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Analyzing key injuries to Chiefs’ players before the Super Bowl

While multiple Kansas City players were injured in the AFC Championship, there is room for optimism.

Kansas City Chiefs vs Cincinnati Bengals, 2023 AFC Championship Set Number: X164296 TK1

During the 2022 postseason, the Kansas City Chiefs have laid it on the line. In both of their playoff victories, they have shown grit and determination. But unfortunately, they have also collected several key injuries.

The Chiefs had entered the AFC Championship game with significant injury questions. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes was dealing with a high ankle sprain from the Divisional Round game, and tight end Travis Kelce was dealing with back spasms that turned up during practice.

But during last Sunday’s 23-20 victory that returned the AFC’s Lamar Hunt Trophy to Kansas City, even more players were injured. Wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman and Kadarius Toney all left the game — as did cornerback L’Jarius Sneed and linebacker Willie Gay Jr.

The week’s injury reports — and head coach Andy Reid’s comments — offered some optimism on the defensive side of the ball. Gay was a limited participant through the week’s practices, while Sneed participated in warm-ups as he progressed through the concussion protocol.

So most of the concern regarding injuries for Super Bowl LVII involves the team’s wideouts. Reid — who is typically isn’t very forthcoming about injuries — did not sound optimistic about Hardman’s chance to play. So the AFC title game probably marks the end of a particularly frustrating season for Hardman. Since he is set to become an unrestricted free agent this spring, his Kansas City career may have reached its end.

Even though the other two wide receivers listed in this week’s injury report did not participate in any practices, their availability for the Super Bowl seems more likely.

Smith-Schuster missed one 2022 game with a concussion. He missed most of the AFC title game with a left knee injury. Unfortunately, this is not the first time he’s injured that knee. In 2019, he missed four games with a left knee injury.

Still, Reid has indicated that the team is “very optimistic” about his progress. As long as Smith-Schuster’s swelling improves, he could be available to return to practice in Arizona as the team makes its final preparations for the Super Bowl.

Toney’s injuries this season have been well-documented. After a long injury history with his former team — the New York Giants — he missed four Kansas City games with a hamstring strain. He left the AFC title game with an ankle sprain.

But with Toney, the Chiefs may have escaped a disaster. If his foot had landed in a different way, it could have been a much more significant injury to either his ankle or knee.

The injury occurred during a very awkward landing — on that was much more awkward than we typically see. It appeared to be a non-contact injury — which is never a good thing. Toney attempted to make a cut with his left leg — but then fell forward after it appeared that his leg had buckled.

If his foot had been planted without any rotation of the lower leg, Toney could have suffered a mid-foot fracture or a more significant ankle sprain. With this sort of foot planting, there is also the potential for a serious knee injury; if his knee had been hyperextended, there would have been the possibility for ligament damage.

Rehab times for ankle sprains vary depending on the grade (that is, severity) of the injury. A low-grade ankle sprain can heal relatively quickly with mild pain and swelling. Toney was also designated with a hamstring injury on the injury report — but this shouldn’t be too alarming, since it is likely to be an aggravation of his previous injury. (If a player receives treatment for an injury, that treatment must be listed on the injury report).

Keys for Toney’s rehab will be managing swelling and pain, gaining (and maintaining) a full range of motion for the ankle and ensuring adequate single-leg strength and balance. If done properly, these things can hasten his return to football activities.

Reid said that Toney participated in the walkthrough portion of Thursday’s practice. The extra time of the bye week will only help him recover. If he gets any form of practice time — even limited participation — the odds would favor his return for the Super Bowl.

Kansas City’s athletic training and medical staff worked minor miracles before the AFC Championship. They will certainly remain busy as they continue their preparations for the league championship against the Philadelphia Eagles.

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