It’s down to the final four! The NFL Conference Championship games are right around the corner. On Sunday, the Eagles will host the 49ers, and the Chiefs will host the Bengals for the rights to advance Super Bowl LVII. With only four teams left, the Conference Championship Injury Report is brief but relevant. Those playing daily fantasy or placing prop bets will benefit from the information below on several key players dealing with an injury.
Eagles vs 49ers
Samuel continues to recover from an ankle injury he sustained in week 14. Samuel played on 60 out of 66 plays in the divisional round, making it unlikely this is a new injury. He missed practice Wednesday, but this is likely just precautionary.
Samuel has already shown that he can put up big numbers after this injury, as he logged 133 receiving yards, a touchdown, and 32 rushing yards in the wild-card round. There is no reason at this time to be concerned with his Conference Championship outlook secondary to injury. We will continue to monitor his status during practice this week.
McCaffrey missed practice Wednesday as he tends to a calf injury that hobbled him last week. McCaffrey’s calf injury is not expected to be severe, and he should play on Sunday.
The calves consist of three muscles, the lateral gastrocnemius, the medial gastrocnemius, and the soleus. These muscles blend to form the Achilles tendon, which attaches to the heel, allowing the ankle to move into plantarflexion (like pressing the gas pedal).
When sprinting and cutting, athletes are almost exclusively in the plantarflexed position (running on the balls of your feet). Therefore, running and cutting asks a lot out of the calf muscles. The calves must activate and create tremendous force during the running cycle. Additionally, the Achilles and calf complex functions similarly to a spring. When the foot lands on the ground, the muscles stretch while absorbing the ground’s forces and recoil to push off the ground and propel forward. This spring-like attribute is impacted when any of the calf muscles or Achilles are injured, which can impact an athlete’s explosiveness.
Explosiveness is a massive part of McCaffrey’s game. It is certainly possible this injury negatively impacts McCaffrey on Sunday. Only 30% of running backs historically meet or exceed their pre-injury fantasy output in the first game after a calf injury. While it is not impossible for Christian McCaffrey to have a nice game, I would expect a slight decline in his productivity due to this injury.
Like his counterpart above, Mitchell missed practice Wednesday. Mitchell, who seems always to be injured, is dealing with a groin (adductor) injury. Reports do not state which leg is injured, but Mitchell has already dealt with two MCL injuries this season. The MCL injuries are relevant if they are on the same leg as the new groin injury. When the MCL is injured, the groin muscles will often lock up to protect the injured area. Even when the MCL has healed, the groin muscles do not always reset and thus can be easily strained. Of course, until we know which leg is injured, that jump can not be made.
Either way, the groin muscles play a large role in stability on one leg. Athletes are constantly on one leg when running, cutting, and jumping. Groin injury recurrence rates are as high as 18%, with rates higher when athletes return to playing within two months of injury.
Despite the groins’ large role in the stability and athletic motions, football is a game played with linear speed and lateral cutting. The lateral cutting is important here. When football players change directions, it is typically the outside foot planting to cut; this does not stress the groin; with this motion, it is the glute muscles that predominately provide stability and power to change directions. Because the groin is less involved in cutting and straight-line sprinting than other muscles, we do not see much decline in fantasy production from running backs when they return from this injury.
Combining the data and anatomical knowledge of Mitchell’s injury with that of his counterpart Christian McCaffrey, it is plausible to see Mitchell take on a more significant role than usual this week.
Chiefs vs Bengals
Mahomes practiced in full on Wednesday after suffering a scary-looking high ankle sprain on Sunday. Mahomes was clearly hobbled in the second half against the Jaguars and is unlikely to be at 100% this week. What is significant here is that this is Mahomes right ankle. As a right-handed quarterback, this is the foot and ankle he drives off of to create power for his throw.
A high ankle sprain occurs when the tibia and fibula bones are separated from one another. Several key ligaments hold these bones together, allowing them to fit snuggly on top of the foot’s talus bone. This allows a rigid foot and ankle to push off when creating power (such as a throw). When a high ankle sprain occurs, the ligaments that hold these bones together become stretched and injured, creating laxity (instability) in the ankle joint. The tibia and fibula bones are no longer fitting snugly on the talus. With less stability, the foot cannot push as hard off the ground, impacting throwing power. Additionally, the pain and swelling that occurs from this injury also affect force generation.
Mahomes can play, but it is unlikely he will be 100%. In addition to this injury impacting his throwing power, Mahomes is special at moving around the pocket and avoiding the pass rush. This injury will certainly hinder his escapability. Kansas City can aggressively tape and brace his ankle to externally create the stability that is lost with this injury, but this does not always work perfectly. Expect fewer deep balls and less mobility from Mahomes this week.
Like his quarterback above, CEH is hopeful of returning from a high ankle sprain and playing this Sunday. CEH has been out since week 11, as his injury was likely more severe than Mahomes. A detailed explanation of the high ankle sprain can be found above with Mahomes.
For a running back, this injury has the potential to impact the ability to cut and change directions and run with power. Fourtneatley, Edward-Helaire has now had 9 weeks to rehab. He is likely to be close to 100% and should not be impacted by this injury.
To much surprise, running backs see absolutely no decline in fantasy production in their first game after this injury.
Hardman practiced in limited fashion on Wednesday as he continues to recover from a sports hernia. Hardman was originally diagnosed with an abdominal injury in week 9, which he apparently suffered a set back from while attempting to return. This injury is now described as a pelvis injury, which is how we know its a sports hernia.
A sports hernia is an injury to the abdominal muscles or groin muscles. Each of these muscle groups attaches to the pelvis, which is why they very often are injured together with a sports hernia. I described this type of injury in great detail using the classic beer can analogy a few weeks ago when explaining Lane Johnson’s injury. This can be seen below.
This is an incredibly challenging injury for a receiver to return from. The surgery is highly effective but would put him out for the rest of the season. I believe that Kansas City is hopeful they can get a few impactful plays a game out of Hardman, but they know that he is not going to be available for the entire game. With this in mind, if Hardman suits up, it will be very risky to play him in DFS or take the over on any prop bets.