Before reading another word, knock on wood. Pray that the spate of injuries ransacking NFL training camps does not arrive at the doorstep of a crucial player near you.
Sure, injuries are just part of the game. But it also is true that some injuries are more devastating than others. Here, then, is a look at the one player each NFC team could least afford to lose to injury. Call them the "crippling" injuries when it comes to a team's hopes for 2009. And since losing a starting quarterback, obviously, would be devastating to every team, we left them out of this little exercise.
The Cardinals never have had an identity, or at least not a positive one. Wilson embodies everything a franchise craves, within and outside the locker room. He leads. He's durable. He's a winner. He shows everyone else the work ethic necessary to succeed. And he's loyal, staying with the Cards despite opportunities to leave until he saw a Super Bowl run happen.
It's not a stretch to say that Wilson is among the most, if not the most important player in Cardinals history. He certainly is the most important since the move to Arizona in 1988.
He is underappreciated outside of Arizona. But imagine the raves and tickets to Canton that already would be punched for him if he had played in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles? Only nine players in NFL history have recorded as many as 20 sacks and 20 interceptions in a career. Wilson will become the 10th in 2009, presuming he stays healthy.
Don't get me wrong.
Thus, after an 11-5 season, the Falcons are looking to get over the hump and become the elite of the elite in the NFL. Gonzalez can help them get there.
Gonzalez has had a very nice camp, adjusting to life as a Falcon and flashing the blocking and pass-catching ability that has made him a 10-time Pro Bowler. He can add the extra dimension to the Falcons' offense that may well be enough to make this team a threat to make a Super Bowl run. At 33, staying on the field could become a problem. If he can, great things could happen.
When play-making defensive tackle
Now, he's going to have to deal with much more traffic, and size coming at him. And how much of that pounding can Beason take? He's integral to the Panthers defense. He's strong, quick and always takes efficient lines to the ballcarrier. When he gets there, Beason is a sure tackler. Beason delivers a lot of sure hits. This year, he's going to take more, too.
When Harris is healthy and motivated, the Bears are a vastly better team with him on the field. It's as simple as that. He is quick and strong and can play two-gaps as a space-eater, or shoot one gap and cause trouble in the backfield.
Harris says he is motivated this year, after a subpar 2008. Healthy? That has yet to be determined. The Bears have limited his reps in camp this year, and arthroscopic knee surgery in March has not exactly inspired confidence.
The Bears certainly have got a good thing going, with
If you listen closely at Cowboys camp, there are hints and whispers of Ware reaching a
He has gotten better and more productive every season, going from eight sacks as a rookie, to 11.5, to 14 and then a head-spinning 20 sacks in 2008. Could 25 be on the way in 2009? With the defensive line getting better and the Cowboys drafting help at linebacker, who knows? If nothing else, everyone's better around him. He also is a leader by example, does things right and continues to work to improve his game. Losing Ware would be more deflating than losing anyone else on the team.
It sounds crazy calling this notorious attitude problem not even yet at the top of the depth chart as pivotal to the Detroit Lions. But it is the Lions we're talking about. And all attitude and distractions aside, when healthy and on the field, Smith can contribute a lot to
One of the key aspects of Schwartz' defense is funneling as much as possible into the middle of the defense, where the 6-2, 325-pound Smith will be.
Keep in mind also, the Lions acquired Smith on the cheap, one-year, $1 million, after he wore out his welcome in Cleveland, reportedly punching quarterback
Jennings has gone from underrated and overlooked on a national scale to quite possibly the best receiver in the game. Sure, it's probably still either the Cardinals'
His rapport with
What, did you really think I was going to say
The fact is, there is enough quarterbacking depth that the Vikings could withstand an injury to Favre that keeps him out of some games. Did you forget already that the Vikes won the division in 2008 without Favre?But who else could it be that is without question, unequivocally so important, the Vikings should wrap him in bubble wrap in-between Sundays?
Peterson is the Vikings' everything.
With the Favre acquisition, numerous experts are predicting good things for him, since he won't be expected to do as much with Peterson in the backfield. But what happens if Peterson goes down? Devastation to all Vikes hopes. That's what happens. Favre could well have his worst season ever if he has to try to lead the Vikes into passing mode.
The New Orleans Saints simply cannot count on
That means a premium now must be placed on keeping tailback Thomas on the field. Even when Bush is on the field, he likely will be used much more often as a slot back. Thomas should be the first choice running between the tackles.
Saints coaches believe Thomas could be a 1,000-yard running back, which could lead to great things offensively, considering
Game-in, game-out, the Giants have depended on a bruising one-two punch in their powerful running game.
The Eagles got a taste of what life without Westbrook is like in 2008 and it wasn't pretty. Westbrook missed a couple of games early and as the season wound to a close, saw his attempts, yards and yards per-carry dwindle. Westbrook toughed out a terrific playoff run, including making a huge play against the Vikings, but problems with his left knee and right ankle worsened.
After offseason arthroscopic surgery on the knee and having bone spurs removed from the ankle, Westbrook has been limited in the preseason. He may not even play the entire preseason.
The most interesting story in Philly may be
Not that Jackson is important, but the four players behind him on the depth chart have combined for 1,530 CAREER rushing yards. In 2006 alone, Jackson had 1,528.
That's the kind of dropoff it is in the backfield from Jackson, who has had four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, to the likes of
Sure, tweaks and new faces along the offensive line should make Rams fans feel better about keeping Jackson upright, but he's missed eight games over the past two seasons because of injury. He looks to be in terrific shape in camp this year, and an offseason that included much more weight training should help. It had better. The Rams would be virtually helpless in the running game without Jackson.
He's still just 24 and getting better, but Willis already gets that special, unspoken respect that only a few players get. Veterans come to him and ask advice or his thoughts on a defensive set or sequence. When he speaks, players on the other side of the locker room crane their necks and pay attention. Offensive players show nothing but respect.
Why? He reminds everyone of his head coach. The comparisons between Willis and
Keep Willis on the field, you keep hope alive.
Boy, could things ever get bad quickly for the Seattle offense. There may be reason for optimism as
The Seahawks need Jones' talent and experience in so many ways. The iffy running game needs his help. Quarterback
But Jones, who is coming off microfracture knee surgery in December and learning the new zone-blocking scheme of offensive coordinator
When highly respected
Ruud has made a stunning 251 tackles over the past two seasons. Now, under defensive coordinator
He's just 26 and has been relatively injury-free in the league. If he can stay healthy, Ruud and the Tampa defense could be overwhelming.
Life definitely gets better for
Last year a torn right triceps ended Samuels' season and he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in the offseason. The Redskins consequently finished 2-6 down the stretch. If Samuels gets injured again, things could unravel, again.