Buffalo Bills. New England Patriots. Monday Night Football.
AFC East lead up for grabs. This is a made-for-TV plot that the NFL could not have written up any better. The Bills have been up and down while the Patriots have been surging with 6 consecutive victories following a 2-4 start.
The Bills come in as the defending AFC East champs along with the healthier roster. However, the Patriots have been known to overreport injuries throughout the years to potentially throw teams off in game planning.
Sportsbooks have this game still slightly favored with the Bills at -3, but that is a razor-thin margin meaning this game can go either way. Below are the injuries for both teams along with projected inactives and final thoughts.
BUFFALO BILLS INJURIES
FB Reggie Gilliam (Left Ankle)
Gilliam suffered what appeared to be a left ankle injury with 12:12 in the 4th quarter against the Saints in Week 12. I had initially thought he suffered a high-ankle sprain based on how players fell into his leg. He was in street clothes on Thursday but was able to practice Friday and Saturday in a limited fashion.
The team may want to see how the weather plays out but if the footing is poor as it’s expected to be, I wonder how effective he would be on special teams. He hasn’t been much of a focus on offense but what he provides on special teams is invaluable.
He dealt with a knee injury around this time last year and the team elected to rest him to get him healthy for the final stretch. We may see this approach for Monday night.
OL Cody Ford (Right Bicep)
Ford briefly had to leave the game in the 2nd quarter and get his right elbow brace rewrapped at the time. I had initially thought he had to adjust the brace, but it was revealed that he has a biceps injury.
He has practiced all week which indicates it isn’t a big deal, but this appears to be a biceps strain. The bracing can prevent hyperextension to the area and taping can support the area to allow him to continue to perform.
Despite full participation, he has a questionable designation which is curious. They had had 4 instances this year where a player was questionable despite a full practice right before a game. 2 have played, 2 haven’t.
I’m not certain he sits, but hopefully, he slides back into a reserve role with the expected return of Jon Feliciano coming off injured reserve.
DE Efe Obada (Hip)
Obada was a surprise addition to the injury report with a hip injury on Saturday. It’s important to note he practiced in full but still had a questionable designation, this means he either injured the hip and finished practice, or noted the injury following practice.
Obada has suffered injuries late in the week that have cost him a shot at playing on game day; this appears to be yet another example.
LB Matt Milano (Shoulder)
Milano continues to be limited in a red non-contact jersey, dealing with a shoulder injury that had him on the injury report prior to the Indianapolis Colts game. He was off the injury report prior to the New Orleans Saints game but back on for this week. It still isn’t clear what he’s dealing with as there hasn’t been any kinesiotape or bracing on either area.
It’s important to note that he did not have a red jersey on Saturday, but this was likely due to testing out the shoulder for game day designations.
We have seen this happen in past years with players showing up on the injury report with a vague injury and then coming off as quickly. Milano’s snap counts have been down slightly over the past several weeks, but considering each game has been lopsided, it only makes sense to pull him when the game is out of reach. I don’t anticipate that we will see any dropoff in play for Monday.
DT Star Lotulelei (Illness-COVID)
Lotulelei returned to practice, hitting the sleds with a new shaved-head look about him. He has been limited all week as he gears up to potentially play Monday against the Patriots. He has missed the last 3 games dealing with COVID.
Looking at a return to play scenario, Lotulelei could return, but on a limited snap count. His season-high in snaps is 59 percent against Jacksonville with most of his other games in the 50’s and high 40’s. If he does play, I expect his snap count to be closer to the < 30 percent range, if that. Hopefully, he can continue to recover in the coming weeks.
As someone who has worked with patients post-COVID, the wind is knocked out of most patients and they simply do not have the energy they once had to do simple tasks. Now extrapolate that out to playing NFL football, that’s a tall order.
G Jon Feliciano (Left Calf)
Feliciano has been activated to return to practice, but not yet activated to the active roster as he has a 21-day window to practice. He had a compression sleeve on his left calf indicating this was the affected area as I had speculated when he suffered the injury.
