Midway through the 2016 season, Bill Belichick was happy with the health of his team. On a conference call with the press, he spoke about a new problem the team had developed – with so many healthy players on the roster, who should they put on the field? I looked at the injury rates midseason and, while it sure felt like there was significant improvement in injury rates, the numbers at the time did not fully agree. Well, now I’m following up with a full season’s worth of data. I compared this year’s injury rates with those of the past 3 seasons and I have some news to report.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Patriots do not talk about injuries. The only exception is injuries to Rob Gronkowski, in which case the team issues a joint press releases with his family. My injury data is from publicly available sites, including Pro-Football-Reference.com and the injury reports on the Patriots’ website. The injuries are recorded in number of games missed. For example, if 2 players each missed 6 games for an ankle injury, the total number of games missed for an ankle injury would be expressed as 12. If an athlete went on IR mid-season for an injury, I counted every week missed while they were on IR. The results are in the table and graph below:
The above data says a few things. Overall, the number of lower extremity (hips to toes) injuries that resulted in lost games significantly decreased in the 2016 season compared to the previous 3 seasons. Arm injuries (shoulder to fingers), however, seem to be on the higher side compared to the past 3 seasons. The numbers of back, abdomen, chest, and concussion injuries are so low that it is difficult to say if there has been much of a change. As for illness, the 2015 season seems to be a bit of a blip and during the other 3 seasons there have not been any games lost due to illness.
The most striking statement from the above data is the number of total games missed due to any injury or illness. If you add up all of the injuries and illness listed the season, in 2013, 130 games were missed. In 2014, 120 games were missed. In 2015, 152 games were missed. In contrast, during the 2016 season, only 75 games were missed due to athlete injury or illness. That is roughly HALF of the rate during the preceding 3 seasons.
Overall, quite significantly fewer injuries are keeping Patriots’ players off of the field this year – but why? Training room improvements could be to thank. The Patriots’ training staff won Staff of the Year honors from the Ed Block Courage Award this season. In this case, the same number of injuries could have occurred, but players were treated and quickly returned to the field before games were missed. Another possibility is that the Patriots are becoming better at preventing injuries. Bill Belichick has publicly praised Moses Cabrera, his new strength and conditioning coach, for his efforts to keep the team healthy. Maybe preseason programs and changes in the weekly strength training routine have made a difference. It is also possible that the players themselves have changed. At Super Bowl media night, we heard player after player comment on how physically and mentally tough the 2016 Patriots’ team is. Maybe guys are just fighting harder through injury to be on the field. Remember, injuries that show up on weekly reports are only the tip of the iceberg. All NFL athletes are dealing with something, especially towards the end of the season. The only reported injuries are ones deemed significant by the team and medical staff.
Despite player and team efforts to combat and prevent injury, there is a chance that they have little effect on injury rates. On CSNNE Quick Slants a few weeks ago, Tom E. Curran asked Devin McCourty about what the team is doing differently this year to prevent injuries. McCourty said that his teammates do work hard to stay healthy but that at the end of the day it could just be good luck that has kept the team from catching the injury bug.
Whatever the cause may be, the Patriots are drastically healthier heading into Super Bowl LI than they have been in the past 3 seasons . Let’s hope that counts for something as they take the field for the biggest game of the year.
Read about Falcons Center Alex Mack’s fibula injury here.
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