As a football fan, there's almost nothing worse than feeling like your team could be a legitimate contender if it wasn't for an injury to one of the 10 or 12 key players. Nobody likes to blame games on injuries, but it happens, and it's undeniable.
The following slides will highlight the 32 injuries this season that have most hindered their respective team. A bigger focus is put on injuries to teams that are in playoff contention. For example, if player A and player B have the same talent and same amount of time missed to injuries, but player A is on a great team and player B is on a poor team, the loss of player A is a bigger deal. It's basically the same way the Most Valuable Player voting works.
In parentheses, I included how many games each player will miss from his injury. If a player was put on injured reserve after the third game, he will miss 13 games. For players with injuries that are affecting them week-by-week, a note was made.
Not one key starter for the Seahawks has been hit hard by injuries this season. Running back Marshawn Lynch has appeared on the injury report multiple times but he's still managed to play in every game. The biggest loss for Seattle is wide receiver Golden Tate, who missed the season's first game with a knee injury. Seattle lost to Arizona 20-16, and it's possible that Tate's presence could have changed the outcome for the Seahawks. That loss could loom big if the Seahawks are fighting for a playoff spot in the final week of the season.
The Dolphins have had the absolute best injury luck this season. They have one player on IR and one on the physically unable to perform list, and neither has ever actually played in the NFL. And backup running back Daniel Thomas is the only player on the team to miss a game (one) this season with an injury.
That makes the biggest injury for the Dolphins the knee/quadriceps injury that has caused quarterback Ryan Tannehill to go on the injury report five times (four probable, one questionable). Tannehill hasn't missed a game, but he's really struggled recently, as he's been limited by his knee injury.
The Chiefs really haven't had a key player go down with a big injury like they did in 2011, when running back Jamaal Charles, tight end Tony Moeaki and safety Eric Berry were lost for the season with torn ACLs in Week 1. But their biggest loss is probably starting defensive end Glenn Dorsey, the fifth overall pick of the 2008 draft, who will miss the season's final 12 games.
The Vikings have been pretty blessed with injuries this season. Their biggest loss is wide receiver Greg Childs, a fourth round draft pick from the 2012 draft, who will miss the entire season with a knee injury. Young quarterback Christian Ponder could use all of the offensive weapons he has, and through ten games, just two wide receivers have more than 11 catches.
Gocong is not even a good player but he is the biggest loss for the Browns this season. The 29-year-old has been a starter for all 32 games since he joined Cleveland before the 2010 season, with 96 tackles and 5.5 sacks.
Haralson has been a starting linebacker for the 49ers for the past five seasons and is an integral part of the team's pass rush. He is missing the entire season due to an undisclosed injury, likely to his left arm. If quarterback Alex Smith misses more than one game with his concussion, his injury will be the worst on the team.
The Lions aren't even hurting without running back Jahvid Best this season because he hasn't shown that he can be a consistent running back in this league. Veteran wide receiver Nate Burleson caught 73 balls for 757 yards and three touchdowns last season, and had similar totals through six games in 2012 (27-240-2) before a leg injury ended his year. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been struggling and the loss of Burleson won't help Detroit's passing attack over the final nine games.
Guard Leroy Harris was lost for the season following a knee injury in Week 8. He rated as one of the league's best guards in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and he has been a starter for the Titans since he switched from center to guard before the 2010 season.
The Colts have 12 players on injured reserve but none of them are key starters. Cornerback Vontae Davis has missed time with a knee injury but the loss of Collie for the season is a major blow for a team that needs all of their weapons to help develop stud rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. It's still been a terrific season for Luck, but the impact of Collie would benefit him even more.
The biggest signing of this past offseason, Mario Williams, has collected 5.5 sacks in 10 games with the Buffalo Bills, which is a respectable amount. But who knows how many more he would have collected if he wasn't playing with a tear in his wrist that has likely limited his production. His injury is likely worse than the loss of slot receiver David Nelson for the season after Week 1 because Williams hasn't been able to play at full strength for a Bills defense that has drastically underachieved this season.
With left tackle Jared Gaither doubtful against the Denver Broncos in Week 11, he's on the verge of missing six of a potential 10 games in 2012. He is a major part of protecting quarterback Philip Rivers. His injury edges out wide receiver Vincent Brown, the team's third round pick in 2011 who will miss the entire season with an ankle injury.
McFadden will miss his second straight game with a high ankle sprain suffered against the Baltimore Ravens November 4. He's not having a particularly good season, but he's still the most valuable offensive weapon on the Raiders. It doesn't help either that his backup, Mike Goodson, is also out with an ankle injury, leaving Marcel Reece as the go-to guy.
