Ranking NFL teams most affected by injuries

Injuries are a part of life in the NFL. No team is immune, and the best-case scenario amid such a violent game is that key players remain unaffected.

In Dallas, quarterback Dak Prescott and tailback Ezekiel Elliott have started all 12 games. Their elite offensive line has stayed mostly intact, and the Cowboys are 11-1.

Meanwhile, injuries to some of the best players on the Vikings’ roster remains the primary reason for Minnesota's six losses in seven games after a 5-0 start.

Which NFL teams have been affected most by injuries this season? What follows is a subjective list that attempts to connect team weaknesses to the personnel losses they've suffered.

1. Minnesota Vikings | Record: 6-6

It's remarkable the Vikings have won six games after losing their quarterback in August, their best player in Week 2 and both starting offensive tackles by Week 4. (Not to mention their offensive coordinator, who resigned in Week 9, and head coach, who had emergency surgery on a detached retina in his right eye Wednesday and did not coach against the Cowboys on Thursday night.)

The Vikings were genuine Super Bowl contenders with Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson, Matt Kalil and Andre Smith on the field. Without them, they're on the periphery of the NFC wild-card race.

Bridgewater's dislocated knee will impact the Vikings for years. They surrendered two draft choices -- including their first-round pick in 2017 -- to acquire replacement Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles. Peterson's knee injury revealed thin backfield depth, and the Vikings are averaging just 2.96 yards per carry -- by far a league low.

Of course, it's unclear how good Peterson could have been behind a mangled offensive line, one that was so short-handed that veteran Jake Long was able to sign in Week 6 and start in Week 8. Long, naturally, was lost for the season (torn Achilles) in Week 10. Center Joe Berger, meanwhile, missed Thursday night's game against the Cowboys because of a concussion.

Vikings running backs are averaging 1.67 yards before contact per rush, lowest by far in the NFL and a sign of relatively little running room.

Mix in a lost season from defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee), along with four missed games by punt returner Marcus Sherels (two touchdowns in 17 opportunities), and you have a team largely gutted by injuries.

2. Green Bay Packers | Record: 5-6

Two of the Packers' biggest weaknesses can be attributed directly to injuries.

An ankle ailment ended tailback Eddie Lacy’s season after five games, and backup James Starks missed four games because of a knee injury. Practice-squad promotion Don Jackson was lost for the season after three games due to a knee injury, and the Packers have been so short-handed they shifted receiver Ty Montgomery into the backfield. They have also shuffled through a series of veteran backups, including Knile Davis (since released) and Christine Michael.

In short, the Packers have by far the NFL's fewest rushing attempts (163), yards (615) and touchdowns by running backs (one) this season. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, meanwhile, leads the league in dropbacks (502).

Defensively, the Packers have played four games without linebacker Clay Matthews, who now is suffering from a shoulder injury. They also have been short-handed at cornerback all season. Top cover man Sam Shields has played in only one game because of post-concussion symptoms. Damarious Randall missed six games after groin surgery and Quinten Rollins (groin) missed three. Since Week 6, a period when all three corners missed time, the Packers have allowed the NFL's highest opposing QBR (76.4). They are 2-5 in that span.

3. Chicago Bears | Record: 2-9

It was reasonable to think the Bears would take a leap this season in coach John Fox's second year. But the injury karma began in the preseason when promising center Hroniss Grasu suffered a torn ACL. All-Pro guard Kyle Long played through a shoulder injury early on but was lost to a severe ankle injury after eight games. Fellow guard Josh Sitton has missed three games because of a variety of ailments.

The offense continued to take hits with an injury-forced rotation at quarterback. Jay Cutler’s sprained thumb led to five starts by backup Brian Hoyer, whose tenure ended after he broke his arm in Week 7. Cutler returned for three more games before right shoulder pain forced him to the sideline again in Week 11 and to injured reserve on Thursday. Matt Barkley, on the roster only because Connor Shaw broke his leg in the preseason, has taken over.

Promising receiver Kevin White managed to play in four games before foot surgery ended his season, and No. 1 receiver Alshon Jeffery is under NFL suspension. It should be no surprise, then, that the Bears rank No. 31 in offensive points per game (14.9) and have the fifth-worst team QBR (47.2).

Defensively, the Bears are missing some of their primary playmakers. Cornerback Kyle Fuller (knee) hasn't played yet, although he has returned to practice. Defensive end Lamarr Houston (knee) was lost in Week 2, and linebacker Danny Trevathan is questionable for the start of 2017 after tearing his patellar tendon.

With so many playmakers sidelined, the Bears defense is tied for the second-fewest forced turnovers (eight) in the NFL.

4. San Diego Chargers | Record: 5-6

The Chargers' triage tent has overflowed once again this season, beginning with top receiver Keenan Allen’s torn ACL in Week 1. They also have been hit hard at running back, where Branden Oliver (Achilles) was lost in the preseason and Danny Woodhead (knee) in Week 2.

Fortunately for the Chargers, Melvin Gordon has emerged as a reliable workhorse in the backfield, ranking second in the NFL with 234 carries. It has been more difficult to replace Allen and Whitehead in the passing game, and now leading receiver Tyrell Williams (51 receptions, 790 yards, five touchdowns) is dealing with a labrum injury. Veteran receiver Stevie Johnson (knee) and tight end Jeff Cumberland (Achilles) are two other potential weapons who haven't gotten on the field this season.

If the Chargers’ offense has been without some weapons, then its defense simply has been decimated. Their injured reserve list includes nose tackles Brandon Mebane and Sean Lissemore, defensive tackle Caraun Reid, linebacker Manti Te’o and cornerback Jason Verrett. And -- no surprise -- San Diego ranks No. 26 in the NFL in points allowed (26.5) per game.

5. Cleveland Browns | Record: 0-12

The Browns were not built to win the Super Bowl this season, and their roster was among the league's weakest even before the summer's first whistle. But whatever chance the Browns had to win a few games has been slashed by injuries at quarterback, offensive line and other positions.

The Browns, in fact, became the first team since 1987 to have six different players throw a pass in the first seven games of a season. (Note: NFL teams used replacement players during a strike in Weeks 4-6 that year.)

Injuries have sent Robert Griffin III (shoulder), Josh McCown (shoulder) and Cody Kessler (concussion) to the sideline at various times, forcing the Browns to use receiver Terrelle Pryor as an emergency quarterback while also pushing two players onto the field who began the season elsewhere: Kevin Hogan and Charlie Whitehurst.

Starting guards Joel Bitonio and John Greco are on injured reserve because of foot injuries. Center Cam Erving missed two games because of a bruised lung. And receiver Corey Coleman, the Browns' top draft pick, sat out six games because of a broken hand he suffered in practice. Among many other inglorious rankings, the Browns have the NFL's lowest team QBR (43.3) and the third-lowest average of offensive points per game (15.8).

The Browns weren't going to be awfully competitive even with their initial roster, but their run of injuries to significant players has been staggering nonetheless.