Looking back, the Panthers made a massive error in making McCaffrey the highest-paid running back in history. Of course, it’s easy to say that in hindsight, but his contract is one of the worst ever. It appeared like an ambitious move because he was the most explosive runner in the NFL. But almost immediately after he put pen to paper, he began to resemble a mule instead of a racehorse.
2020 was one of the most frustrating years of his career because he hardly played. The Panthers didn’t have major hopes of making an impact in the postseason. But losing their biggest star to multiple nagging injuries didn’t help (via NBC Sports). In 2021, they replaced Teddy Bridgewater with Sam Darnold. However, McCaffrey endured another injury-stricken year and it cost his team on the field.
It feels like the New York Giants are constantly rebuilding. But it doesn’t help that they’ve struggled to keep one of their best players fit over the past few seasons. Barkley is a legitimate Pro Bowl talent but his luck with injuries is rotten. Nobody expected the Giants to take the league by storm but the running back was crucial to their hopes. He tore his ACL against the Bears in Week Two and missed the rest of the season.
It was a devastating blow to the Giants because it may have ended their postseason hopes. The NFC East was brutal in 2020 with underperforming and weak teams. Despite their mediocre 6-10 record, the Giants almost scraped their way into the postseason. However, the Eagles effectively handed their final game to Washington and New York fell short. An elite talent like Barkley could have been the difference (via SBNation).
It may seem crazy, but the Bengals had massive playoff hopes in 2015. Then Dalton fractured his thumb and they faded away in an instant. The franchise had the greatest start in their history but it all ended in tears. They went 12-4 en route to winning the AFC North. It seems bizarre because it all went downhill after this year. But they had genuine hopes of contending for the Super Bowl.
Dalton’s injury was a crushing blow because A.J. McCarron replaced him. For context, McCarron only made 17 starts in his seven NFL seasons. In short, he wasn’t the greatest option in the world. Finally, the Bengals suffered a shock loss to the Steelers in the Wild Card round. They threw away a 15 point lead as they capitulated hilariously. It was a very Bengals day at the office (via ESPN).
The Chiefs surprised a lot of people in 2010 with a decent 10-6 season. Charles played a key role in their road to the playoffs because he was explosive on the field. Unfortunately, they failed to progress because they suffered a massive injury. Charles tore his ACL and that was all she wrote. Kansas met Detroit in Week Two and endured an incredibly bleak day of football.
Charles’s brilliance disguised Matt Cassell’s weaknesses the previous year. However, his mediocre ability quickly became clear without his main weapon. This turned into a nightmare of a season for the Chiefs and they fired Todd Haley after 13 games (via Bleacher Report). However, Charles rebounded over the next few years and became one of the most feared running backs in the NFL.
The Texans were on course for a strong finish to the 2011 season. Quarterback Schaub wasn’t having an amazing individual season but the team was doing enough. Sometimes a player doesn’t need to set the world on fire to play an important role. He started the first 10 games before a Lisfranc injury ended his year (via Washington Post). It was a crippling blow to the Texans’ hopes of a deep postseason run.
Matt Leinert stepped up before injury put him out of action too. Then it was down to the third-string rookie T.J. Yates to carry the hopes of a franchise. It was too bad that he just didn’t have the chops to pull it off. The Ravens defeated them in the divisional round and crushed their dreams. If they had Schaub at their disposal, Houston may have surprised a lot of teams.
Carr had one of the best statistical seasons of his career in 2016. The Raiders’ quarterback helped his team to an outstanding 12-4 record under Jack Del Rio (via The Guardian). Then it all came to a crashing end as Carr broke his fibula in the final game of the regular calendar. There were hopes that he could return in time for the Super Bowl if the Raiders made it that far.
But it was too much for Oakland. In the end, rookie Connor Cook started their only playoff game as they lost against the Texans. However, the Raider rued the decision to leave Carr in the fourth quarter of Game 16 against the Colts. They had guaranteed their place in the postseason but cursed themselves by tempting fate. In the end, they curtailed their chances of a Super Bowl appearance.
Lane’s season-ending injury came in the worst possible game: the Super Bowl. The Seahawks met the Patriots in the showpiece event but failed to win the coveted prize. They lost their star cornerback early in the game after he intercepted one of Tom Brady’s passes. He broke his arm on the return and that was the end. It was a major blow to the Legion of Boom because they found themselves depleted.
Tharold Simon came into the game to replace Lane but he was a clear weak link. Brady and the Pats’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel smelled blood and targeted the hapless Seattle defense. It didn’t help that Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas all played through injuries (via NBC Sports). In the end, the bloodthirsty Patriots made the most of their advantage.