The Bengals have a ton of players on injured reserve, but most are backups. Their best player who went down is center Kyle Cook. The 29-year-old Cook had started all 48 games over the previous three seasons, including all of 2011 when rookie quarterback Andy Dalton led the surprising Bengals into the postseason.
The Bears are another team that has not been hit hard by injuries this season, which likely plays a big part in their 6-1 record this year. The biggest blow on their team is speedy receiver Johnny Knox, who injured his back late in the 2011 season and will miss all of 2012. The Bears are missing his consistent 700 yards as a wide receiver, plus his dynamic ability as a kick returner.
Even with Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars may be the worst team in football. Without him, they don't stand a chance. Jones-Drew has missed three straight games, and almost all of the previous game, with a foot injury that will sideline him indefinitely. It doesn't help the Jaguars that backup running back Rashad Jennings is averaging fewer than three yards per carry.
For the Giants, the most costly injury has been either safety Kenny Phillips or wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, but Nicks' loss has probably cost the team just a little bit more. At safety, Stevie Brown has intercepted five passes in six starts, making him a more than adequate replacement at safety. Nicks' absence likely cost the Giants a victory against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4 (the Giants lost 19-17).
Running back Ryan Williams definitely hasn't been living up to expectations since he was drafted in the second round in the 2011 draft. He missed his entire rookie season with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee, and suffered a shoulder injury in Week 5 that will sideline him for the remainder of the season. When he did play, Williams wasn't very effective, carrying 58 times for 164 yards (2.8 yards per rush) with no touchdowns and two fumbles. But he was still the Cardinals' top back.
With backup Chris Wells also out for the year with a turf toe injury, the Cardinals are down to third running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, who's playing about as well as your average third running back behind a terrible offensive line.
Other nominees for the Cardinals' most costly injury included Wells, offensive tackle Levi Brown and quarterback Kevin Kolb. But the line would be brutal with or without Brown, and Kolb isn't much better of an option than John Skelton. Williams at least had potential in his first true season in the league.
The 25-year-old Walton is a very underrated part of the Denver Broncos' offense, starting all 36 games at center since he was drafted in 2010. But he went down for the year with an ankle injury four games into the year. The Broncos still have the league's fourth best offense, thanks to four-time MVP Peyton Manning, but veteran center Dan Koppen is past his prime and not as effective as Walton.
There are a lot of significant injuries on the Green Bay Packers this season. Tackles Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod are on injured reserve. Veteran running back Cedric Benson is on the injured reserve recall list and could return late in the season. Wide receiver Greg Jennings has been out with an abdominal injury. And linebacker Desmond Bishop is on injured reserve with a knee injury.
But the biggest injury for the Packers is likely the loss of veteran future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson, who has missed three games with a broken collarbone and is projected to miss three more games. On offense, everything for the Packers is okay as long as they have quarterback Aaron Rodgers. But Woodson might be the best defensive player on the team, and his absence will cost the Packers.
Without star tight end Aaron Hernandez, the offense for the Patriots just isn't the same. The Patriots run a two tight end offense more than any other team in the league and inserting Visanthe Shiancoe or Michael Hoomanawanui in place of Hernandez just hasn't gotten the same result, obviously. Hernandez has missed five games with an ankle injury, and he's caught just 17 balls for 143 yards and two touchdowns so far in 2012. The Patriots are still 6-3 and will likely easily coast to a fourth straight AFC East title. With a healthy Hernandez likely back before the end of the regular season, anything is possible in the playoffs.
Arguably the best guard in the league, Nicks was lost for the season with a foot injury following Week 7. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have actually thrived during his absence, averaging 37.3 points in the last three games. But that doesn't mean they don't miss him and wouldn't love to have him back for a late-season playoff push.
Wells was one of the more underrated signings of the offseason, as the former Green Bay Packers' center signed with the St. Louis Rams during free agency. But Wells, who rated as the fourth best center in the league in 2011, according to Pro Football Focus, was lost for the season with a foot injury just 21 plays into the season. That's not going to help the development of quarterback Sam Bradford, who has dealt with inconsistent offensive play throughout his first two seasons in the league.
The Saints' defense has been absolutely brutal this season, and the absence of linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the first five games (knee) was a huge reason why. Without Vilma's veteran leadership in the locker room and his performance on the field, the Saints dropped their first four games. With Vilma back on the field, the Saints have rebounded to win four out of five, with a legitimate chance at earning a postseason spot.
The Texans have been pretty blessed so far this season with injuries, but the loss of 25-year-old Cushing is a big blow to Houston. The Texans are loaded with superstars, and they've still managed to go 8-1 with the No. 2 scoring defense in the National Football League. But they'd obviously be even better off with Cushing for the final 11 games of this season, plus the postseason.
