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Examining the Chiefs’ health — and that of its rivals — entering the home stretch

In the final part of the season, how will Kansas City's health — and that of other AFC contenders — make a difference?

Los Angeles Rams v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

An NFL season isn’t a sprint. Instead, it’s marathon.

The Kansas City Chiefs have managed to stay relatively healthy — and continue winning — despite some injury challenges during the past few weeks.

Every team must deal with injuries — and a large part of a particular team’s success (or failure) often comes down to health. Just look how injuries have affected the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams in 2022 — or the Los Angeles Chargers, who seem to have injury issues year after year.

With six weeks remaining, the season is entering its home stretch. Holding a conference-best 9-2 record, the Chiefs control their own destiny; simply by winning the rest of their games, they will earn the AFC’s No. 1 postseason seed.

So as we head into the home stretch, let’s look at Kansas City’s injury situation — along with those of the other teams contending for a spot in the AFC’s postseason.

AFC Championship - Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The Chiefs’ injuries entering Week 13

Only one additional injury was reported following Kansas City’s 26-10 victory over the Rams on Sunday: safety Deon Bush exited the game with an elbow injury. Head coach Andy Reid indicated it appears to be a minor issue — and on Wednesday, Bush was a limited participant in practice.

But three starters sat out of the Week 12 matchup: left guard Joe Thuney missed his first career start with an ankle injury, safety Juan Thornhill was out with a calf issue and wide receiver Kadarius Toney had a nagging hamstring injury.

Reid called the wideout “day-to-day” following Sunday’s win, but Toney did not participate in any of last week’s practices — and was also held out of Wednesday’s first practice session. Based on his repeated hamstring injury history, it is imperative he receives enough practice and rehab time before being sent back onto the field. Soft tissue injuries — especially to the hamstrings — can be tricky to rehab and are prone to re-aggravation. It would not be shocking for the Chiefs to continue to hold Toney out to fully prepare him for the final weeks of the playoff run.

While he wasn’t reported as injured following Sunday’s game, running back Jerick McKinnon was also held out of Wednesday’s practice with a hamstring injury. Depending on the severity of his injury, he could also be held back so that he’ll be ready for the final push.

Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster missed Wednesday’s practice with an illness.

But after missing Sunday’s game, both Thuney and Thornilll were full participants in Wednesday’s session — a good sign for their availability this Sunday.

In all, 14 Chiefs players were listed on Wednesday’s injury report. But except for Toney, McKinnon, Smith-Schuster and Bush, all were full participants in practice.

Each player’s availability for the Week 13 game will be dependent on their practice status this week. Additional injury reports will be made on both Thursday and Friday as the team continues its preparation for the 7-4 Cincinnati Bengals.

Early indications are that the Bengals’ offensive attack will be strengthened with the return of running back Joe Mixon (concussion) and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (hip) to the lineup. Chase has missed the previous four games — and was a huge factor in the Cincinnati’s two victories over Kansas City in 2021.

Other playoff contenders

Here are the current AFC playoff seedings, shown with the number of players currently on each team’s Reserve/Injured (injured reserve) list:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs — 5 players
  2. Miami Dolphins — 10 players
  3. Tennessee Titans — 16 players
  4. Baltimore Ravens — 11 players
  5. Buffalo Bills — 6 players
  6. Cincinnati Bengals — 6 players
  7. New York Jets — 5 players

In the hunt:

While the IR list only takes into account long-term injuries (at least four weeks missed), it is a good indicator of each team’s overall health entering the final weeks of the season. It can also help demonstrate how much adversity each team has overcome, the quality of its coaching and its depth.

The Ravens stand to gain the most from returning players in the coming weeks. Running back JK Dobbins (knee) is eligible to return at any time, while wide receiver Rashod Bateman (foot) could return in Week 15. Other players who could return among these teams include Bills rookie cornerback Christian Denford (knee), Patriots tackle Marcus Cannon (concussion) and Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (groin).

For the Chiefs, wide receiver Mecole Hardman and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire will be eligible to return from IR before the end of the regular season — in Weeks 15 and 16 respectively.

NFL seasons are a war of attrition. Right now, each team is fighting for playoff seeding, while also trying to maintain its health into the postseason. Thus far, Kansas City has been pretty fortunate with injuries — which is a huge credit to its medical staff.

Based on their recent quality of play — as well as their health — the Chiefs are in a great position to maintain control of the No. 1 seed and make another deep playoff run.

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