Derrick Henry’s injury could alter AFC playoff picture for KC Chiefs

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs the ball in the second quarter at Nissan Stadium Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021 in Nashville, Tenn.Titans Chiefs 115
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs the ball in the second quarter at Nissan Stadium Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021 in Nashville, Tenn.Titans Chiefs 115 /

On Monday morning, the Tennessee Titans received the sort of news that every franchise fears. Star running back Derrick Henry, who has been on a historic run over the last few seasons, could have a season-ending foot injury after the team’s recent comeback win over the Indianapolis Colts.

The collective gasp you heard was the NFL at large, not just the shock and frustration of Titans fans. Henry is a household name at this point and the league’s incumbent rushing leader in each of the past two seasons. Henry could still finish among the best this season with his injury given his present lead in the category. He’s a man among boys at the position who already had 937 yards through 8 games. (That’s nearly 300 yards more than Jonathan Taylor of the Colts in second place.)

Chiefs Kingdom should still have a very fresh vision of what the Titans can do in their minds given that Henry and company just wiped the floor with them in Week 7. The Titans have been on a roll with consecutive wins over the Buffalo Bills, Chiefs, and now Colts. They’re up by three games in their own division (the AFC South)  before the halfway point of the season is even here (remember the regular season goes to 17 games now).

Derrick Henry’s injury could alter the landscape in the AFC.

It’s not that Henry was all that instrumental in the Titans’ win over the Chiefs—at least if you just read the box score. The Chiefs’ run defense did a solid job of limiting Henry to meager yards, and Nick Bolton really showed up to play with multiple tackles for loss in the Titans’ backfield. But the Titans could offensively do what they wanted because of Henry’s presence. The Chiefs (and every other team) have to work so hard to account for Henry that it leaves Ryan Tannehill plenty of time to find his weapons in the play-action game.

Without Henry, the Titans suddenly lose their edge over everyone else and must get by with a solid quarterback and receiving corps. They can still be dangerous, and they’re well-coached by Mike Vrabel. However, defenses would definitely adjust and the Titans wouldn’t loom nearly as large as they did before the injury. It’s akin to the Chiefs losing Tyreek Hill or the Cardinals losing DeAndre Hopkins.

Every week, the AFC continues to look more and more confusing as to who is good and who is great. The Chargers just lost to the Patriots, and the Bengals just lost to the Jets in Week 8, giving us further indication that every competitor is mortal and that the entire conference lacks a single team expected to rise above them all. The Titans were on such a run at present, but if they’re without Henry for a significant amount of time going forward, that narrative is going to change.

For a team like the Chiefs who have taken some big hits early in the loss column, the fact that the AFC is falling apart means the door is more open than it might normally be.

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