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NFL injuries: Simon Veness weighs up the impact of recent ailments

View from America Posted 14th November 2013 view comments

Quick pop quiz, folks - what have these games got in common: Detroit at Pittsburgh and San Diego at Miami?

I'm going to overlook all those of you who said the two home teams don't have an offensive line that could protect Bo Peep, let alone their quarterback and, instead, point out that these are the ONLY match-ups that are not beset with key injuries.

Rice: Seattle are currently shorn of the wide receiver's services

Rice: Seattle are currently shorn of the wide receiver's services

When you consider there are 15 games this week (only Seattle and St Louis are idle), that is a pretty worrying situation for the league and, more importantly, its head coaches.

Yet injuries have now become so much a part and parcel of the weekly pigskin scenario, it is easy to overlook the fact that:

• Only 19 teams have been able to field the same quarterback, week in, week out

Seattle have made light of key injuries, are looking stronger than ever and could be a formidable outfit due to the fact they have been battle-tested in the extreme.

Simon Veness
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• Six have used three (or more)

• Green Bay's Scott Tolzien will be the 47th STARTER at the position this term

• And several of the 19 regulars are currently held together by spit and string (notably Peyton Manning, Robert Griffin III, Terrelle Pryor and the oft-sacked Ryan Tannehill)

It is a frightening rate of attrition but it is simply a fact of life in today's NFL. If you don't have strength in depth, you don't have a genuine contender.

New England are the classic example, with big losses on both offence and defence, yet Bill Belichick has still found a way to be competitive, and the Patriots still sit comfortably atop the AFC East.

Crucially, Tom Brady has once again avoided any serious injury, which means Surly Bill can always be confident with whoever he trots out on the offensive side of the ball (and he has fielded some less-than-convincing pieces at times), but the team has overcome losses just about everywhere else.

Seattle are another team who have made light of key injuries.

They have been without Percy Harvin all season and recently lost Sidney Rice, too, while cornerback Brandon Browner is now out indefinitely. Left tackle Russell Okung has missed multiple games, while centre Max Unger has also been a notable absentee at times.

Yet, if anything, the Seahawks are now looking stronger than ever and, with the likes of Harvin, Okung and Unger all set to return after the bye, this could be a formidable outfit due to the fact they have been battle-tested in the extreme.

Hobbling

So what of the other serious contenders? What ones look able to deal not just with their opponents but the injury scourge, too?

We are about to find out the answer in the case of Denver, where a hobbling Manning continues to play behind a makeshift offensive line that is starting to ship water at an alarming rate. The 37-year-old quarterback was sacked just five times in his first six games but has been taken down eight times in the last three.

That has contributed to the high ankle sprain that now makes him a waddling target, if not a complete sitting duck, against the team that has more sacks - 36 - than any other.

Equally, we are about to find out if Kansas City and their pop-gun attack - just 198.3 passing yards/game (27th in the league) and only nine aerial touchdowns (also 27th) - can hang tough with the high-octane Broncos, as Alex Smith and Co will almost certainly need to do more than they have in the past three games, with just four offensive TDs, just two of them passing.

San Francisco remain distinctly challenged at wideout, where Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree are just a game into their seasons and Colin Kaepernick has looked lost without a go-to receiver if Vernon Davis is covered and Frank Gore is not eating up yards on the ground.

Of all the main contenders, there are the biggest question marks over the 49ers' ability to overcome adversity, and this week's trip to New Orleans could well be a watershed game for them.

Win, and it will look like the second half of 2012 all over again. Lose, and their season could be in freefall, especially with a home date with Seattle and a trip to defensively tough Arizona still to come.

Having mentioned the resilience of the Patriots, they represent a formidable test for a Carolina team that has been largely injury-free, and could even afford to ship one of its top linebackers, Jon Beason, to the New York Giants in early October.

Like the Chiefs, it has been a defensively-reinforced effort but with few real stars, hence the Panthers could well be able to shake off any injury concerns that come their way (with the obvious possible exception of quarterback Cam Newton).

Beneficiaries

It will be borderline amazing if the likes of Chicago and Green Bay can recover from the heavy losses they have sustained in recent weeks, especially at quarterback. Conversely, Detroit look like they can be the big beneficiaries in the NFC North - all the time Calvin Johnson is still standing.

Megatron has an amazing 904 of their 2,836 passing yards - the next best is Reggie Bush with 343, while the second wideout is Kris Durham with 315 - and would arguably be THE irreplaceable part in the Lions' offensive machine, especially as he has ninr of their 19 passing TDs, and the one game he missed (Week 5 at Green Bay) was a truly miserable 22-9 defeat.

Sadly, the team that looks about to succumb completely to its injury woes is previously-resilient Indianapolis, with the Colts seemingly having no viable replacement for Reggie Wayne and the O-line increasingly unable to protect Andrew Luck all the time the running game remains stuck in neutral.

Sunday's trip to equally wobbly Tennessee will give one of these teams the chance to right their season, at least within the AFC South. With Houston on a seven-game losing skid, one of the Colts or Titans will HAVE to win the division, but it is hard to see either one doing any post-season damage right now.

Which just leaves two divisions where a crystal ball is possibly the best judge. In both the AFC North and NFC East, just two games separate the top three and all four respectively and the 'form' teams are Philadelphia with two straight wins and the Giants with three.

Each of Baltimore, Cleveland and Pittsburgh have a one-game winning 'streak' while Cincinnati have seemingly lost the ability to manufacture end zone passes without bizarre Hail Marys (just one 'regular' passing TD as against 6 interceptions in the past two games).

But, while it may be impossible to predict who will emerge from the wreckage of those two divisions, the one thing we can be sure of in the next seven weeks, purely in percentage terms, is that at least one of these teams will lose another quarterback to injury - and the ones who cope best with their losses might just be ready for a play-off run.

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