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Health benefits: Bills, playoff teams low on injury list

The Buffalo Bills enjoyed relatively good health on their way to their first playoff season of the millennium.

The Bills lost a combined total of 39 games by starters to injuries in 2017. That ranked tied for ninth fewest in the NFL, according to roster analysis by The News. The league average was 54 games by starters lost to injury.

It's good to be healthy. Each of the top four least injury-plagued teams and eight of the top 12 made the playoffs.

Atlanta lost the fewest games by starters to injury – 12. The Los Angeles Rams were second (16), followed by the Tennessee Titans (24) and Pittsburgh Steelers (25). Only one Atlanta starter missed as many as three games.

Minnesota had the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL and lost only three games by defensive starters to injury. Jacksonville's D ranked No. 2, and it lost only two games. Ten of the 11 Jaguars' defensive starters played every game.

The three teams that lost the most games by starters were Chicago (114), Arizona (102) and the New York Giants (99).

The Bills lost only one starter for more than 10 games. Left tackle Cordy Glenn missed 11. The Bills weathered that injury well because Dion Dawkins filled in admirably at the position.

Unfortunately for the Bills, they did get dinged up at one of the positions where they could least afford it. Starting receiver Jordan Matthews missed six games and was limited by injury in the 10 games he managed to play. And Kelvin Benjamin missed two games but wasn't quite the same in the final five he played after hurting his knee in Los Angeles.

The Bills' defense was mostly healthy. First-team defenders who missed games were: Shaq Lawson (6), E.J. Gaines (5), Ramon Humber (3), Jordan Poyer (1) and Marcell Dareus (1).

Good teams generally have the depth to weather the inevitable injuries. The Patriots lost their No. 1 receiver in preseason, Julian Edelman, but still had the No. 1-ranked offense in the NFL. New England also lost standout right tackle Marcus Cannon for the season in Week 8. Its best linebacker, Dont'a Hightower, played only five games before going down for the season.

While teams work very hard to limit soft-tissue injuries, luck is an inevitable part of the injury equation. The Bills had their share of bad injury luck during the playoff drought. They led the NFL in injuries, by various measures, in 2007 and 2011, and were high on the injury list numerous other years.

The injury numbers do not count reserve players who miss games. However, the totals do count any cases in which a backup assumes a starting position due to an injury and then misses a game or more to injury. So two or more players at the same position could contribute to the starts-lost total.

The totals do not count players injured before training camp who never were active. But it does count veteran starters who were injured in preseason and lost for the year. Those include Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Patriots' Edelman, 16 games lost apiece. Also counted for 16 games lost is Colts QB Andrew Luck. While he never played, he was on the 53-man active roster to start the season. Starters rested as a precaution by playoff teams in the final week did not count.

A slew of injuries is hard to overcome. None of the teams in the bottom 10 of starter-games lost made the playoffs.

It's noteworthy that the 0-16 Cleveland Browns were not ravaged by injuries, finishing with the 13th-fewest injuries. The Cleveland offense lost the ninth fewest games (18) yet still managed to finish last in the NFL in scoring, at 14.6 ppg.

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