The star players in the NFL get all of the media attention, but often it can be the key reserves that separate the good teams from the great ones. Injuries are an inevitability of football, and those teams best equipped to overcome them will survive the annual war of attrition that is the NFL season.
Last season, the Kansas City Chiefs were decimated with injuries across their offensive line come playoff time, and made it all the way to the big game before succumbing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive front. But that very same Buccaneers front outlasted adversity as well, with arguably its best player in interior defender Vita Vea missing every game from Week 6 up until the NFC Championship Game. The rest of Tampa Bay's roster picked up the slack, and then on the biggest stage, Vea had five quarterback pressures on Patrick Mahomes.
With the NFL expanding to a 17-game regular season, the value of quality depth is all the more clear. With only one first-round playoff bye available in each conference, every result is all the more important.
A recent data study using Pro Football Focus' wins-above-replacement by PFF analyst Tej Seth found that teams on average lost about 2-3 wins per season due to injury from 2012-2020. For example, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is set to miss the first starts of his NFL career following a Week 5 injury to his throwing hand. Over the last three seasons, Wilson has generated about 3 wins per season on average. If he misses four games or a quarter of a 17-game season, Seattle would be losing .75 wins above replacement to his injury.
While replacing a franchise quarterback can at times be an impossible exercise, the Philadelphia Eagles and Nick Foles illustrated the value of depth at that position as well. Teams must do all they can to truly adopt the "next man up" mentality at the other spots on their roster to successfully endure the challenges of a 17-game season. So we took a look at the five teams with the most depth to lean on when injuries arise and the five teams with the biggest drop-off from their starting talent to their reserves.