Injuries threaten to shake up AFC race
Just about every team in the NFL is dealing with some bumps and bruises at this point in the season. But a recent rash of injuries potentially could alter the landscape in the AFC.
With Week 11 looming and the playoff chase heating up, we take a look at every AFC contender's injury situation -- and break down just how worried each team should be.
• Buffalo Bills (5-4)
Panic level: 10
You could make the case that the loss of Wood to a season-ending knee injury in Week 10 was the worst blow dealt to a team, injury-wise -- and that's taking into account Houston losing Matt Schaub. Wood was in the midst of a spectacular season as Buffalo's center. Without him, and with Bell, a starting tackle, out for the past several weeks, the Bills are scrambling big time. Making matters worse is that they've slipped to the fringe of the playoff race. There's no time to ease a new offensive line together. The absence of Johnson, one of the team's biggest threats, would not make things any easier.
• Kansas City Chiefs (4-5)
Panic level: 10
The Chiefs lost Berry and Charles, their stars on offense and defense, respectively, early on in the season. Since then, they had scrapped back into the AFC West race. But a loss last week to Denver, coupled with Cassel suffering a serious hand injury, could spell the end of the line.
• Cincinnati Bengals (6-3)
Panic level: 9
Things were all hunky-dory for Cincinnati through eight weeks, but suddenly, with Green and Hall going down in a loss to Pittsburgh, there is major reason for concern. Hall, the Bengals' leader in the secondary, is done for the season; Green remains questionable for Week 11 and beyond after coming down awkwardly on a touchdown grab Sunday and hyperextending his knee. Jones' health could be a key factor going forward -- if he can suit up, he may have to fill Hall's cornerback spot.
• Houston Texans (7-3)
Panic level (on a scale of 1-10): 8
Getting Johnson back could lower the panic level a little bit, but the loss of Schaub is the big variable Houston will have to deal with once its bye week ends. Can Matt Leinart keep the Texans, the AFC's current No. 1 seed, on track for a division title and home playoff game? So far, Houston has overcome every injury it's been faced with, especially on defense -- the Texans are allowing the fewest yards and second-fewest points of any team in the league.
• San Diego Chargers (4-5)
Panic level: 8
San Diego's injury list keeps getting longer and longer -- and worse yet, the attrition on the offensive line keeps getting worse and worse. McNeill and Vasquez both went down in last week's loss to Oakland, leaving the Chargers with plenty of questions heading in to Week 11.
• Denver Broncos (4-5)
Panic level: 8
Lance Ball had 30 carries last week in relief of Moreno and McGahee, who both fell with injuries mid-game, but can he handle that load on a regular basis? Moreno's season is over and McGahee is questionable for Thursday night against the Jets, so the Broncos might not have any other choice.
• Oakland Raiders (5-4)
Panic level: 5
Quite honestly, with McFadden on the shelf, that panic level should be higher in Oakland. But a scuffling division coupled with the emergence of Michael Bush has eased the pain. Bush torched San Diego last Thursday and will get plenty of touches in Week 11 at Minnesota. Being without Ford, who left the Week 10 win early, would hurt Carson Palmer's chances to turn in another big game. The defense, meanwhile, has had plenty of guys, including Seymour, playing through pain.
• New York Jets (5-4)
Key injuries: LaDainian Tomlinson (knee), Jeremy Kerley (knee), Patrick Turner (kidney)
Panic level: 5
The Jets face a key game Thursday night in Denver, but will have to find a way to win in spite of injury issues on the offensive side of the ball. Tomlinson went down late in last week's loss to the Patriots -- without him, the Jets would have to up Shonn Greene's carries and work Joe McKnight into the mix. Kerley's absence could leave the team's slot receiver position in the hands of Eron Riley, who has never had an NFL catch.
• Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3)
Panic level: 3
Pittsburgh's big concern comes more from its two losses to the Ravens and the presence of the upstart Bengals than the injury report. Roethlisberger, despite a broken thumb, should not miss any time. And Sanders' absence has been masked -- as was Hines Ward's -- by the Steelers' incredibly deep receiving corps. Getting Woodley back would be a huge boost. He missed Pittsburgh's Week 9 loss to Baltimore and its Week 10 win over Cincinnati, but is a game-changing presence on defense.
• New England Patriots (6-3)
Panic level: 2
New England's running so thin in the secondary these days that receiver Julian Edelman stepped in at cornerback late in Sunday night's win over the Jets. But despite a terrible pass defense, the Patriots are 6-3 and in position to run away with the AFC East. The main reason for that -- and the lack of worry in New England -- is a friendly remaining schedule that features just one game (Week 17 vs. Buffalo) against a team at .500 or above.
• Tennessee Titans (5-4)
Panic level: 2
Houston's misfortune has opened the door for the Titans to start dreaming of an AFC South title again. Tennessee is starting to get healthy again, too, despite losing Britt to a season-ending injury early on. Keeping Washington healthy -- he's been dealing with a hip issue -- would go a long way to keeping the offense on track.
• Baltimore Ravens (6-3)
Key injuries: Lee Evans (ankle)
Panic level: 1 Like their arch-rivals, the Steelers, Baltimore finds itself in surprisingly good shape given where we are in the season. Pittsburgh has had to forge through some big injuries this year; Baltimore was banged up in the preseason, but has gotten healthy since then. The lack of injuries makes Baltimore's inconsistency against mediocre teams even harder to understand.