Before the NFL season began, there was a fear around the league that there could be an uptick in injuries this year as a result of the shortened offseason program, with less time for players to acclimate to the rigors of regular season football.
After all, we saw elevated injury numbers following the lockout-shortened offseason in 2011, and sure enough, something like this has played out in Major League Baseball this year, where the lack of a usual spring training has been blamed for an uptick in pitching injuries during the 2020 season.
While it seemed like the season got off to a good start in Week 1, one of this past Sunday’s main storylines was the number of significant injuries to major contributors around the league. At Sports Info Solutions, we track every on- and off-field injury that happens in the NFL and College Football, so we thought it would be appropriate to look at what the data has to say about the rate of on-field injuries through the first two weeks of the season when compared to a typical week.
Top 10 Weeks with Most NFL Injuries (2017-2020)
|Rank||Season||Week||Injuries||Left the Field|
In terms of injuries that caused the player to leave the field, 2020 Week 2 was not the most injuries we have seen in a week over the last four seasons, but it was tied for the sixth-most. If we look at the total number of injury events regardless of severity, the 98 injuries in Week 2 was the tenth-highest total over that span. So, while last week was bad, we have seen a greater number of injuries occur at other times over the last few years. (Side note: the worst injury weeks appear to usually happen later in the year, including two of the last three Week 17s.)
One good piece of information is that Week 1 had a below-average total of 55 injuries that caused players to leave the field, which was tied for 35th out of 53 regular season weeks since 2017, despite the fact that every team played because there were no byes. Given that there was cause for concern heading into the season, we are far from out of the woods, but so far we have one week that falls in line with historical norms and one week that could either be concerning or easily explained by random variation. Stay tuned because Week 3 will begin to help us understand if there is a trend emerging or if this was simply a product of unfortunate chance.
The Turf Monster
The 49ers were hit particularly hard by injuries in Week 2, and Arik Armstead eloquently pointed to the surface where they played at MetLife Stadium as a potential contributing factor. Their game against the Jets on Sunday was tied for the seventh-most injuries that caused players to leave the field in a game since the beginning of 2017.
With the Niners preparing to play the Giants at MetLife this Sunday, the NFLPA has supported calls for an investigation into the new surface that was installed there before this season. That said, the Giants actually played their Week 1 game at MetLife, and there were only three injuries that caused players to leave the field in that game, below the median of four per game league-wide over the past four years.
In terms of overall injury trends on different field types, our friend Zachary Binney did some work in 2017 that showed that turf fields had higher injury rates than natural grass fields, particularly for lower-body injuries.
Our injury data corroborates this finding. We see just over 4.3 injuries per game on turf fields, compared to just under 4.0 injuries per game on natural grass.
NFL Injuries by Field Type (2017-2020)
|Field Type||Games||Injuries Per Game||Left the Field Per Game|
As far as MetLife Stadium specifically, while it is on the higher end in terms of the number of injuries when compared to other fields, it’s tied for just ninth out of the 32 stadiums that hosted at least five games over the last four years.
Top 10 Stadiums with Most NFL Injuries Per Game (2017-2020, 5 games minimum)
|Rank||Stadium||Turf/Grass||Games||Injuries (per Game)||Left the Field (per game)|
|1||U.S. Bank Stadium||Turf||25||5.9||5.1|
|2||Paul Brown Stadium||Turf||25||6.1||5|
|5||Lucas Oil Stadium||Turf||25||5.7||4.8|
|6||Broncos Stadium at Mile High||Grass||25||5.4||4.5|
|6||Raymond James Stadium||Grass||24||5||4.5|
The top five stadiums in terms of injuries were all turf fields, which helps the 49ers’ case that they have a legitimate complaint. That said, their home Levi’s Stadium slots in tied for sixth on this undesirable list, ahead of MetLife Stadium, so you could also say that the Jets or Giants would have a right to complain about visiting San Francisco. In reality, there are confounding variables including the home team’s medical staff that impact which stadiums will see the most injuries, but the trend is alarming nonetheless.
It’s worth noting again that the turf for 48 games in the above chart is not the same as the current “FieldTurf Classic HD” that was installed in MetLife before this season, but that may not be a good thing. FieldTurf brand turf was installed at three of the four stadiums with the highest injury rates when Binney had done his research, but it wasn’t in the Meadowlands—yet.
As a larger sample emerges, we’ll keep an eye on the injury rates throughout the year and extend our analysis to include more specificity in terms of specific body parts, contact versus non-contact injuries, games missed, specific surfaces, and more. In the meantime, I wish you all good health.