Rating the health of NFL playoff contenders

Cain says the Cowboys handled QB situation 'perfectly' this season (1:46)

Will Cain believes Jerry Jones and the Cowboys organization handled the quarterback conundrum in Dallas "perfectly" this season, Donovan McNabb wholeheartedly disagrees. (1:46)

This month, I named the five NFL teams most affected by injuries. Four of them have been eliminated from playoff contention, and the fifth -- the Green Bay Packers -- enters Week 17 with work remaining to avoid joining the similarly afflicted.

Now, with the playoffs looming, let's look at the league's injury landscape from the other side: How banged up are the teams who have either clinched a spot or remain in the running? Below is a subjective ranking of those 14 teams.

I included two metrics but didn't always rely on them for reasons that should reveal themselves in the analysis. One is the team's total number of players on injured reserve, provided by the Elias Sports Bureau. The other is the weighted impact of missed games, as compiled by the website Mangameslost.com, using the combined approximate value of players who have missed games based on 2015 performances. (The values are updated through Week 15.)

Here's are the healthiest teams down to the ones most affected by injuries:

1. New England Patriots

IR: 4 (No. 1/NFL)

Weighted impact of missed games: 9.469 (No. 26/NFL)

Coach Bill Belichick made some notable program changes this season aimed at improving team health, and at the moment, no team has fewer players on injured reserve than the Patriots. The most notable injuries have both been to tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed or was limited in four games at the start of the season because of a strained hamstring and then went on injured reserve in Week 13 (back). Losing one of the NFL's best players could have been a crushing blow, but Gronkowski has been capably replaced by veteran Martellus Bennett, who is tied for fourth in the NFL among tight ends with six touchdown receptions. The offensive line was thinned this summer when tackle Sebastian Vollmer (hip) and guard Tre Jackson (knee) were placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, but for the most part, the Patriots will enter the playoffs with the team they had on the field when the season began.

2. Dallas Cowboys

IR: 10 (No. 12/NFL)

Weighted impact of missed games: 11.509 (No. 29/NFL)

The Cowboys will enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed with enough time to get almost all of their injured players healthy. That includes cornerback Morris Claiborne, who hasn't played since Week 8 because of a groin/hip injury, and left tackle Tyron Smith, who sprained his knee in Week 15. The most prominent player to remain sidelined is guard La'el Collins, who was lost for the season after three games because of toe surgery. Veteran Ronald Leary has filled in capably, and the Cowboys' offensive line has not missed a beat. And let's not forget the Cowboys have two healthy high-level quarterbacks on their roster, the unexpected consequence of Tony Romo's preseason back injury. Dak Prescott ranks second in the NFL with an 81.9 QBR, but the Cowboys' title hopes wouldn't be dashed if he gets hurt -- a true rarity among NFL teams.

3. Atlanta Falcons

IR: 9 (Tied for No. 8/NFL)

Weighed impact of missed games: 3.571 (No. 8/NFL)

The Falcons suffered two big defensive injuries this season to cornerback Desmond Trufant and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. But the emergence of linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. has helped cover for their losses. He has seven sacks and three forced fumbles since Trufant's midseason injury, and the Falcons have a better QBR without Trufant (50.6) than with him (69.1). Meanwhile, the Falcons appear to have made it to the other side of receiver Julio Jones' toe injury. Jones missed Weeks 14 and 15 but returned last Sunday to catch four passes against the Panthers. He has participated in practice on a limited basis this week.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers

IR: 12 (No. 18/NFL)

Weighted impact of missed games: 6.674 (No. 14/NFL)

The Steelers head to the postseason without defensive end Cameron Heyward, a veteran leader who was lost after Week 10 because of a torn pectoral muscle. At that time, Heyward led the Steelers with three sacks. But since then, Pittsburgh has held opposing quarterbacks to the lowest QBR (46.9) thanks to a strong pass rush that has included four sacks from defensive end Stephon Tuitt and three apiece from linebackers Bud Dupree, James Harrison and Ryan Shazier. The emergence of receiver Eli Rogers (42 receptions) has helped cover for the Week 10 loss of Markus Wheaton (shoulder). Meanwhile, tight end Ladarius Green (concussion) returned to practice this week. Overall, given their recent history, the Steelers are thrilled to enter the playoffs with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell all healthy.

