As the first Sunday of NFL football of the 2014 season comes to a close, coming away with a win was an important goal for every NFL team. A not-too-distant second was escaping healthy, as the Panthers confirmed by holding Cam Newton out of the opener. For as crucial as starting the season off with a victory is, the long-term health of the roster is as important for teams keying in on a playoff run.
However, the cliché is that the NFL is a war of attrition, and a few teams have already been bit by the injury bug before the first game was over. Bengals’ tight end Tyler Eifert suffered an elbow injury that knocked him our of the game and could be headed to the IR, albeit with designation for return.
The Chiefs lost two member of their starting defense today, with both linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive lineman Mike DeVito both rupturing their achilles in a 26-10 loss to the Titans. The team will likely be without each player for the remainder of the season. Injuries to pass rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston derailed the defense last season, and after only one week the defense has already taken a big hit.
Evan Mathis has been one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL since arriving in Philadelphia in 2011. A major driving force for the Eagles’ prolific ground attack, Mathis went down with a knee injury today against the Jaguars. The team rallied for a comeback victory, but losing their left guard for an extended period of time could make things difficult for the Eagles’ offense.
Possibly the biggest name to leave a game with an injury and unable to return is first-round pick Jadeveon Clowney. Much like Mathis, Clowney suffered a knee injury, and he will miss time early in the Texans’ season. The team is set up to absorb the injury, with players in place to wade the time. However, while he has not proven his worth at the NFL level, his explosiveness and big play ability will be missed. More importantly, when the Texans do need him later in the season he will be behind the learning curve, still acclimating himself to the speed of the league.
For each of these situations, it will depend on how long the players end up out of the lineup. Teams can weather the storm for a time, but an early season injury can be a huge setback for a team with playoff hopes. The Eagles and Bengals both won their divisions in 2013, but both the AFC North and NFC East were expected to be close, with contenders waiting to pounce. The Chiefs were a surprise wild card team in 2013, but primed for regression before the injuries. The Texans missed the playoffs last season, which set them up to take Clowney at the top of the draft. However they were prepared to make it a quick return to the playoffs with the AFC South up for grabs. Each team has seen their postseason hopes grow more difficult with these week one injuries.