By the end of next week, the NFL will get a good idea whether injuries are once again up compared to past years.
History shows that Weeks 4 and 5 are huge for teams in determining whether to put players on the injured reserve list or to hold a roster space for them on the inactive list. With the new collective bargaining agreement that was signed in 2011, September is almost like a preseason for bodies to see whether they can last 60 to 70 plays a week without getting injured.
By my count, missed games by starters because of injuries during the first three weeks increased 8.9 percent -- 196 this year compared to 180 in 2013. Weeks 4 and 5 are important in sorting out the rosters because the pool of replacements keeps dwindling.
Teams aren't hesitating to use the short-term reserve option, which allows them to designate one injured player as eligible to return after eight games. Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones and Carolina Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert were the 16th and 17th players this year given the eight-game designation with the chance to return.
Last year, there were more than 1,600 missed starts because of injury. That's not saying the safety initiatives aren't working. In fact, they are. Teams are more cautious with concussions, making sure a player goes through an extensive protocol before going back on the field. Teams are taking fewer chances putting injured players on the field for fear of subjecting them to longer-term injury.
Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers was a perfect example of that. He might have been able to play the opener with a fractured rib, but head coach Ron Rivera knew he was still a little tentative on his surgically repaired ankle, so Rivera gave him a one-game rest.
But a missed start is a missed start, regardless of whether teams are more cautious. And often the drop-off from starters to backups can be dramatic.
With four starters on the injured list, the Kansas City Chiefs are the early candidates to be the most injured team this season. They've already lost linebacker Derrick Johnson, guard Jeff Allen and defensive end Mike DeVito for the season and hope to get linebacker Joe Mays back with the eight-week designation. The Chiefs had 56 missed starts in 2012 and 54 in 2011. They will far exceed that number this year.
The San Diego Chargers are piling up the injuries. Center Nick Hardwick is out for the season, and guard Jeromey Clary is on the physically unable to perform list and could miss the season because of hip surgery. Running back Danny Woodhead is out for the season with a fractured fibula. Halfback Ryan Mathews has a knee injury. Linebacker Melvin Ingram is on the eight-week injury list, and linebacker Manti Te'o has a foot injury.
Each team has a breaking point for injuries. Last year, the Atlanta Falcons had five starters suffer injuries in their second game. With Roddy White playing hurt and Julio Jones eventually sidelined with a season-ending injury, the Falcons fell apart and ended up 4-12.
Injuries are coming in at a fast pace again this year.
From the inbox
Q: I am aghast at just how badly the Dolphins have played in the last two weeks. Buffalo has been matchup hell for us the last two seasons, but K.C. came in primed for a smackdown. Poor coaching, poor tackling and poor QB play have this team looking like the sad sacks who couldn't play themselves out of a paper bag under Cam Cameron. If they lay another egg in jolly old England, they need to excuse Mr. Philbin from the plane ride home and give him the opportunity to pursue his destiny elsewhere. I would dearly love for you to talk me off (a crowded) ledge.
Dave in Conover, North Carolina
A: You have a right to be concerned. The matchup in Buffalo wasn't a good one for the Dolphins. The Bills have a great defensive line. The Dolphins are patching together an offensive line. It's the Kansas City loss that was inexcusable. The Chiefs were down seven starters. The Chiefs hadn't added to their offense during the offseason, yet they dominated the Dolphins' defense. There seemed to be too much grumbling about the defensive game plan. The Dolphins' defense is too talented to give up that many points at home. I'm not jumping off the Ryan Tannehill bandwagon. If they bench him, I can only see things getting worse. From the looks of things, this could be another 8-8 season for the Dolphins, which could cost Joe Philbin his job.
Q: I would have loved to see Peyton Manning get another shot with the ball in overtime in the Denver-Seattle game. I think that's exactly what any football fan wants to see. I was disappointed I didn't get that opportunity. Do you think it's time to expand the overtime further so both teams get the ball? I'm thinking they throw out the game clock and each team gets a normal possession starting with a kickoff. If they are still tied, it goes to sudden death two-point conversions until one team cannot match the other's conversion.
Dan in Erie, Pennsylvania
A: The worst thing that can happen in overtime is a tie. When they changed overtime to give a possession to a team that gives up a field goal drive, I worried it would lead to more ties. So far, that hasn't happened. I like the idea of winning the coin toss, driving for a touchdown and winning the game. Historically, overtime rules have been constructed to stay away from ties. The Seahawks earned the victory with that drive. I wouldn't want a change.
Q: Why are the owners so reluctant to take any action against Roger Goodell? He should be held to the same standards as the players, yet when confronted about this, his defense was that he "admitted my mistake." Ray Rice also admitted his mistake, yet he was banned indefinitely (pending appeal). I am not equating the NFL's handling of Ray Rice with the man's actions, but if the NFL truly wants to initiate change and protect the shield, why do the owners allow such a PR nightmare to continue?
Adam in Washington, D.C.
A: We all know Goodell made a mistake by originally going with only a two-game suspension of Rice. It may have been the league's longest suspension for a domestic-violence case, but clearly it wasn't good enough. I'm still wondering why so many people want Goodell to be punished. His job was clearly impacted by the Rice decision. He's going to give up power in the decision-making for player conduct. He's hired experts to make the league stronger in dealing with domestic violence. In my opinion, the Rice decision wasn't an act that deserves a firing. Commissioners are problem-solvers. They are decision-makers. They are also human. Goodell is paying for his mistake in the court of public opinion, but he doesn't deserve to be fired.
Q: I think it's disingenuous for corporate sponsors to threaten to pull their deals with the league due to player conduct issues. Just like the NFL, all these sponsoring companies have, in their employ, at least a few workers with skeletons in their closets. Not every worker is a saint; it's safe to say Radisson, Budweiser and all the others have employees with criminal records. Until these companies fire all such workers, they're simply posturing behind a curtain of hypocrisy.
Alan in Lubbock, Texas
A: I can't fault a sponsor for voicing an opinion based on issues such as domestic violence and child abuse. By doing so, it brings attention to a problem and garners support toward improving the NFL or other sports on being better able to handle these issues. The way these sponsors handled it was professional. The sponsors gave the NFL a warning: If this type of publicity continues in your sport, the companies would consider investing sponsor dollars elsewhere. You noticed how quickly the NFL reacted and tried to find ways to fix the areas of concern. The companies did that without dropping sponsorships.
Q: I actually liked Mike Glennon's chances to succeed in the NFL out of college more than the athletically gifted QBs that went ahead of him in the draft. He showed great leadership and moxie taking over at North Carolina State after Russell Wilson left and displayed great arm strength. I thought he had some bumps in his rookie year but played very well overall, including a game against the eventual Super Bowl champions in Seattle. With so much promise for a young QB, I think the Bucs' new regime made a foolish decision to put him on the bench for a career journeyman. Do you think it is time to put Glennon in, and are there any signs that the Bucs have realized their mistake?
Jasen in Ketchikan, Alaska
A: Glennon is getting his chance to prove you right. Josh McCown didn't do well in his three starts and now is going to be out a few weeks with a thumb injury. As a rookie, Glennon did a little better than I thought he would. I thought he would be a statue in the pocket, but he moved better than I expected. He clearly has a good arm. Lovie Smith wanted to start the season with a veteran quarterback to run a fast-paced offense. McCown appealed to him, but the offense has been terrible. We'll see how Glennon does.
Q: How about using technology to solve the timeout problem. Give the coach a one- or two-button device, and when he wants a timeout or a challenge he just hits a button that makes a device vibrate in the referee's pocket. If he runs out of challenges or timeouts, set the device so it doesn't work.
Don in Phoenix
A: If you give a coach too many button devices, he might make mistakes and screw up more things in the heat of the moment. The timeout issue is simple. Along the sideline, only a head coach has the power to call for a timeout. Just because an assistant screwed up in running up the sideline calling for a timeout, there is no need to make any real fixes here. If the head coach wants a timeout, he tells an official along the sideline. If he wants a challenge, he throws the red beanbag. That's about as simple as it gets.