Every year, come the end of November, injuries become the biggest stories of the NFL season. This year is no exception. We’re now heading into Week 12, and once again it’s looking like half the playoff spots will go to the teams that manage to keep their biggest role players healthiest the longest.
Today we’re going to run down the biggest, most impactful injuries we’ve seen so far this season. Some will be obvious to you, even if you’re not a fantasy football junkie. Others, however, you may have forgotten about. So take a look.
Dwight Freeney is 33 years old and obviously at the latter stages of his career. However, the Chargers were still hoping the longtime Colt had a little gas left in the tank and could give them two more near-Pro Bowl seasons.
Unfortunately, that will not happen. Freeney suffered a torn quadriceps in Week 4 against he Cowboys, and the Chargers have lost four of six games since.
15. Dwight Freeney
Yes, Reggie Wayne is old. However, the longtime Colts WR was still a very reliable target for young Andrew Luck and had recorded 503 receiving yards before tearing his ACL in Week 7 against the Broncos.
Did this loss completely ruin the Colts season? No. But it make things pretty dicey. Two games after Wayne went down the Colts got crushed by the Rams (who have their own player on this list), and this past Thursday they barely escaped with a victory over the Titans.
14. Reggie Wayne
Finley doesn't rack up Tony Gonzalez numbers for the Packers at tight end. But he is always a reliable target for Aaron Rodgers, and this season he was averaging 12 yards per catch through Week 7.
Unfortunately, as you might recall, it was in Week 7 against the Cleveland Browns that Finley nearly broke his neck during a tackle by Tashaun Gipson. Now he's out for the season with a spinal bruise.
Yes, apparently that is a thing.
13. Jermichael Finley
The Colts picked up Ahmad Bradshaw when the Giants let him go in the offseason. With Bradshaw just 27 years old and coming off the second 1,000-yard season of his career, this was a smart move that gave the team's offense another option.
Unfortunately, just when Bradshaw was getting going—during a 95-yard performance in Week 3 against the 49ers—he suffered a season-ending neck injury.
Of course, that was the first game Indy played with Trent Richardson in the lineup, so everyone thought they'd be alright. However, since then, Richardson has only averaged 3 yard per carry compared to Bradshaw's 4.8. So yeah, Bradshaw's injury stings.
12. Ahmad Bradshaw
Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta has never been named an All-Pro or played in a Pro Bowl. However, last season he racked up 669 yards and seven touchdowns on 11 yards per carry...and helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl. So when he went down with a fractured and dislocated hip in the preseason that required surgery and knocked him out for the year, that was a major loss to the defending champs—a loss that has been painfully obvious this year.
11. Dennis Pitta
Jake Locker is supposed to be the Tennessee Titans franchise QB. That's why they selected him 8th overall in the 2011 draft. Unfortunately, the guy has been pretty injury prone during his first two years at the team's designated starter. Earlier this season he missed two games after suffering a hip injury to the Jets, and now he's out for the season with a Lisfranc injruy (i.e., a dislocated foot bone that requires surgery) suffered against the Jaguars in Week 10.
This leaves the Titans with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starting QB. In fairness, he's played very well in his two starts since Locker went down, posting a QB rating of 111 each time. And the two Wild Card spots in the AFC are still wide open, so you never know. Still, the Titans would rather have Fitzpatrick as an emergency option instead of their only option down the stretch.
10. Jake Locker
Peyton Manning has had a ridiculously good season for the Broncos. Without him, they would be nothing—which is why, for the last few weeks, fans in Denver have been holding their collective breath as the guy tries to play through injuries.
It sure would be nice to have 3x Pro Bowl and 2x All-Pro offensive tackle Ryan Clady, wouldn't it? Unfortunately, he went down with a Lisfranc injury on September 18 and is done for the season.
9. Ryan Clady
The Pats defense suffered a major blow when 5x Pro Bowl tackle VInce Wilfork tore his ACL against the Falcons in Week 4. Last season Wilfork had 48 tackles and three sacks, which earned him All-Pro honors for the first time in his career. So there's really no way the Pats can fill this hole.
8. Vince Wilfork
The New England Patriots lost another major piece of their defense on October 13 against the Saints when linebacker Jerod Mayo, and All-Pro in 2010 and a Pro Bowler in 2012, suffered a torn pectoral muscle. On it's own, this injury might have been overlooked, but when added to the loss of Wilfork, it becomes pretty damn significant.
7. Jerod Mayo
Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey suffered a torn ACL and MCL during Week 1. Can you blame the Steelers awful season on this huge loss? No, of course not. (You also have to blame the fact that they didn't replace their aging superstars fast enough.) But it certainly didn't help, and you can't ignore the fact that they lost their first four games of the season before getting into the W column.
6. Maurkice Pouncey
In fairness to the Falcons, it was pretty clear that they sucked really badly even with 100-yards-per-game receiver Julio Jones. (No, I don't actually know how that's "fair" to the Falcons.) But they certainly lost any chance they had of salvaging their season when Jones went down with a fractured foot in Week 5.
Points per game before the injury: 24.4.
Points per game since the injury: 18.4. And two of those games were against the Bucs.
5. Julio Jones
Like the Falcons, the Texans were already well on their way to a putrid season with their 3x All-Pro rusher. Foster played the first six games before getting injured and averaged 90 yards per, but Houston still lost four of those. However, at 2-4, there was still hope. Then they lost two more and shut Foster down for the season. Now the Texans are 2-8, and it's all over.
4. Arian Foster
Because they play in the NFC West and not the NFC East, the Rams really didn't have much of a chance of making the playoffs this season. However, with Sam Bradford having the best season of his young career (1,687 yards, 14 TDs, 4 INTs, and a rating of 90.9), they were on the right track and were tough to play against.
Unfortunately, Bradford went down with a torn ACL in Week 6 against the Texans. That led to a three game losing streak and another lost season in St. Louis.
3. Sam Bradford
Inside linebacker Brian Cushing has a monster season in 2011. He recorded 114 tackles, four sacks, five pass deflections, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles, leading the Texans to their first ever playoff berth en route to All-Pro honors. Sadly, Cushing suffered a season-ending ACL injury early in 2012, but the Texans still made him the highest-paid middle linebacker in NFL history in the offseason.
Of course, as you probably know, Cushing broke his leg and suffered a torn LCL against the Chiefs in Week 7, which just made the Texans season that much worse.
2. Brian Cushing
Supposedly, Aaron Rodgers is not done for the season. He might recover from his broken collarbone and return. However, by the time he does, the Packers might be done for the season.
Before Rodgers went down in Week 9 against the Bears, the Packers were 5-2 and in first place. After he went down, they lost to the Jay Cutler-less Bears, and since have lost to the Eagles and Giants. Now they are 5-5 and in third place behind the Lions and Bears.