The Bills have until Monday afternoon to make this designation and I expect them to wait until that time. I anticipate that he will be activated, ready to play, and bring fierceness to the offensive line missing the past several weeks.
OT Tommy Doyle
Doyle was placed on the COVID list on Monday, temporarily creating a roster opening for Monday. It is unknown what his vaccination status is, but I do not expect him to play Monday even if he is cleared. I would expect him to be inactive if he returns or if he doesn’t, the Bills could use a COVID replacement on a defensive tackle player such as Brandin Bryant or Eli Ankou once again.
On a positive note, OT Spencer Brown was activated from the COVID/Reserve last week and will make his return.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS INJURIES
DT Christian Barmore (Knee)
Barmore appears for the second straight week with a knee injury that he appeared to suffer in practice prior to Week 12. He was able to play in 52 percent of defensive snaps which is on the lower end of his weekly snap totals but in line with a majority of his snaps overall this season.
It’s not clear what he’s dealing with but it appears to be minor and shouldn’t greatly affect his production heading into this game.
LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (Ribs)
Bentley appears on the injury report with rib injuries after initially injuring the area against Dallas in Week 6. Since then, he has been limited in practice, appearing on the injury report weekly with a questionable designation, indicating that he is still not fully healthy.
Injections, bracing, and gritting your teeth will get Bentley through this game. The implications of this game won’t stop him from getting his nose in there and getting his tackles, but the hope is that this slows him down or at least knocks him out temporarily after a hard hit.
OL Trent Brown (Calf)
Brown has been dealing with a calf injury all season, playing in the first 7 snaps of the Week 1 game against Miami. Upon review, it appears he injured the calf on the 5th or 6th play as he hobbled around, attempting to get through the remainder of the offensive series. He looked as though he was pushing forward to maintain his block and was pushed back, causing an eccentric contraction or lengthening of the muscle under tension, causing the injury.
According to reports, he was pushing to play in the Week 3 matchup against the New Orleans Saints but made the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game in Week 4 a more realistic target. Unfortunately, he tweaked the calf muscle prior to the Buccaneers game which forced them to shut him down for a while on injured reserve.
He was eligible to return after the Week 7 Los Angeles Chargers game, but he either was still dealing with pain during activity or considering he had a setback last time, they elected to make sure he was closer to 100 percent. He may have had a Grade I strain that required several weeks to recover from that either during the setback, which injured it worse into a Grade II, meaning between 10-50 percent of the muscle fibers were torn, or reset the timeline for a Grade I.
Grade I injuries can take anywhere from 1-to-3 weeks to return whereas Grade II can take anywhere from 3-to-6 weeks to fully return. Most calf strains occur in the medial head of the gastrocnemius or close to where the muscle and tendon connect. The calf muscle connects over two joints, the ankle and knee complexes which make it more susceptible to injury due to the demands of the various muscle actions.
This is also why we see hamstring injuries occur so often because they also connect over two joints, the hip, and the knee. My guess is that he suffered a Grade II and tried to come back too quickly, resetting his timeline, landing him on injured reserve.
He reports that it is still sore which is expected, but he was able to play in 97 percent and 98 percent respectively the last two weeks indicating that he is closer to 100 percent with the team still being cautious.
While his footing may be poor in the snow, this could actually help him as his footing may prevent him from overstretching the muscle and digging into the ground as effectively.
C David Andrews (Shoulder)
Andrews shows up on the injury report with a shoulder injury following Week 12. There isn’t any additional information besides the designation. He has not missed a snap this season and unless he is ruled out, I don’t expect that to change.
RB Brandon Bolden (Knee)
Bolden appeared to suffer a knee injury in Week 12 and has also been limited all week. Considering the stable of running backs the Patriots continue to roll out every week, Bolden’s injury will likely not affect their game plan much.
