NFL INSIDER: The NFL's concussion problem is all our problem

2012-11-15T17:00:00Z 2012-11-23T02:10:04Z NFL INSIDER: The NFL's concussion problem is all our problemMatt Erickson Times Correspondent
November 15, 2012 5:00 pm  • 

Go ahead and say mixed martial arts is too violent.

Then take a look around the NFL this week. Three starting QBs are out or likely to be out with concussions. So is an elite running back.

In MMA, if you get knocked out, that's it – you're shut down for three months. In the NFL, you either can come back the next week, or you can do what Brian Urlacher told the media this week that he would do if he got a concussion and just lie about it. No reason to miss any snaps that way.

And while I can't advocate that, I at least admire the dedication.

This week, the NFL's concussion epidemic starts right here in Chicago with Jay Cutler. The guy who would've been across from him in San Francisco on Monday night, Alex Smith, might be out, too. Michael Vick went out with one – and could be done for the season because of it – as did Bills running back Fred Jackson.

And this is just the skill positions, and just last week.

I'm not saying MMA is safe the way, say, cross country is safe, but it sure makes a strong case to be safer than football these days, even with all the precautions the NFL takes.

Urlacher thinks the new helmets – he says he wears an old one – might be to blame. Who knows what the real problem is, but guys are dropping like flies with concussions. And while their safety and long-term health is Priority No. 1, let's be brutally honest – it also messes up fantasy leagues and confidence pools!

So best of luck to Cutler, Smith, Vick and Jackson for speedy returns, because having healthy stars in sure makes it easier to pick winners.

Arizona (4-5) at Atlanta (8-1)

Noon Sunday. Falcons -10 (43.5)

The skinny: The Falcons finally met their match last week and fell to the surging Saints. What better way to bounce back than against a team that started 4-0, but has lost five straight?

MattE’s pick: Falcons 31, Cardinals 16.

Cleveland (2-7) at Dallas (4-5)

Noon Sunday. Cowboys -7.5 (43.5)

The skinny: The Browns are coming off their bye week, but that won't matter much. They haven't won on the road this season, and I don't think they'll be able to start in Dallas despite the Cowboys being a little beat up.

MattE’s pick: Cowboys 29, Browns 13.

Green Bay (6-3) at Detroit (4-5)

Noon Sunday. Packers -3.5 (51.5)

The skinny: In the Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay, this one gets circled on the calendar twice a year. Rodgers loves to tear up the Lions, and considering the Packers are on a roll and well-rested, this should be no exception.

MattE’s pick: Packers 37, Lions 27.

Cincinnati (4-5) at Kansas City (1-8)

Noon Sunday. Bengals -3.5 (43.5)

The skinny: In another one of those go-ahead-and-try-to-figure-out-the-NFL games, the Bengals destroyed the Giants last week to snap a monthlong skid. Now they get to play one of the league's worst teams, which, of course, means they'll get upset on the road the way this year's going. (I'm not picking that, though.)

MattE’s pick: Bengals 27, Chiefs 20.

N.Y. Jets (3-6) at St. Louis (3-5-1)

Noon Sunday. Rams -3 (38.5)

The skinny: This game is just gross all the way around. But at least the Rams almost won last week, settling for a tie with the Niners in a game they'd have won without stupid mistakes. They should be OK in the dome.

MattE’s pick: Rams 23, Jets 17.

Philadelphia (3-6) at Washington (3-6)

Noon Sunday. Redskins -3.5 (44)

The skinny: The Redskins are slumping, for sure, as reality seems to have set in for rookie QB Robert Griffin III. But the Eagles are just miserable and will be under the leadership of rookie QB Nick Foles, who is no RGIII.

MattE’s pick: Redskins 26, Eagles 17.

Tampa Bay (5-4) at Carolina (2-7)

Noon Sunday. Bucs -1.5 (48.5)

The skinny: Talk about a line that is out of whack. The Bucs have won three straight, scoring nearly 40 points per game. The Panthers have lost four straight at home. This one is going to be over in the first half.

MattE’s pick: Bucs 34, Panthers 13.

Jacksonville (1-8) at Houston (8-1)

Noon Sunday. Texans -15.5 (40.5)

The skinny: The Texans won easily on the road against the Jags in Week 2, holding them to just 117 total yards. The way their defense is playing, they might do even better than that this week at home.

MattE’s pick: Texans 37, Jaguars 6.

New Orleans (4-5) at Oakland (3-6)

3:05 p.m. Sunday. Saints -5 (54.5)

The skinny: Look who's red hot all of a sudden. The Saints put up 31 on the previously unbeaten Falcons and are starting to come together. The Raiders, though, gave up 55 to the Ravens and 42 to the Bucs. The Saints' offense? Yeah. Better than both of those two teams by far. Like the Broncos being only -4 last week at Carolina, this is another favorable line.

MattE’s pick: Saints 37, Raiders 20.

San Diego (4-5) at Denver (6-3)

3:25 p.m. Sunday, Fox. Broncos -7.5 (48.5)

The skinny: This really is the Broncos' chance to put the Chargers down for the count, and they get to do it at home. I've wanted to keep believing the Bolts will come around, but that belief now is gone. When the Broncos started their current 5-0 stretch, it was with a masterful Peyton Manning second-half rally from down 24-0 to win 35-24. The horses are money this week.

MattE’s pick:  Broncos 31, Chargers 20.

COLTS (6-3) at New England (6-3)

3:25 p.m. Sunday. Patriots -9.5 (53.5)

The skinny: Andrew Luck has been great overall, but not so great on the road, and the Patriots are absolutely ripping it up. Luck will find plenty of passing room and could keep things reasonable in a shootout.

MattE’s pick: Patriots 38, Colts 28.

Baltimore (7-2) at Pittsburgh (6-3)

7:20 p.m. Sunday, NBC. Ravens -3.5 (41)

The skinny: No Ben Roethlisberger is going to spell trouble for the Steelers, plain and simple. Pittsburgh struggled at home Monday against the Chiefs, so this could escalate quickly.

MattE’s pick: Ravens 27, Steelers 17.

BEARS (7-2) at San Francisco (6-2-1)

7:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN. 49ers -5 (38.5)

The skinny: This could be ugly. The Bears may be without Jay Cutler. The Niners could be without fellow concussed QB Alex Smith (though he's more likely to go than Cutler). I'm sure ESPN wasn't counting on a Monday night showdown between Jason Campbell and Colin Kaepernick. But even with the starters in (and they might still be), this was going to be a defensive battle.

MattE’s pick: 49ers 17, Bears 13.

2012 record

Last week: 8-5-1 straight up, 7-7 against the spread. Season: 91-54-1 (.623) straight up, 78-67-1 (.534) against the spread.

Matt Erickson is an award-winning journalist whose NFL picks have appeared in The Times for 10 seasons. He also covers mixed martial arts for The Times, USA Today and is the assistant editor of


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