One of the realities of life in the NFL is injury. It can happen to any player for any reason, and there never seems to be any sense to it.
Recovery times vary widely depending on what was hurt and how badly, but an injury to any player has the potential to impact the entire team. This is particularly the case when players in key positions must spend time on the sidelines while subpar backups take the field in their place.
At this point in the season, there are many such players on most teams. Some of them are out for the season and have been placed on injured reserve, but others remain on the roster to be evaluated on a week-to-week basis to see if they can play.
It is the latter type of player that we will look at in the 13 slides of this article. These are players who are keys to the success of their teams and who still have the opportunity to return for the 2011 season.
These guys are certainly all holding "Get Well Soon" cards as fans hope and wait for their returns.
The matchup against the resurgent Seattle Seahawks represents a crucial point in the season for the Chicago Bears.
A loss here could put a serious dampener on the Bears’ playoff hopes.
They will take the field without their starting quarterback at the helm.
The Bears, once a 7-3 team, have dropped three in a row under backup quarterback Caleb Hanie.
It’s clear that Hanie is not ready to be a part of the Bears offense on a regular basis, but there’s no real viable alternative until Cutler’s thumb is back in throwing shape.
Fortunately for Bears fans, word on the street is that Cutler is on the mend. He may take the field again as soon as the Christmas Day game against the Green Bay Packers.
Speaking of the Green Bay Packers, they face the remainder of the season without their No. 1 wide receiver, Greg Jennings.
He’s out for the count with a sprained MCL that will keep him on the bench for the remainder of the regular season.
This injury may not be devastating to a team that has the playoffs locked in and is a win away from securing the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but it still really, really stings.
There are many potent weapons on the receiving end of the ball in Green Bay, but Greg Jennings is a standout among standouts. He will be missed as the Packers finish out the regular season.
This one practically goes without saying, but there it is.
The Indianapolis Colts are a completely different team without Peyton Manning under center.
They can’t find a way to win a game, even now that the Suck for Luck competition is officially in the books.
Despite the 0-13 record, there’s a small glimmer of hope left in Indianapolis. There are still three games left in the season, though, and word on the street is that Peyton has been cleared to practice.
He’s still a member of the active roster, and stranger things have happened.
Since Manning hasn’t even started throwing to his teammates, though, it’s doubtful that he will take the field at all in 2011. There’s no reason for the Jim Caldwell to risk having him injured all over again.
The Houston Texans are 10-3 this year, and they’ve done a huge part of it without star wide receiver Andre Johnson.
Johnson is just one of many Texans who have been plagued by injury this season.
He has personally struggled with hamstring injuries all season—this week, he’ll sit out again thanks to the most recent setback that he suffered last week.
Fortunately, it looks like Johnson is on the mend. Keeping him out against the Carolina Panthers seems to be more of a precautionary measure than a matter of necessity.
Fans may wish him back on the field now, but coaches want him healthy for the playoffs more than anything else.
Rookie running back Mark Ingram has been a work in progress all season with the New Orleans Saints.
His development has, unfortunately, been derailed by a bout with turf toe.
That is a tricky injury that can be difficult to mend as quickly as the affected player might wish.
It is unfortunate that Ingram has been sidelined by injury, but if it had to happen, the Saints are in a good position to ride out the loss of their every-down running back.
With Drew Brees and an All-Star cast at the helm, the offense should be able to take care of business until Ingram is able to return.
Besides, the Saints have already locked up a playoff berth and are now jockeying for position in the NFC seeding.
The Oakland Raiders have found themselves in somewhat of a tail spin as they enter the last few weeks of the season.
They’ve dropped two in a row and have lost their hold on the AFC West division to the Denver Broncos.
A large part of the problem has been a rash of injury, particularly at wide receiver.
Of those, Jacoby Ford is both the most notable and the farthest away from returning to the field.
He has certainly been missed.
After a 2010 rookie season when Ford made a name for himself as a special teams returner, expectations were high for the 2011 season.
Instead, fans have been met with disappointment, and the Raiders have had to adjust their team to work without him.
