Much of the NFL season seemed like a Hollywood sequel without the leading actors from the original as injuries claimed so many superstars, leaving the playoff field awash in postseason party crashers .
Among them are the Buffalo Bills, who just might have to go into their first playoff game in 17 seasons with a running back who had never gained a single yard before last week.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are thankful they don’t have a game this weekend, giving receiver Antonio Brown another week to heal from his torn left calf that has sidelined him for three weeks.
Brown is the only consensus All-Pro in the season of the injured superstar, a year that had such a devastating effect on many of the usual championship contenders such as Green Bay and Seattle and helped usher eight new teams into this year’s playoff field.
The Packers’ playoff hopes were crushed when Minnesota’s Anthony Barr squashed Aaron Rodgers, breaking the quarterback’s collarbone. The Seahawks turned into the “Legion of Whom? ” with season-ending injuries to Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor.
The Texans missed the playoffs after injuries to defenders J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus and sensational rookie Deshaun Watson, who was leading the league with 19 touchdown throws before he tore his right ACL in practice two days after Halloween.
Bills running back LeSean McCoy is hopeful he can play on a sprained ankle in Sunday’s AFC wild-card game at Jacksonville, the franchise’s first postseason kickoff since the “Music City Miracle” in 2000.
“I don’t want to make any promises,” said McCoy.
Nobody can this year, it seems.
Brown was a leading MVP candidate when he collided with Patriots DB Eric Rowe on Dec. 17 and hobbled off with a torn calf, then watched Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski rally in the fourth quarter for a crucial 24-21 win that gave New England the top seed in the AFC again despite losing Julian Edelman in the preseason.
The NFC’s top seed is also missing a big name: second-year QB Carson Wentz, whose knee injury thrust backup Nick Foles into the starting job for the playoffs.
The Bills have no established running back behind McCoy on the depth chart. Marcus Murphy was promoted from the practice squad ahead of the Week 17 win over the Dolphins, rushing for 41 yards on seven carries. Buffalo also has veteran fullback/running back Mike Tolbert.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said of McCoy. “Will we be able to get there in time? We’ll see.”
If not, they’ll be without their most explosive and most consistent playmaker, one who finished the year with 1,138 rushing yards and six touchdowns. His absence would leave a hole in Buffalo’s offensive attack; the Bills finished the regular season with the 31st-ranked passing attack in the league.
Other teams overcame big injuries to reach the playoffs, including the Vikings after rookie running back Dalvin Cook tore an ACL on Oct. 1 against the Lions, and the Panthers, who overcame the loss of longtime tight end Greg Olsen, who broke a foot against the Bills in September.
In addition to Edelman, the Patriots lost linebacker Dont’a Hightower to a torn chest muscle and the Chiefs lost Eric Berry to a ruptured left Achilles tendon.
The Rams lost All-Pro kicker Greg Zuerlein last month to a back injury and the Steelers lost linebacker Ryan Shazier to a spine injury last month that could end his career.
The Eagles were all the rage in the topsy-turvy NFL this season until Wentz tore his left ACL against the Rams on Dec. 10.
Wentz was a leading MVP candidate when he got hurt. The Eagles’ passing game has struggled since Nick Foles took over. He’s spending Philadelphia’s bye week trying to develop more chemistry and consistency with his receivers.
“We’ve got some good work the last couple of weeks with Nick,” coach Doug Pederson said. “We have to get better in the run game. That helps any quarterback obviously.”
Wentz’s injury continued a trend in which it seemed like a superstar would suffer a season-ending injury just about every weekend.
Even Joe Thomas, the Cleveland Browns’ ironman left tackle, got hurt in 2017.
Thomas suffered a torn triceps on Oct. 22 against Tennessee and underwent season-ending surgery.
Before he got hurt, the 10-time Pro Bowler had played every snap of his career, reaching 10,363 consecutive plays, believed to be a record.
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