Hearst’s 1998 season was one of extreme highs and lows. The scintillating running back scored a miraculous 96-yard touchdown against the New York Jets and it became one of the most iconic moments of the season. Also, Hearst was an important weapon in the Niners’ offense. But San Francisco lost their star man in the divisional playoffs after a nasty injury.
They played the Atlanta Falcons in a game Niners’ fans wish to forget. Hearts suffered a horrifying ankle break that threatened his career (via Sports Illustrated). It took him two years to return to football and he won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. But 1998 had the potential to be another special year for San Francisco with their rich attacking talent. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.
It’s important to remember that players are humans too. Some moments haunt them forever because they remind them of their fragility. Shazier ran headfirst into the Bengals’ Josh Malone and injure his spinal cord. This left Shazier unable to walk and he endured a brutal rehabilitation process to get back on his feet (via The Guardian). However, it ended his football career because it was too much to play again.
The linebacker was a massive loss for the Steelers. Although they won the game and continued to post decent results, the moment lingered in their minds. Shazier was also an excellent player who gave everything to the team. He was a valued presence on the field and crucial to their hopes of success. Ultimately, they fell narrowly short in the divisional round against the Jaguars in a game where having Shazier would have been perfect.
Debates continue to rage over Gannon’s ability but there was little doubt about his status in Oakland. The Raiders’ quarterback helped his team to a Super Bowl appearance against Tampa Bay. But they endured a blowout loss. Their fans were willing to look past this because they hoped their team would remain in contention. Then Gannon ended their hopes in Week Seven.
They had already lost four of their first six games but there was time to turn their season around. Suddenly Rick Mirer and Marques Tuiasosopo were competing for the starting shirt. In the end, the Raiders finished with a miserable 4-12 record. Adding insult to their results was the fact that they lost seven touchdowns by a touchdown or less (via L.A Times). Gannon’s absence was decisive because he was infinitely better than his replacements.
Collins entered the Green Bay Hall of Fame in 2016 after a stunning career for the franchise. However, it came to an unfortunate early end after he smashed into Jonathan Stewart. The result was a herniated disk and it ended Collins’ time in the NFL. It was massively unfortunate for both the player and his franchise because he was a key performer in their Super Bowl win.
Remarkably, the Packers went 15-1 without Collins so his addition on this list may seem like a stretch. But he was one of their most important athletes before they lost him (via ESPN). The Giants rocked the Packers in a shocking victory at Lambeau Field and crushed their hopes of back-to-back championships. Collins was a massive loss in this game because of his phenomenal defensive qualities.
The Panthers suffered a devastating loss in the opening game of the 2004 season. They came into the opener with high hopes after a Super Bowl appearance against the Patriots. Although they lost that game, there were strong expectations that they would remain contenders. But that wasn’t the case. Their season imploded early as Smith broke his leg against the Packers (via ESPN).
They also lost several other stars in the same game and endured a brutal start to the year. They went 1-7 before they finally put a few wins together. Smith was Jake Delhomme’s most important attacking outlet. Carolina finished the year 7-9 but could have had a much stronger showing if he was available. Their star receiver was vital on their run to the Super Bowl the previous year.
There are lots of offensive players on this list but it’s arguably even tougher to replace a key member of a team’s defense. Just ask the Baltimore Ravens after they lost Lewis in 2005. He only featured in five games after their Super Bowl-winning season. This crushed their hopes of building on their success and retaining their title. The Ravens had a stunning defense on their way to glory and Lewis played an integral role.
His loss came with crushing consequences because they didn’t have a viable replacement. Nobody in the NFL offered the same skillset as Lewis so it was impossible (via Baltimore Sun). In the end, Baltimore went 7-9 after winning the entire competition the previous year. They missed the playoffs and endured a lost year. Furthermore, they finished 19th in scoring defense without their star linebacker.
The Patriots came into 2015 as Super Bowl holders. Fans saw no reason why they couldn’t retain their title. In the end, they made it as far as the AFC Championship game but lost to the Broncos. However, that’s not the full story. They lost Solder, their offensive tackle to injury in October against the Cowboys. It was a major blow because Tom Brady lost his best blindside protection (via Fansided).
The Pats had the best offense in the league until Solder tore his bicep. Suddenly, they had to rebuild and they were shaky. First, they won six in a row before losing four of their last six games. It was quite the turnaround because the New England machine was highly effective before it lost a crucial cog. Solder wasn’t the most eye-catching player on the field but he had a very important role. Their hopes took a dent when he wasn’t available.
