If you had to name the no.1 reason as to why preseason predictions are so hard to make, it’s injuries. One injury can single-handedly derail a team’s season and their Super Bowl hopes quickly disappear. You quickly have yourself a lost season by one injury. Every team in the NFL has that one player they need in their lineup to survive the grind of the season.
Sometimes teams can survive a major injury to a star player. Look at the Carolina Panthers this season. Everyone thought their Super Bowl hoped were ended the second Kelvin Benjamin went down with a torn ACL in the preseason. There was no way Cam Newton would be able to carry the offense with a group of wide receivers featuring the likes of Ted Ginn, Jerricho Cotchery and Devin Funchess, right? Well, the Panthers have not only survived, but have thrived thanks to a stingy defense and an MVP caliber season from Newton.
Another major example of a team surviving a major injury are the 2001 New England Patriots. When Drew Bledsoe went down with a long-term injury in Week 2 of that season, many felt the Pats were dead in the water and the scrawny Tom Brady would flounder. All Brady did was seize that opportunity, lead his team to the Super Bowl and nearly 15 years later, he has yet to relinquish that starting job.
Still for every story about a major injury leading to an opportunity for others to shine, there are injuries that completely ruin a team’s season. Whether it be due to a lack of depth on the team or the player just being too vital for a team’s success, a major injury is the most demoralizing thing that can happen for a team. We now look back in NFL history at injuries that teams just couldn’t overcome.
15. Carson Palmer – 2005 Cincinnati Bengals
Carson Palmer’s career took years to recover after this devastating injury. Starting the first playoff game in his career in midst of an amazing season, Palmer was injured on the team’s opening possession. The torn ACL forced the Bengals to insert Jon Kitna for the rest of the wildcard game with the Steelers. While Kitna didn’t play poorly, it was too much to ask of a career journeyman to do the job of a guy who was emerging as an elite quarterback. The Steelers won the game and went on to win the Super Bowl, while the Bengals would go four years without a playoff berth.
14. Rich Gannon – 2003 Oakland Raiders
There are plenty of reasons as to why the dominant Oakland Raiders team of the early 2000s quickly faded into over a decade of darkness. Coming off their blowout Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay, it seemed teams were starting to figure out Bill Callhan’s crew. Any chance the Raiders had of replicating the previous season’s success was ended in Week 7 of the 2003 season. The previous year’s MVP Rich Gannon injured his shoulder and was lost for the season. The Raiders would finish 4-12 and Callahan was subsequently fired.
13. Terrell Davis – 1999 Denver Broncos
A setback was somewhat expected by the Broncos in the 1999 season due to John Elway’s retirement. However the team still had Terrell Davis, who was the most crucial part of the Broncos’ back-to-back Super Bowls. The Broncos struggled out of the gate early, starting 0-3 before any hopes of a three-peat were gone for good. In Week 4, Davis tore his ACL while trying to make a tackle following an interception. The Broncos would lose that game and went on to lose six games that season by seven points or less. Who knows what Denver could have done with their workhorse back.
12. Robert Griffin III – 2012 Washington Redskins
Not only did this injury derail the Washington Redskins’ hopes of a long awaited playoff win, it significantly derailed Robert Grififn’s career, which still hasn’t really recovered. In December of the 2012 season, Griffin suffered a sprained LCL and it’s been disputed as to whether he was rushed back into the lineup with Washington battling for a playoff spot.
They would win the NFC East, but disaster would strike in their wildcard playoff game, as their franchise QB suffered a torn ACL and LCL. You can go back to the original injury as to what cost the Redskins that season, as RG3 clearly wasn’t the same player and it showed against a ferocious Seahawks defense in the playoffs.
11. 2005 Philadelphia Eagles
The 2005 Eagles were bombarded with distractions and injuries following their Super Bowl loss to New England the season prior. Terrell Owens was holding out, as was Brian Westbrook for a while. TO would return to the team only to be suspended after seven games, but the Eagles that were on the field were decimated by injuries. The biggest would be to Donovan McNabb, who suffered a midseason injury, forcing the Eagles to turn to Mike McMahon to lead the offense. Other notable injuries included Todd Pinkston, Westbrook, Lito Sheppard and Correll Buckhalter.
10. Jordy Nelson – 2015 Green Bay Packers
While a winning record could hardly be seen as a ruined season, this year’s Packers clearly aren’t the team we all thought they’d be, which was the NFC favorite. Jordy Nelson tore his ACL in a preseason game with Pittsburgh and the Packers offense has not looked like the juggernaut we’re used to seeing. Aaron Rodgers has looked rattled and has lost some of the swagger that led many to view him as the best QB in the game. While the Packers are still in the playoff picture, anything short of a Super Bowl has to be seen as a bust this year for Green Bay, hence this inclusion.