5. New York Giants

IR: 11 (Tied for No. 13/NFL)

Weighted impact of missed games: 3.518 (No. 7/NFL)

The Giants lost defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (sports hernia) just as he had re-established himself as a pass-rushing force. Pierre-Paul had seven sacks in 12 games, including 5.5 in his final two full appearances. But in the three full games he has missed, the Giants' defense has allowed an average of 12.3 points per game, second-lowest in the league. The Giants remain thin at running back, where they have lost Shane Vereen (triceps), Orleans Darkwa (leg), Will Johnson (burner) and Nikita Whitlock (foot). But other than Pierre-Paul, their primary defensive players -- the key to their 10-win season -- remain healthy and available. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins (back) has been limited in practice this week.

6. Kansas City Chiefs

IR: 9 (Tied No. 8/NFL)

Weighted impact of missed games: 9.438 (No. 24/NFL)

The Chiefs are without some pretty big names, from running back Jamaal Charles (knee) to linebacker Derrick Johnson (Achilles). Pass-rusher Justin Houston is also taking time away from practice this week to limit swelling in his knee, an ongoing issue dating back to his offseason ACL surgery. The Chiefs' running game has rolled on this season thanks to 921 yards from Spencer Ware and another 235 from Charcandrick West as well as the playmaking boost from rookie Tyreek Hill (12.0 yards per carry on 21 attempts). Ware, meanwhile, is taking it easy this week because of bruised ribs.

7. Green Bay Packers

IR: 5 (No. 2/NFL)

Weighted impact of missed games: 5.795 (No. 12/NFL)

In Week 13, we considered the Packers one of five teams most impacted by injuries in the NFL. As they push to the postseason, they're still without running backs Eddie Lacy (ankle) and James Starks (concussion) as well as their top cover man in Sam Shields, who hasn't played since suffering a concussion in Week 1. But since then, the Packers have found a reasonable fix in the backfield with converted receiver Ty Montgomery (266 yards) and waiver-claim Christine Michael (104). They've also stabilized in the defensive backfield during a five-game winning streak, mostly via an NFL-high 4.4 interception percentage. Receiver Randall Cobb has been slowed by an ankle injury but hopes to play Sunday against the Lions -- and beyond.

8. Houston Texans

IR: 14 (Tied for No. 22/NFL)

Weighted impact of missed games: 8.871

Defensive end J.J. Watt played three largely ineffective games before undergoing season-ending back surgery. Fortunately for the Texans, former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney has emerged as one of the NFL's better disruptors and has 17 tackles for loss, third-most in the league. But the Texans are also playing without another key defensive starter, cornerback Kevin Johnson, who was lost after six games to a foot injury. The Texans are hoping they've stabilized on offense with quarterback Tom Savage, but he is missing two weapons who could help in the postseason: receivers Braxton Miller (shoulder) and Jaelen Strong (ankle). Running back Lamar Miller (ankle) didn't play in Week 16 and might sit out this weekend but should be ready for the playoffs.

9. Seattle Seahawks

IR: 15 (Tied for No. 24/NFL)

Weighted impact of missed games: 1.991 (No. 3/NFL)

The Seahawks have more than a dozen players on injured reserve, but six of them are rookies or first-year players. By far the biggest name is safety Earl Thomas, who broke his leg in Week 13. This is the kind of injury that can change the fortunes of a team, especially one that relies on defense the way the Seahawks do. They're 1-2 in the games Thomas has missed, having allowed an average of 36 points per game in the two losses as the opposing quarterbacks averaged at least 9 yards per attempt. The Seahawks' defense had only allowed that to happen twice in its previous 64 games. Meanwhile, the Seahawks lost a major playmaker in receiver Tyler Lockett, who broke his leg in Week 16. Running back C.J. Prosise (shoulder) is considered weeks away from returning, but starter Thomas Rawls (shoulder) isn't expected to miss time. Still, the Seahawks have sustained heavy damage to their team's overall health in the second half of the season.

