It’s been a long week despite a Monday night game creating a short week for the Buffalo Bills. After losing 14-10 to the New England Patriots on national television, the Bills have to go on the road against the defending Super Bowl Champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with longtime foe, QB Tom Brady.
This seems like a nightmare considering the architect of the Patriots over the last 20 years beating us, then following up with the man under center who is equally, if not more responsible for the Patriots and now the Buccaneers’ success.
The Bills season isn’t necessarily defined by one game, but this is a pretty important one to right the ship as they look to secure a playoff spot. Both teams have varying levels of severity regarding injuries, but depending on the position, some injuries may hold more significance than others. Below are the injuries for each team and projected inactives.
BUFFALO BILLS INJURIES
DT Star Lotulelei (Toe)
After missing 3 games due to COVID, Lotulelei finally returned to the field, playing in 27 snaps in the loss to the Patriots. On Wednesday, he showed up on the injury report with a toe injury. Looking back at the film, there weren’t any notable times when he was hobbling around after a play or any specific mechanisms of injury that would suggest a toe injury such as turf toe.
There were plenty of instances where he was in the line of scrimmage and players stepped on each other or fell over, leading to potentially painful contusions. This is pure speculation, but there is more information that is required to determine what he is dealing with and to establish any timelines for return.
TE Tommy Sweeney (Hip)
Sweeney will miss the Buccaneers game with a hip injury sustained in Monday night’s loss. He played in 13 snaps and like Lotulelei, there isn’t a clear mechanism of injury. This leads me to believe he is dealing with a potential hip flexor strain; muscle strains are more common in cold weather.
Muscle strains are also more difficult to identify on film and this may have been an injury he played through Monday that wasn’t responding later in the week during practice. We would also require more information before a timeline can be established.
DE Efe Obada (Hip)
Obada missed the Patriots contest with a hip injury sustained in practice the Friday before the game. The details of the injury are not known but he was limited all week before practicing fully on Friday. With Lotulelei being ruled out, this makes Obada’s return to the defensive line rotation all more likely.
FB Reggie Gilliam (Left Ankle)
Gilliam missed last week’s game following an ankle injury sustained on Thanksgiving against the Saints. By video, he possibly suffered a high-ankle sprain and would potentially explain why he remains on the injury report two weeks later.
Considering he practiced in full Friday, this appears promising that he may suit up. He may still not be 100 percent, but his availability on special teams may be all the difference for Sunday.
DT Ed Oliver (Chest)
Oliver suffered a chest injury in Thursday’s practice that limited him before returning to practice in full on Friday. He does not have a gameday designation indicating the injury is minor. Unless we get more details, this may not be something we see stay on the injury report for long.
OL Jon Feliciano (Left Calf)
Feliciano continues to practice during his 21-day window as he attempts to return back to play following the left calf injury sustained in Week 8 against the Dolphins. I am hopeful he is activated to the roster by Saturday at 4 pm.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS INJURIES
S Jordan Whitehead (Calf)
Whitehead will miss his third game of the season and second due to his calf injury sustained in practice prior to the Falcons game. According to reports, this is a very significant calf strain and could keep him out for multiple weeks. This is yet another blow to the Bucs’ secondary that has been dealing with injuries all season.
WR Jaelon Darden (Concussion)
Darden suffered a concussion in the win over the Colts in Week 12 and ultimately missed Week 13 against the Falcons. He was able to practice in full this week indicating that he should play Sunday.
CB Jamel Dean (Concussion)
Dean suffered a concussion against the Falcons in Week 13 and appeared to quickly pass through the protocol with a DNP on Wednesday followed by two full practices on Thursday and Friday. Barring his independent neurological consult, I expect him to play Sunday.
DL William Gholston (Wrist/Knee)
Gholston has been working through two injuries this week with no information on the wrist injury but that his knee injury was described as a patellar tendon issue. This could be patellar tendonitis that possibly increased in severity following the most recent game.
While he is questionable, I do not expect that he will miss the game as he has not missed all year and both injuries appear to be non-factors.
C Ryan Jensen (Ankle)
Other than the ankle designation and his practice participation, the details of the injury are not known from Sunday’s game. He was unable to practice Wednesday and Thursday before getting a limited practice in on Friday. Considering Jensen hasn’t missed a game since 2016, I don’t expect that to change.
G Ali Marpet (Oblique)
Marpet suffered the oblique injury when the Buccaneers played the Giants in Week 11, missing the Colts game before returning to play in 100 percent of snaps against the Falcons in Week 13. He was limited this week in practice before getting a full practice on Friday. I don’t expect that he misses this game.
LB Jason Pierre-Paul (Shoulder/Broken Finger)
Pierre-Paul has been battling through a torn rotator cuff and broken finger this season that have limited him by his own admission. He missed games earlier this season against the Rams and Patriots but has been active since then, playing in a majority of defensive snaps over that timeframe.
I don’t expect him to miss the game, but we may see his snaps monitored to keep him fresh for key plays in the game.
DT Vita Vea (Left Knee Bone Bruise)
Vea has been slowly working back from a bone bruise and slight MCL sprain suffered in Week 10 against Washington. He missed the following week against the Giants but has since returned to play in nearly half of the defensive snaps against the Colts and Falcons. These are on the lower ends of his playing time for the season but indicate he can still be effective despite the injury. I don’t expect anything to change come Sunday.
CB Richard Sherman (Calf)
Sherman is set to return from a calf injury that was sustained in the Week 6 contest against the Eagles. Prior to this injury, he missed several games due to a hamstring strain. Injuries have been his cross to bear the last two seasons, appearing in 5 games last season before playing in 3 so far this year.
I don’t expect to see a lot of Sherman Sunday, but I do expect to see him as a depth option and one of the first call-ups if injury occurs.
WR Antonio Brown & S Mike Edwards
Both continue their suspensions following the misrepresentation of their COVID vaccine status. Even if they weren’t suspended, Brown likely would not have played as he was still working through an ankle injury sustained in Week 6 against the Eagles.
BUFFALO BILLS PROJECTED INACTIVES
DT Star Lotulelei
TE Tommy Sweeney
OT Jamil Douglas (Pending Feliciano activation)
WR Isaiah McKenzie
DT Vernon Butler
S Damar Hamlin
I expect OL Jon Feliciano to be activated from injured reserve for this game as the team only has 52 players on the roster. TE Kahale Warring can be elevated as a COVID reserve for LB AJ Klein.
Update: Jon Feliciano has been activated, Jamil Douglas has been released. Brandin Bryant, Joe Giles-Harris, and Eli Ankou have been elevated from the practice squad.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS PROJECTED INACTIVES
S Jordan Whitehead
DT Steve McLendon
QB Kyle Trask
RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn
S Andrew Adams
This game has the potential to be high scoring as both offenses bring a lot of firepower and with how both secondaries are compromised due to injury, this could come down to who gets the ball last. I am not expecting the Bills to run it a lot due to Tampa Bay’s stout run defense, but hopefully, the Bucs don’t get the same idea that the Patriots got last week.
If the Buccaneers win, they secure a playoff spot. If the Bills win, that moves them to 8-5, and stay in the thick of the AFC playoff race. I’m not certain the Bills will allow themselves to get beat in back-to-back weeks, but the NFL is a week-to-week league and anything can happen. This should be an exciting game to watch with both teams bringing their best in what could be a Super Bowl preview.
Top Photo Credit: Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK