Do the Packers actually get hurt more than other NFL teams?
For years, the anecdotal assumption among Packers fans has been that Green Bay is an injury-prone team, disproportionately affected by the bumps, bruises, breaks and tears that are rampant and unavoidable in football. Every training camp, the strength and conditioning staff is criticized for Clay Matthews' customary hamstring strains; the medical staff is annually maligned for players sitting out with ankle sprains; the offensive line depth, secondary's struggles and other aspects of the team are invariably the focus of injury-driven angst.
This season, thanks in part to Aaron Rodgers' broken collarbone, former tight end Martellus Bennett's public denigration of team physician Dr. Patrick McKenzie and their losing record, the Packers' injury report and reputation seem to be under even more scrutiny than usual.
On Tuesday, an ESPN article argued Green Bay, almost exclusively because of Rodgers' absence, was the club most impacted by injures in 2017 – a fair claim, though one that doesn't really consider team-wide health or the extent of injures on a roster.
Indeed, this season has seen a startling number of injuries to high-profile players, with J.J. Watt, Richard Sherman, David Johnson, Odell Beckham Jr., Joe Thomas and others joining Rodgers on IR. But those are unfortunate and particularly detrimental individual injuries; a Rodgers broken collarbone, while clearly a catastrophe for Green Bay, doesn't necessarily mean the Packers are any more injury-prone than other NFL teams.
When the Packers played the Steelers on Sunday, they had nine players on their injury report, compared to four for Pittsburgh. Besides being forced to play backup quarterback Brett Hundley again, Green Bay had to start its third-string running back, was without Matthews and defensive tackle Kenny Clark on defense and had its weekly issues at offensive line and the defensive backfield. That all prompted a renewed outcry about the Packers' health.
But is Green Bay actually any more injured than other NFL teams? Today, a Tuesday following the heartbreaking Sunday night loss that might have extinguished the Packers' flickering playoff hopes, seemed like a good day to try and answer that question.
Allowing, of course, that Rodgers being out hurts Green Bay a lot more than a typical player being out hurts a typical team, are the Packers injured more often or worse than anyone else? There's some subjectivity involved in answering that and a number of ways to examine the idea, but the best, simplest and most standardized data says no. They are not.
Every year since 2008, Football Outsiders, the most authoritative NFL advanced statistical analysis website, has compiled its comprehensive Adjusted Games Lost results. This is how Football Outsiders describes that statistic:
For those unfamiliar with AGL, we do not simply add up the number of games missed. We are able to quantify how much teams were affected by injuries based on two principles: (1) Injuries to starters, injury replacements and important situational reserves (No. 3 wide receiver, nickel corner, etc.) matter more than injuries to benchwarmers; and (2) Injured players who do take the field are usually playing with reduced ability, which is why AGL is based not strictly on whether the player was active for the game or not, but instead is based on the player's game status that week (IR/PUP, out, doubtful, questionable, or probable).
According to Football Outsiders' AGL figures, from 2008 through 2016, the last full year of data, the Packers totaled 611.4 adjusted games lost, or 67.9 per season. That average was 18th-most among the 32 teams in the NFL (technically, 17.9th), which put Green Bay near the bottom of the league's middle third – not great, but hardly one of the most-injured teams. Three times, the Packers ranked among the worst, in 2013 (30th), 2012 (32nd) and 2010 (30th), the season in which they won the Super Bowl.
Otherwise, they have never been lower than No. 17, and actually have enjoyed a run of pretty good injury luck the past few years. In 2014, when Green Bay made it to the NFC Championship Game, it ranked third for fewest adjusted games lost; in 2015, the team was ninth; and last season it was right in the middle at No. 16.
Of course, AGL isn't a catch-all statistic – it's a paint-by-numbers illustration, not a perfect picture of a team's health, relative to the rest of the NFL. But over nearly a decade, it shows that the Packers are almost exactly league-average in terms of injuries, accounting for severity and player importance.
As for this year? Football Outsiders doesn't have AGL data yet, but we can get a rough idea of how significantly teams have been impacted by serious injuries by looking at the number of players they have placed on Injured Reserve and the Physically Unable to Perform lists. Through Week 12, Green Bay has put seven players on IR/PUP, which is tied for the 17th-most in the NFL. Again, the Packers are almost exactly in the middle, and they're actually just below the league mean of 7.7 players. San Francisco is at the top, with 16 on IR/PUP.
The Packers are, and have been for years, far from an unhealthy or badly conditioned team. Essentially, they get hurt at just about a league-average rate. Injuries shouldn't be an excuse for the team, nor a complaint of its fans, when Green Bay plays poorly and loses games.
This proves something many people probably didn't know – that the team is in fact not one of the most injured in the NFL – as well as underscores something that just about everyone already knew: When Aaron Rodgers gets hurt, the Packers are in trouble.
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