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PFW exclusive: Team injury rankings

Pro Football Weekly
Bills RB Jackson out for season
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Bills RB Jackson out for season

Has there ever been a season as dramatically altered by injuries as this one?

When it became clear before the season even began that future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning's injured neck was going to make him a virtual nonfactor for a Colts team that had become a perennial powerhouse with him under center, the stage was set for what already might be a record number of costly injuries to impact players in one season. 

Emphatically proving that nobody in the game is offered a free pass when it comes to avoiding its vicious sting, the dreaded injury bug took down arguably the most durable superstar in league history in Manning — a player who, before this season, had missed only one snap in his illustrious 14-year career.

Fast-forward to the Browns-Steelers game that began Week 14 with a very scary bang indeed when Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger suffered a second-quarter blow that, he said after the game, made it "feel like my ankle is about to explode."

Although Big Ben proved too big for the injury bug, substantiating his status as one of the league's tougher hombres by giving a dramatic second-half performance virtually on one leg, potentially serious injuries to C Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) and DE Ziggy Hood (groin) now make the road to the playoffs increasingly perilous for Pittsburgh.

In the NFC North, the Bears know the feeling, struggling to make it into the postseason despite possibly season-ending injuries to their top two offensive players, QB Jay Cutler (thumb) and RB Matt Forté (knee).     

But the Colts, Steelers and Bears couldn't hold a candle to the Bills in the category of crushing battle scars so far this season. Based on a specially devised formula that takes into account numerous factors regarding all of this season's serious injury victims (injured starters, quantity and quality of players injured, age of injured players, etc.), as well as feedback by the PFW editorial staff, Buffalo receives top billing in PFW's annual ranking of all the teams from those most affected by injuries to the least affected, right up through Week 14's action.

"Based on what has happened to Buffalo, there's no doubt about it," one NFL executive told PFW. "They have been hit as hard as anyone."

Added another league observer: "(The Bills) have lost as many starters and key cogs as anyone, including their best player on both lines (C Eric Wood and DT Kyle Williams)."

It stands to reason in most seasons that the teams that normally rank near the top in PFW's annual injury rankings are also suffering in the standings, while the teams that rank near the bottom are probably on their way to the playoffs.

But that trend certainly didn't apply last season, when the top-ranked Packers, with 15 players ending up on injured reserve, including seven Week One starters, still managed to win the Super Bowl.

The team that comes closest this season to defying the norm is the Texans (ranked No. 8), who entered Week 14 as the AFC's No. 1 seed despite season-ending injuries to QBs Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart and star OLB Mario Williams.

"If you don't have a quarterback, you better have a dominant defense and be able to run the ball at will," offered one league observer as an explanation for the Texans' surprising success in the face of adversity. "The Texans can do that."

A brief explanation supports each ranking, preceded by a complete listing of each team's players on injured reserve as of Sunday (total number in parentheses).

In addition, we present our annual All-Injury team, consisting of players who have either suffered season-ending injuries or missed a substantial portion of the season with injuries.

Will there be more fallen victims of note in the weeks ahead?

An already off-the-charts body count through 14 weeks suggests we haven't seen the last of potentially catastrophic casualties in what qualifies as crunch time — in more ways than one.

Note: Players listed in boldface on I.R. lists were projected as starters entering the 2011 season.

 

1. Buffalo Bills

Injured reserve (14): SS Jon Corto, WR Marcus Easley, RB Bruce Hall, RB Fred Jackson, WR Donald Jones, PK Rian Lindell, OLB Shawne Merriman, CB Terrence McGee, WR Roscoe Parrish, LB Reggie Torbor, NT Torell Troup, LB Chris White, DT Kyle Williams, C Eric Wood.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a team with its best three players on injured reserve like the Bills, and it's no coincidence their losing streak began when they lost Williams, then Wood and then Jackson. In addition to Parrish, Jones and Easley being on I.R., WRs Stevie Johnson and David Nelson have been banged up at times. OLT Demetrius Bell was very impressive early on before suffering an injury that has taken longer than expected to heal. CB Aaron Williams has suffered two injuries, curbing a promising rookie campaign. The loss of SS George Wilson in recent weeks also has hurt the secondary. He was playing at a Pro Bowl level.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars

Injured reserve (21): LB Kyle Bosworth, ORT Eben Britton, DE John Chick, CB Derek Cox, S Courtney Greene, OL Kevin Haslam, DB Rod Isaac, RB Rashad Jennings, DE Aaron Kampman, DE Austen Lane, CB Rashean Mathis, CB William Middleton, TE Zach Miller, DE Aaron Morgan, RB Richard Murphy, WR Brian Robiskie, TE Martin Rucker, WLB Clint Session, WR Mike Sims-Walker, DT D'Anthony Smith, S Terrell Whitehead.

