The NFL is a 17-week war of attrition, and it plays out like that every season. Having the best talent in the league certainly helps. Having all that talent healthy for the stretch run and the playoffs helps even more.
That’s why there’s nothing worse than being a team on a roll or in contention and suffering a serious, early injury. All of a sudden, before the stretch run even begins, all the air can get let out of a team’s tires. One key loss of a player in the wrong spot and everything a team has built can quickly be torn down.
So as we near the halfway point of the season, which teams are in trouble? Here are the 10 biggest injuries in the NFL so far that could impact the rest of the NFL season. Some of these players are just invaluable to their teams. And some of them are just one of many injuries that are threatening to tear some of the NFL’s top contenders apart:
Bears QB Jay Cutler – The much-maligned leader of the Bears was on his way to one of his finest seasons with the Bears (4-3) battling in the rough NFC North. But his torn groin could keep him out a month and leaves the Bears in the hands of Josh McCown. To make matters worse for the Bears, linebacker Lance Briggs will miss 4-6 weeks with a shoulder injury, too.
Falcons WR Julio Jones – It’s bad enough that Roddy White has hobbled through a dreadful start to his season with ankle and hamstring injury, but the loss of Jones (on injured reserve with a fractured foot) is a crusher for the struggling NFC favorites. Jones already had 41 catches for 580 yards through five games and now quarterback Matt Ryan is basically left with receiver Harry Douglas and tight end Tony Gonzalez. It doesn’t help that running back Steven Jackson has been out with a hamstring injury, too.
Colts WR Reggie Wayne – The torn ACL that ended the 34-year-old’s season might end his career and certainly is a crushing blow to the Colts, who were on top of the world after their stunning victory on Sunday night over the Denver Broncos. Wayne’s 38 catches for 503 yards led Indy and now leaves QB Andrew Luck with only T.Y. Hilton (27-412) and Darius Heyward-Bey (18-190).
Patriots WR Danny Amendola – This wasn’t entirely unpredictable since he hadn’t played a full season since 2010 and many questioned the big contract he got from the Pats, but groin and concussion issues has limited to playing in just three of the first seven games. Yes, the Patriots are 5-2 but without Amendola and, until last Sunday, TE Rob Gronkowski, it’s been a struggle for QB Tom Brady, who has had to make do with Julian Edelman and a cast of unknowns.
Patriots DT Vince Wilfork – The big run stopper in the middle of the Patriots’ defense, who’s out for the year with a torn Achilles, might actually be their biggest loss. And to make matters worse, Bill Belichick’s defense is also without linebacker Jerod Mayo (pectoral) for the season and, at least temporarily, cornerback Aqib Talib (hip), too.
Packers WR Randall Cobb – His leg injury will keep him out two months, but that’s not the worst of it for the Packers. Their offense was suddenly decimated with the loss of Cobb, receiver James Jones (shin/leg) and tight end Jermichael Finley, who was in ICU for a while with head and neck injuries. Aaron Rodgers still has Jordy Neslon to throw to, but his No. 2 through 4 targets are, at least for now, one.
Rams QB Sam Bradford – St. Louis may have been a longshot to make the playoffs, but at 3-4 the Rams weren’t out of it. Without Bradford, though, they most definitely are. Bradford was playing well (14 touchdowns, four interceptions) but what makes this a real disaster is what he’s left behind. The only other quarterback on the roster was Kellen Clemens before the Rams scrambled to sign Brady Quinn. Now it’s hard to see them winning many more games at all.
Broncos T Ryan Clady – It’s hard to argue the Broncos are struggling without him since he suffered his Lisfranc injury in Week 2, but any time a team loses an all-pro left tackle it’s a big issue. And since the Broncos are built around Peyton Manning, keeping upright is key. They’ve survived so far, but their pass protection was shaky against the Colts and it remains to be seen how it’ll hold up the rest of the year.
Cowboys DE DeMarcus Ware – The Cowboys’ best defensive player – and maybe the best in the NFC East – already missed one game with an injured thigh and might miss more. Most people think that the Cowboys are vulnerable, even in a terrible division. The loss of Ware would make things even worse, especially since the Cowboys are reeling from injuries to RB Demarco Murray (knee), WR Miles Austin (hamstring) and they just had to cut DT Jay Ratliff (hernia) who has yet to play this year.
Texans LB Brian Cushing – Quarterback troubles have probably doomed the Texans anyway and at 2-5 they were unlikely to make a playoff push. But any hopes of that ended when Cushing – the leaders of a defense that is remarkably ranked first in the NFL – broke his leg and tore a ligament in his knee. That solidified the Texans’ spot as one of the most disappointing teams in the league.
By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN