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Injuries in the NFL are commonplace, “next man up” is a common refrain in every locker room in the league. Some teams are better able to withstand the inevitable, either they have outstanding personnel with which they continue to win until the starter returns or the back-up performs better than expected.
Eight NFL teams have been hit particularly hard with either multiple injuries or injuries to key personnel. Here’s a look at how some find themselves in contention and others have no chance.
New England has lost more key pieces than any other team and they continue to find ways to win. Offensive tackle Nate Solder and running back Dion Lewis are gone for the season and wide receiver Julian Edelman is hopeful for a playoff return. Tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Danny Amendola have also missed time. The one constant has been Tom Brady. Brady has the Patriots in position for a first round bye and home field through the playoffs.
Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck, who had never missed a start, has been out twice this season. He first missed two games due to a sore throwing shoulder. Following his return, in a victory over Denver, Luck suffered a lacerated kidney and partial abdominal tear, which has sidelined him since. More misfortune followed. Backup QB Matt Hasselbeck suffered a rib injury in the Colts loss to Jacksonville, no further report on the extent of the injury is available. With a matchup against division co-leader Houston on tap next Sunday, the Colts need to get healthy at QB-fast.
Seattle is one of the league’s hottest teams, they’ve won four in a row-seven of their last 10, despite a slew of injuries on the offensive side of the ball. Tight end Jimmy Graham, wide receiver Ricardo Lockette and running back Thomas Rawls are all out for the season. Rawls was outstanding in place of Marshawn Lynch, who is still out with a sports hernia. Russell Wilson and the league’s best defense have propelled the Seahawks to their late season run.
Pittsburgh has been without the services of running back Le’Veon Bell (torn MCL) and center Maurkice Pouncey (ankle surgery) for most of the season. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has missed four games with a strained MCL. None of that has kept the Steelers offense from averaging over 400 yards per game, best in the AFC. They are also in the thick of the playoff race.
Denver lost quarterback Peyton Manning to planter fasciitis for an undisclosed period. Manning’s replacement, Brock Osweiler, was 3-0 until the Raiders knocked off the Broncos in week 14, which may have hastened the return of a healthy and rested Manning for a playoff run.
These next three teams had high expectations coming into the season, unfortunately they were unable replace key components and find a way to win.
Baltimore, a preseason Super Bowl contender, was decimated by injuries. The Ravens have 16 players on Injured Reserve. The list includes quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Justin Forsett, wide receiver Steve Smith, linebacker Terrell Suggs and safety Matt Elam. For the Ravens the injuries were too much, their season started slowly and never came together.
Dallas didn’t lose many players to injury, but the two they did lose sent them head first into the abyss. Wide receiver Dez Bryant went down week one with a broken foot. His absence didn’t impact the team for the first two games, wins over Philadelphia and the Giants. The big blow came when quarterback Tony Romo went out with a broken collarbone against the Eagles. Romo returned in late November and led the Cowboys to a victory over Miami before Carolina ended Romo’s and Dallas’ season with a fracture of the same bone. Dallas hasn’t had a clue offensively without Romo and a full strength Bryant.
Cincinnati is the latest team to fall victim to the injury bug. Heading into the weekend the Bengals controlled their own destiny, wins over the Steelers and Denver would have given them the top overall seed in the AFC. An ill-advised attempted tackle by quarterback Andy Dalton may have altered Cincinnati’s playoff fortunes.
Dalton moved the Bengals to the Steelers five-yard line on the game’s opening drive before throwing an interception on a shovel pass. He dove at the legs of defensive end Stephon Tuitt. In the process Dalton jammed his hand on Tuitt’s knee and sustained a fractured thumb. The injury will sideline him for the remainder of the regular season. A possible return for the playoffs is being discussed.
In the same game, the previously healthy Bengals, lost tight end Tyler Eifert to a possible concussion. Eifert is tied for the NFL lead in touchdown receptions, with 12.
Cornerback Adam Jones missed the game with the Steelers and is questionable for the 49ers game next week. Cincinnati was the NFL’s healthiest team prior to Sunday’s disaster.
Up two games in the AFC North, the Bengals remaining opponents include San Francisco, Denver and Baltimore. Backup quarterback AJ Mc Carron is surrounded by enough talent to win two of the three games and secure a first round bye. McCarron has a strong pedigree and plenty of big game experience at the collegiate level, how that translates to the NFL is the ultimate question.
As McCarron said “I guess Tom Brady was in the same situation when he had the opportunity. I’ve got to make the most of it and do my job each week.”
The Bengals season may have turned on the events of one game. Time and talent will tell.