Nevertheless, the action from the first four weeks of the year has been nothing short of sensational. Some teams have surprised fans and experts, while others have underperformed so far in 2021. Injuries have affected squads early in the campaign, and they will have to make some tough decisions regarding certain players that are injured on their rosters.
Some franchises have already decided how long some of their injured players will be out of game action.
The Carolina Panthers will be without running back Christian McCaffrey (hamstring) and cornerback Jaycee Horn (foot) for a few weeks after they both suffered injuries against the Houston Texans last Thursday. The quarterback drama for the Chicago Bears continues, as Andy Dalton (knee) and Justin Fields (hand) landed on the injury report this week. Finally, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost a speedy pass-catcher as Scotty Miller went on the injured reserve list with a turf toe injury.
Injuries are a part of the game, but teams could face an uphill battle without certain players. Our NFL reporters provide updates on some key players before Sunday's action begins.
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Gage will miss his second straight game -- cutting down Atlanta's pass-catching group by a starter. Last week, Olamide Zaccheaus caught a touchdown after getting more snaps in Gage's place. Figure a combination of Zaccheaus and Tajae Sharpe will fill in two-receiver packages and the option of more two running back or two tight end looks remains as potentially part of the plan. Atlanta will also be without rotational defensive lineman Marlon Davidson (ankle).-- Michael Rothstein
Jackson returned to practice Friday, but he didn't look like a quarterback who had missed the past two days with a sore back. Officially listed as questionable, Jackson was a full participant in practice and didn't favor his back. He threw on the run and moved all around the pocket. Asked about how Jackson looked in practice, wide receiver Marquise Brown said "real good" and added that he believes Jackson was as precise throwing the ball as he's been all season. -- Jamison Hensley
Poyer was injured during the Bills' 43-21 win over the Washington Football Team last week. The safety has not missed a start since the 2017 season. He had an interception in the win over Washington and has 12 tackles this year. Jaquan Johnson came in for him Poyer in Week 3 and could start in his place. -- Alaina Getzenburg
Feliciano started the week on a limited basis with an illness. He was then downgraded to not practicing in Thursday's practice with a concussion. Fourth-year guard Ike Boettger is likely to get the start instead at left guard. Boettger started seven games last year while Feliciano recovered from a torn pectoral muscle.
Andy Dalton, QB, Chicago Bears
Injury: Left Knee
The Bears are waiting until game-time to reveal the identity of their starting quarterback for Sunday's game versus the Detroit Lions. Bears coach Matt Nagy has said that Dalton remains the team's starter when healthy, but Dalton was limited in practice all week and is questionable to face the Lions. Dalton said on Friday that his knee injury is improving, but rookie Justin Fields appears the healthier of the two, even though Fields did suffer a right thumb injury last week in Cleveland.-- Jeff Dickerson
The first-round pick out of Northwestern has been ruled out of Sunday's game in Minnesota with a calf injury. In his place, Greedy Williams will get the start.-- Jake Trotter
Gregory did not practice Thursday because of a knee injury but he said he fully expects to play Sunday against Carolina. Gregory had an MRI and this could be something the team monitors to make sure he can get to game day.
With Gregory banged up and Dorance Armstrong (ankle) and Bradlee Anae (COVID) out, the Cowboys could go with more defensive linemen on the active roster. The plan is to use Micah Parsons at pass rusher some but he also saw work at linebacker during the practice week.--Todd Archer
Glasgow injured his knee in this past week's game against the New York Jets. Unless he improves over the next few days, the guard could be out for Denver's Week 5 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens. -- Jeff Legwold
The Broncos have injuries issues at both guard spots as Risner is dealing with a foot ailment. Denver has Netane Muti at right guard and rookie Quinn Meinerz at left guard if Risner and Glasgow can't play. Both players are powerful and more comfortable in the run point at this stage of their careers, but the Broncos have been so proficient in their two and three tight end sets in the passing game, they wouldn't feel much hesitation about throwing the ball if they also wanted to get Muti and Meinerz in pass protection.
The Lions' defense will have to pick up the slack as they look to get their first victory on the road at Soldier Field. For the second straight week, Trey Flowers has been ruled out of action with a shoulder/knee injury. The team is hopeful that he'll return soon, but the younger guys are benefiting from the opportunities.
