Patriots vs Chiefs: What’s the injury situation for both teams?
What are the most notable injuries heading into Sunday’s AFC Championship Game between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs?
When it comes to the 2018 AFC Championship Game, perhaps the biggest storyline as it relates to personnel concerns the differences between the game-day rosters in Week 6 and this weekend on both teams. The Chiefs and the Patriots are in fairly similar shape health-wise according to the first injury report released Wednesday, as both teams saw the return of key contributors.
New England’s Deatrich Wise Jr. was the only Patriot absent from Sunday’s win over the Los Angeles Chargers, and he remains the only player on the team’s injury report as he continues to nurse an ankle injury. The second-year defensive end returned to the practice field Wednesday, though, and ended up a full participant, which bodes well for his chances of playing in Arrowhead.
Kansas City’s new faces at practice Wednesday were even more encouraging.
Running back Spencer Ware got in a limited session, his first significant work since leaving the Chiefs’ Week 14 win over the Ravens early with a hamstring injury. Veteran back Damien Williams has been running well in Ware’s absence, notching an average of over 5 yards a carry, so it’s not as if the team absolutely needs Ware to return in order to keep their ground game afloat. Still, it couldn’t hurt to have the depth; plus, Ware’s re-integration would presumably keep both backs fresher as the postseason progresses.
Offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif returned from injured reserve and also got in a limited practice session Wednesday. The guard offers Chiefs head coach Andy Reid the flexibility to tinker with his line if he so desires. Even if Reid keeps rookie Andrew Wylie plugged in at right guard, Duvernay-Tardif gives him a veteran contingency plan should the injury bug strike at an inopportune time this week or during the game.
Eight other Chiefs players had their names pop up on the injury report, though seven of them were listed as full participants: cornerback Kendall Fuller, receiver Tyreek Hill, receiver Sammy Watkins, linebacker Anthony Hitchens, safety Jordan Lucas, guard Andrew Wylie, and – surprise! – safety and team captain Eric Berry.
Berry’s status for Sunday’s game has been arguably the biggest injury storyline so far for either team this week. He missed almost all of 2017 and most of 2018 with an Achilles rupture suffered Week 1 last season against the Patriots. His heel has remained troublesome in limited work this season, and he missed last Saturday’s playoff win over the Colts entirely because of the lingering injury.
His full practice participation should be a positive sign that he’ll be on the field for the Chiefs this Sunday. If he is, and assuming he doesn’t encounter any more setbacks, Kansas City should feel more confident about their ability to contain Tom Brady and the Patriots’ passing attack.
Berry is one of the rare players in the NFL capable of slowing down Rob Gronkowski – he has the necessary speed, strength, size, and toughness, a combination of skills most average football defenders don’t possess. Even a diminished Gronkowski still represents a major threat to opposing defenses in the NFL, whether as a pass-catcher or just as a blocker, so Berry’s presence would be huge in nullifying that threat.
As for the rest of the report, Chiefs linebacker Dorian O’Daniel was the only player absent altogether from Wednesday’s practice, as he sat out with an ankle injury. Assuming neither squad sees any practice injuries or player illnesses, we should be looking at a terrific game on Sunday with both teams at or near full strength.
As mentioned earlier, the most significant news regarding roster personnel revolves around guys who are all perfectly healthy, but who either won’t play this weekend, or didn’t play in Week 6 and now will.
In the former category are Kareem Hunt and Josh Gordon. These two players were major stars on offense for the Chiefs and Patriots, respectively, back in Week 6 of the regular season. Fast-forward to the AFC Championship Game, and neither player is even on the active roster, as both were suspended and/or released for off-the-field reasons and face uncertain NFL futures.
The ability to adapt and survive without those stars is part of the reason the Patriots and Chiefs both got to this point.
Damien Williams (and Spencer Ware when he was healthy) shouldered the rushing load for the Chiefs and ensured the team’s high-powered offense didn’t miss a beat in Hunt’s absence. The Patriots never quite found a perfect replacement for Gordon, who represented the team’s best downfield threat and vertical weapon, but increased contributions from Julian Edelman and the team’s three running backs have helped offset some of Gordon’s production at least.
Finally, there is one player who didn’t suit up in Week 6 but who now will absolutely be on the field come Sunday, and that’s linebacker Justin Houston. Houston has been one of the best players on Kansas City’s defense for nearly a decade, and while the sack-master has perhaps slowed a bit over the last few years as he’s aged and battled injuries, he’s still a real threat to Brady and the Patriots’ offensive line.
Whether or not he and the others Chiefs pass-rushers can get to the quarterback on Sunday will surely have a major bearing on which team emerges triumphant and moves on to the Super Bowl. The matchup between Kansas City’s pass rush and New England’s offensive line figures to be one of the most pivotal clashes this weekend.
All in all, these two teams look locked and loaded to do battle, with injuries playing just a minimal part in each team’s preparations for the AFC Championship Game.