One of the major factors in a team’s success late into the regular season and entering the playoffs is team health. The Kansas City Chiefs have certainly battled through some short and long-term injuries to star players this season, as have their AFC foes in the playoff picture.
In a season in which the NFL has seen over 50 starting quarterbacks, and there’s seemingly an injury to a superstar player on a weekly basis, no team is at 100 percent health at this time of year. While a bit of luck is involved, it also comes down to physical preparation and medical expertise from each club’s medical staff to ensure a team’s optimal health throughout a season.
As the team heads into the home stretch of the regular season, let’s examine the injury status of each club currently in the playoff picture for the AFC.
Chiefs’ injury status entering Week 13
The Chiefs began week 13 preparation with good news, in the form of MIKE linebacker Nick Bolton returning to the practice field after suffering a dislocated wrist in week 7. The Chiefs have a 21-day window for Bolton to be activated from the Reserve/Injured (IR) list to the active roster. Expect the Chiefs to gradually bring Bolton back into the fold, but there’s little doubt regarding his postseason availability.
Wide receiver Mecole Hardman is also currently on IR after undergoing successful thumb surgery this week. He quickly set aside any doubts regarding his postseason availability.
I’ll be back regular season tho lol— Mecole Hardman Jr. (@MecoleHardman4) November 28, 2023
Running back Jerick McKinnon (groin) and wide receiver Kadarius Toney (hip/ankle) both missed week 12 due to their injuries. At this time, neither player’s injury is considered to be long-term, but their availability for some remaining regular season games may be in question.
Injury situations for other AFC contenders
Even the most clever bettor in Vegas likely would not have pegged the combination of these other six teams to currently be holding a playoff position this late into the season. But that is the effect injuries can have on a season. Previous AFC heavyweights, the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills, have been decimated by injuries all season, and their postseason hopes appear slim.
While the remaining six clubs each have injury concerns of their own, they have weathered the storm to this point of the season.
Baltimore Ravens - The Ravens have, for the most part, remained much healthier this season, which is a significant factor in their current position as the one seed in the AFC playoff standings. They currently have five players on IR, with perhaps no more significant injury than that of tight end Mark Andrews. There is currently an “outside chance” that Andrews will return this season. Andrews is quarterback Lamar Jackson’s favorite target and a significant loss for their offense.
Jacksonville Jaguars - The Jaguars are relatively healthy this late into the season. Two key contributors are on IR: offensive tackle Cam Robinson (knee) and wide receiver Jamal Agnew (shoulder/ribs). Both were recently placed on the IR list and could potentially return for the postseason, if not the end of the regular season.
Miami Dolphins - The Dolphins suffered a major blow when linebacker Jaelan Phillips tore his Achilles tendon and was placed on IR this week. He will miss the remainder of the season. Star rookie running back Devon Achane also missed over a month of the regular season due to a knee sprain, only to return in week 11 and re-aggravate the injury. Achane is currently “day-to-day” regarding his return. Achane is a vital piece to the Dolphins’ explosive offense. If he can’t return at full strength, the Dolphins will feel that loss.
Pittsburgh Steelers - The Steelers’ defense has carried the team through the season, as their week 12 victory was the first game in which they out-gained their opponent on offense. The defense has carried the club in spite of most of their injuries being on the defensive side of the ball. Linebackers Kwon Alexander (Achilles) and Cole Holcomb (knee) are out for the season, while safeties Keanu Neal (ribs) and Elijah Riley (high ankle) will miss at least the next four games. The Steelers’ defense will certainly be under continued pressure to produce for their anemic offense.
Cleveland Browns - The Browns suffered one of the more gruesome injuries ever seen on an NFL field when running back Nick Chubb tore his ACL and MCL in September. Since then, quarterback Deshaun Watson also has been shut down for the season with a fracture in his shoulder. They are also short-handed on the offensive line, as both tackles Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin are on IR, although Wills could return. If it couldn’t get worse, star defensive end Myles Garrett left week 12 with his shoulder in a sling. The Browns are currently referring to Garrett as “day-to-day.”
Indianapolis Colts - The Colts also continue to defy odds this season with a backup quarterback. Rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson was shut down earlier in the season due to a shoulder injury, but the team surprisingly still finds itself in playoff position. The Colts’ most significant injury concern now lies with running back Jonathan Taylor. Taylor is set to miss multiple weeks due to thumb surgery after week 12. He could return if the Colts find themselves still fighting for a playoff spot late in the season.
The bottom line
Six weeks of regular season football remain, and a lot is still to be decided. Unfortunately, there are likely to be more names on each team’s list of wounded before the season is over, but each team in the hunt has proven their ability to overcome injuries throughout the season.
As it stands, for now, the Chiefs should be getting several players back late in the season. This should help in their quest to repeat with the Lombardi Trophy.