The Buffalo Bills are quite possibly the hottest team in the National Football League as they head down to Nashville to face the Tennessee Titans on Monday night. The Bills head into the game with a significantly shorter injury report following a buildup over the prior weeks that appeared to stress the strong depth built up over the years.
However, the Bills appear to be on the mend as the Titans deal with a litany of injuries that could impact their ability to compete which may only benefit the Bills as they attempt to move to 5-1 on the season. Below are all the Bills and Titans injuries heading into Monday’s game.
OL Ryan Bates (Ankle)
Bates appeared on the injury report with an ankle injury despite only playing 6 special teams snaps against the Chiefs. Reviewing the film, there wasn’t any clear mechanism of injury. He was also only limited in practice Thursday but practiced in full Friday and Saturday.
This may require taping up the ankle but doesn’t appear that he will be limited by this as he doesn’t play often.
G Jon Feliciano (Elbow)
Like Bates, not much is known about Feliciano. He played in every offensive snap Sunday and practiced in full this week. I noted last week he was wearing a shoulder brace on his right side during the game, but it doesn’t appear this is related at the moment. Whether he has bracing on his elbow will be telling as to what he is dealing with.
S Siran Neal (Illness)
Neal missed Friday’s practice with illness but does not have a designation for Monday indicating that this is not an issue moving forward.
RB Taiwan Jones (Hamstring)
Jones played last week despite a questionable status with two DNP’s and a limited practice due to his hamstring injury. He had a similar presentation this week but a full practice on Saturday without a game day designation. I thought he was tracking towards not playing, but the multiple missed practices may be more of a load management strategy and considering the wear on the tires that Jones has, he has earned the rest.
It’s also worth noting that the volume of work that Jones has every week compared to Milano is significantly less. Looking at the first three games of the season where both appeared that were not limited by injury, Jones played in 62 special teams snaps. By comparison, Milano played in 173 defensive snaps. Jones plays just over one-third or 35 percent of what Milano has to play regardless of position, hence why Jones may have played this past Sunday and Milano ultimately did not.
This may also explain why the Bills gave Jones an outright rest during the week but have Milano practice as part of his specific workload in order to demonstrate that he can perform during game action.
Regardless of their reasoning, Jones will continue to take his spot on special teams Sunday.
LB Matt Milano (Right hamstring)
Milano continued to be limited in practice until Saturday when he practiced in full after missing Sunday’s game against the Chiefs.
By video, he is moving incredibly well and continues to wear a compression sleeve on his right leg, signifying that there may still be some mild inflammation the team wants to manage during activity.
Even if he has a setback during the game this week, the Bills have the ability to get him fully healthy during the bye week.
CB Kristian Fulton (Hamstring)
Fulton has already been ruled out with a hamstring strain suffered in the win over the Jaguars in Week 5. Fulton is one of the starting cornerbacks opposite Janoris Jenkins and has seen 90+ percent of snaps in the first four weeks of the season prior to his injury. With him out, his duties may be split up between Elijah Molden and Caleb Farley according to the depth chart.
LB Monty Rice (Groin)
Rice suffered a groin injury in the win over the Jaguars in Week 5 and is out for Week 6. He was filling in for Rashaan Evans who was dealing with a quadriceps injury himself in that game, though Evans doesn’t appear on the injury report this week. With Rice out, this eliminates depth and special teams contributions from the rookie.
P Brett Kern (COVID/right groin)
Kern is currently on the COVID/Reserve list, being placed on the list October 12th. He may be eligible to come off prior to the game, but even if he does, it’s not clear whether he plays as he has missed the past two games with a right groin injury which is his kicking leg. Johnny Townsend has punted in his place, but replacing a three-time Pro Bowler comes with a clear drop off in performance.
RB Jeremy McNichols (Ankle)
While Derrick Henry is the primary back, McNichols appears to be the pass-catching option out of the backfield, leading the team in receptions with 17 this season. It’s not clear what type of ankle injury McNichols is dealing with, but it’s significant enough to be declared questionable.
He did have two DNP’s Friday and Saturday which typically doesn’t look good for someone trying to play Monday. He could also be declared inactive if Darrynton Evans is activated off IR prior to Monday night.
WR Chester Rogers (groin)
Rogers is dealing with a groin strain that isn’t clear when he suffered the injury. He has appeared in all 5 games this season, but as a slot wide receiver with a groin injury doesn’t bode well for playing Monday.
FB Khari Blasingame (shoulder)
Blasingame is dealing with a shoulder injury that has limited him all week and besides that information, not much else is known. The severity is enough that he’s questionable.
WR Julio Jones (Hamstring)
Jones suffered a hamstring strain in the Week 3 win over the Colts and has missed the last two games with the team going 1-1. He has since returned to practice and has outright stated that he will play Monday, eliminating any doubt on his status.
The Titans still have to be careful with how they deploy Jones due to his prior history of hamstring injuries, having missed 7 games last year over the course of the season from the same injury, though it’s not clear if it’s the same side.
His volume may be limited throughout the game, but this does not diminish his threat as a weapon for the offense. Despite his status as one of the game’s best receivers, the games that he has played, he only has 12 receptions for 204 yards. He is third in receptions and first in yards, but the offense is clearly dictated by Derrick Henry which might make game planning for Jones slightly easier.
WR AJ Brown (Hamstring)
Brown is in a similar situation as Jones, though his hamstring strain appeared to be milder, missing only one game against the Jets in Week 4. Brown appears to be on track to play Monday but he made some interesting comments about his snap count being limited until Week 10.
It’s not abundantly clear why he would publicly say that as head coach Mike Vrabel disputes that below, but this does require some context.
Brown played through at least one knee injury last year that should have prevented him from playing last year by his own accounts. He did have arthroscopic surgery to both knees in the offseason and was dealing with a knee injury in training camp.
It’s also worth noting that Julio Jones was also dealing with a knee injury during the preseason. This could explain why Brown will be limited with snap counts so as not to overwork the knees and irritate the hamstring injury any further.
By snap counts, he has played in 81, 84, 12, and 64 percent of snaps in the games he has been available. The 12% game is the exception in that he was injured during that game against the Colts. If he were to have any snap count restrictions, my expectation would be that he is closer to 64 percent for this game as compared to the first two games.
While he may be on the field, there is only one ball to go around and as mentioned above, the offense goes through Henry, leaving Brown as a secondary option, though still very much a threat.
Update: Brown has since been ruled questionable due to illness.
CB Caleb Farley (Illness/Shoulder)
Farley is on track to play his third game of the season after missing three games due to a shoulder injury suffered in practice prior to Week 2. This comes after he was limited all offseason due to his back surgery that I discussed with Joe Marino over at Locked on Bills back in the spring.
Farley appears to be past the shoulder and back injuries, though is coming off an illness. I expect him to get more playing time especially with Kristian Fulton already being ruled out due to a hamstring strain.
LB Bud Dupree (Right knee)
The Titans new linebacker this season admittedly rushed back from his right ACL tear in December when he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was actually surprised to find that he stated this last week, only 10 months removed from surgery. He appears to be in a similar situation that former Bill Trent Murphy was in when he signed with the team in 2018.
Get a big contract with a new team and you have to produce. Dupree is likely continuing to deal with soreness and inflammation as his knee continues to adjust and adapt.
If I’m Brian Daboll, I find ways to attack him and make him be a playmaker. He will have trouble pushing off that right knee and quickly change directions due to having to react to his offensive assignment. This is a weakness the Bills can exploit especially with injuries to Monty Rice and Rashaan Evans.
DT Teair Tart (Toe)
Tart, the starting nose tackle for the Titans is working through a toe injury that does not carry a gameday designation. He may lose power trying to clog up the middle, but I don’t anticipate a significant drop off in play.
G Rodger Saffold (Shoulder)
Saffold suffered a shoulder injury in the second half of the Jaguars game and was questionable to return. He has been limited in practice this week with one DNP and this comes after suffering a shoulder injury against the Seahawks in Week 3, though it’s not clear whether this is the same injury.
OT Taylor Lewan (Toe)
Lewan continues to work through a toe injury that made him questionable against the Jaguars in Week 5. He may still be at times limited in maintaining his blocks which could be an opportunity for the Bills defensive front to take advantage if he is a step slower due to the injury.
With Lewan dealing with this injury along with Saffold also dealing with an injury of his own on the left side of the line, this could be an opportunity to attack Ryan Tannehill, though I would expect a lot of the offense to run through the right side, away from the defensive point of attack.
WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (hamstring)
Westbrook-Ikhine missed Week 5 with a hamstring injury and is one of four wideouts dealing with a soft-tissue injury. His production will increase if there is an early exit from Brown or Jones.
BILLS PROJECTED INACTIVES
RB Matt Breida
DT Vernon Butler
OT Tommy Doyle
DE Efe Obada
LB Andre Smith
TITANS PROJECTED INACTIVES
WR Chester Rogers
RB Jeremy McNichols
LB Monty Rice
Update: CB Kristian Fulton placed on IR.
I am only projecting 3 players this week as the Titans only have 51 rostered players. They can elevate two practice squad players this week or bring several guys back from injured reserve which appears that they can do. Players eligible include S Brady Breeze, RB Darrynton Evans, and S Amari Hooker.
There are too many scenarios to determine what they do roster wise to predict. They also have until 3 pm Monday to make their decision.
Looking at injury matchups alone, the Bills have a massive advantage. Last year, the Bills were the injury-depleted team heading into this matchup that was rescheduled due to the Titans COVID outbreak. Injuries heading into that game included Matt Milano (pectoral), John Brown (knee), Zack Moss (toe), Tre’Davious White (back), Levi Wallace (left ankle), Josh Allen (left shoulder) and Cole Beasley (left foot).
The injury report last year also looks like a mirror image from last season except the Bills were the injured team.
The Titans gave the Bills a beatdown last year with the injuries playing a big part of the Bills brief regression. I expect the Bills to return the favor being the healthier and also more talented team. The Titans have a lot of offensive talent but lack key depth all over the roster due to injuries and this could hurt them further if any of their top playmakers exit early.
There’s a reason that the Bills are favored -5.5 despite being the road team. For the Bills to move to 5-1 and into the bye week would be an ideal situation. This would also place further distance between the Bills and everyone else as they work towards the number one overall seed and home field advantage for the playoffs.
Top Photo Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images