10. Detroit Lions

IR: 9 (Tied for No. 8/NFL)

Weighed impact of missed games: 7.589 (No. 18/NFL)

The Lions have been severely limited at running back after losing Ameer Abdullah in Week 2 to a foot injury and getting only 10 games out of Theo Riddick (wrist). They also saw how important cornerback Darius Slay is to their pass defense after he sat out Sunday night's 42-21 loss to the Cowboys because of a hamstring injury. Slay has returned to practice, as has center Travis Swanson (concussion). Riddick has not. One of the Lions' least-discussed injuries has afflicted pass-rusher Ezekiel Ansah, who has missed only three games because of ankle and shoulder injuries but has seen his production fall way off, as he is presumably playing at less than 100 percent. After 14.5 sacks last season, he has two in 2016. This is a team that relies on quarterback Matthew Stafford's magic (eight fourth-quarter comebacks) and Slay's defensive playmaking, but otherwise is thin in key areas.

11. Washington Redskins

IR: 11 (Tied for No. 13/NFL)

Weighted impact of missed games: 8.299 (No. 19/NFL)

Tight end Jordan Reed reportedly will try to play Sunday against the Giants despite a shoulder injury that has clearly hindered his play over the past four weeks. Reed has only two catches over that period, during which the Redskins are 2-2 with four passing touchdowns -- fewer than 21 other teams. The Redskins' defense is also in rough shape this week. They're down two veteran safeties, DeAngelo Hall (ACL) and Donte Whitner (quadriceps), and fellow safety Su'a Cravens (upper arm) has yet to return to practice. But Reed's condition is the most concerning. The Redskins' offense isn't the same without him.

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

IR: 11 (Tied for No. 13/NFL)

Weighted impact of missed games: 10.089 (No. 27/NFL)

The Buccaneers are especially thin at running back after losing Doug Martin to an NFL suspension. Charles Sims (knee) is on injured reserve, as is Antone Smith (knee). Their 640 team rushing yards since Week 10 ranks No. 26 in the NFL. The loss of receiver Vincent Jackson after five games robbed the Bucs of a playmaker opposite Mike Evans, although Evans has still caught a career-high 91 passes -- tied for fifth in the NFL. The Bucs are also missing their top two right tackles from practice this week, Demar Dotson (concussion) and Gosder Cherilus (groin/ankle).

13. Oakland Raiders

IR: 7 (Tied for No. 3/NFL)

Weighted impact of missed games: 1.991 (No. 2/NFL)

The Raiders had rivaled the Patriots in terms of health before quarterback Derek Carr broke his leg in Week 16. Now, although the rest of their roster remains in good shape, it's difficult to envision the Raiders advancing in the postseason. That's the impact of losing an MVP candidate at the quarterback position. Backup Matt McGloin hasn't started a game since 2013, when he went 1-5 over a six-game stint. Cornerback D.J. Hayden (hamstring) is the most notable player on injured reserve, although the tight end position thinned without Gabe Holmes (ankle) and Lee Smith (leg). If the Raiders can secure a bye, they might be able to get back safety Karl Joseph -- their first-round pick who hasn't played since Week 13 because of a toe injury.

14. Miami Dolphins

IR: 7 (Tied for No. 3/NFL)

Weighted impact of missed games: 9.076 (No. 22/NFL)

Entering the playoffs without your starting quarterback is a major setback, nearly independent of who that starter is. The Dolphins are 2-0 since Matt Moore replaced Ryan Tannehill (knee), and they have not given up hope that Tannehill could return at some point during the playoffs. But Moore isn't nearly the accurate passer that Tannehill has become, having completed 58.9 percent of his career attempts. And he isn't the only backup who has taken on a larger role. Both of the Dolphins' Week 1 safeties, Reshad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus, are on injured reserve. So is linebacker Koa Misi and center Mike Pouncey. Somehow, the Dolphins have managed the NFL's ninth-most rushing yards (1,749) with Pouncey out for all but five games, but injuries are catching up to a team whose playoff push was improbable to begin with.