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ProFootballDoc: How Will Injuries Impact NFL Conference Championships?

We said unequivocally early this week that Patrick Mahomes would be properly cleared ahead of Sunday’s game, but that occurred even more quickly than we expected. Whether Mahomes had a concussion has still not been announced, but the circumstantial evidence indicates he likely did not. Mahomes was initially listed as full practice on Wednesday, and he took all snaps. It’s unheard of for a player to be full go in his first practice after head injury.

Aside from his ability to practice, we have several other indications that Mahomes did not have a concussion and may play safely on Sunday. Mahomes was available to the media right after Friday practice, which indicates he was cleared before he even took the field. Players in concussion protocol are not allowed to be interviewed.

Independent neurologists also don’t visit facilities or attend practices so that they may maintain their neutral status. Players are typically sent to the office of the jointly NFL/NFLPA-appointed neuro physician for final clearance, once the team doctor is sure the player has progressed through the five stages of recovery. Mahomes seems to have completed this step before practice on Saturday.

It is notable that teammate Bashaud Breeland, who seemed to have a documented concussion, was never listed as full practice at any point this week and is still listed as questionable, which is typical. Players are typically set for final clearance on Friday or Saturday after logging a full practice, but Mahomes has been practicing fully since Wednesday.

The bottom line is Mahomes will play on Sunday, and his turf toe will be a minimal factor, thanks to tape, a steel plate and/or an injection. If my theory of carotid sinus/vagus nerve stimulation is correct, then Mahomes has no higher chance of re-injury. However, if he had a concussion, he is at greater risk for second impact syndrome if hit again. 

Here is the full breakdown of all injuries for the AFC and NFC Championship Games.

Even with Mahomes cleared, the Chiefs are the most injured team left in the playoffs.

By contrast, the Bills are the healthiest team left in the playoffs. Yes, Zach Moss is out with ankle surgery and DT Vernon Butler is questionable with a quad, but not much else. WR Gabriel Davis is also questionable with an ankle, but Cole Beasley and Stefon Diggs have no injury designation and will play for sure, putting the Bills at near full strength.

Even with Mahomes playing and his turf toe issue minimized, the Chiefs’ offense still faces some challenges. They have started a dozen different offensive linemen this season and are down two of the original five starters. Kelechi Osemele and Mitchell Schwartz are out. Both running backs are also questionable. Clyde Edwards-Helaire seems poised to return, though perhaps not at full strength, while Le’Veon Bell seems likely to miss with a knee issue. Sammy Watkins is questionable with his calf. On the defense, linebacker Willie Gay is out with his ankle, and two depth corners are questionable, the aforementioned Breeland and Rashad Fenton (ankle).

By the Injury Index grades, the Bills should prevail. The question will be whether a mostly healthy Mahomes can get it done like he usually does. Whatever the outcome, it should be a great offensive display to watch.

Packers healthier than Bucs

The Packers are the second healthiest team. Offensively, their only issue is at left tackle, and they have adjusted well to the loss of David Bakhtiari. Even third running back AJ Dillion has been cleared with his quad contusion, as we expected. Defensively, their only issue is CB Kenny King, who missed practice with a back issue, but that may have been precautionary rest. 

The Bucs will be without Antonio Brown, but Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson are poised to fill in for him. Ronald Jones should also reassume the lead back role from Leonard Fournette, but guard Alex Cappa is out for the season with an ankle fracture. On defense, Antoine Winfield, Jr. has missed practice with an ankle, but he should play. Vita Vea has been reactivated after an October ankle fracture dislocation, but with only one week of practice, he will likely be limited, even if he dresses.

The Packers should prevail, but given the healthy defenses on both sides, the score might be tighter and lower than some think.

For all the latest injury updates for the NFL conference championships this Sunday, head to www.profootballdoc.com. The injury info we provide can make the difference on in-game wagers, especially when a player like Mahomes goes down. The first definitive statement anywhere that Mahomes would not return last week came from a free site based on our insider knowledge of the evaluation protocols. Hopefully, there is no need to go to the site during either game Sunday, but we will be ready if there is.

Written by Pro Football Doc

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

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