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Ask PFW: Mid-season evaluation

Fans' questions answered in our weekly PFW mailbag.


I know this is a difficult question for you to answer, but how soon can we realistically hope for a Sony [Michel] return? It seemed our whole offense was sluggish without him and I am glad the injury was not as devastating as it looked. Chu Snow

I assume you mean a return to game action, because he did begin practicing again this past weekend (on a limited basis). That was only six days after his knee injury in Chicago, which I and others thought looked like a season-ender. Subsequent media reports suggested he'd miss a game or two. If true, and he continues to practice this week, I would imagine that he'd be a possibility for the Green Bay game. If not, it might make more sense to hold him out another week, or perhaps until after the upcoming bye week.

In short, it doesn't appear that he'll be out for as long as many of us originally feared. Erik Scalavino

What's the nature of Rex Burkhead's injury? I know it's a neck injury but is it bad enough to keep him out all year on injured reserve? He was injured prior to the regular season, so that makes him eligible to return after eight weeks, correct? The team really needs a running back with his talents to sub for Sony who looks to be injury prone with that knee. Thanks guys. Bobby MacAllister

First, a clarification of facts. If a player is injured and placed on IR prior to the regular season, he is not eligible to return in that same season. Only players placed on IR from Week 1 on are potential candidates for that designation.

Burkhead did deal with an injury during the preseason, but the neck injury that landed him on IR happened against Detroit in Week 3. That means Burkhead, if sufficiently recovered, could be brought back sometime in December.

Sadly, we don't know much more about Burkhead's status at the moment. I'd like to think he's a candidate to be the Patriots' second IR player designated to return (rookie cornerback Duke Dawson is the first), but there's been no sign of Burkhead since he was placed on the injured list earlier this year. Erik Scalavino

Why is [Phillip] Dorsett lacking snaps in recent games, after being probably the most targeted receiver at the beginning of the season other than James White? Mario Delac

The return of Julian Edelman and acquisition of Josh Gordon are clearly having an impact on Dorsett's playing time. Those two are now the Patriots' top wide receivers, with Chris Hogan falling back into his more comfortable role as the No. 3 option.

Let's also not forget the increased contributions of running back James White to the passing game, and it should be no surprise that playing time is at a premium at the wide receiver position. Someone has to yield snaps, and Dorsett appears to be making that sacrifice right now. Erik Scalavino

Last year I had high hopes for Derek Rivers and Dietrich Wise to help improve the defensive side of the ball. I was bummed when Rivers was injured. This year it does not look like he is on IR, but has little impact from the little bit I get to see. Do you think he will become an impact player? Are there injury issues that he is still dealing with that limit his production? Is there more production from him than what I get to see? Thank you for all the great coverage. It is my number one news source on all things Patriots. Jason in South Dakota

It's important to remember, Jason, that Rivers was a third-round draft pick last year. He receives a considerable amount of attention for having been the team's top selection in the 2017 draft, and perhaps there are undue expectations for him as a result.

He's also coming back from a serious knee injury, which might have something to do with why he's been limited in his opportunities this year. At this halfway point of the season, I don't think it's fair to project Rivers as anything more than he's been thus far.

Maybe next year will be a better opportunity for Rivers, who's a very nice young man and someone you hope gets a chance to do more for this team. Erik Scalavino

Great job, guys; I look forward to Ask PFW each week. It could be that "Flash" Gordon, along with Trent Brown are our pickups of the year. Is it too early to consider extending Gordon's contract given that he's still at the stage where he's happy that the Patriots picked him up and gave him a chance? He's a RFA [restricted free agent] at the end of this year and, if he continues to improve, I'm sure there are other WR-hungry teams that will be willing to take a chance on him at the end of the season and his cost will only go up. It may already be too late to extend UFA [unrestricted free agent] Brown. He's going to be very expensive. Tony Tauro

While Gordon has had a mostly positive start to his Patriots career, it's premature to talk about a contract extension, especially if reports from Buffalo are true (his supposed tardiness last week). New England would be wise to take a wait-and-see approach and address this situation in the offseason.

Brown has had a solid half-season as a Patriot and, as a result, will likely receive tempting offers in free agency. I wouldn't entirely rule out his staying in Foxborough, however. Erik Scalavino

Just a throw from left field, but isn't it time to just get rid of the injury reports in the modern NFL? There seems to be a big disparity in how teams are reporting and who/what teams are investigated for mislabeling. Teams always say they game plan for "Player X" being available even if he's listed as doubtful, so the advantage just isn't there in keeping it a secret. And why should the NFL help the sports betting industry by trying to keep gamblers well informed of who will and won't be playing? Further, can't/won't a team target a player's injury more if they know it exists? Sorry for the rant, but I think it's time the NFL stops requiring injury reports and simply lets a team wait until it declares its inactives. Is there anything I'm missing or a "We-must-keep-this" reason for injury reports today? Chris Stadnicki

Either they need to be done away with entirely, as you suggest, or they need to be independently verified by NFL officials to make them more comprehensive. The current system isn't entirely useless, but in today's information age, it doesn't provide nearly enough detail to be much of a benefit to those of us on the outside of teams' football operations departments.

The injury report is still relevant because, for example, when a player like right guard Shaq Mason leaves the Buffalo game, curiosity leads us to ask why. From an analytical standpoint, it's obvious that a player suffered an injury. It's therefore important to understand what that injury is, so as to evaluate how that injury might impact the club over the short and long term.

What I'd like to see is an expansion of the current format, to include precise injury diagnoses (e.g., specifying right or left side of the body, stating whether or not a bone is broken), prognoses for how long a player will be out of commission, and defining more clearly how "limited" a player was in practice. Did he miss one snap or 99 percent of them? These types of changes would make the injury report far more valuable. Erik Scalavino

Has Tom Brady beaten every team in the NFL? And if not, what teams does he still have to overcome to join that club as well? I enjoy listening to you guys every week in Eagles country. Go Pats! Tyrell Butler

There is only one team in the NFL that Brady has never beaten or even faced… the Patriots! But yes, he's faced and beaten all 31 others at least once. Erik Scalavino

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