Sticking with the theme of the Oakland Raiders, running back Darren McFadden is perhaps the most widely missed player on the team right now.
Despite showing signs of promise as an NFL player, McFadden has been unable to stay consistently healthy.
Right now he’s suffering from a potentially season-ending foot sprain that has sidelined him since Week 7 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
There is no timetable for his return, although coaches have not placed him on injured reserve.
That’s a net loss for the Raiders and for fans, since the struggling passing game has had to make do with running back Michael Bush while they wait for McFadden to heal.
The struggling Buccaneers' passing game took another hit this week, when it was determined that starting wide receiver Arrelious Benn would have to sit due to a concussion.
Drafted in 2010, Benn is a player that many Bucs fans were hoping would come into his own in the 2011 season.
In many ways, he has done exactly that, although his stats for the season may not be indicative of it.
He has started to shine on the field, learning how to be in the right place at the right time—although he still lacks consistency.
The Buccaneers will certainly miss him on offense for as long as it takes to mend from his concussion.
The San Francisco 49ers have certainly felt the impact of losing linebacker Patrick Willis to a hamstring injury.
The absence of Willis on defense may have been one of the contributing factors to a loss to the Cardinals that the 49ers could ill afford in their pursuit of the second seed in the NFC conference.
It seems as though 49ers fans will have to wait another week for Willis to return to the field.
That’s bad news, as they face a Pittsburgh Steelers team that is in a battle to lock up a playoff berth of their own.
Sam Bradford has had a difficult season—and that’s putting it mildly.
After suffering a high ankle sprain early in the year, Bradford has been an on-again, off-again quarterback who can’t seem to put together a winning game to save his life.
While some of that blame can certainly rest on Bradford’s shoulders, it needs to be stated that more of the blame rests on the shoulders of whoever let Bradford try to play so soon after injuring his ankle.
A high ankle sprain isn’t the kind of thing that a walking boot or any sort of brace can fix.
It is a nasty injury that can take weeks, sometimes months to fully heal. Many players who suffer this exact injury end up having surgery to have a screw placed in the ankle to hold things together. It is a small miracle that Bradford has not become a candidate for that surgery.
With nothing left to play for this season, Steve Spagnuolo will hopefully do the right thing and keep Bradford out of the next three games.
Fans may be unhappy now, but Bradford will be an overall healthier quarterback if he is allowed to stop aggravating the injury.
Never underestimate the power of a good center in football.
The quarterback may be the guy calling the plays, but on successful teams it is the center who is the true maestro on the line of scrimmage.
That should contextualize the magnitude of loss when the starting center goes down.
That is one injury of many that the Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping to absorb this week, with All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey officially ruled out after suffering a high ankle sprain.
In Pouncey’s absence, the Steelers will do an offensive line shuffle, with several players shifting positions to accommodate the loss.
Ben Roethlisberger has also suffered from a high ankle sprain, but since chances are decent that he’ll at least try to play on Monday, he gets an honorable mention instead of his own slide.
The Cleveland Browns insist that Colt McCoy’s concussion won’t end his season, but it will keep him out of at least the game against the Arizona Cardinals.
McCoy did not even accompany his team to Arizona to attend the game.
This one is a bitter pill to swallow for a team that was hoping to play spoiler to the Cardinals and to improve upon a poor 4-9 record thus far in the season. Instead, backup quarterback Seneca Wallace will make his first NFL start.
The hit McCoy took to the head and the subsequent way it was handled on the sidelines has generated a lot of media attention and controversy, but at the end of the day what matters here is that McCoy won’t be playing.
Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears suffered what might have been a season-ending sprain of the MCL in his right knee three weeks ago.
With both Forte and Cutler out, the Chicago Bears have yet to win a game.
The loss of the star running back who has all but carried the team on his back through large stretches of the season is weighing heavy on the minds of Bears fans who are watching their team’s playoff hopes go up in smoke, thanks to a rash of crucial late-season injuries.
It is questionable whether Forte will take the field again in 2011, or whether he will have to wait until 2012. That will depend on whether the Bears are able to stop their slide and get through this last stretch with a record that will let them sneak into the playoffs.