"To be honest with you, we're in a pretty good place just depth-wise and it's more -- I just feel like if we are -- this is the right thing for Trey, too, which in turn is also the right thing for us long-term," Lions coach Dan Campbell said on Friday. "If we can get him back to where he's feeling really good, I think in the long run, that's going to be a good thing for him and for us." --Eric Woodyard
Aaron Rodgers will be without his best deep-threat receiver. While Valdes-Scantling has started slowly this year, he flashed signs of last year in Sunday's win over the San Francisco 49ers with a 12-yard touchdown catch, a 47-yard deep ball reception and a 24-yard pass interference penalty. Unfortunately, he pulled his hamstring in the fourth quarter and was ruled out for Sunday against the Steelers. -- Robert Demovsky
Nelson is missing his first NFL game, after starting all 51 contests of his career, because of an ankle injury. On Saturday, the Colts put Nelson on IR, meaning he'll be out at least three weeks. His 75.5% run-block win rate is first among NFL guards since entering the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Nelson's 95% pass-block win rate is third, so the Colts will feel Nelson's absence significantly. -- Mike Wells
The Chiefs will decide before Sunday's game whether Clark, who has a hamstring injury, can play against the Philadelphia Eagles. He has missed two of the three games this season, and the Chiefs could use his pass-rush ability. They have just four sacks, one of the reasons they are off to a 1-2 start. -- Adam Teicher
Jacobs, who missed the Raiders' previous two games, returned to practice on Thursday but has been limited in two practices. Raiders coach Jon Gruden slow-played Jacobs' return on Thursday, as did quarterback Derek Carr. In fact, Gruden said he would not hesitate to play Peyton Barber in a premier role Monday night at the Chargers after his career-high 111 yard performance last week. --Paul Gutierrez
Rams coach Sean McVay said Henderson will play Sunday in a division opener against the undefeated Arizona Cardinals. Henderson suffered a rib cartilage injury in a Week 2 win over the Indianapolis Colts and was inactive for a Week 3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.-- Lindsey Thiry
Typically reserved about his players' injuries, Dolphins coach Brian Flores announced that Deiter was hurt at practice Wednesday and will not only miss Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts but will also is likely be placed on injured reserve. Flores said it's too early to tell whether Deiter will return this season -- although that's his typical response to the timeline of players' injuries. In Deiter's place, former Baltimore Ravens OL Greg Mancz will start for Miami.-- Marcel Louis-Jacques
There's good news and bad news for the Vikings this week. The good news? Dalvin Cook practiced every day this week and seemed optimistic about his status after missing Week 3 with an ankle injury. "I'm extremely confident in what we've got going on in the training room and what they're doing to get me back on the field," Cook said. "I'm extremely confident."-- Courtney Cronin
Michael Pierce, DT
The bad news? Nose tackle Michael Pierce is dealing with elbow and shoulder injuries and is questionable for Week 4. Being without Pierce against Cleveland's dominant rushing attack, which averages 5.1 yards per run, would be challenging for the Vikings' defense.
Folk was limited in practice as preparations got underway this week, but the team was proceeding as if there was a strong likelihood he will be kicking Sunday night. Considering Folk has made 35 consecutive field goals -- which is the longest streak in franchise history and tied for the seventh-longest streak in league history (Adam Vinatieri, 44) -- that's good news for the Patriots. -- Mike Reiss
The Saints will have to get by without two standout offensive linemen after Armstead got hurt last week and center Erik McCoy has been sidelined since Week 1. Fortunately, the Saints have a veteran backup option in James Hurst, who held up well when he replaced Armstead both last week at New England and for two games last season. But Armstead is one of the NFL's best left tackles, so his absence will definitely be felt.-- Mike Triplett
Shepard and Darius Slayton are going to miss Sunday's game in New Orleans with hamstring injuries. They did not practice at all this week. It's a massive blow considering Shepard (18 catches, 223 yards and 1 touchdown) has been the Giants' best and most productive receiver in 2021. Slayton (7 receptions, 127 yards and a score) has also made some big plays this year. Their absence does make Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney more palatable fantasy options against a tough Saints defense. -- Jordan Raanan
Crowder is poised to make his 2021 debut. "Looking good," coach Robert Saleh said. The 28-year-old receiver hasn't played since the preseason, so it's hard to imagine him getting every rep out of the slot position. Look for a time-share with Braxton Berrios, the team's leading receiver through three games. -- Rich Cimini
McLeod, who tore his ACL in December, is set to make his season debut. His return is timely, with K'Von Wallace being placed on injured reserve this week with a separated shoulder. One other significant piece of injury news: left tackle Jordan Mailata will miss his second straight game with an MCL strain. Andre Dillard will get the start. --Tim McManus
After not practicing Friday, Claypool has been ruled out of Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers. Claypool's injury takes away one of the Steelers' best intermediate and deep threats, and he's been really valuable in making some combat catches or drawing pass interference calls. WRs JuJu Smith-Schuster (ribs) and Diontae Johnson (knee) were full participants Friday and don't have injury designations. -- Brooke Pryor
Kittle did not participate in practice on Wednesday or Thursday and was limited on Friday with what coach Kyle Shanahan has described as calf soreness stemming from getting stepped on in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions.Earlier in the week, Shanahan seemed optimistic that his star tight end would be available against the Seattle Seahawks, but Kittle's return has seemed to be slower than expected. He's officially listed as questionable for Sunday, but Shanahan said he will have a good idea whether Kittle is ready on Saturday afternoon. If Kittle can't play, Ross Dwelley will step in for him. -- Nick Wagoner
Lockett is listed as questionable with a hip injury, but Pete Carroll sounds optimistic that he'll play Sunday against the 49ers. Lockett was limited Wednesday, sat Thursday and was listed as a full participant in Friday's light practice.
"We rested him during the week and he had a bunch of treatment and he feels good," Carroll said.
DK Metcalf is expected to play after showing up on the injury report Thursday with a sore foot. Seattle's receiver corps will probably be without rookie Dee Eskridge for a third straight game. The second-round pick cleared concussion protocol this week but is listed as doubtful. -- Brady Henderson
Due to the rib injury, Gronkowski will not play in Sunday's game against the New England Patriots, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Saturday. Gronkowski did not travel with the team to New England.Gronkowski has been one of the Buccaneers' most potent red zone weapons this season, totaling 6 receptions for 184 yards and four touchdowns in three games.
Coach Bruce Arians said earlier this week that it was unlikely Pierre-Paul, one of the team's biggest leaders on defense, would play, but Pierre-Paul surprised everyone by practicing Friday for the first time since Sept 15. He's officially listed as questionable on the injury report, but he told Arians, "If I'm traveling, I'm playing." -- Jenna Laine
Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington
Gibson sat out practice Thursday and was limited Friday with a shin injury that occurred during the loss last week to Buffalo. He's listed as questionable on the injury report. Washington coach Ron Rivera said the team is optimistic that Gibson will play at Atlanta. However, he said he wants to see how Gibson's shin responds this weekend.-- John Keim
What's next for Pats after James White's injury?
The NFL Live crew reacts to the news that RB James White's season is expected to be over because of a hip injury.