Seahawks safety Earl Thomas' season-ending injury changes the NFC playoff picture

Frank Schwab

Last week, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was ruled out for the rest of the season, changing the entire AFC playoff picture.

This week, Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas’ season-ending injury will shake up the NFC.

Thomas will miss the rest of the season, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said on Monday. Thomas broke a bone in his leg during Sunday night’s game against Carolina.

Gronkowski is great and probably more famous than Thomas, but Thomas has probably the same value to his team. Thomas is a three-time All-Pro safety and has made the Pro Bowl five seasons in a row. Thomas’ ability to diagnose and cover so much of the middle of the field allows the Seahawks a ton of defensive flexibility. And Thomas can turn a game around with his big-play ability. He is irreplaceable for the Seahawks. On Sunday, right after Thomas was carted off, the Panthers went deep down the middle of the field and Cam Newton hit Ted Ginn for a long touchdown. That probably doesn’t happen with Thomas at free safety.

Seattle could overcome the injury and win a championship, because teams win big despite significant injuries all the time and the Seahawks are very good. But Thomas’ injury makes the Seahawks’ road a lot tougher. You don’t take a player of Thomas’ ability – he’ll be a great Hall-of-Fame candidate if he comes back from this injury and plays at his normal level for a few more years – and not feel it a bit.

Just like AFC contenders should have perked up a bit when Gronkowski was ruled out for the season, NFC teams that have title dreams understand that the Seahawks now have a really big hole in the back end of their defense. It will be impressive if the Seahawks can overcome Thomas’ injury and still win a Super Bowl.

Earl Thomas will miss the rest of the season with a leg injury. (AP)
Earl Thomas will miss the rest of the season with a leg injury. (AP)

– – – – – – –

Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!