The Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers are scheduled to square off Sunday at Highmark Stadium with one player for the Panthers on the COVID/Reserve list and two for the Bills. Both are also dealing with injuries and fighting for their playoff lives.
There is so much going on, frankly, my head is swimming trying to keep up with it all. By the time you read this, there may be new changes that render what you read below inaccurate. But for right now, below are all the latest injuries for both the Bills and Panthers as they get ready to square off Sunday afternoon.
BUFFALO BILLS INJURIES
WR Emmanuel Sanders (Right Knee)
Sanders has been deemed week-to-week with a knee injury sustained late in the first half against the Buccaneers on Sunday. I managed to find the play where he was injured, but it isn’t clear what he exactly did. He was pushed out of bounds and appeared to hop on his left leg briefly and assess his right knee before walking off the field.
I don’t see a clear mechanism of injury, but it’s significant enough that he is expected to miss 2-to-3 games based on the designation from the team. This is one injury that we need either a better angle on or more information.
Discussing on Twitter, a fellow PT commented on the injury video and suggested a distal quadriceps strain. It’s certainly quite possible and not something immediately considered. Sometimes you look at the trees so closely you forget to consider the forest.
Since 2017, only 1.77 percent of players listed doubtful ended up playing in that week’s game. The Bills have had none in that timeframe and I expect that to continue with Sanders missing this game.
DT Star Lotulelei (Toe)
Lotulelei missed last week’s game with a toe injury and it isn’t clear what exactly he is working through. There weren’t any instances where I saw that he would suffer a turf toe injury, though it’s possible his foot was stepped on and it was simply too painful to try and play through.
He played fairly well upon his return from COVID and has had even more time off with this injury so a return to form from a conditioning standpoint can only benefit Lotulelei for this game and the final stretch. If he doesn’t play, it’ll be because they have fully healthy guys such as Vernon Butler available.
RB Taiwan Jones (Left Knee)
Jones suffered a left knee injury while trying to dive into a pile of bodies on a punt return early in the first quarter. He appeared to get his knee hit, jumping backward in pain and briefly leaving the game with a questionable designation. He later returned with a hinged brace suggesting that he suffered an MCL injury due to the lateral supports on the brace.
He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, but considering his position on special teams, he has not practiced during the week and still went out and played Sunday in prior weeks. His playing time is much less compared to others on the offense or defense and his role as a gunner still holds value.
DE AJ Epenesa (Ankle)
Epenesa was a late addition to the injury report Friday with an ankle injury sustained in practice. The specifics of the injury are not known but late week injuries typically don’t bode well for players looking to play Sunday.
QB Josh Allen (Left Foot Sprain)
The big concern for Bills fans every week is Josh Allen as he is what makes this team tick. How he plays is a direct reflection of how the team plays. When Allen suffers an injury, there is a concern about not only his availability but the season as a whole. Fortunately, this foot sprain does not appear to be a concerning one as he has been termed day-to-day and has been moving well in practice. I detailed out specifics of the injury in the Tuesday post-game review here.
Some of the concerns regarding his ability to throw the deep pass and run are still there, but he appears to be accepting weight through his left foot when following through on his throw. My biggest worry is the running, but I would expect the team to be cognizant of that and let the running backs do their job.
He will hurt the foot if he suffers a similar mechanism of the injury which could happen on any play at any time but if he doesn’t put himself in that position by scrambling, then he can lessen the risk. I also believe that if the Bills get up by a certain number of points, they can put in Mitch Trubisky to close out the game and avoid further injury.
TE Tommy Sweeney (Hip)
Sweeney continues to work through what I believe is a hip flexor strain suffered in the loss to the Patriots on Monday Night Football. He did not practice all last week and has been mostly limited this week signifying limiting the workloads needed to ramp back up to game speeds.
I believe his role as a blocking tight end will limit his time on the field more so than the injury, but I expect him to resume his normal snap counts come Sunday.
DE Jerry Hughes (Foot)
Hughes popped up on the injury report with a foot injury from Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay. He appeared in 43 snaps and while he isn’t putting up the numbers he was once known for, he is still out there pushing the pocket and creating pressure for the quarterback. Reviewing the game film, there isn’t one specific instance where he came up limping or appeared to be laboring through pain.
Hughes did suffer a foot injury last year that he played through and he has not missed a game due to injury in his career from what I can find. He has missed only one game since 2011 with that being in 2020 during the season finale against the Miami Dolphins when he rested for the playoffs.
