With a dozen days to go before Super Bowl LII, the storyline that has dominated news outlets is whether Rob Gronkowski will be cleared to play. But after Gronkowski left the AFC Championship Game last week with his concussion, it brought up the question whether or not a player will be forced out of the Super Bowl with a head injury.
NFL Concussion History
Records will tell you that concussions were down in the NFL in 2016. We still don’t have statistics yet on players who were concussed in the 2017 season, but concussions dropped from 275 in 2015 to 244 in 2016. This data includes all preseason and regular season games as well as practices, and the NFL does not delineate when the injuries occurred.
It can safely be determined that the mass majority of concussions occur during games themselves. There are 321 preseason and regular season games played in an NFL season. Even if we assumed that all of the concussions in the NFL came in games and none in practice, there was a concussion in basically three out of every four games played in 2016.
However, remember that this isn’t an easily defined dataset. Concussions do occur in practice, and there are several games that feature more than one concussion. Furthermore, not all concussions are diagnosed in-game, and many aren’t discovered until after the game is finished.
Will a Player Leave Super Bowl LII and Not Return Due to a Concussion?
Even though the NFL collects a concussion in three out of four games, the actual number of players who leave the game for a concussion and don’t return is significantly smaller. It isn’t completely rare to see a player leave a game with a concussion and not return, but Gronkowski’s hit was certainly more high profile than most concussions considering the fact that it drew a 15-yard penalty, and will probably earn Barry Church a fine from the NFL.
The NFL is starting to really take concussions seriously, but this is the Super Bowl, and men in their 20s and 30s generally have little regard for their bodies at this stage of their lives. There have been some high-profile incidents when teams have more or less foregone the concussion protocol under a tremendous level of scrutiny from the NFL, including the Seahawks’ handling of Russell Wilson and Cam Newton’s “eye injury”. Those were both late-season games, and obviously, the Seahawks and Panthers weren’t getting anywhere near the playoffs if their quarterbacks missed any substantial time due to head injuries.
Could the same thing happen in the Super Bowl? Absolutely.
Though it’s obviously hard to forecast concussions when the difference between an illegal and devastating hit to the head and a legal hit to the chest is a matter of inches, the key to remember here is that the player has to leave the game and not return. It’s one thing for a player to be taken to the infamous blue tent or even back to the locker room. It’s something totally different for that player to not return to the game.
At a price of -150, it’s probably a steal to bet against a concussion happening in the biggest game of the season.
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