It’s the battle for second place in the AFC East as the Bills travel to Sun Life Stadium to face the Dolphins in this week’s Thursday night matchup. Both teams are 5-4, and the winner moves to within 1½ games (at least for the time being) of the division-leading New England Patriots. Many fantasy teams are on the bubble of making the playoffs, as well, turning every sit/start decision into a hand-wringing experience. A few of the players on the injury report coming into tonight’s matchup aren’t making those decisions any easier. Here are the biggest injury concerns heading into Thursday night’s game.
Fred Jackson, RB, groin (questionable): Here’s a fun fact, courtesy of the Bills' media guide: Jackson has more rushing yards against the Dolphins (508) than any other active NFL player. Too bad he won’t likely be adding to that total Thursday night. Jackson comes into the game listed as questionable, just four days removed from his early return from a groin injury. When Jackson originally sustained the injury in Week 7, he described feeling a “pop” where he tore his adductor longus (groin) muscle and said he was told it was about a four-week injury. Not that these injuries ever have a definitive timetable, but groin injuries can be among the trickier soft-tissue ailments to predict. Even after the pain is gone and the player is able to move well in all directions, when that extra burst is called upon during a game or when an athlete is dragging would-be tacklers like heavy weights around his lower half, it can be taxing to recovering soft tissue. Even if there are no setbacks (and there have been no reports to suggest Jackson had an actual setback), the recovery time to return and do it all over again is a factor. Four days apparently just aren’t enough, at least not enough to potentially risk the remainder of what the Bills hope to be a season that extends beyond 17 weeks. With C.J. Spiller already on IR/designated for return, it appears the Bills would prefer to have Jackson available down the stretch without fear of regression.
Jackson was listed as limited on the biggest day (Tuesday) of an already limited practice week, understandable given the short turnaround time but also suggestive of a possible absence Thursday. Coach Doug Marrone’s comments to reporters Tuesday after practice did nothing to inspire confidence that Jackson would be given the green light.
“What's difficult is the limited players -- the players that are limited -- you never really practice at a level to know whether they can go in and play the amount that you want them to play," Marrone said.
Perhaps the team feels comfortable enough in sharing the workload evenly between Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown. After all, Jackson had only three carries in the Bills' loss to the Chiefs on Sunday (when all three running backs were involved). The announcement of Jackson’s status could come down to a game-time call, and the ultracompetitive Jackson has certainly made known his desire to be on the field. He has also said in the past, however, that he will listen to the words of the medical and coaching staffs and, as of now, it appears that will translate to some additional recovery time before his next outing.
Sammy Watkins, WR, groin (probable): Sometimes a groin tweak really is minor, and that appears to be the case with Watkins, who left practice early last week with the ailment. He underwent what was termed a precautionary MRI, but later in the week said he wasn’t even aware of the results. Whether that was entirely accurate or not doesn’t matter; the point is that if the results were significant, there’s no doubt he would be very aware of them. Watkins was listed as a full participant throughout this week’s practice, and the "probable" tag adds to the confidence that he'll play.
Lamar Miller, RB, shoulder (probable): Miller played Sunday just one week after spraining his left AC joint. While the workload was shared among Miller and fellow backs Daniel Thomas and Damien Williams in what appeared to be a very controlled outing, Miller came out of the game saying he felt “good.” Still, he carried the ball only four times and, more notably, was on the field for only 11 offensive snaps. Maybe he’s not feeling quite as good as he claims. According to ESPN.com’s James Walker, who has the opportunity to watch Miller on an ongoing basis, that’s a reasonable assessment. “Miller didn’t run with the same physicality Sunday against Detroit,” Walker said. “His shoulder is clearly hurting him, but he’s trying to tough it out.” Walker’s advice for fantasy owners is to avoid Miller in Week 11, suggesting he’ll be a better play in Week 12 after an additional 10 days of rest. In other words, while the "probable" tag means Miller is expected to play, how much and how effectively remains questionable.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, shoulder/ankle (probable): Tannehill comes into this short week a bit banged up, not the ideal situation with only four days' rest. Also not ideal is the loss of left tackle Branden Albert, who went down with a torn ACL/MCL in Week 10. While Tannehill insists he’s ready to play, a sore ankle could make him a little less mobile, and a sore shoulder could render him less effective, especially if he is continually harassed by the Bills’ pass rush tonight. Expect Tannehill to play, but the big question is whether he will be protected well enough to be as effective as he has been in recent weeks.
Charles Clay, TE, knee (questionable): Clay has been a mainstay on the injury report with his knee, often listed as "questionable" but showing up at game time and playing nonetheless. Clay was a limited participant in the team’s light practices this week and is again expected to play.