We say it just about every season, but it has been a brutal one for injuries in the NFL with players dropping off every single week.
Week 11 was no different with injuries one of a number of key storylines across the 14 games taking place.
Just about every division remains up for grabs and plenty of teams are still very much in position to go on a run (whether or not they can, is a whole different issue).
Let’s run through the week that was in the National Football League with our top five takeaways.
1 – The Bengals busted season
Just when it looked like the Bengals were getting their season back on track, it all collapsed in an instant as Joe Burrow threw a touchdown pass to Joe Mixon on Friday.
As he retreated to the sideline, there was a clear sense of resignation on his face and when he went to try and throw the ball and stay warm, Cincinnati’s worst fears were realised, he was done for the game.
Backup Jake Browning did what he could, but there’s only so much you can ask of a guy seeing extended action for the first time in his career.
Even with a late consolation drive, the implications of a long term injury for Burrow were clear and Adam Schefter delivered the bad news.
Any chance of a Super Bowl run in Cincinnati is gone and the Bengals now have to work out the best approach for the future to set themselves up for long term success.
They have Burrow under contract, but they need to protect him better than they have to date.
He lost the back half of his rookie season to a torn ACL and is getting sacked at an alarming rate through four years, going down 148 times in 52 games, not to mention the extra hits he takes after releasing a pass.
That level of punishment is not sustainable, just ask David Carr, Andrew Luck and any other former quarterback whose career was limited by getting blasted by opposing defenders repeatedly.
Knowing you need to find good offensive linemen is one thing, actually finding them is a whole other kettle of fish with most teams suffering from protection problems.
Which means Cincinnati’s number one priority this offseason is going to be the same as a lot of other teams, they might be more desperate though.
2 – The AFC North is still the best division
While the Bengals are a cross-off candidate, the rest of the AFC North showed why this division was so highly regarded heading into the season as they were drawn to face one another in Week 11.
Baltimore is leading the way and looking as good as they have since 2019, when Lamar Jackson won MVP and guided them to a 14-2 record.
With the security of his big money deal, he took advantage of a fortunate break against the Bengals and made sure that the Burrow-less Bengals would not be able to hang around with a pair of touchdowns after Cincinnati lost their quarterback.
Will they be able to maintain that into the postseason?
They are in contention to get home field advantage and will push Kansas City all the way to the end.
Meanwhile, Cleveland and Pittsburgh were 6-3 before their head to head matchup, however both come with major asterisks.
The Browns lost Deshaun Watson for the season during the week, with the former Texans draft pick succumbing to a broken bone in his shoulder he had been dealing with for most of the season.
Rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson was asked to fill the void first up and he had the unenviable task of dealing with a brutal Steelers defence.
Pittsburgh is a team that sends the analytics experts crazy, having been outgained and outscored on the season but still held a winning record.
It was not a surprise then that the game became a defensive struggle, but in this offensively driven league, these two defences are good enough to win in December and January.
They can both force all sorts of mistakes from opposing offences, regardless of how good they are on paper and have difference makers up front in Myles Garrett and TJ Watt.
Last week it looked like they could send four teams to the playoffs, sending three is still very much a possibility.
3 – You can’t legislate against injuries
Injuries suck, there is no denying that but in a sport designed around a certain element of violence and collisions that carry the same force as a car crash, there is no way to prevent players getting hurt without fundamentally changing the game.
Head hunting has been eliminated as a result of the concussion lawsuit and you have seen justifiable penalties and suspensions issued to players for leading with and/or making contact with the crown of the helmet.
Speaking of which, Broncos corner Kareem Jackson might be set for another stint on the sidelines.
It has also resulted in an overcorrection where officials are throwing flags on guys getting hit hard in the general area of the head out of an overabundance of caution.
Then there is the legislation against hitting players, in particular quarterbacks at or below the knees to avoid the big names missing time with the crackdown starting in 2006 after Carson Palmer had his knee shredded in a playoff game.
Now the new cause amongst NFL prognosticators is the eradication of the hip drop tackle, while rugby league fans read this and go “been there, done that already.”
Baltimore lost Mark Andrews for the season due to the hip of Logan Wilson landing on his ankle on Friday and unsurprisingly the Twitter (or X) safety brigade was out in force.
While making a change in the name of safety is a reasonable approach to take, playing defence in the NFL is borderline impossible with all of these restrictions on how people can and cannot be brought to the ground.
Watch that tackle from Wilson and ask how else could he have brought down Wilson?
Remember these guys operate on a 360-degree platform, can run and get tackled from any angle and in most cases are a lot bigger than players in the rugby codes and Aussie Rules.
Now there are rules saying players cannot be hit too high, too low, too hard or too side on and the job is becoming harder and harder.
The jokes about the NFL heading down the road of becoming flag football are starting to become more and more prevalent and if they outlaw too many more tackle styles, it might just go that way.
Tom Brady nailed the change in responsibility in an interview with Stephen A. Smith this week.
4 – Cross off the Chargers (if you haven’t already)
It might be time for a regime change in Los Angeles with the Chargers dropping to 4-6 on the season after an ugly loss in Green Bay.
Head coach Brandon Staley is a popular punching bag for pundits and it appears as though the pressure on the alleged defensive guru might be finally starting to show.
It just has not worked and with Staley shouldering the blame for an underachieving defence, he might be the one to pay the big price.
With Justin Herbert now entering the prime years of his career, they need a coach to get the most out of their star quarterback and the current coach is not the guy to do that.
An offensive mind like Ben Johnson from Detroit might be the way to go, or their current offensive coordinator Kellen Moore who was brought in for 2023 seems like the way to go.
But if they want to fix the defence, another mastermind might be available in a couple of months…
5 – Kyler’s balancing act
It has been a mixed bag in Arizona over the last two weeks with Kyler Murray returning from an ACL injury.
Last week’s win over the Falcons gave plenty of cause for optimism, but there was a bit of a regression, going down to a good Houston team 21-16 this week.
Getting their franchise quarterback on the field is (mostly) a good thing for Arizona but they have a fine line to walk over the next seven weeks.
Considering this team was going in the tank early on, trading away pretty much every half decent veteran you got the feeling a rebuild was coming.
That means they are targeting a high draft pick and most of the time that team is targeting a quarterback.
However with Murray locked down under a big money contract, the Cardinals will have to decide if they want to stick with him or trade the former first overall selection and if he can win three or four games that might be enough to hold on to him.
There will be plenty of other talent on hand and at 2-9, Arizona won’t fall too far down the draft order, but making sure they finish strong and max out at 5-11 might be the best case scenario for all involved.