The Road to the Super Bowl Starts with Knee Health

Innovate Performance Breakdown of NFL Knee Injuries

"knee INJURIES ARE the most common injury in the NFL."

·      Non-playoff teams averaged $6.6M cap hit due to season-ending knee injuries

·      Playoff teams averaged $1.1M cap hit due to season-ending knee injuries

·      Non-playoff teams averaged 2x more season-ending knee injuries than playoff teams

·      Patriots = 1 season-ending knee injury (cap hit: $556k)


Perhaps the most anticipated sporting event in America, the Super Bowl stands as the pinnacle of success in the NFL. The Falcons and the Patriots steamrolled their way through the regular season and playoffs via explosive offense play, timely defensive stops, and exceptional coaching. Equally important to the Falcons and Patriots success was their uncanny ability to stay injury free in a game made famous, at least in part, for its level of aggression and high impact. And as the scatter plot shows, healthier teams with fewer players on the Injured Reserve List outperformed teams with higher IR totals.  

NFL Injuries versus Regular Season Wins

Previous statistical analyses have shown that knee injuries are both the most common and most player-feared injury in the NFL. Despite their perceived randomness, findings reported in a recently published study in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine suggest that knee injuries might be more predictable and preventable than previously expected (Dodson et. al, 2016).

Between 2010 and 2013, Dodson and his team reported that:

•       The total number of ACL injuries was highest in August (training camps and preseason)

•       Wide receivers, tight ends, running backs, fullbacks and linebackers all had highest injury rates

•       Interior offensive and defensive lineman had higher risks of ACL injuries vs. perimeter linemen

•       Over 18% of ACL injuries occurred in players with a history of a prior ACL injury.

Certainly, general knee health is accepted to be an important factor in the recipe for success in the NFL – but just how important is it really?

NFL 16'-17' Regular Season-Ending Knee Injuries

As reported by Sportrac, 100 players were placed on injured reserve due to knee injuries during the 2016-2017 season, costing NFL teams a total of $156.5M. Of those 100 injuries, 78 of them impacted teams that ultimately did not make the playoff. Non-playoff teams also absorbed a disproportion 85% of the combined team cap hit across the NFL and averaged 6x the cap hit compared to playoff teams. Moreover, non-playoff teams had 2x more season-ending knee injuries on average than playoff teams.

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What about the Super Bowl teams you ask? The Patriots, having lost only one player to a season-ending knee injury, went to Houston the healthiest they have been in the playoffs while under Belichick. Not to be outdone, the Falcons a) lost no players to season-ending knee injuries this year and b) are the only team to start the same offensive line the entire season in the NFL.

In addition to being a historical and incredible game, Super Bowl LI highlights the important roll knee health plays in creating sustained success throughout the course of an NFL season.  Congratulations to the Patriots!

-Andy Barr, DPT | MSc | CSCS

This blog piece is the first of a three part series focusing on ACL injury risk factors and prevention strategies. Enter your email address below to get the rest of the series sent directly to your inbox.