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Ranking the NFL teams most impacted by injuries

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McCarthy says Rodgers will have surgery (0:19)

Mike McCarthy explains that Aaron Rodgers will have surgery in the near future after breaking his right collarbone. (0:19)

David Johnson.

Eric Berry.

J.J. Watt.

Odell Beckham Jr.

And now, Aaron Rodgers.

During the first six weeks of the season, five of the NFL's best players have been lost to injury. They are either out for the season or will miss the majority of it. Their injuries have dimmed the league's star power; all were ranked among the top 13 players in ESPN's NFL Rank project this season. In some cases, these players have sparked a reshuffling of how we stack competitiveness across the league landscape.

Which teams have been the most affected by injuries? It's a bit early in the season to start making dramatic projections, but tough times call for tough measures.


1. Green Bay Packers (4-2)

In some ways, it's difficult to argue that a 4-2 team has been impacted too negatively by anything. However, in addition to replacing Rodgers, new quarterback Brett Hundley must fend with an offensive line that has been ravaged and hope that a similarly wrecked defense can mend its way to health.

Injuries have forced the Packers to start a different offensive line combination in every game this season. The upheaval is likely to continue; left tackle David Bakhtiari aggravated his hamstring Sunday in Minnesota, and right tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered a concussion. Meanwhile, the Packers played the Vikings without three starting defensive backs: Davon House, Kevin King and Morgan Burnett.

The Packers already were going to have to change their approach without Rodgers. This season, they have dropped back on 62 percent of their plays when holding a lead. That's the third-highest percentage in the NFL and something they almost certainly won't want to do with Hundley. They'll have to switch that up while indoctrinating new and/or different personnel up and down their lineup. It will be a tall task.

2. New York Giants (1-5)

The Giants lost four wide receivers -- three for the season -- in a Week 5 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Beckham, Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris were all moved to injured reserve. The injuries left the Giants with only two receivers who had more than 15 career receptions on the roster, but most importantly, the situation robbed the Giants of the player around whom they had built their entire offense.

The Giants looked great in Sunday night's victory over the Denver Broncos. But Beckham has been a safety net for quarterback Eli Manning throughout his brief career. On the plays that Beckham has sat out since 2014, Manning has been much more conservative (an average of 1 yard fewer downfield per pass) and much more prone to interceptions (2.3 percent interception rate with Beckham on the field; 3.7 with him off).

The Giants had six players on their active roster Sunday night who were ruled out because of injury two days before kickoff. The loss of Beckham alone is enough to merit inclusion on this list. Over time, Manning and the Giants will struggle to score points without him.

3. New England Patriots (4-2)

I won’t try to argue that the preseason loss of receiver Julian Edelman has contributed to the Patriots’ somewhat wobbly 4-2 start. Their offense is averaging an NFL-high 28.7 points per game, not including defensive or special-teams touchdowns. And they have managed to achieve the league’s fourth-highest third-down conversion percentage (44.3), a role that had become one of Edelman’s specialties.

The true impact of Edelman’s torn ACL might not come until the playoffs. (I’m operating under the assumption that the Patriots will get there.) Simply put, Edelman has been the NFL’s most productive postseason receiver since his rookie year of 2009.

In playoff games in that period, during which the Patriots reached three Super Bowls and won two, Edelman has 28 more receptions, 45 more targets and 14 more first-down receptions than any other player, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information. It’s true that the Patriots have played in a bunch of postseason games, giving Edelman more opportunities than most players around the league, but there is no doubt that he is quarterback Tom Brady's crutch in those clutch situations.

One of the Patriots’ biggest challenges of the regular season will be to identify someone to fill that role for when they inevitably reach the playoffs.

4. Baltimore Ravens (3-3)

Sometimes it’s fair to wonder how the Ravens have won three games. They lost nine players for the season between June 1 and the end of the preseason, including running back Kenneth Davis and tight end Crockett Gillmore. Since the season began, they have placed All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda, defensive end Brent Urban and running back Danny Woodhead on injured reserve. Quarterback Joe Flacco missed the preseason because of a back injury, and nose tackle Brandon Williams has played in only two games.

It’s fair to wonder if injuries and departures along the offensive line have been particularly damaging. In addition to losing Yanda, the Ravens were hit by John Urschel's summer retirement and Alex Lewis' summer surgery. Urschel and Lewis combined to start 11 games last season and would have provided important depth.

In a 27-24 loss Sunday to the Chicago Bears, the Ravens failed to score an offensive touchdown. Overall, their offense is averaging 15.3 points per game, third-lowest in the NFL.

5. Detroit Lions (3-3)

Two key members of the defensive line are already lost for the year: defensive tackles Kerry Hyder (Achilles tendon) and Haloti Ngata (biceps). But the domino effects of left tackle Taylor Decker's offseason biceps injury developed into a massive issue the past few weeks.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been sacked 17 times in his past three games, two of them losses, and he himself is beaten up with hamstring and ankle injuries. Replacement left tackle Greg Robinson has struggled and was benched during Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints.

With guard T.J. Lang (back) already sidelined, it got ugly when right tackle Rick Wagner was banged up. For the game, Stafford had nine passes batted down at or behind the line of scrimmage. The Lions also finished the game without safety Glover Quin (concussion) and receiver Golden Tate (shoulder).

The Lions’ upcoming bye week will help some of those players get back on the field. But when the franchise quarterback has taken a beating six games into the season, in part because of an injury-ravaged offensive line, it’s a situation worth monitoring.