The Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers have been impacted by the country’s recent surge in COVID-19 cases. The two teams will face off Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium in a game that has playoff implications for both teams.
For the Chiefs, tight end Travis Kelce, receiver Tyreek Hill, kicker Harrison Butker, cornerback Charvarius Ward, linebacker Willie Gay, defensive tackle Chris Jones and receiver Josh Gordon are among the 14 Kansas City players players who were on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list as of Wednesday afternoon. While the NFL‘s updated return-to-play policy has made it possible for vaccinated players to return in time for Sunday’s game, Butker, who is unvaccinated, is out for Sunday’s game, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Elliott Fry, who has attempted just one field goal and two point-after attempts during his regular season career, is in line to replace Butker for Sunday’s game.
Kelce and Hill are integral parts of the Chiefs offense. If they are unable to play in Sunday’s game, quarterback Patrick Mahomes will have to lean more on running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams along with receivers Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle. The Chiefs offense will face a Pittsburgh defense that has struggled against the run but was able to force force four turnovers in last week’s win over the Titans.
The Steelers placed starting inside linebacker Devin Bush, fellow linebacker Marcus Allen and offensive tackle Zach Banner on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday. If Bush and Allen are not cleared to play in time for Sunday, that will lead to more playing time for Robert Spillane and rookie Buddy Johnson, who combined to play in 51% of Pittsburgh’s defensive snaps in last Sunday’s 19-13 win over the Tennessee Titans.
Banner played in just one offensive snap during Sunday’s win over Tennessee. If Banner is not cleared in time to play on Sunday, veteran Joe Haeg would be called to step in in the event that the Steelers suffer an injury to either Dan Moore Jr. or Chukwuma Okorafor.
Sunday’s game is a pivotal contest for both teams. Winners of seven straight games, Kansas City (10-4) is currently leading the field in the race to win the AFC’s top playoff seed. Pittsburgh (7-6-1) likely needs to win two of its final three games in order to earn the AFC’s final playoff spot.