Moving ahead without your leader is a difficult task for any team
December 19, 2017 3:00 AM
by Jim Feist
As we head down the final weeks of the NFL regular season we see a few teams that will be forced to move on without the leader on their offense or defense. The biggest hurt happened last week in Los Angeles as the NFC leading Philadelphia Eagles lost QB Carson Wentz to a knee injury.
Initially, Wentz walked off the field and didn’t even appear to be limping. However, we now know Wentz will miss the rest of the season with the torn ACL. He becomes just the third QB in NFL history to lead his team to 11 wins, but miss the postseason. He joins the Giants’ Phil Simms and last year’s storied Raiders’ Derek Carr in that group.
There is some hope for Philadelphia, the 1990 Giants team still won the Super Bowl with Jeff Hostetler at the helm. The Raiders didn’t fare as well last season, losing the Wildcard to the Houston Texans. The Eagles will look to Nick Foles to lead them now into the postseason. Philly locks up home field with a win in Week 16 over the Raiders. Foles has been a starter for the Eagles. The Eagles will have to rely more on their solid rushing game with the addition of Jay Ajayi and LaGarrette Blount.
We also have to look at the Minnesota Vikings, who lost starting QB Sam Bradford and now have Case Keenum running the show. Keenum has performed very well since Bradford went down after two games.
In fact, the Vikings have now replaced the Eagles as the favorite to win the NFC since Wentz was injured. Also on the horizon is the possible return of Teddy Bridgewater in the Vikings’ final regular season game against the Bears. Bridgewater has missed 16 months with his knee injury. Both Keenum and Bridgewater will be free agents at the end of this season and Denver will have their eyes on Keenum, whose stock has really improved.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been nursing a lot of injuries on the defensive side of the ball. The latest took place in last Sunday’s bitter loss to New England when premier WR Antonio Brown went down with an injured calf muscle. He is not expected back until early January.
Pittsburgh and New England are the two front runners for the AFC this year, but will the Steelers defense be able to keep opponents out of the end zone? LB Ryan Shazier was their big loss when he went down against the Bengals with a spinal injury. Shazier has been put on IR. Linebackers Tyler Mtakevich and Keion Adams have also been out.
Pittsburgh still remains one of the best defenses, ranked top 10 in points allowed, total defense, rushing and passing. However, that has been fading fast with the injuries. The defense has allowed an average of 263.5 passing yards per game during a four-game stretch recently, including seven touchdowns. CB Joe Haden missed those four games, but is back for the stretch run.
The Packers got QB Aaron Rodgers back for Week 15. That’s the good news. The bad news is it will still be very difficult for Green Bay to make the playoffs. They must win out and then get a lot of help in a very crowded NFC playoff picture.
The NFC is wide open this year. Any team can move up and take the Championship – even truer now that Wentz won’t be part of the equation for the Eagles. The AFC has the Patriots and Steelers as the likely frontrunners, though again injuries can play the major equalizer. More and more we are seeing just how important these backups can be in the NFL.