New England Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. Barely a household name in the northeast and completely unknown outside of it, the do-it-all defender is key to the Patriots’ playoff plans. If he can stay healthy that is.
Ninkovich, who has 86 tackles and seven sacks on the year, was limited in practice on both Thursday and Friday with an ankle injury. In typical Patriots fashion, the severity of the injury isn’t known, and whether or not he will be able to suit up on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills is very much up in the air. In reality, the team would actually be better off if he stayed on the sidelines.
No matter how bad the ankle may be, Ninkovich is critical to a long playoff run for New England. The defense is already a patchwork unit, with major injuries at every level. If they have any chance of stopping the good offenses that proliferate in the playoffs they will need Ninkovich and Chandler Jones to be a one-two punch putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The truth is, the Patriots may actually be better off losing to the Bills this weekend. The opportunity cost of missing out on the first-round bye isn’t worth risking more injuries, plus they need to take the risk on getting a momentum-building win in the wild card round of the playoffs.
Ninkovich is one of the last game-changers the Patriots have left on defense. If this ankle injury is serious they shouldn’t take the chance that it will get worse just for a win that will only rob them of the opportunity to build momentum when it matters the most.