Winning a championship in the NFL is an extremely difficult endeavor. It requires a combination of so many different elements, many of which are outside the team’s control. Injuries, one of those things outside of team control, play a central part in determining who hoists the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year. Some teams overcome it (take the 2010 champion Packers that placed 15 players on IR), but most teams are devastated when struck by the injury bug. The 2011 Colts had no chance after the injury to their most important player, Peyton Manning. What is a team to do when they lose their major pieces due to unpredictable injuries? We put on our GM hats and dive into the 5 teams most devastated by injury and where they go from here.
(Note: @moefasa11 took care of all the fantasy fallout of these injuries in his weekly waiver wire column Wednesday, which is a must read for anyone trying to improve their squad. This is a look at the “real” life impact these injuries have on their teams.)
Green Bay Packers
Major Injuries: OLBs Clay Matthews and Nick Perry out about a month respectively, WRs James Jones (week to week) and Randall Cobb (eligible to return week 15), TE Jermichael Finley likely to be placed on IR, CB Casey Hayward.
Impact: What do you know, the Packers top the list. Constantly devastated by injuries year after year, it speaks wonders of Aaron Rodgers and GM Ted Thompson that they remain playoff contenders even when a majority of the team’s impact players are gone for at least a month. Perry and Matthews are expected back in about a month, but until then the Packers will be slightly more aggressive in trying to dial up pressure on opposing quarterbacks. CB Sam Shields has been excellent the past few weeks holding Josh Gordon to only two catches last week. On offense, Aaron Rodgers masks a lot of deficiencies on the offensive line and out wide. With Jermichael now done for year, look for the Packers to rely more heavily on Eddie Lacy to move the ball. He has proven to be a steal and is looking like the best Alabama running back yet. The team is very high on WR Jarrett Boykin, who stepped in admirably for Cobb last week. Look for him to continue to have success all season long.
What AVS would do: Ted Thompson is a master at accumulating depth and talent through the draft so we side with him here. We would sit tight, wait for the injuries to heal up, and have the next man step up in the mean time. Boring? Yes. Effective? Oh, yea.
Prediction: Packers win the NFC North at 11-5.
Major injury: WR Reggie Wayne out for the year, torn ACL.
Impact: What a tough loss for the Colts. Fresh off of his 1,000th career reception, Wayne has been rejuvenated the past year and a half. As the number one option in the passing game as a chain-moving possession WR, the Colts will feel this loss for the rest of the year. In house replacements aren’t much of an option, as T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill are more speedsters who stretch the field vertically than the possession type WR that Wayne has become. Coby Fleener will have to take on an increased role over the middle, and we’re not sure he’s ready for that.
What AVS would do: The Colts really screwed themselves by trading a first round pick for Trent Richardson. That trade is looking worse and worse by the week with DONNIE BROWN looking more effective than Trent on Sunday night. Trading their second or third round picks isn’t an option without having a first round pick. We would offer the Giants a 5th round pick for Hakeem Nicks, who has looked slow and drop prone this year. However, he’s probably the best available talent at that price and the Colts need another WR. Because it is such a wide-open AFC this year, we would also throw a 7th round pick at the Falcons for Osi or the Cardinals for John Abraham. They could use a rotational pass rusher that could be taught how to transfer outside to 3-4 OLB by Robert Mathis.
Prediction: Colts win the AFC South at 11-5.
Major Injuries: QB Jay Cutler out a minimum 4 weeks with a groin tear, LBs Lance Briggs out 4-6 weeks and D.J. Williams on IR, DT Henry Melton is on IR with a torn ACL.
Impact: Smokin’ Jay was arguably having his best year of his career under QB guru and new head coach Marc Trestman. This injury occurred at a very unfortunate time for him as he was playing for a new contract this season. Josh McCown performed admirably against the Redskins, though I would hesitate to call whatever they trot out there a defense. They will have to rely more on Matt Forte in the meantime, and continue to feed the ball to Marshall and Jeffrey. There really aren’t many other options. On defense, there was this false belief out there that the Bears still had a fearsome unit. In fact, the opposite is true. The Bears are giving up chunks and chunks of yards and points each week. Losing Lance Briggs, and Henry Melton earlier in the season, will only exasperate that. Rookie Jon Bostic, whom the Bears are high on, can slide into the MLB position, but the Bears are going to have a hard time stopping anyone save the Jaguars.