9. Ray Lewis – 2002 Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens rode their defense to their first Super Bowl title in the 2000 season. The team would return to the playoffs the following year on that same strength but were knocked off by the Steelers in the divisional round. The 2002 season was over the minute Ray Lewis went down with a shoulder injury, one that limited him to five games. Lewis was the most dominant defensive player of the early 2000s and was the heart of those teams in Baltimore. Without him, the Ravens would rank 19th in points allowed.
8. Darrelle Revis – 2012 New York Jets
It’s laughable when people say Mark Sanchez “led” the Jets to two consecutive AFC Championship appearances. Those teams were led by a ferocious, opportunistic defense and an effective ground-and-pound approach on offense. The reason so many Jets players thrived on defense was knowing that Darrelle Revis would take away the opposition’s best receiver every game. While the Jets were knocked down a few pegs in the 2011 season, they were expected to rebound in 2012. That all changed when Revis tore his ACL in Week 3. The defense wasn’t the same and finished 6-10, beginning the downfall of Rex Ryan (and Sanchez) in New York.
7. Eddie George – 2001 Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans posted 12 or more wins in three of four seasons between 1999 and 2002. Their offense was led by Eddie George, a true workhorse who regularly received well over 330 carries a season – something many feel led to his quick decline. In 2001, the Titans suffered a major hiccup, as George was severely limited due to a frayed tendon in his toe and a high ankle sprain. The limitations it caused George saw him fall to under 1,000 yards that season for the first time in his career. He was the workhorse of the offense and it was a lost year in Nashville.
6. Carson Palmer – 2014 Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals’ performance this season is a reminder of how good they were last year before Carson Palmer’s season was ended by a torn ACL in November. The Cards would slump to an 11-5 finish following a scorching 9-1 start. This was a team that had a great chance to get the no.1 seed over Seattle, but there was no way Ryan Lindley and Drew Stanton were going to come in and do the job Palmer did. Instead of homefield advantage Arizona would lose to the 7-8-1 Panthers in Carolina in the wildcard round.
5. Jamaal Charles – 2011 Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs were coming off a surprising 10-6 season that included their first playoff berth in four years and garnered tremendous praise for Todd Haley as a head coach. That 2010 team was a success because of the emergence of Jamaal Charles and their replication of that success in 2011 hinged on Charles. KC’s hopes were dashed in Week 2 when Charles suffered a torn ACL in a blowout loss to Detroit. Things derailed quickly in Kansas City, as Haley was fired after a 5-8 start and Matt Cassel’s weaknesses were exposed without Charles.
4. Tony Romo – 2015 Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys were the heavy favorites in the NFC East coming into this season. Many feel they were robbed in the divisional round of last year’s playoffs and the rest of the NFC East was and continues to be very weak. The Cowboys though in the first two weeks of this season, would lose Dez Bryant and Tony Romo to long-term injuries. While the Bryant one could have been overcome, the Romo one couldn’t. Romo’s collarbone injury kept him sidelined for over two months and the Cowboys went 0-7 without their star quarterback. Any glimmer of hope they had was lost when Romo re-fractured his collarbone in a Thanksgiving Day loss to Carolina.
3. Steve Smith – 2004 Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers had an amazing 2003 season thanks to the emergence of stars like Steve Smith and a stingy defense. Their close loss to New England in the Super Bowl was crushing but there were very encouraging signs the Panthers would contend for a long time. The 2004 season was lost early, as the team suffered many key injuries, but none bigger than Steve Smith, who was Jake Delhomme’s biggest threat in the passing game. Smith broke his leg in the season opener and the Panthers would start 1-7. They made a furious rally, but fell just short of the playoffs at 7-9. Had Smith been healthy, that team would have made the playoffs and could’ve done damage.
2. Tom Brady – 2008 New England Patriots
The Patriots were coming off a devastating Super Bowl loss in which their bid for a perfect season was spoiled. There were hopes they could finish the job in the 2008 season, but those hopes ended early. Tom Brady suffered a torn ACL in the season opener after getting hit low by Bernard Pollard. Matt Cassel would fill in for the rest of the season and the Pats surprisingly finished 11-5, but somehow still missed the playoffs. Had Brady been healthy, New England likely would have finished as the no.1 seed and would have remained Super Bowl favorites.
1. Peyton Manning – 2011 Indianapolis Colts
Did anyone ever think Peyton Manning would end his career in any city but Indianapolis? Well, this neck injury back in 2011 caused the Colts to crumble as an organization. The 2011 season made it evident that the team was all about Peyton Manning and wasn’t prepared for life after him. The team would finish 2-14 and the offense ranked 30th. The lousy season came at the best possible time though, as it allowed the Colts to move on and draft Andrew Luck with the first pick. If not for this serious neck injury, it’s very likely Manning would still be a Colt today.
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