In a divisional race as contested as the NFC West is likely to be in 2013, a significant injury like the one suffered by San Francisco 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree Tuesday just might tilt the scales in the Seattle Seahawks' direction.
According to Mike Garafolo of USA Today, Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon during Tuesday's organized team activities. The surgery required to fix the injury could ultimately force Crabtree to miss the entire 2013 season.
While Garafolo points out that recent spring-time injuries to the Achilles of both Terrell Suggs and Da'Quan Bowers did not result in missing the ensuing season, Crabtree's injury is a huge blow to a 49ers team that will need all of its weapons to hold off the Seahawks in the NFC West.
Early word was for Michael Crabtree to have Achilles surgery as soon as possible. I'm told that's already happened. 6 month rehab begins— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 22, 2013
A first-round pick of the 49ers in 2009, Crabtree finally broke out in a big way during his fourth NFL season. Over 16 regular-season games, Crabtree caught 85 passes for 1,105 yards and nine scores—each representing new career highs. He followed up his best regular season with 20 catches for 285 yards and three scores during San Francisco's three-game playoff run.
Now the 49ers will have to adjust to life without their best receiver for a majority of next season.
Luckily for San Francisco, the receiver depth chart does offer some potential answers.
Veteran Anquan Boldin was acquired this offseason to help Crabtree as a possession-type No. 2, but he'll now assume the duties of a No. 1 receiver. A.J. Jenkins, last season's first-round pick from Illinois, will be expected to take a big jump, and 2012 fourth-rounder Quinton Patton should see more opportunities.
And once Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams return to 100 percent after ACL injuries, the 49ers should be fine in terms of numbers at the position.
However, losing a dynamic talent like Crabtree—especially after the chemistry developed between him and quarterback Colin Kaepernick last season—has to rank as a huge blow that can't be understated.
From Week 13 on last season (including the postseason), Crabtree was without question Kaepernick's favorite target. Over eight total games, the two hooked up 55 times for 823 yards and seven scores.
Now, Kaepernick will enter his first full season as the starting quarterback without his go-to receiver.
No team should benefit more from the loss than the Seahawks.
A winner of 11 regular-season games and one postseason contest last season, Seattle has positioned itself this offseason to be a top contender in both the division and the conference. Additions such as Percy Harvin, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett have provided the Seahawks' with necessary ammunition for what still shapes up to be the best divisional race in the NFL.
Are the Seahawks now the front runners in the NFC West after Michael Crabtree's injury?
The 49ers will now have to face a difficult schedule—especially at the start—without a key playmaker.
San Francisco opens up at home against Green Bay in Week 1 before traveling to Seattle in Week 2. Tricky games with Indianapolis, St. Louis and Houston loom in the next three weeks, which should give the 49ers one of the more challenging early schedules in football.
Even if Crabtree can make a miraculous recovery, he's almost certain to miss the first half or so of next season.
Just a few slip-ups early could be the difference between winning a division title and playing for the wild card behind Seattle.
The 49ers are still talented enough on both sides of the football to overcame one significant injury, but the Seahawks have to be feeling better about their chances to win the NFC West today than they did yesterday.