Now I’m not talking about systemically bad teams within perennially bad organizations. The better teams in the NFL are like finely tuned racecars, a little defect here or there in coaching or especially players — mostly as to players health — and the bottom can fall out, leading to a string of losses and likely an overall poor season.
How fans, players and coaches react to downturns in their team’s fortunes is fascinating. The depressing reality is that among the better teams in the NFL injury is by far the biggest factor in determining wins and losses. Fans, players and coaches will, however, twist themselves into a pretzel trying to avoid this fact.
You see we humans hate to think that things in life are beyond our control. We insist that any problem can be fixed no matter what, and this is never truer than in sports. Sure when a team is hit by injures there will be brief mention of their possible detrimental effect on the team, but then all the interested parties will rush into a million other reasons for poor results — poor game plans and preparation by the coaches, lazy, sloppy and untalented players screwing up the action.
Let’s take the Dallas Cowboys for example. They started the season with three wins. I mean, they did have a better than average QB, a terrific running back, a fine offensive line and a very good deep receiver. This effective offense was backed up by a fast, aggressive defense. So of course winning their opening three games again some poor competition was hardly a surprise.
But then the bottom seemed to fall out as they lost their next three games, and folks in Dallas went into a panic. Surely the fact that the team had lost its two starting offensive tackles and deep receiving threat during that losing stretch couldn’t be the reason. Yes, it was, indeed, the reason. In the 7th game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas’s starting line was back in tact and their best wide receiver had retuned to action with devastating results, as the Eagles, a highly regarded team at the start of the season that itself was plagued by injuries, cashed and burned before the onslaught of the Cowboys.
It will always be that humans look for other humans as scapegoats rather than admit that there are forces beyond their control. In the case of NFL football it’s mostly injuries that determine a team’s fate among the higher ranked.
Sometimes it works out that the next man up who replaces an injured player is as good or even better than the player he replayed so that the lost player causes no detrimental effect as to a games outcome, but not very often. Injuries are just what they are — trouble. And with lots of injuries comes lots of trouble.