NFL Opinion – Can these contenders overcome such key losses?

During the Chicago Bears 31-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was taken down by line-backer Donald Butler after throwing an interception, causing Cutler to break the thumb on his throwing hand. The injury became the story of the game rather than another convincing victory for a Bears team that are having a terrific season.

The past few weeks have seen key losses to teams who are serious playoff contenders, likely throwing a spanner in the works with regards their hopes. I will take a look at some of the recent key casualties who will be “MIA” and discuss the significance it has to their anxious teams.

Jay Cutler QB Chicago Bears

When the Bears acquired Cutler in April 2009, some believed the Bears gave up too much. Two first round picks and a third-rounder, plus Kyle Orton finally prompted the Denver Broncos to part with their prized asset. Since joining the Bears critics have heaped praise and criticism in equal measure to the former Vanderbilt graduate, as Cutler took the Bears to an NFC Championship game in 2010. The game saw the Bears lose to eventual champions Green Bay and critics lambasted Cutler for showing lack of physical and mental toughness, as he sprained his MCL and sat out most of the game at a time many felt the Bears needed him most.  Cutler’s style of play gets him tremendous criticism anyway, as many insist his “gun-slinger” approach on any given play means he is just as likely to throw an interception as a touchdown pass.  Cutler has been extremely serviceable this season however, and the Bears have been playing decent football and the much maligned Bears offensive line has shown signs of improvement. However, the team now turns to back up quarterback Caleb Hanie, so the injury could prove to be a huge problem.

VERDICT

The official line is 6-8 weeks, which is pretty much to the conclusion of the regular season. The Bears, poised at 7-3, are in the extremely competitive NFC North, tied with the Detroit Lions and behind the unbeaten Green Bay Packers. Talented teams such as the Atlanta Falcons from the NFC South and two teams from the NFC East are hot on their heels for the potential wildcard spot in the playoffs, and the Bears will have to keep up the chase with Hanie at the controls. Latest word out of Chicago is that they have put in a waiver claim for recently released Kyle Orton, along with a couple of other teams. Could prove imperative if they get him.

Significance: Brutal.

Matt Schaub QB Houston Texans

Since being acquired from the Atlanta Falcons in 2007, Schaub has had seasons broken up by injury on numerous occasions. Never though have the Texans looked in this great shape for a run at the playoffs. The Indianapolis Colts have dominated the AFC South for what seems like forever, and the disastrous season they are having has opened up the door for this under-achieving franchise to finally live up to expectation. The Texans have looked good on both sides of the ball, as the defence has complimented Schaub and the offence, currently ranked number one. Schaub’s stats haven’t been phenomenal, Arian Foster and Ben Tate have led the way from the tail-back position, effectively making Schaub a game manager, albeit a good one.

VERDICT

News broke that the Houston Texans placed Schaub on injured reserve, effectively ending his season. The foot injury in the Texans 37-9 victory of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers several weeks ago was subject to a second opinion on the severity during the Texans bye week and it was concluded alternative options must be looked at. Matt Leinart, the Arizona Cardinals “bust” is the next in line. In an effort to remain objective, it isn’t as though Leinart is without some skill, and was touted by many scouts before the Cardinals picked him as being a quarterback of considerable merit. We need to see him play first, and only then can we how in trouble the Texans are. Upon placing Schaub on IR, Houston worked out several signal-callers and decided to sign former New York Jets quarterback Kellen Clemens.

Significance: Big, Look for teams to completely stack the box against Houston and force Leinart to try beat them through the air.

Leon Hall CB Cincinnati Bengals

This is the only none-quarterback injury of the bunch, but nevertheless a huge loss for the Bengals. Hall was injured when he planted his foot and changed direction, tearing the tendon from the bone just before halftime of the Bengals’ 24-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9. Hall, a first round pick in 2007, was easily the Bengals most durable and talented corner-back. Performing admirably, he was helping to stop some of the league’s more dangerous wide-outs and helping the Bengals become the surprise package they have been this year, providing the yang to rookie Andy Dalton’s offensive ying.

VERDICT

Hall is lost for the season, and the Bengals have promoted little-known Brandon Ghee from the practice squad to replace him. Nate Clements is promoted to top corner and as shown in the 31-24 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, this could prove a hefty downgrade. Wide receiver Torrey Smith had 6 catches for 165 yards against the Bengals, leaving you wondering if that would have occurred with Hall in the game. The Bengals are immensely young and capable in other areas though and may still be able to secure a wildcard spot in the AFC despite their tough division and schedule.  Pittsburgh or Baltimore may win the division, but the Bengals have every chance to be the third AFC North representative in the playoffs.

Significance: Will make things tougher, but enough competence to overcome it.

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