Injuries are an inevitable part of playing sports. When it comes to football, this is especially true. Every year, NFL players incur a variety of injuries due to practicing or playing which can leave them sidelined for weeks at a time. Their teams must then work to fill their spot or make due without them.
Recently, players, fans, teams, and the league have strived to increase player safety, whether by changes to the rules or to a change in mindset, such as not playing through a concussion or other serious injury. However, injuries still happen and happen to both stars and roleplayers alike. We’ve seen superstar players such as Aaron Rodgers miss significant time on the field. We’ve even seen players in their prime retire, like Andrew Luck, due to a cycle of injury and rehab.
Each year, injuries such as these shape the landscape of the NFL season. With that in mind, we wanted to look analytically at injuries in the NFL and dig into the numbers over the last five seasons. We crunched the numbers on every injury on every team from 2014 to 2018 and here is what we found:
Injuries by Team
One of the first things we looked at was the count of injuries by team. We wanted to find out which team had the most injuries by year. The above table includes the numbers for players who were ruled out for a game due to injury. What we found is that the Seattle Seahawks have had the most injuries over the last five seasons with 1,569 players ruled out. Second are the Patriots with 1,550, followed by the Colts (1,437), Ravens (1,314), and Jaguars (1,255). The Atlanta Falcons are the least injured team at a count of just 619.
Next, we looked at the team-by-team statistics of players on injured reserve. These are counts of players who went on IR at some point during the season. The top four NFL teams with the most players on IR are the same as injuries: the Seahawks (1,268), Patriots (1,261), Colts (1,116), and Ravens (1,059). At number five are the Giants at 1,033. The Falcons again are last at 446.
Total Injuries by Year
In recent years, fans and news pundits have made comments on the seemingly increased amount of injuries in the NFL. We wanted to help answer that question so we compiled the two above datasets on injuries and injured reserve by year. What we found is that there is indeed an upward trend. With the exception of 2015, each year has seen an increase of players sitting out games due to injury or being placed on the injured reserve list.
Injuries by Week
Taking a look at injury data on a week to week basis, we can see how injuries add up over the course of a season. The data shows that there is an initial increase in the first few weeks, followed by fluctuation, and finishing with the highest numbers. This data makes sense due to the nature of the game and how injuries occur.
The numbers for players on the injured reserve list is similar to the statistics for general injuries. It generally follows the same patterns with similar ebbs and flows to the numbers.
Types and Causes of Injuries
We were also interested in seeing the numbers on the types of injuries. There are dozens of types of injuries that can happen to NFL players, but the above graph shows the data for the five most common types of injuries by percent and is shown on a weekly basis. Generally, the percentages are fairly similar with small spikes or dips throughout the season.
Finally, we wanted to see if some teams ‘caused’ more injuries than others. Defenses on certain teams often get a reputation for being rough and tough and we wanted to see if that correlated to players having to sit out. The above data analyzed the injuries that occurred after playing an opponent. For example, it looked at the injury report for every week after teams played the Seahawks and found the count of new injuries. While this does not account for injuries in practice or off the field, it does give a rough estimate.
Interestingly, it was the Kansas City Chiefs who ‘caused’ the most injuries at 1,416. The Seahawks were in the middle of the pack and the Buccaneers caused the fewest.
It’s unlikely that injuries will ever be gone from sports entirely, especially one as physical as football and the NFL. However, it is important for players, coaches, and staff to recognize when they’re hurt and when they need to take time to recover. The data shows that injuries have been increasing in recent years, but some of those numbers could come from better reporting and better diagnosis. Hopefully in the future, all players will be comfortable disclosing their injuries as necessary.
Source and Methodology
Data for this study came from Pro Football Reference for the 2014 through 2018 season. It was compiled and analyzed to create the above insights and findings.