OT Dion Dawkins/LB Tyrel Dodson
Dodson was placed on the COVID/Reserve list Tuesday but reports he was asymptomatic indicating with negative tests that he can come off quickly. It remains to be seen if he will come off in time for Sunday.
Dawkins was placed on the COVID/Reserve list Friday after testing positive. We know he is fully vaccinated based on his press conferences from when he had COVID in late July, spending several days in the hospital. With the new NFL COVID protocols, he could still hypothetically play Sunday with negative tests, but that remains to be seen. The team could elevate someone in his place for a COVID replacement.
CAROLINA PANTHERS INJURIES
CB AJ Bouye (Foot)
Bouye is not expected to suit up for Sunday’s game due to a foot injury suffered in the first half against the Atlanta Falcons. He did not return to the game following the injury and has not practiced all week. Looking at the film, he was on the field for the beginning of the second quarter and played in the first series before exiting with a foot injury.
It isn’t clear what he did as there isn’t a clear mechanism of injury, but this injury is significant enough that he is poised to miss Sunday’s matchup against the Bills. The loss of Bouye, a former All-Pro in 2017 can only help the Bills passing game as they look to maintain the fire and level of play seen in the second half of their Week 14 game.
G Michael Jordan (Hamstring)
Jordan missed the Week 14 game against the Falcons with a hamstring strain, appearing to injure it against Miami in Week 12, playing in only 64 percent of snaps; normally he appears in 100 percent of snaps. Having the bye week plus Week 14 off should give the starting guard enough time to recover and play effectively.
He will be one to watch as soft tissue injuries can be aggravated by the cold with the game-time temperature looking to be just below freezing at 30 degrees at kickoff.
WR DJ Moore (Hamstring)
Moore suffered a hamstring strain late in the game against the Falcons but returned in an attempt to help the Panthers win, but ultimately came up short. Following the game, he was considered day-to-day and has been practicing all week.
Both Moore and head coach Matt Rhule appear optimistic that he will play on Sunday despite the injury and the cold weather. He is another one that if he exits early, this could swing the pendulum towards the Bills in winning the game.
G John Miller (Ankle)
Miller has been working through injuries all season, spending several weeks on injured reserve in Week 8 with a hamstring injury. He returned in Week 11 against Washington, appearing in every offensive snap before suffering an ankle injury in practice prior to Week 12. He missed Week 12 against the Dolphins, the bye week, and also missed the contest against the Falcons before returning to practice.
The specific details of the injury are not known, but this appears to have been a moderately significant ankle injury to force him out of the last two games and 3 weeks overall. Based on the questionable designation and timeline heading into this game, I suspect he suffered a high-ankle sprain. Despite three full practices this week, I am willing to bet that he is still not 100 percent but close enough that he will play, but be a step slower to the injured side.
LB Jermaine Carter (Groin)
Coming off one of his best games of the season, Carter is working through what appears to be a minor groin strain. He has practiced in full all week despite the designation and should be able to play in his normal number of snaps. There is concern he may lose some lateral mobility due to the groin, but that could only benefit the Bills if he is a step slower.
QB Matt Barkley
Barkley had been working through an illness, later testing positive for COVID on Friday.
BUFFALO BILLS PROJECTED INACTIVES
WR Emmanuel Sanders
DT Star Lotulelei
S Damar Hamlin
OL Cody Ford
DE AJ Epenesa
COVID Call-ups: DT Eli Ankou and OT Bobby Hart
CAROLINA PANTHERS PROJECTED INACTIVES
CB AJ Bouye
WR Shi Smith
DE Darryl Johnson
S Kenny Robinson
G Michael Jordan
QB Matt Barkley*
*Currently on COVID/Reserve list
The Bills are currently favored -12 by Caesars Sportsbook with the Bills 6-6-1 against the spread this year. With regards to double-digit spreads, the Bills are 2-2 against the spread but 3-1 straight up looking at wins and losses, with the inexcusable loss coming against Jacksonville.
They are playing at home knowing what’s at stake as they work through their December schedule. While the Panthers can put up a fight, they don’t have a lot going for them offensively which makes me believe that the Bills can cover the spread. Buffalo still has a stifling defense and with so many questions on offense for Carolina, I’m not certain that they are able to put up the points necessary to keep up.
I believe this game will be close for half of the game before the Bills can take advantage of either turnovers or converting field position into points. I’d love to see Josh Allen end his day early and the Bills walk away with a win. The weather will be cool and dry which could increase those soft tissue injuries, but hopefully, both teams avoid injuries and walk away unscathed.
Top Photo Credit: SI.com