The NFL Injury Report is an essential tool to set a betting line, and a necessary data source for savvy gamblers. But, the weekly league injury report might not provide the long-term information bettors need to make truly wise decisions. The numbers are there, but they need some interpretation to give them the right weight in setting odds or placing bets.
Clearly some player injuries have a larger impact than others. The loss of quarterbacks Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Josh Allen, and Mitch Trubisky this season are prime examples. But the league, in it’s reporting, does not distinguish between a star player and the third-string, backup right guard. The league lists injuries, practice status, and game status for all players with reported injuries. This data is conveniently reported by game matchups for the coming week.
However, the accuracy of any injury information depends on the team’s self-reporting. Take last Thursday’s game between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. The injury report shows four Giants previously reported as injured now fully participating in practice and ready to play. Four other players were listed as out of the Thursday game, and one player was questionable. The four Giants reported as ready to play, did play. The four reported as out, were out. And the one questionable player had only limited minutes on the field.
The Patriots show one player out, and six questionable for the game. The out player was indeed out. Of the six questionable players, all six dressed for the game, but only four played.
Teams Manipulating the Injury Report
Following the injury report closely over time demonstrates the New England Patriots rely heavily on the questionable status when reporting a player’s game status. The unspoken reasoning being, why tell your opponent more than you have to? Various teams treat the injury report in widely different ways. Unless you’re reporting players out who suddenly appear healthy on game day, the league doesn’t interfere in just how accurate the injury report appears week to week.
Even a cursory glance at the injury report should give even novice bettors some solid information. Take the Baltimore Ravens game against Cincinnati last Sunday. The Bengals have six players already out of the game, and another questionable. The Ravens only declared one player out, and three questionable, but Baltimore also has six players coming back from injuries and ready to go. The Ravens were healthy and the Bengals were not. Surely, the betting line reflected this.
Certainly, who is hurt is just as important as how many nameless players are ready to go or not. Knowing which teams actively report, and which others hide information until game time, is also a big part of using the injury report to decide on betting opportunities.
Injuries By the Numbers
When a player is first put on the weekly injury report, it can be very difficult to determine just how long he will be out, except in the case of players who undergo immediate surgery or are taken off the roster with a season-ending event. For a long-term injury, there is the NFL Injured Reserve List. Players place on injured reserve (IR) are ineligible to play for the remainder of the season. However, each team may bring back two players during the season, after they have spent eight weeks on IR.
The NFL has 32 teams, each with a 53-player active roster. 46 players are allowed to dress for each game, so each full week of play begins with 1,696 roster players, and 1,472 in uniform (1,196, 1,288, 1,334 or 1,380 in bye weeks).
In the last two years, none of the 32 teams reported an injury free week. On average, half of the league — a full 16 teams — reported a player lost for the remainder of the year, each week of the season. Over the course of the year, that would mean 256 players out of the 1,696 roster spots would end their season by injury. It’s true a Week 15 or 16 injury could easily be much less severe than a Week 1 season-ender but, on average, each team loses 15% of its players from the opening day roster to injury. This doesn’t take into consideration players who miss one or more games during the season, and then return to play again.