Press conferences: They're either the most important thing in the world or something to be entirely ignored, depending on if they validate how you already felt or not. Nonetheless, they are an important window into an NFL organization. Much as the eye in the sky don't lie about players, coaches can't cover up every emotion or lean they have when they're asked questions. In omission, or in tone, even someone as tight-lipped as Bill Belichick or Nick Caserio can give something away. And that's what this column scans for.
Let's look at some of the trickiest situations for Week 17 lineups.
Aaron Jones: What has the injury report missed, and what can we reliably depend on?
For the millionth week in a row, Aaron Jones was cleared from the final injury report, relaying information to us that he is supposed to be playing. How much he is supposed to be playing is something that's very up for grabs. He's a Matthew Berry "hate list" member this week. He has, as Berry noted, only played between 38 and 56 percent of the snaps over the last three weeks. And had AJ Dillon not hit concussion protocol against the Rams in Week 15, it's likely that Jones would not have played much. It would be too much of a copout to call this a bad or a rough situation: this is a DeAndre Swifting in plain daylight.
Jones spoke to reporters on Friday and mostly deferred to the coaching staff when asked if he'd handle a full load. He also said that he's okay with whatever they decide because he knows they're protecting him from himself:
I'd love to tell you I know the exact split we're about to see, but Matt LaFleur doesn't really talk about these sorts of things, and there aren't many overt signs to pick up on. LaFleur would only say that it's a "balance" about keeping him healthy versus playing him. It's very easy to tell you if I think someone is going to play or not, but after that, well, it's kind of a black box.
The other thing I found compelling was this article that The Athletic's Matt Schneidman wrote and dropped on Friday. Jones got his ankle re-taped last week, and the quotes coming off this sound like Jones should not be playing at all. Matt LaFleur called him a "warrior." Jones himself is quoted as saying: "That's the part of the game that you're signing up for, but just pushing through it and being out there for my teammates that are depending on me. If I'm able to go, I'm out there. Unless something that comes up where I can't — broken or things like that — that's the only time you won't see me out there, but I'll push through anything to be out there with my guys and even though some things may hurt, still pushing through it and give it the best that I can while I'm out there."
What I find much more telling is that Jones has only received three carries and one target in goal-to-go situations over the last three weeks, and the Packers had plenty of opportunities in all three games. Dillon has seven carries over that same span despite -- notably -- the Packers not having any red zone appearances with him on the field in Week 13. If you paired the two of them, I can't see starting Dillon over Jones in this current state. I'm not saying Jones can't score and deliver you a touchdown, but I think we need to look at this trend for what it is. It's a pronounced trend of a player playing less to nurse his way through injuries.
So if you have alternate options to Jones that make sense I'd break ties against him this week. If you've got to play him, I understand, and he very well may break a big play and score against a rough Vikings defense. But, I agree with Berry, the trend lines and the press clips line up in a pretty compelling way this week.
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Chris Olave: Is he trending up or trending out?
After missing all of last week's practices and, obviously, Week 16 with it, Chris Olave comes into Week 17 with three limited sessions and a questionable tag. While he didn't talk to reporters, we do have this Katherine Terrell note that she thinks he'll play:
Dennis Allen is almost completely useless on injury updates beyond the report, so he gave nothing. But I think as a main indicator, most of the New Orleans beat seems to believe that he'll play. The New Orleans Football guys think Olave is in.
Olave has some appeal this week as a contrarian play for DFS purposes. He stacks well with the idea that Eagles-Saints will be a fast-paced game that breaks the over. I don't subscribe to this personally because a) the Saints don't really try to create that game unless they have no choice and b) the Eagles actually have a good defense in the event that they try. Nothing specifically on the injury report gives me much pause about Olave, and it's not like Rashid Shaheed is a multi-dimensional player in the shape of Olave. I'm not scared of him losing production to new players. It's just all about the actual script.
Olave may or may not have problems staying on the field on Sunday -- there's no way we'd be able to tell from the stoic reports. But based on what we've heard he's safe enough to plug in, in my opinion, as a FLEX or WR3 in matchups where you need to rely on him. I'm just pessimistic that he's going to have a lot of upside.
DeAndre Hopkins: Why would he or the Cardinals want him to play on Sunday?
Out of nowhere on Friday, DeAndre Hopkins landed on the report as questionable with "knee issues" and a big Friday downgrade to a DNP. We got, as usual, little of substance out of Kliff Kingsbury about it:
The Cardinals have managed to become quite the little clown show over the last few weeks. Marquise Brown caught a "groin" injury in practice last Thursday that turned out to be more of a self-admitted punishment for being late to a team meeting. Kingsbury noted that he was "trying to survive to that point" when asked if he had a New Year's Resolution.
So let's ask ourselves some tough questions here. I wouldn't say that Trace McSorley looked "good" on Sunday night, but the Cardinals were able to take the Buccaneers to overtime and McSorley avoided most negative plays. He threw just one pick. (He could have thrown a couple if he were less lucky.) He took just one sack, and fumbled just once. He didn't spark major issues for the run defense with his legs, but he looked like a fine scrambler if not some physical specimen who has to have the ball in his hands. He's also been Arizona's third-stringer all season.
So why now, with McSorley not on the injury report at all, would you switch to David Blough -- who has been here for weeks -- unless you didn't want to win the football game? And that's kind of what it comes down to when I look at this. The Cardinals currently have the fourth pick in the draft. A win for the Falcons would keep them out of Arizona's range. It is also still possible -- though unlikely -- that Arizona could climb in the order. The Colts and Texans play each other in Week 18. The Bears have, if not easy opponents, beatable opponents. The Broncos are now in interim coach land and sometimes, as we've seen with the Panthers, that can create some new and interesting ideas. Denver also doesn't get their pick anyway and has no incentive to tank.
Now the excuse that Kingsbury used when asked about playing Blough was that they "needed to evaluate him." You need to evaluate a 27-year-old quarterback?
So the scope of all of that -- what are two games of DeAndre Hopkins in a lost season worth? If this knee injury is serious in any way, why would you play him? And even if it wasn't serious, when you're starting David Blough at quarterback out of nowhere (no offense to Mr. Blough's family), are you actually trying to win anyway?
Weird vibes around this team and this situation. I would stay away from Hopkins even if he's cleared if I had any kind of reasonable pivot. And I don't mean a WR2 pivot -- give me a WR3 or maybe even a FLEX guy. I'll start Olave over Hopkins. I'll start Brandin Cooks over Hopkins. This situation just feels too fishy to trust.
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