How important are reserve players in the NFL?
For all the teams (read: Falcons) who like to blame their 2013 demise on the loss of starters to injuries, consider this:
- The Saints lost 61 games by starters, including a league-high 53 on defense. Two projected starters in new coordinator Rob Ryan’s 3-4 scheme — end Will Smith and inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma — never played a down because of injuries. Yet the Saints still finished with a top-five defense, posted an 11-5 record and won an opening-round playoff game last weekend.
- The Packers lost 70 games by starters, including their Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers for seven games. Right offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga missed the entire season with a torn ACL, and receivers Randall Cobb and JerMichael Finley missed 10 games apiece. Yet the Packers finished with a top-five offense and won another NFC North crown.
- The Patriots lost 74 games by starters, including their Pro Bowl defensive tackle Vince Wilfork for 12 games. They lost their Pro Bowl inside linebacker Jerod Mayo for 10 games and their Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski for nine. New England also finished the season without either of its starting offensive tackles. Yet the Patriots won 12 games, another AFC East title and enjoyed a first-round playoff bye last weekend.
- The Colts lost 83 games by starters, including their starting halfback (Vick Ballard) and tight end (Dwayne Allen) with season-ending injuries on opening day. Two weeks later, Ballard’s backup Ahmad Bradshaw suffered a season-ending injury, and his 13-game absence doesn’t even count in those 83 lost starts.
For those teams (read: Falcons) who believe they can get to a Super Bowl with a high-octane offense and a maybe-we’ll-have-a-pass-rush-today defense, consider this: The four remaining NFC teams rank Nos. 1-4 in the league this season in points allowed: 1. Seattle, 2. Carolina, 3. San Francisco and 4. New Orleans.
The Chargers say center Nick Hardwick sustained a concussion as well as a stinger in the victory at Cincinnati, and he will have to pass several tests to be cleared for Sunday’s game. Also, running back Ryan Mathews didn’t practice Wednesday and was in a walking boot on his injured left ankle.
BY THE NUMBERS
0 Points allowed on opening drives by the Seahawks. Teams usually give up points four times on opening drives in a season.
HE SAID IT
“We’ve played a lot of big games this year. We won a lot of games in the fourth quarter. We played Sunday night (losing to New Orleans). We played Monday night (beating New England). We played against the 49ers. … We had to come back in the win against Miami. We had to play the Saints at home for the division lead. We had to beat Atlanta to win the division. So we’ve played a lot of big games, too.” — Panthers coach Ron Rivera on whether the 49ers are more playoff tested than Carolina