Heading into the 2012 season, the Atlanta Falcons boasted one of the best cornerback trios in the league, with veterans Brent Grimes, Dunta Robinson and newly acquired Asante Samuel. But the loss of Grimes for the season after Week 1, due to a torn Achilles tendon, has hurt the Falcons' defense. They're still the seventh ranked defense in the league, and they're undefeated.
But come playoff time, against passing attacks such as Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning, the Falcons are really going to wish they had Grimes, a 2010 Pro Bowler and an above average corner for the last several seasons.
There are three key players on the Carolina Panthers who will miss the remainder of the season with injuries: center Ryan Kalil, linebacker Jon Beason and cornerback Chris Gamble. All were injured after four or five games, but Kali is the biggest blow. The Panthers' offense is worse than their defense this season, despite the Panthers missing two key starters on defense.
On offense, everything revolves around quarterback Cam Newton, and the loss of his center and best lineman is not going to help cure his sophomore slump. Kalil is a team leader and had predicted a Super Bowl appearance before the year. Now it looks like 2012 is a lost year for the Panthers.
The loss of Sean Lee to the Dallas Cowboys' defense could be the difference for them if they miss the postseason. Lee has been playing at a Pro Bowl level since he became a starter in 2011. This year, he rated as the team's best defensive player, according to Pro Football Focus, but will miss the final 10 games with a toe injury.
Orakpo has been one of the best outside linebackers in the NFL since he was selected in the first round in 2009, earning two Pro Bowl selections and collecting 28.5 sacks in his first three seasons. He was lost for the season with a pectoral injury after Week 2, and is the biggest reason why the Redskins' defense has been among the worst in the league.
The Baltimore Ravens have been hurt by injuries to star players more than any other team this season.
Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs missed the season's first six games while recovering from a partially torn Achilles tendon. He returned to the Ravens the week after the team lost future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis (triceps) and stud cornerback Lardarius Webb (knee) for the remainder of the season. Lewis is on the injured reserve recall list, meaning there is a slim chance he could return for the postseason. Webb, however, is out for the regular season and playoffs, and he is the team's biggest loss.
Both Lewis and Webb are among the best at their position in the league, but a 27-year-old cornerback in a passing league is slightly more important than a 37-year-old linebacker who has lost a step as he continues to age. Webb was an unbelievable corner last season, and over the past season-and-a-half, he's allowed zero touchdowns while intercepting nine passes. He also had three interceptions in the postseason last year.
Even if the Ravens hang onto their division lead and reach the playoffs, it's going to be difficult to see them beating Tom Brady or Peyton Manning without a stout passing defense.
The Steelers have been hit as hard as any team in the NFL by injuries this season.
Running backs Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer have all been plagued by injuries. Rookie guard David DeCastro, the team's first round draft pick this season, will miss the entire season with a knee injury. Linebacker James Harrison missed the first three games this season, and safety Troy Polamalu will miss his eighth game this week. But it's likely that all of those players (minus DeCastro) will be healthy for the postseason.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who suffered a dislocated rib and sprained shoulder in Week 10, will miss several games. He says he thinks he can return this season, and luckily for the Steelers, they have a two-game lead in the wild card race over the Bengals and Dolphins.
If Roethlisberger can return completely healthy for the playoffs, the Steelers have a chance to make a run at a Super Bowl title. After all, they won the Super Bowl in 2005 after entering the playoffs as the sixth seed.
But if Roethlisberger has to play hurt in the playoffs, or if he cannot play at all, the Steelers have almost no chance at returning to the Super Bowl. Based on projection for the rest of the season, Roethlisberger's injury is worse than Polamalu's or DeCastro's (or anybody else on the team).
The Jets aren't a very good football team to begin with, so when they lost Darrelle Revis for the season with a torn ACL, any chance they had of reaching the postseason completely disappeared. Revis, 27, has been the best cornerback in the game for the past four or five seasons. In fact, he might be the most shutdown corner in the game's history. This season, he allowed just 15 passing yards in three games. His opponents' passer rating? 6.3. Take him away on defense and the Jets are suddenly very vulnerable, especially against Tom Brady and the Patriots.
No team in the National Football League is more affected by a single injury than the Philadelphia Eagles, who are without star left tackle Jason Peters for the season following a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in March.
Peters re-ruptured his Achilles in a freak accident in May, and while he hasn't been officially ruled out for the season, there's almost no way the Eagles will try to bring him back with a playoff berth virtually impossible.
No one will deny that Michael Vick has had a poor season, but a lot of his struggles had to deal with the absence of Peters, which in turn affected LeSean McCoy's production and virtually eliminated the screen game from Philadelphia's offense. Demetress Bell has been a colossal disappointment as Peters' replacement.