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Broncos, Panthers Were Among 2015 NFL Playoff Teams Aided by Injury Luck

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

 

New England Patriots' Jabaal Sheard (93) checks on Dominique Easley, bottom after Easley suffered an unknown injury during the second half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans.

While raw talent was the biggest factor guiding the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers to fantastic regular seasons and ultimately to Super Bowl 50, avoiding the injury bug certainly didn’t hurt.

Each team that made it to the season’s final game undoubtedly possessed plenty of skill on offense and defense, but they were also aided by remarkable injury luck relative to the rest of the NFL.

Note that the visualization above includes players placed on IR anywhere from preseason to Week 17.

In terms of players placed on season-ending injured reserve throughout the 2015 campaign, neither Denver nor Carolina suffered many casualties. In fact, both finished in the bottom three by number of men sent to IR (Carolina tied for third-fewest with the Seattle Seahawks).

It’s also interesting to note the correlation between a lack of injuries and teams making the playoffs. Eight of the 10 least-injured teams in terms of players placed on injured reserve made it to the postseason, while just three of the top 10 overcame injuries to reach the playoffs — the New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Washington.

The reigning Super Bowl champion Patriots suffered a number of key losses on offense, as offensive tackle Nate Solder and running backs LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis were all placed on injured reserve. New England’s fans have reason to wonder what could have been if the team wasn’t decimated by injuries.

Note that the visualization above doesn’t account for more minor ailments that didn’t require trips to the IR list, which can rack up quickly and cause just as many issues. When including all reported injuries, Houston and Washington faced the most consistent week-over-week strife, and yet still managed to make the playoffs.

By contrast, the Tennessee Titans and St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams experienced the least week-to-week injury woes. Nevertheless, they finished as two of the league’s bottom-dwelling teams at a combined 10-22 because of an overall lack of talent.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that there are variations among teams by both the reporting of injuries and whether players listed as probable, questionable or doubtful suited up and played. For example, 80.6 percent of Miami Dolphins players listed as questionable played in games throughout 2015, while only 43.8 percent of “questionable” Oakland Raiders did so.

Injury luck tends to even out over time, so Patriots fans should be optimistic going into next season. On the other hand, Rams and Titans supporters might be even more disheartened that 2015 didn’t yield success, provided their favorite teams stayed on Lady Luck’s good side. That doesn’t bode well for their chances in 2016, but the offseason provides ample time for every team to upgrade their respective rosters through the draft and free agency.

Of course, as the 2015 season showed, teams that stayed comparably healthy enjoyed an easier path to postseason action.

MORE: The Late Tyler Sash Played One of Football's Most Dangerous Positions

 

Related Slideshow: The 10 Dumbest Coaching Decisions in NFL History

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10.

Mike Ditka - Benching Walter Payton in Super Bowl

Mike Ditka kept Walter Payton on the bench after an early fumble in Super Bowl XX against the New England Patriots.

The decision did not matter much as the Bears shredded the Patriots 46-10 but it's just silly. Instead, Ditka used William Perry and quarterback Jim McMahon to score two goalline touchdowns.

Walter Payton finished his career with 110 rushing touchdowns, 15 receiving touchdowns and 16,726 yards rushing. In that Super Bowl, Payton carried the ball 22 times for 66 yards and was still the teams leading rusher in the game, but no touchdown.

Ditka, who now works for ESPN, has since said that he regrets the decision to not let Payton score.

Photo courtesy of chicagobears.com

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9.

Chuck Pagano - Fake Punt

The Patriots were up by six, 27-21, with a minute left in the third quarter and forced the Colts to punt on a fourth and three, or so we thought.

The Colts lined up with eight players near the line of scrimmage to the right side and the punter behind them. Then wide receiver Griff Whalen lined up as the snapper and safety Colt Anderson lined up under center.

They snapped the ball and the Patriots made the easy stop for a turnover on downs.

"The whole idea there was on fourth-and-3 or less, shift our alignment to where you either catch them misaligned, they try to sub some people in, catch them with 12 men on the field and if you get a certain look, you can make a play. Alignment-wise we weren't lined up correctly, and then a communication problem on the snap. I take responsibility for that," said Colts head coach Chuck Pagano after the game.

The Patriots scored a touchdown on their next drive to go up 34-21 and ice the game.

You could argue that play cost the Colts the game.

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8.

