How NFL Teams Will Move Forward Following Injuries to Marquee Players
The NFL preseason continues to provide nothing more than bad luck for some of the marquee players during the past month. Major injuries continue to put a damper on the plans of teams looking to compete for playoff spots, and more importantly a championship.
There have been five injuries to notable players during training camp and the preseason that have stood out around the league.
While some injuries are only for part of the season, others are season-ending and could ultimately lead to a disappointing end result in 2013.
Teams have already begun adjusting to move on without these premier players, but time will tell if these five players can ever be replaced.
5. Buffalo Bills QB EJ Manuel
As the Buffalo Bills begin a hopeful era with a new head coach, the franchise had to step on the brakes after discovering that EJ Manuel would need surgery on his left knee.
The team announced that Manuel would (and did) miss the remaining of the preseason after undergoing a procedure on his left knee.
Clearly, this news was a setback for the Bills. It was an ideal situation for Manuel to start Week 1 against the Patriots. The goal was to build chemistry with his young crop of wide receivers and elite running back CJ Spiller, allowing a balanced offense.
Instead, those plans are going to be placed on hold for now. Undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel will be starting Week 1, as Doug Marrone said this week.
That leaves either Tuel or Matt Leinart, who has been a journeyman quarterback the last few seasons and is nothing more than the last man on the depth chart.
The Bills need to obviously proceed with caution. If that means having their plans for this season abruptly changed, so be it. It could simply be one week that Manuel misses, or possibly even more if the time comes.
Ultimately, the concern needs to be for Manuel's health over the next 10 years as opposed to this year.
4. Green Bay Packers OT Bryan Bulaga
As the Packers look to retain control of its own division and conference, the last bit of news they needed was a season-ending injury to their most valuable lineman.
Starting left tackle and former first-round pick Bryan Bulaga will miss the entire season after tearing his ACL, according to ProFootballTalk .
This was the kind of injury that Green Bay could least afford. While the Packers managed to make the postseason last year after a Bulaga injury, they didn't prove they were capable of defeating the league's best with a subpar offensive line.
Moving forward, the Packers are going to hope that Marshall Newhouse can continue to take advantage of his playing time and steadily improve protecting Rodgers' blindside.
Newhouse played the entire season in 2012 and looks to build from there. However, that will need to be the case if the Packers overtake the 49ers and Seahawks, who both pose defenses that can block Green Bay's high-octane offense.
With Bulaga's injury, it appears that the Packers are returning to square one. While the Bulaga injury doesn't effectively ruin their chances of winning a championship, those odds are likely to decrease unless Newhouse manages to elevate himself among the elite pass protectors in the game.
3. San Francisco 49ers CB Chris Culliver
The major ACL tears continue to haunt some of the league's marquee players. Add 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver to the list.
According to ESPN, the veteran pass defender will miss the entire season after tearing his ACL.
This was a tremendous hit to a 49ers defense that already displays question marks at the position. Will Carlos Rogers play at his elite level in 2012 or continue his average play like he did in 2013?
Nnamdi Asomugha was brought onto the roster with a chip on his shoulder, but there is no guarantee that he will ever come close to the kind of player he was during his time with the Raiders.
Desperate for depth at the position, the 49ers signed Eric Wright this month. However, Wright has never come close to any capability of becoming a top cornerback on the depth chart. He has played with three teams over the last three years, that is an indicator of where his true talent level lies.
Overall, the 49ers are one of the league's more talented rosters and will still contend despite the injuries to Culliver and Michael Crabtree. Yet, it's alarming that the biggest weakness on their defense could become much worse, especially in a big spot during a game that matters most.
2. Baltimore Ravens TE Dennis Pitta
As the defending Super Bowl champions looked to move forward after plenty of roster overhaul, the team was shook by a devastating injury to their rising star in tight end Dennis Pitta.
Pitta will miss the entire season after having surgery on his dislocated hip, head coach John Harbaugh confirmed.
This injury put a major dent in the Ravens' hopes of potentially defending their title, as the loss of Pitta along with the departure of Anquan Boldin leaves Joe Flacco with no choice but to build new chemistry with the pieces around him.
Ed Dickson is going to become the primary target at tight end for Flacco, as he has the most experience of anyone on the roster. However, Dickson tore his right hamstring in camp and is not guaranteed to be ready for Week 1, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.
If that proves to be true, then Flacco and offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell could endure some growing pains early on in 2013. The acquisition of veteran Dallas Clark makes sense due to his familiarity with Caldwell's offense.
However, Clark's play has decreased as the years have gone by and isn't as reliable as a security blanket compared to his days with Peyton Manning.
While Pitta doesn't receive the accolades compared to the elite tight ends in the game (Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski), he proved to be an essential target for Flacco in important situations. It's a crippling blow to an offense that does not have much room for error.
1. Seattle Seahawks WR Percy Harvin
Percy Harvin is one of the league's more dynamic players due to the variety of ways he can change the outcome of a game, whether as a receiver or as a kick returner.
Yet, his durability is a concern. That was the case during his tenure with the Minnesota Vikings, and it turns out to be the case before even stepping onto the field in a Seahawks uniform.
That is a result of Harvin tearing his hamstring, one that required surgery and will lead to an extended absence in the regular season. Pete Carroll and his staff are hoping Harvin returns around Thanksgiving.
The reality facing the Seahawks is simple. Early on, Seattle can survive the Harvin injury and manage to stay a contender in the NFC. They were capable of becoming one of the league's elite teams last season, and that was without Harvin in the lineup.
With their elite defense improving over the offseason, that gives Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense much more room to work with. Marshawn Lynch will continue to play as one of the league's most productive running backs.
Sidney Rice can emerge as a number one target at times when he's healthy. Meanwhile, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin will continue to grow as they develop chemistry with Wilson.
However, Harvin was brought to Seattle because the franchise needed an explosive player of his caliber when it matters most, which is the postseason.
The actual timetable of Harvin's return remains to be seen. In that period of time, the Seahawks may very well continue to win on a consistent basis and put themselves in a position to win a title.
Yet, winning a title will not be accomplished without Harvin healthy and producing at a high level.