Injuries, or how to lose games in the NFL

At the end of the 2009 season the Bucs had 15 players on IR, which is quite a lot, but few of those injuries came early in the season or were to critical personnel, with perhaps Jermaine Phillips' early injury being the most significant. Throughout the season they had been fairly lucky in terms of injuries, ranking 10th on defense and 22nd on offense in Adjusted Games Lost - Football Outsiders injury measurement stat that bases its numbers on the injury report(ranking 1st in this stat means you had the best injury luck). Yet even with that reasonable amount of luck, the Bucs ended the season 3-13. They were just that bad. 

Injuries can impact a season heavily. You need only look to what happpened to the 18-1 2007 Pats when injuries struck in 2008 and they missed the playoffs. Another striking example is the difference between the 4-win 2007 Falcons who missed a lot of starters, and the 2008 Falcons who went 11-5 largely due to the entry of Matt Ryan but also due to the decrease in injuries. A third example: the difference between the 2009 Steelers with and without Troy Polamalu. In games with Polamalu the Steelers were 4-1, holding opponents to just 13.8 points per game. Without him, they were 5-6, yielding 23 points per game. 

Injuries play a large role in success, and injuries have been one of the areas in which the Bucs have been very lucky this offseason. No starters are out for any amount of time, and only two players slated to be significant backups landed on Injured Reserve: Jon Alston and Demar Dotson, with Jonathan Compas and Brandon Gilbeaux being on the list too. So how does this measure up to the rest of the league?

Now, I'll only be looking at the Injured Reserve(IR) and Physically Unable to Perform(PUP) lists here, to keep things simple. Taking into account minor injuries, like Freeman's thumb injury, would be difficult, and it wouldn't mean much either: you would probably be measuring the amount of reporting by the teams more than actual injuries, as we all know that the NFL is a league with a 100% injury rate. All players deal with minor pains and injuries throughout the season. What I'm interested in is the significant injuries, which at this point is best measured by IR and PUP. Someone on IR is out for the season and cannot play for his team this season, while someone on PUP is out for 6 weeks. The information comes straight from NFL.com's team pages. I'll define starters as players who are listed as 'starters' on the Pro Football Reference team page for 2009 and the players who started for the team last week. This isn't perfect, but it should be a decent indication. Here's the list:.

Team IR Starters on IR PUP Starters on PUP
Arizona Cardinals 3 1 1 1
Atlanta Falcons 2 1 0 0
Baltimore Ravens 5* 1 3 1
Buffalo Bills 5 1 1 0
Carolina Panthers 5 0 1 1
Chicago Bears 3 1 0 0
Cincinnati Bengals 3 0 1 0
Cleveland Browns 6 1 0 0
Dallas Cowboys 1 0 1 0
Denver Broncos 5 1 0 0
Detroit Lions 8 0 1 0
Green Bay Packers 3 1 3 2
Houston Texans 9 0 1 0
Indianapolis Colts 8 0 0 0
Jacksonville Jaguars 10 0 0 0
Kansas City Chiefs 5 0 1 0
Miami Dolphins 5 3 0 0
Minnesota Vikings 2 0 1 1
New England Patriots 7 3 0 0
New Orleans Saints 4 0 2 1
New York Giants 5 0 1 0
New York Jets 3 1 0 0
Oakland Raiders 3 0 0 0
Philadelphia Eagles 5 2 1 0
Pittsburgh Steelers 3 1 1 0
San Diego Chargers 2 0 0 0
San Francisco 49ers 2 0 0 0
Seattle Seahawks 5 2 0 0
St Louis Rams 3 1 1 0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4 0 0 0
Tennessee Titans 5 0 1 1
Washington Redskins 4 1 0 0

* - This includes rookie draft pick Sergio Kindle, who hasn't been signed yet as he got injured before signing his contract.

At this point, this shows that the Bucs are league average in terms of people on IR, but well below average on missing starters and people on PUP - quite obviously, since they have no one on PUP and no missing starters. In fact, they are one of only six teams to start the season missing no starters and having 4 or fewer people on the IR and PUP-lists. And if this injury luck can hold up, maybe the Bucs can turn it into an extra win.

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