By Sam McPherson
Football is a brutal and violent sport, and no team is 100 percent healthy by the time the NFL playoffs come around every January. So as the Kansas City Chiefs prepare to play the New England Patriots on Saturday in Foxborough, Mass. in the AFC Division Playoff round, it's no surprise they have a few banged-up players.
Of primary concern is wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. His dynamic abilities opened up the Chiefs offense this year as Kansas City is riding an 11-game winning streak currently. However, he suffered a high-ankle sprain in the team's 30-0 playoff win last weekend over the Houston Texans and his status for Saturday's game is up in the air.
Maclin didn't participate in workouts on Wednesday or Thursday in an attempt to rest and recover from the injury. If he is unable to go against the Patriots, the Kansas City offense would miss his big-play ability, and the New England defense would be able to focus more directly on the Chiefs' other offensive stars.
Chances are, Maclin will be a game-time decision on Saturday, and even if he is able to play, the offense may use him primarily as a decoy. Either way, without Maclin at 100 percent, the Kansas City offense will suffer. This is a big blow to the team's game plan.
Another blow would be losing running back Spencer Ware. He, too, has a sprained ankle, although it's not as serious as Maclin's injury. Ware missed practice on Wednesday and was limited in Thursday's team drills. However, the team is confident Ware will be ready to go Saturday and give the team its normal two-back attack along with RB Charcandrick West.
Defensively, the big question for the Chiefs revolves around linebacker Justin Houston. He was limited all week in workouts with a knee problem that sidelined him for the final five games of the regular season. Houston played last weekend against the Texans, registering two solo tackles and one assisted tackle. Hopefully, it's just precaution and nursing Houston back into game form that has kept him from full practice this week, because the Chiefs will need him against a potentially dynamic New England offense that itself is recovering from injuries earlier in the regular season.
Fellow K.C. linebacker Tamba Hali is probable for the game against the Patriots despite sitting out workouts this week with ongoing knee and thumb injuries. If Hali is going to play despite not practicing this week, then hopefully that bodes well for Houston as well. The veterans know the score here, and both want to play.
In the past, the Chiefs defense would have been hurting without both star LBs at full strength, but Kansas City's defense has a lot more weapons now just Hali and Houston. Defensive lineman Allen Bailey had two sacks last week against the Texans, while defensive tackle Jaye Howard added another.
Of course, the Chiefs would prefer everyone at their best and healthiest against the Patriots, but come Week 19 of the NFL season, few teams are going to be afforded such luxury. New England has its own injury issues, and the Kansas City organization is hoping it can ride momentum to a 12th straight win.
Tamba Hali, Linebacker (knee/thumb)
Spencer Ware, Running Back (ankle)
Justin Houston, Linebacker (knee)
Jeremy Maclin, Wide Receiver (ankle)
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.
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