The Buffalo Bills will play host to the New England Patriots on New Year’s Eve as they try to secure a playoff spot and, possibly, put themselves in position to steal the AFC East division title in Week 18. While they have had their share of injuries this season — which may or may not have resulted in them being in the position of fighting for their postseason opportunity — more than just a few players are (finally) trending in the right direction.
Thursday injury report pic.twitter.com/RtdhzHRRxB— Buffalo Bills PR (@BuffaloBillsPR) December 28, 2023
Bills players trending up
- QB Josh Allen*
- TE Dalton Kincaid*
- CB Kaiir Elam*
- LB Terrel Bernard (ankle)
- DE A.J. Epenesa (rib)
- LS Reid Ferguson (thumb)
- DE Leonard Floyd (wrist/rib/rest)
- DB Cam Lewis (thumb)
- LB Dorian Williams (knee)
- EDGE Von Miller (vet rest)
So, this group looks a little different this week. Neither quarterback Josh Allen nor tight end Dalton Kincaid are listed on the team’s official injury list. That’s why I have them here. This is the first time in weeks that they haven’t been on the injury list for shoulder injuries — in fact Allen has been on the list since Week 6 of the season. With them off the list, it would indicate that neither Allen nor Kincaid are receiving treatment from the Bills’ medical staff — a definite positive for Buffalo’s offense. Likewise, cornerback Kaiir Elam, who was activated from the team’s Injured Reserve (IR) yesterday, is no longer on the injury list at all.
Also, usually, I reserve this section for players who were full participants. But this week I have included linebacker Terrel Bernard and defensive end A.J. Epenesa — who were both limited on Thursday — in this section. Bernard injured his ankle when his foot got stuck in the turf in the Bills’ win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday. After some time on the sidelines with trainers and some running up and down the sidelines, Bernard returned to finish the game. By his own report after the game, the second-year linebacker is going to be okay going forward, something head coach Sean McDermott echoed in Wednesday morning’s press conference when he said that he thought Bernard would be “sore” but should be “good for Sunday’s game.” Bernard being limited on Thursday was likely an effort to rest the ankle and ensure that swelling stays at a minimum between now and Sunday’s 1 p.m. EST kickoff.
As for Epenesa, he was out of the red non-contact jersey. That’s why I have him in this category. It’s not a guarantee that he will be active on Sunday, but it’s definitely a huge step in the right direction to seeing him back on the field. If I was guessing, I would say he’s listed as questionable after tomorrow’s practice and a game-time decision by McDermott. But he is 100% trending up, and, barring a setback, we should see him in Miami and possibly with some limited snaps this Sunday.
Micah Hyde (stinger), Ty Johnson (shoulder) and Damar Hamlin (shoulder) in the red non-contact jersey during Thursday’s #Bills practice. A.J. Epenesa (ribs) and Terrel Bernard (ankle) practiced in normal jersey — all players were deemed limited during Wednesday’s walk thru.— alex brasky (@alexbrasky) December 28, 2023
Everyone else in this section was a full participant at Thursday’s practice and should enter the weekend without a game-day designation.
Bills players holding steady
- S Damar Hamlin (shoulder)
- S Micah Hyde (stinger)
- RB Ty Johnson (shoulder)
- DE Shaq Lawson (illness)
- DT DaQuan Jones (pectoral)
- WR Justin Shorter (hamstring)
Micah Hyde has been dealing with a stinger (his third of the season) that has sidelined him for the past two weeks. While the team captain has been practicing, he is still in the non-contact jersey and remains limited. Whether he is active this week or not, may have more to do with how fellow safety Damar Hamlin is healing. Additionally, the return of cornerback Kaiir Elam to the active roster could mean that versatile defensive back Cam Lewis can be utilized more as a safety than as a cornerback this week. While Hyde is working to get back on the field, I’m not sure that it will be this week. At the same time, this could be the 32-year-old’s farewell game in Buffalo as his contract is set to expire this offseason and this is the Bills’ final game at Highmark this season.
Damar Hamlin injured his shoulder Saturday in Los Angeles but returned to the game with a shoulder harness on. Being limited in practice this week, and in a non-contact jersey in Thursday’s full practice, there’s a good chance that Hamlin exits tomorrow’s practice with a questionable designation for the weekend and that McDermott makes a game-time decision on which safety — Hamlin or Hyde — if either he puts in uniform Sunday.
#Bills Damar Hamlin R Shoulder inj.— Banged Up Bills (@BangedUpBills) December 28, 2023
Hamlin has his arm partially abducted trying to block & shoulder hit backward.
In clear discomfort & unable to stay w play downfield.
Returned w harness.
Shearing motion of humeral head due to hit concerning for subluxation/labrum inj. pic.twitter.com/YJtpRwrvXN
Running back Ty Johnson injured his shoulder in Buffalo’s win over the Dallas Cowboys two weeks ago. While he returned to finish that game, he sat out Week 16. Running back Leonard Fournette came off the practice squad for the Bills’ game in Los Angeles and had five carries. Johnson has only had more than that in a single game twice this season. With Buffalo being able to call Fournette up twice more before the season ends, it’s plausible that Johnson sits another week.
Defensive tackle DaQuan Jones and wide receiver Justin Shorter continue to be full participants in practice, but both are still on IR and have not yet been added back to the team’s 53-man roster. Shorter’s practice window will expire on January 3, while the team will have until January 9 to make a decision on Jones.
Bills injuries trending down
Bills still on Injured Reserve
In addition to Jones and Shorter, Buffalo has the following players still on IR — none of whom have returned to practice at all yet.
- LB Matt Milano
- CB Tre’Davious White
- DT Jordan Phillips
- RB Damien Harris
- TE Zach Davidson
- OT Tommy Doyle (not eligible to return)
Here’s a look at how the Bills’ New Year’s Eve opponents, the New England Patriots, are shaping up on the injury front.
Here’s the Patriots’ injury report from today’s practice. pic.twitter.com/BclO4b6qXE— Chad Graff (@ChadGraff) December 28, 2023
Patriots players trending down
- CB Jalen Mills (concussion)
- FS Jabrill Peppers (hamstring)
- WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (ankle)
With Smith-Schuster moving from limited in Wednesday’s practice down to a non-participant in the midweek practice, and cornerback Jalen Mills not progressing to the portion of the league’s concussion protocol in which he can resume football activities, it doesn’t look like either will be active on Sunday.
Patriots players holding steady
- DT Christian Barmore (knee)
- LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (knee)
- CB Myles Bryant (chest)
- TE Hunter Henry (knee)
- LB Anfernee Jennings (knee)
- DB Jonathan Jones (knee)
- WR Matthew Slater (hamstring)
- CB Shaun Wade (hip)
Patriots players trending up
- OT Tyrone Wheatley Jr. (knee)
- OT Trent Brown (illness)
- RB Ezekiel Elliiott (illness)
It looks like the illness that has worked its way through several locker rooms around the league over the past few weeks has found its way to New England. It’s unlikely that the illness will keep either Brown or Elliott out of the game, however. If it follows the trend of all the other teams, some rest and fluids and they will be ready to go by Sunday.
With one more day of practice, it’s time to watch who is in non-contact jerseys and who’s moving up to full participants tomorrow. There’s still a lot on the line in Buffalo this weekend, and it will take an entire team to avenge the divisional loss from earlier in the season — one that has them sitting on the playoff bubble instead of having locked up the division.