Panthers, Bears hit the hardest

Updated: December 8, 2004, 11:14 AM ET
Pro Football Weekly
It's the nature of the NFL beast. Week by week, players at every position keep dropping like flies, their bodies brutalized by the high-speed collisions that have become a fact of life in a sport featuring bigger and stronger athletes with every passing season.

As one respected NFL head trainer so aptly put it, "It's auto racing with humans." As a result, NFL players have never been subjected to greater injury risks.

"There's no secrets," CBS NFL analyst Phil Simms told PFW in late October. "It's speed and size. And guys actually run too fast for their bodies now."

This season, the body count seems bigger and badder than ever. In addition to the throngs of players placed on injured reserve, effectively ending their 2004 seasons, noteworthy stars have gone down for the count for prolonged stretches, testing each team's depth to the hilt.

"I think last week somebody counted up that we have more of our payroll sitting on the bench than we have playing," Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs said a few days before his team's Week 13 battle with the Giants. "We're substituting people like mad."

Suffice it to say, Gibbs has plenty of company.

What follows is PFW's annual team-by-team injury analysis, ranking the teams from most affected to least affected. We also present an All-Injury Team -- consisting of high-profile players who have either been knocked out of commission for the entire season or have been sidelined by injuries for at least six games.

Without further ado, let's begin with a look at the team we consider to be this season's most beleaguered injury victim -- none other than the …