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Examining each AFC contender’s postseason health

Entering Wild Card weekend, where does each AFC team stand on the injury front?

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Another NFL season has come to a close — and the NFL playoffs are finally here.

The Chiefs are locked in as the AFC’s top seed. They’ll have a chance to rest — and get healthy — for their Divisional round game. Six other AFC teams won’t be as lucky. They’ll be continuing the 2022 campaign this weekend in the Wild Card round.

Multiple teams enter the playoffs with health questions at quarterback — or with other star players. Let’s take a closer look at all of the AFC’s playoff teams.

First seed: Kansas City Chiefs

Compared to many other teams, Kansas City has had a remarkably healthy 2022 season. The team enters the playoffs with only four players listed on its Reserve/Injured (injured reserve) list — fewer than any other NFL team.

Among those are running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and tight end Jody Fortson — each of whom might yet return for the playoffs. Prior to the Week 16 game, head coach Andy Reid said that the running back — who is recovering from a high ankle sprain — wasn’t “quite there yet,” but was “getting close” to a return. Reid also said that there was “a chance” that the tight end— who suffered an elbow subluxation in Week 15 — could return in the postseason.

Given the nature of these injuries (and their timelines for recovery), Edwards-Helaire is more likely to return. In his absence, however, rookie Isiah Pacheco and veteran Jerrick McKinnon have been productive. Fortson’s availability will be dependent on the severity of his injury, which the team has not revealed.

Wide receiver Mecole Hardman is another injured Chiefs player whose status is mysterious. Initially calling his issue an “abdominal illness,” the team has listed it as a pelvis injury in recent injury reports.

Hardman has not seen action since Week 9. He was activated to the roster on January 4 — exactly at the end of the 21-day practice window that was opened on December 14. Over the past few weeks, Hardman has been practicing on a limited basis. Should he be healthy for the playoffs, he would provide a significant boost to the speed of the top-ranked Kansas City offense.

Other Chiefs players who are rehabbing injuries include wide receiver Skyy Moore — who suffered a lacerated hand in Week 17 — and defensive end Frank Clark, who left Saturday’s game with a groin injury. Since the Chiefs have a bye week to get healthy, we should expect these injuries to be minor.

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Second seed: Buffalo Bills

Buffalo enters the playoffs playing for teammate Damar Hamlin. The safety suffered a sudden cardiac arrest during Week 17’s game. Never before has the fallout from such an event had such an effect on the whole league. It may potentially force a neutral-site AFC Championship game.

Thankfully, all the news regarding Hamlin and his recovery has been positive. He was released from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center on Monday. The Bills — wearing a number 3 patch on their chests — will be playing hard for their brother, who continues to fight his own battle.

But Buffalo is without some other key players this postseason. Linebacker Von Miller tore his ACL in early December. Safety Micah Hyde is also on injured reserve, missing the majority of the 2022 season with a neck injury that required surgery.

Third seed: Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati enters the playoffs with the many question marks surrounding its offensive line. Right tackle La’el Collins tore his ACL in Week 17, while right guard Alex Cappa suffered an ankle injury during the Bengals’ Week 18 victory over Baltimore. He was carted off the field — and it was reported that he could not put weight on the anke; after the game, he required a scooter in the locker room.

After Cappa’s exit, the Bengals’ offense looked different. The team will be forced to adjust as it enters the playoffs. Following a rocky start, the Bengals’ offensive line finally stabilized, helping to lead the team to its second consecutive AFC North title. More updates regarding Cappa’s status are expected throughout the week as the Bengals prepare for the Ravens.

Fourth seed: Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville is in the dance for the first time since 2017 — and the team is relatively healthy. It will, however, be without starting left tackle Cam Robinson, who suffered a right meniscus injury in December. Since he has been placed on IR, the meniscus is probably torn. The other significant injury is with defensive lineman Dewuane Smoot, who tore an achilles tendon in Week 17.

While neither player will be available for the playoffs, the Jaguars enter the postseason on a five-game winning streak. Many believe they will move on to the Divisional round.

Fifth seed: Los Angeles Chargers

Year-in and year-out, Los Angeles battles injuries — often significant — to star players and other key contributors. The 2022 season has been no different.

Even though the game had no bearing on the playoffs, head coach Brandon Staley inexplicably played most of his starters into the fourth quarter during Week 18. Defensive end Joey Bosa and wide receiver Mike Williams — both of whom have battled injuries this season — both came out of the matchup limping.

Bosa missed the majority of the season with a groin injury, while Williams missed time with an ankle issue. While Williams had to be carted off the field with a low back injury in last week’s game, reports indicated that x-rays were negative. Both players will be monitored carefully as the team prepares for its Wild Card game against Jacksonville.

Meanwhile, left tackle Rashawn Slater could return for the postseason. He ruptured his biceps in Week 3 of the season. Staley has not said whether Slater would brought up to the active roster for the playoffs.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Sixth seed: Baltimore Ravens

The biggest question mark for the Ravens (and a huge factor their playoff hopes) is the status of quarterback Lamar Jackson, who hasn’t seen the field since suffering a PCL sprain in Week 13. Jackson was never placed on IR, but has still missed six weeks — which has raised some questions about his status.

Current reports say the Ravens do not know whether Jackson will be available for the playoff rematch against the Bengals. If he still cannot go, there are other injury questions at quarterback: backup Tyler Huntley could not play in Week 18 due to shoulder and wrist injuries.

Seventh seed: Miami Dolphins

With Tua Tagovailoa in the concussion protocol, Miami also has questions at quarterback. This is Tagovailoa’s second diagnosed concussion — and stint in the protocol — this season. He has missed four games with these concussions.

When Tagovailoa has missed action this season, the Dolphins’ offense has been on life support. Unfortunately, this is not the only major injury Miami has had to overcome as it enters the playoffs. A total of 12 players are on IR. In particular, both the offensive and defensive lines are beaten up.

The Dolphins limped to the season’s end, finishing with a 1-5 record after beginning the season 8-3. The collapse was largely because of their injuries.

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