K Nick Folk (Left Knee)
Folk has been dealing with a left knee injury for most of the season, first appearing on the injury report in Week 4, occasionally coming off before being placed back on. He hasn’t missed a game all season and is still able to plant the left leg to kick effectively, hitting a 51-yard field goal last week and missing only 3 field goals all year.
Considering his age, this could be arthritis or even tendinitis, but it hasn’t really affected his performance this year. I don’t expect the injury to limit him Monday.
WR/KR Gunner Olszewski (Ankle)
After missing one game with a concussion in Week 10, Olszewski reappeared on the injury report with an ankle injury suffered in the Week 12 win over the Tennessee Titans. It has limited him in practice all week, but it does not appear that it will keep him out of this game.
LB Ronnie Perkins (Illness)
Perkins missed Saturday’s practice due to illness and it’s too soon to tell whether he will recover fast enough to play Monday.
LB Dont’a Hightower (Ankle)
Hightower has been on the injury report with an ankle injury since Week 7 with the exact specifics unknown. He has only missed 1 game so far, Week 7 against the New York Jets. The Patriots injury report says elbow and ankle injuries forced him out while an article on their own website states a shoulder injury was to blame.
Whatever it was, to deal with an ankle injury that long suggests that he has either been playing through a high-ankle sprain similar to what Colts LB Darius Leonard has done or this has become a chronic injury that limits him, but never really outright stops him.
He’s certainly in on a lot of plays and gets his stats weekly, though, at a bird’s eye view, he appears to be less of a factor than in past seasons. Whether this is age, injury, or scheme, he will still get his, but appears to be a step slower this year.
LB Harvey Langi (MCL Sprain)/LB Jamie Collins (Ankle)
Collins returned to practice, opening his three-week window prior to coming off injured reserve following an ankle injury since Week 9 against the Carolina Panthers.
Langi’s practice window was opened Thursday following an MCL sprain back in Week 7 that forced him onto IR for the past 6 games.
S Kyle Duggar/RB JJ Taylor
Both continue to miss practice while testing positive for COVID, making it an unlikely decision whether they will be able to suit up for Monday night’s game.
BUFFALO BILLS PROJECTED INACTIVES
DE Boogie Basham
FB Reggie Gilliam
DE Efe Obada
DT Vernon Butler
S Damar Hamlin
OT Jamil Douglas/OT Bobby Hart (If he doesn’t get cut)
I expect the Bills to make a number of moves including activating Jon Feliciano and cutting Bobby Hart. They will also likely elevate a defensive tackle such as Brandin Bryant for a COVID replacement for Tommy Doyle. They have until Monday at 4 pm to make these decisions.
NEW ENGLAND PROJECTED INACTIVES
LB Ronnie Perkins
QB Jarrett Stidham
TE Devin Asiasi
OL Yasir Durant
CB Shaun Wade
The Patriots have the opportunity to elevate Jamie Collins and Harvey Langi from injured reserve by making two roster moves to make room. They also have potentially two COVID player replacements with Kyle Duggar and JJ Taylor if they are not cleared to play.
The potential snow and poor weather could have a significant impact on the game not just from a play standpoint, but from an injury standpoint. With a potentially slick playing field, I don’t expect to see many injuries, though they can’t be totally eliminated.
Injuries are a part of the game, but they are certainly not as much of a storyline as they have been in past weeks. The Patriots have a lot of questionable players, but this is normal for them and isn’t a true reflection on their health. The Bills have their share of injuries, but lesser players are dealing with issues, not affecting the overall talent of available players.
The Bills are at a slight disadvantage with the loss of CB Tre’Davious White due to his left ACL and meniscus tear, but they must be able to overcome this in order to win. I picked the Bills to win in my article over at The Game Day, but it will still be incredibly close.
I am looking forward to an excellent game hopefully coming down to the final possession with ideally a Bills win.
Top Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun- AP