The biggest in-season challenge for most teams in the NFL is dealing with injuries. Teams can be locked and loaded with talent that can be derailed by players going down to injury at key spots.
The Vikings offense was already without Adrian Peterson before the losing Matt Cassel and Kyle Rudolph to injury, and possibly guard Brandon Fusco, changing the face of the team as to how the offense would operate moving forward.
The Packers have had a revolving door on the offensive line as injuries have forced Green Bay to shuffle its line and fill in backups to replace starters as they have gone down. Bryan Bulaga has been dealing with a knee injury and depth has already been tested. The Packers didn’t have a strong O-line to begin with. Having to dip into the second line of the depth chart isn’t something they appear able to absorb without a drop-off in talent.
Having already lost tackle/guard Don Barclay and nose tackle B.J. Raji, the Packers are already thin on both lines. Any more injuries could leave them vulnerable at key positions because they don’t have enough quality depth behind their anticipated starters. While not team-killers, they are cause for concern for Green Bay moving forward.
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The Lions had already lost cornerback Bill Bentley prior to last week before a bizarre injury thinned out their already-depth-challenged linebacker corps. Stephen Tulloch, celebrating a sack of Aaron Rodgers Sunday, tore his ACL and he is lost for the season. Although Detroit has one of the strongest defensive lines in the NFL, the back seven of the defense is questionable at best and losing Tulloch is going to test their depth as much as losing any player on the defensive side of the ball.
Perhaps nobody has been hit harder by injuries early in the season than the Bears. Peanut Tillman has already been lost for the season with a torn triceps muscle and, by the end of their Monday night game with the Jets, Chicago had three rookies on the field in their secondary because injuries took away four defensive backs. Throw in that Chicago is dealing with injuries to wide receiver stars Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery and the Bears are perilously thin at key positions just three weeks into 2014 season.
When teams look at their respective strengths and weaknesses, they do so not factoring in injuries. Last year, the Vikings entered the season looking at Christian Ponder as their starting quarterback. Injuries and then ineffectiveness changed that plan. Chicago and Green Bay saw their 2013 seasons drastically altered when Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler were knocked out due to injuries.
As the four NFC North teams battle it out for at least one playoff spot, injuries are going to play a significant factor in determining who rises and who falls. The Vikings planned at some point to put Teddy Bridgewater in the starting lineup, but the hope was to do it on their own timetable. That plan has been scuttled because of Cassel’s foot injury. Compounded by the absence of Peterson and the groin injury to Rudolph, the Vikings offense is being forced to change dramatically on the fly.
In the NFL, they have a mantra that states “next man up” – the reality that, when a star goes down, a team doesn’t take its ball and go home. The show must go on. All four teams in the NFC North have been impacted significantly by injuries already – just three games into the 2014 season. As the year wears on, you can bet more injuries will pile up.
If the Packers offensive and defensive lines sustain any more injuries, the success of the team will be impacted. The Lions can’t afford to lose any more defensive starters because they don’t have quality depth. The Bears may end up scouring other teams’ practice squads like they did with the Vikings if their secondary players continue to drop. The Vikings offense already has a much different look than the starting unit that won the season opener in St. Louis.
It’s all part of life in the NFL. The better team doesn’t always win the division. Injuries take a toll and derail seasons. From the looks of things early on in 2014, the winner of the NFC North may not necessarily be the best team, it might be the team that has the best luck dealing with injuries that take starters away from the lineup.
Injuries piling up across the NFC North
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