Is this the most injured team yet?

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Enquirer beat writers Paul Dehner Jr. and Fletcher Page make their weekly predictions as the Bengals host the Saints in Week 10.
Sam Greene, [email protected]

A.J. Green’s GMC Denali Heavy Duty truck, customarily backed in between designated white lines at Paul Brown Stadium, was missing Monday. 

Parked just inside the Cincinnati Bengals locker room, in front of tight end Tyler Kroft’s space, was an All Terrain KneeRover PRO scooter. 

These are a few of the telltale signs. A steady stream of clues surfaces daily to remind that this might be the most injured the Bengals have ever been. 

Green’s truck returned Tuesday after tests revealed he doesn’t need surgery. Kroft’s scooter sits idle as he walks around in a protective boot. 

But neither will play Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, extending a prolific list of games missed this season by some of the most important players on the Bengals roster. 

• RB Giovani Bernard (knee) – four games missed 
• LB Preston Brown (ankle) – 2
• LB Vontaze Burfict (hip) – 1 
• TE Cethan Carter (arm) – 8 (out for the year) 
• DB Darqueze Dennard (shoulder) – 2
• TE Tyler Eifert (ankle) – 4 (out for the year) 
• DL Ryan Glasgow (knee) – 5 (out for the year) 
• DL Michael Johnson (knee) – 1
• TE Tyler Kroft (foot) – 3
• RB Joe Mixon (knee) – 2
• OL Billy Price (foot) – 6
• WR John Ross (groin) – 3
• TE Mason Schreck (knee) – 2 (out for the year) 
• LB Nick Vigil (knee) – 2

Carl Lawson (knee) was lost for the season and Green (toe) will be sidelined reportedly for at least two games after injuries suffered in Week 8 against Tampa Bay. Burfict, Vigil, Dennard and Kroft will each miss at least another week. Bernard’s status remains questionable, and offensive lineman Alex Redmond (hamstring, doubtful) and wideout Josh Malone (hamstring, out) were new additions to the injury report this week. 

“It’s just the nature of what happens in the league,” said Bengals offensive guard Clint Boling. “Teams have to be able to withstand some of those things because guys are going to be banged up for a period of time. Just have to be able to move on.” 

To this point, that’s what the Bengals have done. 

They’re 5-3 and in line for the second AFC Wildcard spot in the playoffs.

“We knew from the start we were a less experienced football team,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “We had to make hay every chance we’ve got. That’s what has played out. The injuries have compounded that a little bit. Our guys, you have to love the group. They come and work their tail off every day. Hopefully, we are working smarter and better every day.”

The schedule – five of eight remaining opponents have losing records – provides Cincinnati an advantageous path to reach the postseason. 

But they’ll have to buck an overwhelming trend to do so. 

The Bengals did not make the playoffs in each of the three seasons since 2008 they were below the league average in the Adjusted Games Lost metric compiled by Football Outsiders.

AGL is able to, “quantify how much teams were affected by injuries based,” according to Football Outsiders, “on two principles: (1) Injuries to starters, injury replacements, and important situational reserves (No. 3 wide receiver, receiving backs, 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 is active for the game or not, but instead is based on the player’s game status that week (out, doubtful, questionable or probable/blank).”

The Bengals earned a postseason spot in six of the seven seasons they were above the NFL AGL average during the past decade. 

And that seems like an obvious correlation: healthy teams have a better probability to be successful teams. 

Last season, seven of the top 10 teams in AGL made the playoffs. Nine of the bottom 10 did not. 

2017 AGL Top 10:

  • Rams – Playoffs
  • Falcons – Playoffs
  • Titans – Playoffs
  • Steelers – Playoffs
  • Cowboys – Missed
  • Jaguars – Playoffs
  • Panthers – Playoffs
  • Raiders – Missed
  • Bills – Playoffs
  • Jets – Missed

2017 AGL Bottom 10: 

  • Seahawks: Missed 
  • 49ers – Missed
  • Saints – Playoffs
  • Giants – Missed
  • Colts – Missed
  • Ravens – Missed
  • Cardinals – Missed
  • Texans – Missed
  • Dolphins – Missed
  • Bears – Missed
  • Redskins – Missed

Football Outsiders doesn’t release AGL data until the conclusion of each season. But it’s a safe bet the Bengals are in the running for their worst ranking in the past decade. Perhaps in history. 

The 2008 season is the standard for injuries derailing a Bengals season. 

Cincinnati finished with a 4-11-1 record after playing through the most AGL (108) in the history of the metric to that point. Quarterback Carson Palmer, playing the position with the greatest influence on team performance, appeared in just four games due to an elbow injury, and 44 different players appeared in the starting lineup over the course of the season.  

The 2009 Buffalo Bills (122.8), 2013 New York Giants (144) and 2016 Chicago Bears (155.1) increased the worst AGL record in history, a database dating back to 2000. 

In 2009, the Bengals made the playoffs with a 10-6 record after the AGL improved to 70.9, good enough to jump to ninth in the league. And in 2015, the Bengals had one of their best seasons, which coincided with one of their healthiest with league-best 28 AGL. 

Another injury to a quarterback, this time Andy Dalton’s thumb, derailed something that could have been special. 

Nine players, among them A.J. Green, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Reggie Nelson, Boling and Andrew Whitworth, each started all 16 games. Five others, Adam “Pacman” Jones, Andre Smith and Rey Maualuga, made 14 starts. 

There are, of course, plenty of variables involved: each player’s individual preparation and grit, among them. But an efficient weekly practice schedule that has evolved over time, according to Boling, has played a role in decreasing soft-tissue injuries such as hamstring and groin issues that tend to linger and hamper performance and availability. 

“At the end of the day, there’s a certain workload guys need to get ready for a game,” said Boling, in his eighth season. “They’ve modified the schedule since I’ve been here, and for the most part I think guys know what they do or don’t need to be able to play.” 

That’s part of what makes this Bengals run of attrition this season even more frustrating. Offseason prep and perfectly executed practice schedules can’t stop devastating injuries.

“It’s, unfortunately, part of this,” Lewis said. “Things happen all the time. You just got to keep your fingers crossed and hope you are on the right side of it.”

Lawson, one of the most physically impressive and health-conscious players in the locker room, called his ACL tear “a freak turf injury” after he was pushed by a Bucs offensive lineman while trying to stop. Nothing could have prevented Eifert’s ankle from dislocating and breaking under the weight of a tackling linebacker at Atlanta. 

“There’s nothing you can do to stop some of these injuries from happening,” Boling said. 

Of all the injuries that have cost Bengals contributors games, only Ross (groin) has dealt with a soft-tissue issue. 

“You control what you can control and you can’t really be upset about it,” Lawson said. “You can be upset but you can’t be devastated. If I had went out there and wasn’t doing everything I was supposed to do then I’d have regrets.” 

And so the Bengals press forward, at least with reasons to believe the worst has been weathered. The Wednesday after the Pittsburgh game last month, 15 Bengals were on the injury report. The list wasn’t as long this week. 

Price should return as the starting center Sunday. Green and Dennard didn’t require season-ending surgery. And Vigil, Bernard, Kroft and Burfict should return at some point. 

Until then and always, it’s next man up. 

“It’s one of those tough things,” Dunlap said. “The NFL has a 100 percent injury rate.” 

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