What AVS would do: This is quickly shaping up as a potentially lost year. The QB market is extremely thin and any good DTs or LBs are already on rosters. That said, Cutler will be back this year at some point and the offense is loaded. We would stand pat and not part with draft picks in a loaded NFC that even a healthy Bears team would have little chance of winning. Instead, we would use this time to negotiate a new deal with Cutler with a few injury clauses in it.
Prediction: 9-7, miss playoffs, resign Cutler and draft defense in the first round next year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Major Injuries: RB Doug Martin out for the year with a torn Labrum, OL Carl Nicks out indefinitely with a Staph infection.
Impact: What is going on in the locker room at Tampa Bay? Not only is their on field product a disgrace, but the team doctors have allowed multiple players to get a Staph infection. There was little hope even before Martin and Nicks went out, but now there is no sense in winning games, only to hurt their draft position. The Bucs turn to two rookies at QB and RB the rest of the season and should be paying fans to come to games the next two months.
What AVS would do: First thing is first: Greg Schiano should have been fired yesterday. He is in way over his head and is calling out players left and right. We would show him the exit immediately. The rest of the season boils down to two things for the Bucs: 1) improving draft position and acquiring additional picks and 2) determining if Mike Glennon is the QB of the future. The 2014 draft is rich with QB prospects, with as many as 9 potential first round picks at the position. He has had some early success so far, but he would need to continue to progress and show promise in order to feel confident about him. We would start shopping whatever pieces could bring back some picks. WR Mike Williams for a 3-4 round pick to a WR needy team would be fine. Vincent Jackson is a cornerstone player and we wouldn’t move him. The defense is also loaded with Darrelle Revis, Lavonte David, Gerald McCoy, and Dashon Goldson.
Prediction: 3-13, top 5 draft pick, draft Marcus Mariotta or Johnny Manziel and a DE in the second round.
Major Injuries: WR Julio Jones on IR, WR Roddy White week to week with an ankle injury.
Impact: The Falcons offense is dependent upon an explosive passing attack in their dome. With their dominant deep threat out for the year in Julio, and their dependent possession threat seemingly unable to run since the preseason in Roddy, the offense finally exploded last week against Tampa. What sense does that make? However, the season is basically over at 2-4 in a tough NFC. New Orleans has the look of a 12 win team this year and the Falcons simply do not have enough talent left to run off 5-6 straight wins. A more balanced offense with shorter passes will be the norm for the rest of the season.
What AVS would do: trade off assets. First step would be to prove to the rest of the league that Steven Jackson is healthy and ready to finish the year on a contender. We would showcase the offense around him then ship him out of town for any draft pick as he is not a part of the future in Atlanta. The next big thing would be to call Tony Gonzalez into the GM office and have a serious conversation about what he wants this year. If he wants to remain loyal and finish out his career in Atlanta then let him do that. But if he has any interest in finally winning that ring, we would make calls to Kansas City and New England, create a bidding war between the two, and hope to receive a fourth round pick for him.
Prediction: 7-9, Gonzo stays.
Woah, Wait, What?!
Having just got off the plane from New York, and at a miserable 1-5, what should the Vikings do? Yea, we’ll say it: we would trade Adrian Peterson, and we wouldn’t think twice about it. Imagine what he could fetch if Trent Richardson returned a first pick. You’re telling me the Saints or Broncos or the Cowboys wouldn’t throw at least a first round pick at Minnesota for him? Of course I would hold out for a first and a second rounder, which isn’t an unrealistic expectation considering Carson Palmer returned that exact package. The Vikings have massive needs on both sides of the ball, and should turn to the draft to the fill them. Adrian Peterson has been a massive part of their team since 2007 but what have they really accomplished? The only year they were close to winning a title was the great renaissance year from Brett Favre. The Vikings QB situation is simply horrific and they won’t be competitive until they find their QB of the future.
The RB position has also greatly been influenced by new NFL rules that encourage an offense built around the passing game to add excitement for fans. AP is already 28 and has had a major knee re-construction. Is it possible that last year was his peak and he could be slowing down a little this year? RBs are very prone to breaking down quickly, so I would rather be a year or two ahead of this curve and get value for him while you still can. Why not trade AP, lose more games this year, and start fresh with a new QB next year? I don’t see much downside in an already lost season for the Vikings.