth offseason.
Brady has a deep bone bruise in his right foot. Though he hasn't played in the preseason and likely won't, and he may be wearing a walking cast off the field to keep pressure off the injury, he is practicing without noticeable problems, and he says he feels great and ready. Brady is also insistent that this injury is completely unrelated to the one that played a part in the Super Bowl, and that that injury is just a memory. Probably a bad one. Typical of the Pats' camp it is very difficult to know what is actually going on, and there seems to be a lot of people who don't believe that his foot is the problem at all - that it's just a cover up for another problem.
It would seem like we would have to look at these two injuries differently. Brady has been able to practice more than Manning, and the injury is less significant to come back from. He's also playing in the same offense as he always has, and he is surrounded by most of the same key characters, most notably security blankets Wes Welker and Randy Moss. Brady is a steady quarterback, and I don't expect him to have much trouble at all getting back into the flow of things. After all, it's not like he and his team is known for big efforts in preseason games anyway. He wouldn't have played much, and he wouldn't have used his whole playbook when he did. The real work is done in practices, and he has been there. I don't expect Brady's injury to be an issue, and I won't treat it as such in my handicapping.
Manning is a different issue. Like Brady, he has the luxury of a familiar system and familiar players around him to come back to. There are a couple of reasons to be worried, though. First, we saw how much Harrison struggled to come back from his injury last year, and how diminished his capacity was when he came back. This isn't viewed as major surgery, but it's also not a walk in the park. As importantly, Manning has never had to deal with coming back from a major injury. He's played every game since he was drafted, and he was healthy in college. He's had problems with his thumb and his knee last year, but the psychology of being banged up is very different than that of recovering from surgery. We don't know how Manning will handle it, but there is certainly more reason to be pessimistic about the possibilities than there is about Brady.
There is one thing that the two situations have in common - the public is almost certain to overreact in both situations. Neither team has a viable backup in place, but both of the starters are experienced, talented, and savvy enough to contribute better than most players even if they aren't at full strength. As is always the case, the betting public will assume that the injuries are more of a problem than they really are and push the odds higher as a result. That doesn't mean that the best thing to do is to automatically bet the Colts and the Patriots because they will face inflated lines. That may or may not be the case. It just means that if your handicapping points you towards one of those two teams you probably don't have to shy away from them just because of the injuries because they will be compensated for, and likely overcompensated for, in the lines.