Both the Bengals and Chiefs lost wide receivers during the AFC championship game, but the eventual conference champions dealt with more pass-catcher unavailability. The Chiefs finished the game without three of their top four wideouts, with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman and Kadarius Toney sidelined by game’s end.
The Chiefs are unlikely to have their top four each in uniform, but Andy Reid is optimistic Smith-Schuster and Toney will play against the Eagles. However, the 10th-year Chiefs HC added Hardman is unlikely to go (Twitter links via ESPN’s Adam Teicher).
Hardman aggravated his pelvis injury during Kansas City’s 23-20 win. The speedster’s return for the AFC decider marked his first action since Week 9. The Chiefs had placed the contract-year wideout on IR but activated him ahead of Week 18. Hardman still was not ready to go after the team’s bye week, and he played 15 offensive snaps against the Bengals.
Neither Smith-Schuster nor Toney practiced Thursday, though Toney was present for the team’s morning walkthrough. Smith-Schuster is battling a knee injury, while Toney’s latest ailment is an ankle issue. Smith-Schuster, who joins Hardman as a contract-year player, only missed one game this season. He led Chiefs wideouts — by a wide margin — with 78 catches for 933 yards. The ex-Steelers staple will command a deal north of the one-year, $3.76MM pact he signed this year. Though, Smith-Schuster boosted his earnings by hitting incentive standards this season.
Toney has been unable to shake the injury issues that contributed to his New York exit. After battling separate hamstring injuries during his final weeks with the Giants, the former first-round pick suffered another hamstring issue during his initial weeks with the Chiefs. Toney, who has missed 16 games during his two-season career, went down after making a first-half cut against Cincinnati. The new Chiefs gadget player logged just four offensive snaps.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling ended the game as the last man standing, and the ex-Packer delivered his best outing as a Chief. Valdes-Scantling totaled a season-high 116 yards against the Bengals, scoring a touchdown for the second straight week. Given Hardman’s likely absence and Toney’s unreliability, the Chiefs will likely need a similar effort from MVS against the Eagles. Valdes-Scantling signed a three-year, $30MM deal with the Chiefs, doing so shortly after the team traded Tyreek Hill (who added a third All-Pro receiving season to his resume this season). Although barely $8MM of that pact was guaranteed, Valdes-Scantling has a good chance of sticking around in Missouri next season.
Regarding the Chiefs’ other injuries, Patrick Mahomes said he did not aggravate his high ankle sprain in the AFC title game. L’Jarius Sneed remains in concussion protocol, but with the bye week, the third-year cornerback has a better shot of being cleared in time for the Super Bowl. Willie Gay‘s early shoulder tests were encouraging, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (on Twitter).