New NFL injury reports: Where probable means questionable

Dennis Pitta's status was not questionable to him.

Despite a broken finger that sidelined the Ravens' tight end for the entire preseason, Pitta practiced last week. But when the team produced its final injury report of the week, Pitta was listed as questionable.


Anything short of a lightning strike or a family emergency was not going to prevent Pitta from playing in Sunday's 13-7 win against the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium — his first game in 722 days since fracturing his right hip against the Cleveland Browns.

"It was great just being out there," said Pitta, 31. "Once you are back out there, it feels like you have been out there for the last couple of years." In past years, Pitta likely would have been listed as probable, but that designation no longer exists according to a policy change last month.


The NFL eliminated the probable label from injury reports, citing a statistic that 95 percent of the players classified as probable played in games. NFL spokesman Michael Signora said if there is any uncertainty about a player's ability to play, the league requires the player be listed as questionable.

Doubtful suggests a player is unlikely to play, while out means the player is certain to remain on the sideline in street clothes.

Teams that deactivate a player who had not appeared on previous injury reports will be required to provide an explanation to the league and could be subject to an investigation and/or discipline.

Marvin Lewis, former Ravens defensive coordinator and current Cincinnati Bengals coach, is a member of the NFL's competition committee, which amended the injury report. He told The Cincinnati Enquirer that the change is intended to simplify injury reports.

"I think the NFL [public relations] just felt like there were some, a few, teams who maybe took certain liberties and they just tried, from the NFL PR standpoint, tried to clean it up a little bit and make it simpler," Lewis said.

The New England Patriots have earned a reputation for their injury reports. According to Pro Football Reference, between 2011 and 2015, the Patriots classified players as questionable 852 times — of which 570, or 66.9 percent, played in games. Quarterback Tom Brady, who rarely misses games because of injury, had a three-year streak of appearing on injury reports each week from 2005 to 2008.

Last season, the league investigated the Indianapolis Colts for not disclosing that quarterback Andrew Luck had been playing with broken ribs for five weeks. On the morning of Super Bowl 50, the NFL ruled that no violation had taken place and that the club would not be penalized.

Between 2011 and 2015, the Ravens listed players as questionable 360 times, and 218 of them — or 60.6 percent — played. Coach John Harbaugh said he did not have an opinion on the policy change.

"I didn't really care one way or the other," Harbaugh said. "We just put out whatever it was or whatever we thought it was. If they said it was 50 percent, we just said, 'OK, this is about 50 percent,' and we'd put it under that category. I don't think that will ever change. We're never trying to play games with it. So it didn't really matter to us."

His counterpart in Buffalo, Rex Ryan, echoed Harbaugh's sentiments while throwing in a joke.

"It really doesn't matter to me," said Ryan, a former defensive coordinator and line coach with the Ravens. "I wasn't one of those guys that fudged on it or anything. By the way, every player we have has got a left leg injury right now."

Perhaps the biggest impact the amended injury reports will have is in fantasy football. Michael Fabiano, senior fantasy analyst for NFL.com, said while the change will increase web traffic as fantasy football owners scramble to get updates on the statuses of their players, it will also increase the anxiety level as even the slightest injury will earn a questionable label.


"Fantasy owners are already a nervous bunch — I see it on Twitter all the time — and seeing that 'Q' tag instead of a 'P' tag is going to get the nerves pumping every single week," Fabiano wrote in an email. "Hopefully, people are checking the injury and practice reports more closely in an effort to get a better idea of just how bad a player is injured. If a player is listed as questionable but he practiced all week, for example, there's a good chance he's going to be active on game day."

A player's availability for a game is usually reflected by his participation in practice. A player is deemed to have practiced fully when he completes 100 percent of his normal repetitions. Anything less than 100 percent earns a player a limited participation designation.

In 16 NFL games in Week 1, 70 players were classified as questionable, and 45 of them played. The Chicago Bears had a league-high nine players listed as questionable and played seven of them — also the highest total among the 32 teams.

Many coaches, including Harbaugh, don't pay attention to injury reports stemming from practice during the week. The most significant report is the one that teams distribute 90 minutes before kickoff announcing which players are inactive.

Asked if the change will affect how clubs report injuries, Harbaugh replied, "That's a good question. I don't know. Usually, you figure out who's going to play and who's not going to play pretty much. If you don't know, you'll see when they give you the report an hour-and-a-half before game time, and you see who's actually going to play. I think it's much ado about not much."


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