The two-time world champions sit in fifth – the play-off spot – in qualifying after winning just six of 14 matches.
Messi is serving a four-game ban for insulting an official, and the first of those matches was a 2-0 loss to Bolivia and led to coach Edgardo Bauza being sacked.
Maradona, a 1986 World Cup winner, questioned whether Argentina could qualify for Russia 2018.
"We are screwed," he told Radio Rivadavia.
"Without Messi, qualification is doubtful."
Argentina are yet to appoint Bauza's replacement and their remaining four qualifiers are against Uruguay, Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador.