With only three games left to handicap in NFL playoff odds, the four teams remaining must all overcome injuries to significant contributors, including starting quarterback for the Chiefs and Eagles. For the Bengals and 49ers, other key positions on offense have been hit by the NFL injuries bug at the wrong time. Nevertheless, the spreads foreshadow tight, competitive games for San Francisco () at Philadelphia () in the NFC Championship and Cincinnati () at Kansas City () in the AFC Championship.
Here is my analysis of the most impactful injuries for all four teams heading into conference championship weekend.
Will Carroll has covered injuries in sports for more than 20 years, working at places like ESPN, Baseball Prospectus, Football Outsiders, and FanDuel. He’s written four books, including the upcoming “The Science of Football” and consults with several pro teams. He is currently the Director of Bioanalytics for Northstarr, a sports science startup company.Editor’s Note
Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs Injuries
There’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind problem with injury. La’el Collins has only been out a couple weeks and no one discusses him heading into the conference championship because he’s gone. Add in the Alex Cappa and Jonah Williams were on the sidelines to watch the Bengals line play one of its most complete and physical games. I almost always point to depth charts on issues like this. Coaches see these players more than anyone and are good at ranking them for reasons, but sometimes, a backup can have a good week and frankly, having good backups is a sign of a good front office and a good development staff. Kudos to the Bengals all around, as they won and gave those players another week to heal up. There’s a chance one or both could play, which should help, but then again, this was a misread last week and I don’t think we should shift any models if they’re in or out. They both did not practice Wednesday or Thursday.
The Bengals defense is largely healthy and Lou Anarumo’s schemes will be tested against the Chiefs offense. With Mahomes’ mobility slightly compromised, I’d expect them to focus on containing him and forcing shorter throws and runs. I like the under here in a big way as I think this one has a slower game script than many expect.
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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
I wrote about Patrick Mahomes earlier this week at TheLines and nothing has changed in my view. His practice status will be much watched, but is irrelevant to his game status. Mahomes will play and I expect that his high ankle sprain will shift the line off by a point or more. There was some video from his Wednesday practice where he was running without a discernible limp, but he wasn’t cutting or doing much aside from going from Point A to Point B across the Chiefs field. The lack of limp is what I expected to see, though this early is even more positive than I expected. Mahomes at 80 percent might be the floor now.
Frank Clark made it through last week without re-injuring his groin. He and a healthy defense have quite the task ahead of them. On the other side, it’s unclear if Clyde Edwards-Hilaire or Mecole Hardman will come off the sidelines for the team this week, but early indications are now. Neither should be a big adjustment to models and would just slide in at the back of any RB or WR rotation.
San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles Injuries
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Christian McCaffrey has never been the most durable of running backs. That’s about the only skill he lacks and why he was available for the Niners in the first place. They’ve kept him relatively productive in his half-season, but the team has long had a problem with running backs and health. Is this how they handle them, or how they select them? Most I speak with think the latter, meaning acquiring someone with durability issues doesn’t help. They have to keep him productive, despite a calf strain on one side and a lingering patellar tendonitis on the other. Add in that Elijah Mitchell is banged up and his increased usage isn’t going to be as tenable against the Eagles. I wouldn’t touch either the yardage props here or the team total.
There was late word on the 49ers injury report that Deebo Samuel missed practice on Wednesday with an ankle issue. This is a lingering high ankle sprain that he’s played through (and played well.) This is likely maintenance and Samuel should play as normal on Sunday.
The other thing to keep in mind is that while Brock Purdy is a nice story for now and a big complication the minute the season is over, the fact is that Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance both didn’t stay healthy. They’ll have perhaps another QB competition to start next year, though Garoppolo might be back for the Super Bowl and yes, he’d be the backup and an upgrade over Josh Johnson, who’s only one play from being in a conference championship! Garoppolo will be healthy in plenty of time to sign as a free agent for one of the QB needy teams, likely Las Vegas or Tennessee.
Jalen Hurts continues to deal with pain from his SC joint sprain, but it’s clear that it’s manageable and that Hurts is at or near his normal level of production. It’s also clear that the situation is manageable from both a pain and function level. This would be the hardest week – it’s one week, not two as he had with the bye and potentially the Super Bowl gap. I don’t anticipate a major issue, but Hurts is one big hit or bad fall away from being out. That’s true of any quarterback, so I’m not going to worry too much about the possibility. I’ll focus more on how much better this offense is with Hurts, and I think that Gardner Minshew is a quality NFL quarterback. This is scheme fit and adjustments from both a QB that many doubted and an Eagles coaching staff that many questioned.
Lane Johnson played last week on his severely strained groin and will do it again. I don’t know how he’s moving as well as he is, but there’s no reason to think he can’t do it again. While there’s a chance something more happens and he can’t take the pain, there’s much more chance he does what he did last week and then gets two weeks to figure out how to get through one more game. It’s a big plus to the line and to Hurts, and therefore to the offense. Both of them playing go hand in hand and push the totals.
More NFL Injuries Heading Into The Offseason
Tony Pollard had surgery to fixate his broken ankle and repair his damaged high ankle with Tightrope procedure. He should be ready to run for teams hoping to see the free agent by April … Christian Kirk was a huge signing for the Jags and a playoff knee injury would have taken the shine off that. The knee is sore, but there’s no structural damage and he’ll have a normal off-season with the medical staff keeping a close eye on it ahead of next season … Shaq Griffin had back surgery after Week 8 and missed the rest of the season. HIs rehab is going well and he’s expected to be cleared for OTAs … There’s a lot of questions the Colts have to answer this off-season, but one is will a third surgery get Shaquille Leonard back on the field. There’s some concern he’s played his last, leaving a big hole for the defense that may well be getting a whole new scheme again.