Bill Belichick - 4th and 2

In the historic rivalry between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, this game came down to a decision by head coach Bill Belichick to go for it on 4th and 2 from his own 28 yard line as opposed to punting the ball away.

Brady threw the ball to Kevin Faulk who was stopped short of the first down marker giving Manning the ball back and a relatively easy win. Manning found Reggie Wayne for  a one yard touchdown pass, completing a 17 point comeback by Indianapolis.

If Belichick had punted the ball away, Manning still may have come down and scored and won the game, but at least it would have given the Patriots defense more of a chance.

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7.

Miracle at the Meadowlands

On November 19, 1978 the New York Giants took over possession of the football with a 17-12 lead and under two minutes to play against the rival Philadelphia  Eagles.

Instead of just taking a knee, quarterback Joe Pisarcik handed the ball to Larry Czonka who ran for 11 yards. All was fine. However, on the next play, the Giants did the exact same thing except this time Pisarcik's handoff slipped out of his hands and Philadelphia's Herm Edwards scooped it up and scored the winning touchdown.

Thus, the Miracle at the Meadowlands was born.

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6.

Rex Ryan - Calls Time Out, Pats Perfect Season Continues

The Baltimore Ravens hosted the New England Patriots in an early December 2007 game and  had a chance to win the game, should have won the game, were going to win the game and end the unbeaten season, until defensive coordinator Rex Ryan called time out.

The Patriots had 4th and 1 from the Baltimore 30 yard line and Tom Brady called his own number with a QB sneak but was stuffed. However, Rex Ryan had called time out just prior to the snap meaning the play did not count.

The Patriots were given a penalty on the next attempt and then converted for the first down on what ended up being a 4th and 5 two plays after the timeout.

The Patriots won the game 27-24 on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Jabar Gaffney with 44 seconds left. New England stayed undefeated.

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5.

Marty Mornhinweg - Defers in Sudden Death OT

It was 2002 and the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears were tied at 17 and were headed into sudden death overtime.

Detroit Lions won the overtime coin toss and head coach Marty Mornhinweg decided to defer, giving the Bears the first overtime possession.

Chicago went down the field and won the game on a Paul Edinger 40-yard field goal.

Photo courtesy of New York Jets wikipedia

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4.

Jason Garrett Ices Own Kicker

An important December win slipped away from the Dallas Cowboys when head coach Jason Garrett called a just before kicker Dan Bailey nailed a 49-yard field goal.

Bailey had to redo the kick and missed it short and wide left the second time around.

The Arizona Cardinals defeated the Dallas Cowboys in overtime.

"The play clock was running down. We just wanted to make sure that he had a real clean opportunity at it. It was at about six [seconds] and we were still getting settled in, so we banged a timeout to give him the opportunity to get the snap, hold and kick as clean as possible," Garrett said after the game.

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3.

Bill Belichick - Benching Wes Welker in Playoff Game

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick benched wide receiver Wes Welker for the first offensive possession of a 2011 divisional round playoff game against the New York Jets.

Belichick benched Welker because of comments that Welker had made earlier  in the week regarding Jets coach Rex Ryan's foot fetish.
 
While Welker's benching did not lead directly to the Patriots losing the game, it rattled the Patriots offense early on and they were not able to recover.

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2.

Dennis Green- 1999 NFC Championship Game

The Minnesota Vikings had one of the greatest offenses of all time in 1999, featuring quarterback Randall Cunningham, Cris Carter, Robert Smith and Randy Moss.

In the final moments of the NFC Championship game, head coach Dennis Green decided to have his offense take a knee and play for overtime. Vikings kicker Gary Anderson only needed about 40 yards and the Vikings had two timeouts left.

The Vikings lost the coin toss in overtime and proceeded to lose the game.

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1.

Pete Carroll - Super Bowl XLIX

The Seattle Seahawks trailed the New England Patriots 28-24 in Super Bowl XLIX and had second and goal from about the Patriots three yard line.

The Seahawks had been running the ball well the entire game with Marshawn Lynch and he nearly got into the endzone on the play before. Instead of running Lynch, Carroll sets Russell Wilson up in the shotgun and has him throw a slant that Patriots rookie Malcolm Butler read perfectly and intercepted.

If Carroll had run the ball again, the Seahawks likely would have won the Super Bowl, instead, the Patriots won thier fourth.

 
 

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