Breaking down the serious injury concerns for both Chiefs and Saints in Week 15.
As the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints prepare to face each other in Week 15, fans could be watching a preview of Super Bowl LV given that both teams are currently positioned among the very top contenders in each conference. The Chiefs are the class of the AFC at 12-1 and sit in the driver’s seat for the first-round bye. The Saints are hoping to keep up with the Green Bay Packers down the stretch for the same reward.
Unfortunately for both teams, serious injury concerns have come up in the days heading into the Week 15 matchup. In fact, even players who are able to suit up and take the field aren’t going to be at full strength. Let’s take a look at some injury concerns for both sides and what it will mean for both teams.
Somehow Drew Brees fractured nearly a dozen ribs and punctured a lung just over a month ago, but he’s somehow already back in the fold this week for the first time in five games. Taysom Hill has been the Saints starting quarterback for the last four games, going 3-1 in the process, and questions lingered over who would start this game early in the week. However, Brees was able to return to practice late in the week for the Saints, and reports made it clear Brees would start.
Brees would not be starting without clear medical checks, but this just feels funny—even uncomfortable—watching a man who is a future Hall of Fame player who could be in the last year of his career going out after such a serious injury. It felt the same way watching Alex Smith back taking hits in the pocket as the starting quarterback for Washington. If the doctors say it is okay, then that’s the only thing that matters, but it’s hard not to picture Saints fans—really, all of us—not wincing the first time Chris Jones lands hard on Brees.
Brees’ health will be something to watch as he readies himself for a full 60 minutes against a Chiefs line that’s tired of the “unproductive” label hanging over their heads.
The Chiefs are already down their starting right tackle in Mitch Schwartz and now their backup is also officially out. That means Yasir Durant is in the spotlight this week as the presumed starting right tackle for K.C. On paper, it’s a neat story of a kid who made good on a rookie free agent deal, put in the hard work, and waited for his turn to arrive. He’s starting a late season game against an NFL powerhouse for the defending champs. That’s gotta be a personal dream come true for Durant.
All personal stories aside, however, Durant also has to do the job given to him, which is a tall order against this Saints pass rush. The Saints are the 7th best team in the NFL at generating pressures against opposing quarterbacks, led by younger rushers Trey Hendrickson and Marcus Davenport along with the consistency of franchise great Cameron Jordan.
The Saints have missed Michael Thomas for most of the season in their offense, so living without one of the NFL’s top receivers is at, at the very least, a familiar obstacle. That said, being without last year’s league-leading receiver is going to hurt any offense, and the Saints are now facing life without Thomas once again after he was declared out earlier this week for Week 15.
Thomas had returned and played over the last six games for the Saints and was rounding into shape quite well, with an average of over 85 yards per game over the last month. Teams have to be able to land equal offensive blows when playing the Chiefs, and the presence of Thomas would go a long way toward making that happen. Now Sean Payton must readjust heading into a big game.
Let’s be clear: there’s more good news here than bad, but Fisher is still a serious injury concern for Week 15. Before this week, Fisher was the offensive line’s steady presence in a season in which the Chiefs offensive line has been a revolving door of new faces in new places. This week, however, the back pain that has plagued other tackles nearly took him out as well.
Back pain, as we all know, is not something that goes away easily. It can be the sort of ongoing concern that changes things dramatically, especially for larger players relying on leverage. Fisher missed two practices this week due to back pain and is considered questionable coming into Sunday’s game.
It’s possible that he doesn’t even play at all, but even when he suits up, eyes are going to be cautiously watching him the whole game wondering if he will be able to hold up for 60 full minutes. If not, the Chiefs will be on their fourth offensive tackle overall covering Patrick Mahomes‘ blind side. Not a good recipe.
The Saints lost Nick Easton last week to a concussion against the Eagles, a troubling injury for a player who has already missed a few weeks due to another concussion earlier this season. This week, he’s remained out for the Saints which means further changes along the offensive line. Fortunately they have Cesar Ruiz able to fill in his place. Given the injury, the Chiefs will get a good look at Ruiz, a player in whom they had rumored interest in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Damien Wilson is one of the Chiefs best tacklers on defense and a force against the run, but this will be his second straight week missed due to a knee injury that has kept him from practicing entirely. The Chiefs will have to hope he can heal for the postseason, while simultaneously leaning on Ben Niemann in the interim.
Niemann went from playing in 29 percent of all defensive snaps in Week 13 to playing 90 percent of them last week in Wilson’s absence. Will Niemann keep earning such a large share of playing time? What about Willie Gay, Jr.? It will be interesting to see if/how the Chiefs adjust given their experience without Wilson now.