by Ryan Meehan
This week Packers offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered a torn ACL at training camp and will miss the whole 2013 NFL season. Since it wasn’t a position player, this story was virtually unrecognizable amongst all of the other crazy sports stuff that happened this week.
Personally, I thought before this injury the Packers were in a little bit of trouble anyway. On both sides of the ball, their lines were very thin and there were other lingering questions about their ability to return to being the Super Bowl contender they were just a short time ago.
In my opinion, it’s going to be very difficult for the Green Bay Packers to compete missing a guy like Bulaga. He had recently been moved over to left tackle, given the daunting task of protecting Aaron Rodgers’ blindside. Since we only seem to hear his name called when he commits a penalty, the casual fan seems to forget just how important an offensive lineman is to the success of a team. In Bulaga’s case, he was an integral part of the Packers’ journey to a Super Bowl win in 2010 even though he did not start until week five.
So why does all of this matter? It changes the landscape of everything else that could transpire in the NFC this year, starting with that division and working its way out to the other three. While the Percy Harvin and Robert Griffin injuries are the big media stories, the Bulaga issue is going to be a year long affair and could cause serious problems for the Packers’ desire to make a statement come December. So let’s take a brief look at how this injury might affect some of the other teams in the NFC North by going over a few possible scenarios.
Scenario One: Packers are able to sneak into the playoffs at 9-7 or 10-6
The NFC North can get a bit scattered at times, but if this happens it would be hard to imagine that Aaron Rodgers won’t be so beat up that he’ll be able to run off three playoff victories in a row before getting crushed by whoever will end up representing the AFC in the Super Bowl. My point is, whoever gets the Packers first if they make it is likely to host the game and will probably gain some serious momentum while in the process of running them over.
Scenario Two: Packers do not make playoffs at all, Chicago Bears win the division at 9-7 or 10-6
I hope for the love of God the Bears win as little as possible this year, but if it does happen, I can’t imagine that the Jay Cutler and the gang won’t be as much if not more of a bowling pin teetering in a hurricane for whoever they end up facing wild card weekend.
Scenario Three: Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the Minnesota Vikings or the Detroit Lions end up winning the NFC North
Let’s just put it this way, there’s no “Scenario Four” but if there was it would involve you adjusting your chemical intake to the point where you wouldn’t hallucinate that either of these teams could actually win the NFC North to begin with. While the Bears might be that bowling pin teetering in a tropical storm, the Lions and the Vikings wouldn’t even show up at that game standing upright.
Come to think of it, all four NFC North teams are sitting ducks when one or (God help us) two of them show up wild card weekend. As far as the way this injury impacts the rest of the league, it means that unless the Packers can find a way to replace Bulaga along with addressing the rest of the problems that offensive line has it could give another team the opportunity to really step up.
The two teams that I can see being positively impacted by this are the Saints and the Cowboys. Let’s discuss…
The New Orleans Saints
After a dismal start last year that was largely in part due to not having the same head coach that led them to a Super Bowl victory as well as Jonathan Vilma on defense, the Saints missed the playoffs. This year, I would honestly not be surprised if they won 6 or 7 right out of the gate. Whether or not they were truly singled out by Roger Goddell we won’t really know until many years down the road, they certainly feel slighted and that’s all of the motivation they might need to have a killer year. In addition to the possibility that the Packers might struggle this season, if history is any indication of how the Atlanta Falcons will do Matt Ryan and crew should have an off year. And do you really think that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to win that division?
The Dallas Cowboys
Regardless of the fact that Tony Romo just became richer than any of us could ever understand, this year is kind of make or break for the Dallas Cowboys. They still haven’t won a playoff game since the late nineties, and with the Packers and the Bears slugging it out to make the North seem important (combined with a weak NFC East) this is the year for a team like Dallas to really capitalize on that empty space. (or spaces should the Bears suck eggs as well) I look for the Cowboys to have a huge year in 2013.
And like I stated earlier, both of these teams would have serious momentum should a team like Green Bay or Chicago sneak in and they would get to play them first. That momentum (as we know from the last two Giants Super Bowl wins) could easily carry into the next two games and eventually the big one in Jersey. As for the West, that’s a whole different cluster in and of itself, which you’ll read about here in a couple of weeks.
A player doesn’t have to be a position player in order for his injuries to affect the outcome of his team’s season. And in effect, that same injury can present opportunities for other teams to shine in their absence. Although nobody wants to see anybody get hurt (unless it’s Kenny Britt, because seriously, fuck that guy) the NFL is right up front when it comes to an injury for one team sparking a fire in the next. And sometimes that can lead to a championship.
Don’t forget the guys up front, they hold the key to all of this – this year more so than ever.