Last season the Dallas Cowboys were able to overcome a devastating injury to what was, at the time, their undisputed most important player, Tony Romo.
On top of Romo’s absence the Cowboys also played without their second-round pick, Jaylon Smith, for the whole season, although that was a self-induced sort of setback.
When you look at what the team has had to deal with this season in terms of injuries, they really have been relatively lucky.
The two biggest hurdles the Cowboys have faced injury-wise this season are inarguably Sean Lee (five games missed) and Tyron Smith (two missed). Similarly to 2016, they also were without their second-round pick, Chidobe Awuzie, for some time (six games).
Reality across the 2017 NFL season is that many different superstars have been lost to season-ending injuries. Sports Illustrated even highlighted just how many with a recent cover.
Examining one particularly brutal week of NFL injuries reveals that the number of injuries this season is extraordinary—but simultaneously not that special https://t.co/lKjNk879se pic.twitter.com/qL99WYL2p7— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) December 12, 2017
Take a look at that cover, which doesn’t even include every single lost player, and consider how many play in the NFC: Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, David Johnson, Dalvin Cook, Sam Bradford, Darren Sproles, Jason Peters, Carson Wentz, Aaron Rodgers (who’s back now), Delvin Breaux, Greg Olsen (kind of), Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman.
The players that we just mentioned all play for the Giants, Cardinals, Vikings, Eagles, Packers, Saints, Panthers, and Seahawks. These are all teams that, at the beginning of the season, many thought would challenge the Cowboys within the conference.
Dallas hasn’t at all been hit by injury to the magnitude that any of these teams have. While, again, it’s important to note that the Cowboys haven’t at all been 100% healthy all year, they have been lucky where other teams have not.
Of course, the Cowboys have had to be without one of their superstars in Ezekiel Elliott this season, just not for injury-related reasons. While that has been an obvious disadvantage for them, it doesn’t change that the Cowboys have fared far better than the field when it comes to injuries across the NFL.
This game in general is a war of attrition. It is a game (waits for Jeff Probst to show up) of Survivor. Football is a game of extreme skill and precision, but it is in many ways an experience dependent on luck. It’s very difficult to have enough luck on your side when the season is over so that your team is not pictured on that cover.
What’s frustrating for the Cowboys is that they’ve been afforded these “advantages” in terms of major injuries to their primary competition. Had Dallas been able to overcome their own setbacks and put themselves in the playoffs (a place they could still end up), it’d be a far less intimidating road than it is most seasons as these players would all be absent.
If the playoffs started today, the most over-used cliche in the books, the quarterbacks competing for the Lombardi Trophy on the NFC side wouldn’t exactly inspire fear: Nick Foles, Case Keenum, Jared Goff, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and Matt Ryan.
While that spread does include a Super Bowl winner and two former league MVPs, not to mention the last two reigning NFC Champions, you’ll note that it does not include Aaron Rodgers.
The shade of green that Rodgers has worn in two out of the last three playoffs has served as the Cowboys kryptonite both when Dez Bryant and Jared Cook caught it. Do you know how often he misses the playoffs? Once, his inaugural season as the Packers starting QB in 2008.
Dallas had, still has technically, a chance to enter a playoff field free of an enormous amount of superstars, while as fully loaded as they can conceivably be from an injury perspective.
Whether they will or not remains to be seen, it’s just unfortunate they left it up to chance when the path to Lombardi number six has the lowest level of resistance it has in quite some time.