Mark Sanchez loved Revis because he made the former look much better than he was. The Jets went to consecutive AFC Championship appearances with Revis on top of his game. The cornerback was a formidable figure and became a seven-time Pro Bowler. It’s safe to say that the Jets relied on him to be at his best. He carried their hopes and dreams on his massive shoulders.
Then he tore his ACL against the Dolphins. This coincided with Gang Green suffering a major meltdown. Sanchez’s form went into stark decline while head coach Rex Ryan found himself under fire. It’s amazing how a single player can have so much influence over a franchise. He was the most important defensive figure in their team (via Dolphins). But when they lost that piece, it left a hole they couldn’t fill.
John Elway retired in 1999 and the Broncos faced a period of transition. Despite this, they still had hopes of a decent season because Davis was brilliant. Two years before, he set the record for most rushing touchdowns in playoff history. His eight scores stand as the highest ever. So it was a massive blow for the team when they lost their star running back when he tore his ACL in Week Four.
Furthermore, the Broncos were coming off consecutive Super Bowl-winning seasons. They believed that they could make it three in a row but fell well short of this target. Denver didn’t even make the postseason because they finished with a 6-10. The Broncos lost six games that season by seven points or less (via ESPN). It’s safe to conclude that Davis could have made a massive difference in their season.
Nobody imagined that Manning’s Indianapolis career would end the way it did. However, sport is cruel as he discovered. His 2011 neck injury didn’t just crush the Colts’ hopes of a decent season. It took them out of contention for the next few years. The franchise signed retired Kerry Collins as a stopgap solution. Results on the field didn’t go well but at least they got the number one pick.
The Colts chose to move on from Manning because they believed his body was too broken. We all know how that turned out when he joined the Broncos and had his Indian summer. Meanwhile, after a 2-14 season, with the 30th-ranked offense, the Colts drafted Andrew Luck. It was a strange and bittersweet turn of events because Manning was a Colts player through and through.
Many analysts talked about the Cowboys as bonafide contenders in 2020. But then their season went down the drain when Prescott fractured and dislocated his ankle in Week Five. Suddenly, the Cowboys found themselves with veteran Andy Dalton as their starter. In the end, they went through a medley of quarterbacks in a lost year.
It’s a shame because Prescott had a decent individual start to the year. He became the first QB to pass for 450 yards in three straight games (via Sporting News). But we should remember that they lost three of their first four. However, that was because they had a young team and a new coach. It would have been fascinating to see if the Cowboys could have turned their season around but their hopes capitulated without Prescott.
Losing a franchise quarterback is never good news. The Eagles discovered this the hard way in 2005 after McNabb succumbed to injury in Week 10 against the Cowboys. This was a do-or-die game for Philadelphia because they needed a win to have a chance of making the postseason. Instead, they ended up on a dire four-game losing streak.
In the end, they finished 6-10 and fourth in the NFC East (via New York Times). It was massively disappointing for their fans because they had high hopes. McNabb’s hernia surgery put an end to these because they just weren’t good enough without him. Meanwhile, the franchise had issues with Terrell Owens’ behavior. This year probably took years off of Andy Reid’s life because it was a disaster.
No team wants to lose their starting quarterback early in the season. But the Cowboys faced this miserable fate after Romo’s collarbone injury early on. They went 0-7 without their franchise star. It was extremely frustrating because they had high hopes of winning the NFC East. After that, any team can go on a run and snatch a Super Bowl win out of nowhere.
However, the Cowboys and Romo had miserable luck all season. Romo resurfaced late in the season but then he fractured his collarbone again on Thanksgiving. Nobody could have scripted it because it was so unfortunate. The Cowboys finished with a 6-10 record with Brandon Weeden as their main starter (via USA Today). America’s Team also lost Dez Bryant to a broken foot earlier in the year.
There were a lot of question marks surrounding the New Orleans Saints after Drew Brees retired in 2021. The legendary quarterback left a gaping hole behind. Fans didn’t have much hope that interception machine Winston would step up, but he did. He won the battle for the starting spot over Taysom Hill and helped the Saints to a decent start. Meanwhile, he performed consistently without many of the mistakes he made at Tampa.
It looked like New Orleans was heading to the postseason without a hitch. But then Winston tore his ACL and damaged his MCL against his old team. This was a major blow to the hopes of the 5-2 Saints because he was in great form. Trevor Siemian came into the game and delivered on the day but nobody expects him to be a full-time starter. Furthermore, doubts remain that Hill can be more than a gadget QB (via Yahoo Sports).
Palmer was one of the unluckiest players ever to step foot onto an NFL field. He’s also the only athlete with two entries on this list. The Bengals were genuinely good in 2005 and made their way to the playoffs with an 11-5 record. Palmer’s performances were crucial to their hopes of an elusive postseason win. They faced the Steelers in the wildcard game but it ended badly for everyone in Cincinnati.
Their quarterback suffered a torn ACL on the team’s opening possession. It was a crushing moment because it meant that Palmer’s season was over. But soon the Bengals’ postseason journey ended too. They threw Jon Kitna into the game and he played reasonably well. However, this didn’t cut it against Pittsburgh. The Bengals rue this loss because they believe losing Palmer was the difference (via Sports Illustrated).
Some people will question Testaverde’s place on this list because he only started once in 1999. However, the Jets had Super Bowl ambitions before the season started. Their quarterback was outstanding during the previous year when they won the AFC East. They had high hopes of building on this momentum and going all of the ways. Then, Testaverde ruptured his Achilles against New England (via Bleacher Report).
This left the Jets fumbling to find a replacement. They used three other quarterbacks throughout the season but none of them were anywhere near Testaverde’s standard. Ray Lucas deserves some credit because he came from nowhere to help win some games as the Green Gang finished 8-8. This record was very disappointing because they didn’t make the postseason and fell well short of their preseason dreams.
Chicago Bears superstar McMahon received one of the most cowardly hits in history against the Packers in 1986. Charles Martin brutally slammed the quarterback to the ground after McMahon completed his pass. It was late, savage, and extremely dirty. The officials ejected Martin from the game but it didn’t help McMahon. His season came to an early end, leaving the Bears high and dry.
The pairs achieved a 14-2 record but they missed their signal-caller in the postseason. He was the difference between winning a second ring and a sad end to the year (via Sportscasting). Meanwhile, Martin’s late takedown had severe consequences. McMahon blamed this moment for triggering the dementia he endured later in his life. It’s a notorious event that went beyond the hopes of a football team.
Palmer revived his career with the Arizona Cardinals and fired them to an outstanding 9-1 start. They were in the electrifying form before he suffered another devastating torn ACL (via Draftsharks). Tragically, two of the best seasons of his career came to an end because of his knees. But that shows just how tough football is on the body. As well as finishing his season, it effectively crushed the Cardinals’ postseason hopes.
The loss of Palmer was a massive blow because he was a calm and consistent presence. They hit a downward spiral and lost four of their next six regular-season games without him. After stumbling into the playoffs, they came up short against the Panthers in the wildcard round. This was very disappointing because they had the potential to deliver so much more, but in the end, Palmer’s loss was insurmountable.
On the surface, the Eagles had a decent season in 1991 as they went 10-6. But digging a little deeper shows that they endured several major disappointments. Firstly, they lost their starting QB Cunningham to a knee injury in Week One. This was crushing to their hopes because their options were not great. Brad Grobel and Jeff Kemp were appalling so Philadelphia started Jim McMahon for most of the season (via SBNation).
McMahon earned the praise of fans because of his performances. He was a steady pair of hands and helped the franchise to a winning record. But he was still a fading force in the NFL compared to Cunningham. Meanwhile, the Eagles had one of the top defenses in league history. But this still wasn’t enough to make it to the playoffs. They fell just short but Cunningham could have carried them over the line.
‘King’ Henry was having a stellar season in the AFC South. He led the NFL in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and carries before he broke his foot. It was devastating for Tenessee because Henry appeared invincible. He only missed a single game in the previous three seasons. Meanwhile, he resembled a battering ram combined with a jet engine against opposition defenses.
This came as a massive blow to the Titans’ Super Bowl hopes. Analysts saw them as genuine contenders but noted that they over-relied on Henry’s productivity. To be fair, a broken foot can happen to anybody. It’s not the same as ligament injuries. But there’s no doubt that the Titans needed Henry to stay fit so that they could storm the postseason (via Washington Post).
First, let’s put this into perspective. The Patriots went 11-5 in 2008 with Matt Cassel as their starting quarterback. That shows how good they were because Cassel ultimately wasn’t great by any means. It’s tough for Pats fans to look back at that season because Brady might have been the difference. He sat out the entire year after he tore his ACL in the season opener and the Pats’ hopes died.
Chiefs defender Bernard Pollard hit the legend low and Brady paid the price (via Boston Globe). It was a dark time for the franchise because they had lost the Super Bowl. It looked like they were about to become the first perfect team in history but they couldn’t hold their nerve. Then, they lost the biggest star in their comeback year. Cassel had a decent career year by his standards but he wasn’t Brady.