Could J.J. Watt Really Return in Time for the NFL Playoffs?

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Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is currently out with a torn pectoral muscle.

While every athlete has to deal with his or her fair share of injuries, some players just can’t seem to stay healthy. Whether it’s due to bad luck, a degenerative condition, or anything in between, they start spending more time in the trainer’s room than on the field. Unfortunately, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is becoming one of those guys.

While Watt is currently on the sidelines recovering from a torn pectoral muscle, he’s not willing to give up on the 2019 season. Could the defensive end really be ready in time for the NFL playoffs?

J.J. Watt lands on injured reserve again

When he’s on his game, J.J. Watt can be one of the most disruptive forces in the entire NFL. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been on his game for quite a while.

The Houston Texans selected Watt with the 11th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft; their decision immediately paid off. The defensive end didn’t miss a game for the first five seasons of his career. While he wasn’t always healthy—he battled through dislocations, broken bones, and torn muscles—but he still racked up 74.5 sacks by the end of the 2015 season.

After that, though, Watt started breaking down. He missed most of the 2016 season with recurring back problems; when 2017 rolled around, he played several games with a dislocated finger before suffering a season-ending tibial plateau fracture. After offseason knee surgery, Watt entered the 2019 season with a clean bill of health, but everything crashed back to earth in Week 8, as the defensive end tore his pectoral muscle while making a tackle.

Don’t call it a (playoff) comeback

While J.J. Watt has been on injured reserve since the end of October, he hasn’t given up on the season. If you believe the chatter coming out of the Texans camp, the defensive end could be back for the postseason.

In the lead-up to Week 16’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, reporters asked head coach Bill O’Brien about Watt’s potential return to action. “I’m going to tell you that JJ is working very, very hard,” he responded. “And he has certainly made progress based solely on his work ethic and who he’s working within the training room. And we’ll see how it goes.”

The Texans have reportedly saved a “designated to return” spot for Watt in order to get Watt back onto the active roster, but defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel isn’t banking on a miraculous return to form. “We won’t know until that occurs and see where he is because every player who comes back from injury, you have to see where he is and what he can and cannot do,” he explained. “Then, I think that’ll make the difference in how much he can help or will help or if he helps.”

“Everybody who has an injury, when they get back, you have to find out what they can do,” Crennel continued. “They have to find out what they can do. With the injury, they haven’t had the opportunity to twist and turn and plant and cut and get hit on it. Those things have to occur to build up the player’s confidence to know the injury’s well, and then he can turn it loose.”

It’s going to be tough, even for someone as committed as J.J. Watt

After J.J Watt tore his pectoral muscle, he was estimated to miss about four months of action. Less than two months have passed since the injury; even the Super Bowl would fall short almost a month short of the projected timeline.

While Watt has made a living prooving doubters wrong, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll be anything close to 100% when the playoffs begin. Although he could suit up for a Willis Reed moment, there’s no need to risk further injury for a motivational factor. It’s tempting to sacrifice your personal health to help the team, especially during the playoffs, but that’s not a recipe for long term success. The defensive end has been struggling through injuries for the past several years; there’s no reason for him to rush back, only for his contributions to be overshadowed by the Texans’ ineffective overall defense.

From what we know of J.J. Watt, he’s going to do everything within his power to return for the NFL playoffs. Recovering that quickly, however, may be too much, even for him.