Antonio Brown injury could change entire AFC landscape

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 17: Antonio Brown /

Depending on the severity of Antonio Brown’s injury, the entire AFC power landscape might have shifted in the process, which is good news for the Chiefs.

There’s not a single player or coach or staff member associated with the Kansas City Chiefs—or any other team, for that matter—who would tell you they are glad to see a player injured. Every team says the right thing, which is something akin to, “We want to play every team at their absolute best.” Generally they will add more about the spirit of competition and the pride of playing and potentially beating the best.

However, there’s a reality to the attrition that happens during the course of an NFL season. The rest of the AFC West have likely enjoyed a closer race this season due to Eric Berry’s season-ending injury. Aaron Rodgers’ injury changed the NFC North race completely. Oftentimes, the team left standing at or near the end is the one who just happened to be the luckiest (or those who employed the best training and medical staff).

When the news of Antonio Brown’s injury spread on Sunday, a social wildfire that made everyone shake their heads at the potentially tremendous loss, the first response is all about the horror of the moment. Prayers are said. Well-wishes are expressed.

It’s not only a loss for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Brown’s injury is bad for the NFL. Brown is, after all, the single best wide receiver in the game in one of the league’s best offenses on a team that has been a powerhouse at several points throughout NFL history.

In short, it’s good business for the Steelers to be the Steelers.

Depending on Brown’s injury, however, the league, or at least the rest of the AFC, will have to face the reality of a crippled favorite. The Steelers are, after all, one of two darlings in the AFC. After the Chiefs faded from grace and their 5-0 start, the teams left standing in the AFC’s top tier were the obvious ones who are typically in place every season in this generation: the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Without Antonio Brown, however, half of that goes out the window. The Chiefs nearly beat the Steelers if not for a pass that bounced off of a player’s helmet into the arms of Brown for a fluke touchdown in the first place. Without Brown in the line-up, a defensive coordinator’s game plan will completely change. Le’Veon Bell will suddenly face more players in the box. Other receivers will face better pass defenders. Ben Roethlisberger will have to build trust with other pass catchers in clutch situations.

Early reports  says he could be back for the postseason, but even then, how ready will be be? Fortunately the Steelers should have an extra week of rest known as a first round bye, but would it surprise anyone if Brown isn’t able to come back as expected. Depending on the severity of the tear, Brown might be pushing to try to come back in time to play the Steelers’ first postseason game at least.

It’s not that the Steelers cannot be the Steelers without Antonio Brown. It’s just that the line between them and third or fourth best team in the conference is suddenly a blurred line, especially when combined with the season-ending loss of linebacker Ryan Shazier. Take away two of the team’s  most dynamic playmakers, one on each side of the ball, and the shadow cast by the Steelers doesn’t loom like normal. The nerves aren’t as worked up. The path to the Super Bowl feels a bit more realistic.

This is all true for the Chiefs, a franchise who once seemed like a new gatekeeper at the top just 9 weeks ago. Now on a two-game losing streak, the Chiefs are again ascending a ladder of hope to not just make the postseason but to earn some wins in the process. A home game at least for one round seems like a near-reality. A winning streak cannot be that far behind.

For the Chiefs, both offensive and defensive units are starting to fire on all cylinders after consecutive wins to cement their position atop the AFC West. They’ve shown, once again, they can take care of a certain tier of team. That bodes well for at least the first round of the playoffs, where they might play the likes of the Buffalo Bills or Baltimore Ravens. If the Steelers will be Brown-less for a while, taking things to the next level might not take as much as previously believed for K.C.