The Jaguars' league-leading I.R. list includes their top three cornerbacks (Mathis, Cox, Middleton), starting weak-side linebacker (Session), their best pass rusher (Kampman) and arguably their best run-stuffing defensive end (Lane). On offense, the loss of backup RB Jennings (knee), who went down in the preseason, has hurt, as Jacksonville lacks a solid complement to Maurice Jones-Drew. Britton (back) played in only four games. His replacement, Guy Whimper, has been a turnstile.

3. Carolina Panthers

Injured reserve (14): TE Gary Barnidge, LB Jon Beason, LB Thomas Davis, DT Ron Edwards, DT Sione Fua, WR David Gettis, RB Mike Goodson, CB Cletis Gordon, DT Terrell McClain, ORT Jeff Otah, OL Geoff Schwartz, OT Garry Williams, LB Thomas Williams, C Zack Williams.

Injuries have weakened the Panthers at many positions, but the season-ending injuries suffered by Beason (Achilles tear) and Davis (ACL tear) in the first two weeks of the season were losses from which the defense never fully recovered. Carolina's crop of defensive tackles also has been decimated, as rookie third-round picks Fua and McClain - who had started 11 of the first 12 games side-by-side - joined Edwards, a key free-agent addition who was lost for the season in training camp, on I.R. after Week 13. Otah, a former first-round pick, started four games at right tackle before his injury woes landed him on I.R. for the third time in four seasons.

4. San Diego Chargers

Injured reserve (10): DLE Luis Castillo, ILB Stephen Cooper, OLG Kris Dielman, OLB Larry English, PK Nate Kaeding, OLT Marcus McNeill, LB Jonas Mouton, C-OG Scott Mruczkowski, FS Nick Polk, SS Bob Sanders.

Starting with the first play of the season, when Kaeding tore his ACL attempting to make a tackle on a kickoff return for a touchdown, the Chargers have been beaten up. Sanders, English and Cooper were expected to be important pieces on the defense, and McNeill and Dielman are the team's top offensive linemen. Additionally, injuries to players such as RB Ryan Mathews, WR Malcom Floyd and TE Antonio Gates have deprived the offense of key talent throughout various parts of the season. Meanwhile, the absences of Castillo and OLB Shaun Phillips have hurt the defense.

5. Indianapolis colts

Injured reserve (13): MLB Gary Brackett, DB Stevie Brown, SS Melvin Bullitt, QB Kerry Collins, DT Eric Foster, RB Chris Gronkowski, OG Ben Ijalana, DB Terrence Johnson, DT Drake Nevis, OG Seth Olsen, CB Jerraud Powers, OG Jaimie Thomas, WR Blair White.

The 2011 campaign confirms what many people have long thought: No player means more to their team than QB Peyton Manning does to the Colts. Manning (neck) won't take a snap this season despite remaining on the active roster. Indianapolis lost its two defensive captains, Brackett and Bullitt, to shoulder injuries in Weeks One and Two, respectively. The Colts' top three draft picks all have missed time, with Ijalana (knee) and Nevis (back) appearing in nine games combined. The O-line has been a MASH unit, and RB Joseph Addai (hamstring) and TE Dallas Clark (knee) have missed seven games combined.

 

To read the rest of PFW's exclusive team injury rankings, purchase a copy of the current issue Pro Football Weekly online at the PFWstore.com. In this issue, you'll also have access to a profile of Steelers WRs Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, who are providing the Pittsburgh offense with an element that's been missing for years; our comprehensive fantasy football coverage; and our draft-related "Audibles" and "The Way We Hear It."

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