NFL Championship Weekend is here, but there are some pretty key injuries that could swing things one way or the other.
Injuries play a big role each week in the outcome of the games. Although the four teams playing for the right to be in the Super Bowl collectively are as healthy as I can remember in recent years, it doesn’t mean some key potential injury issues won’t come into play.
Here are some of the key players and matchups to watch for the Conference Championship round.
AFC Championship – Patriots at Chiefs
New England is as healthy as it has been in recent years. In the previous two seasons they made it to the Super Bowl despite key injuries, including wide receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski. And remember all the doubt about Tom Brady’s thumb last year, which was bent so far back during a new play install that it tore the skin.
This time there is only one player on the injury report and Deatrich Wise, who missed last week with an ankle injury, is full practice and should play.
Of course, Gronkowski has had back and ankle issues all season. He only had one catch on one target last week against the Chargers and has been targeted only six times in the past three games overall. Perhaps the Patriots were saving him for this week, but he clearly has not been moving well over the past month and was often single covered by opponents in December. Buffalo held him without a catch even though he was single covered by an undrafted rookie linebacker in that game.
If the Patriots have simply been trying to preserve Gronkowski, the Chiefs might have been doing the same with Eric Berry with the season-long heel issue. While Berry appears to be healthy enough to play, it all depends on where in the heel he is feeling discomfort, which would then affect his push off power.
At this point, I believe Berry can through the injury or discomfort enough to be effective. If it flares up, it’s something he can fix in the offseason and doesn’t have to miss any action over. The star safety fully practiced and may be able to play after missing last week. If both men are healthy — or healthy enough — Gronkowski vs. Berry could be a fascinating and key matchup.
Kansas City seems to be getting good news elsewhere as well. Despite concerns about Patrick Mahomes’ knee — he limped some during the game — the star quarterback is not on the injury report. Guard Dr. Laurent Duverney-Tardiff has been activated from injured reserve for his fibula fracture and might play. Running back Spencer Ware was limited with his hamstring but Damien Williams has proved to be a capable replacement for Kareem Hunt and Ware still may be there as insurance.