Colts, Packers, Panthers damaged by injuries

It hurts to look at the injury list anywhere in the NFL at the

halfway point of the season. It’s particularly painful in

Indianapolis, New Orleans, Green Bay, San Diego and Carolina.

Yet all of those teams except the Panthers have a shot at making

the playoffs, with the Colts and Packers atop their divisions.

Injuries can be the great equalizer in pro football. So which

ones have made the biggest difference thus far, or might down the

stretch?

All those Colts – Where do we begin? How about just listing

them, from safeties Bob Sanders (torn biceps) and Melvin Bullitt

(shoulder) to RB Joseph Addai (shoulder) to LBs Gary Brackett

(groin) and Clint Session (dislocated right elbow and broken right

forearm) to WRs Austin Collie (left thumb and concussion) and

Anthony Gonzalez (knee). And the most damaging of all: All-Pro TE

Dallas Clark (wrist), who had become Peyton Manning’s top

target.

All those Packers – Green Bay has 10 players on IR, including

regulars. RB Ryan Grant (ankle), TE Jermichael Finley (knee) and LB

Nick Barnett (knee) were the biggest injuries, but the Pack appears

to be getting healthier at the right time. The lineup shuffling has

even added to the team’s depth.

All those Chargers – The bug has hit the Chargers mostly at

receiver, from star TE Antonio Gates (foot, toe, ankle) to wideouts

Legedu Naanee (hamstring), Malcom Floyd (hamstring) and Craig Davis

(groin). QB Philip Rivers’ astounding passing numbers are even

more, well, astounding when you consider those absences and the

holdout by Vincent Jackson that soon will end.

All those Saints – Both backfields have been ravaged. RBs Pierre

Thomas (sprained left ankle) and Reggie Bush (broken right leg)

have missed nearly every game. Cornerback Tracy Porter missed four

games (left knee) and All-Pro FS Darren Sharper missed the first

six matches on the PUP list (offseason microfracture surgery on hi

left knee). Like the Packers, the Saints are getting people back

just in time to make a run.

All those Panthers – Forget about Carolina making any kind of

run; the Panthers are down to their fourth-string running back this

weekend. They’ve also lost QB Matt Moore (shoulder) for the season,

along with LBs Thomas Davis (knee) and Dan Connor (hip). And

Carolina didn’t have the talent base to contend when it was fully

healthy.

Aaron Smith, DE, Steelers – When Smith and Troy Polamalu were

hurt last year, Pittsburgh plummeted, eventually failing to make

the postseason. Smith is gone again with a torn left triceps, and

he’s as important to the defense as anyone else, including James

Harrison and Polamalu. The Steelers are still 6-2 right now, but

they miss Smith more down the line.

Kris Jenkins, DT, Jets – Lost on the team’s sixth defensive play

of the season with a torn-up left knee, Jenkins is the run-stuffer

who made everyone else on the front seven effective on Rex Ryan’s

D.

Kenny Britt, WR, Titans – Britt has been a sensation as a deep

threat, but now has an injured right hamstring that will sideline

him for awhile. His injury was partly responsible for Tennessee

claiming the mercurial Randy Moss off waivers.

DeMeco Ryans, LB, Texans – Houston can’t cover anybody and ranks

dead last in defense without its leader. The versatile Ryans

ruptured his left Achilles’ tendon and is out for the year.

Elvis Dumervil, LB, Broncos – A torn pectoral muscle in training

camp robbed the Broncos of their All-Pro and one of the league’s

top sackmasters. Denver has all of nine sacks through eight games;

Dumervil would have that many himself.

Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys – Yeah, we know. Dallas was headed for

oblivion even with Romo behind center. But when he broke his

collarbone, it signaled the end of any chance to turn things around

under Wade Phillips, who was fired as coach on Monday.

Mathias Kiwanuka, DE, Giants – A cervical disk injury landed him

on IR and the Giants have missed a beat on the pass rush, anyway.

But they could miss the versatility and depth Kiwanuka provided,

along with the sacks (4) he had.

Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins – He has missed the last four games

with a left groin injury. Washington ranks 23rd running the

ball.

Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton, WRs, Rams – Avery went down in

preseason with a knee injury. Clayton filled in well before hurting

his knee early in the season. Both are gone for the year.

Russell Okung, T, Seahawks – Clearly Seattle’s best lineman, in

the one full game he’s played the Seahawks had their best offensive

output, Okung had a high right-ankle sprain in preseason and got a

high left-ankle sprain in the first quarter against Arizona two

weeks ago.

Sidney Rice, WR, Vikings – Sidelined all season with a hip

problem, his absence cost the Vikings much of their deep passing

game. It helped lead to the unfortunate trade for Moss.

Minnesota also has lost CB Cedric Griffin (knee).

Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions – Down again with a damaged

shoulder, Stafford is giving the Lions pause. Is he injury prone?

When he’s on the field, he’s been productive. He simply isn’t on

the field enough.