Injuries in the NFL: How many games did each team’s starters miss this season?
Anybody who spends any significant amount of time watching the NFL (or playing fantasy football for that matter) quickly comes to realize how big of an impact injuries can have on a team’s season. So much so that over the years, I’ve fallen firmly in the camp that injuries – and more importantly how back-ups perform in the inevitable case of injury to big-time players on both sides of the ball – are the single most important factor for a team’s success. Everything else can seemingly go out the window if the cornerstone of your offense goes down and nobody steps up to replace him. Add in the loss of leadership on the field, and there can be a domino effect that takes an irreparable toll on the entire team.
Well, the guys over at Football Outsiders put together an interesting statistical breakdown which might blow my theory right to hell. Or not. This table breaks down the total number of games lost by each team, and as you’ll see, this year’s playoff teams are all over the map. The most startling difference can be found in the NFC Championship opponents. The Packers came in second league-wide with 83 total games missed, while the Bears are tied for dead last with just 11. Meanwhile, the Steelers are middle-of-the-pack with 49, and the Jets got off relatively easy with 38 starter games missed.
In all, 4 of the 5 most injured teams, along with the three least injured teams made the playoffs this season. The remaining five playoff teams (Pats, Steelers, Ravens, Jets, Saints) are somewhere in the middle, and the Colts clearly got the worst of the injury bug this year. So what do we learn from this? Mainly it proves that a team can overcome injuries and still make a run at the post-season. It’s just a matter of having capable back-ups. At the same time, we can also see that some teams who weren’t necessarily expected to be contenders this season (Chiefs, Bears, etc.) benefited from staying healthy.
It should be noted that this breakdown isn’t statistically perfect. It only takes into account 22 starters on each team per game (11 offense, 11 defense), and most teams use more players than that regularly on each side of the ball. Also, it doesn’t take into account injuries to multiple starters at the same position (see the New Orleans Saints RBs). But perhaps most importantly, the table doesn’t assign any value to the importance of the player injured or the total number of games missed by that player. Losing someone like Sidney Rice, Ryan Grant or Ed Reed for much of the season is a far more significant injury than losing a 2-down linebacker for a few games here or there.
So, while this table may be interesting to look at, it doesn’t really give us the full picture. It would probably take a much deeper analysis than I’m capable of (hint hint, Football Outsiders math wizards) to show which teams really faced the most overall adversity due to injury.