It's been fascinating to watch the reaction to Patrick Mahomes' ankle injury. He left last week's game with what looked like it could be a very serious injury, but then returned from the locker room to lead the Chiefs to victory over the Jaguars. He was gimpy, sure, but it couldn't have been that bad if he played through it?
Then came the reports that Mahomes had suffered a high-ankle sprain. Every injury is different, obviously, but that's the kind of injury we typically expect to be accompanied by an absence. At least in the regular season.
There has never really been much question as to whether Mahomes was going to play through this one, but there was still plenty of panic when the initial reports came out, with the line swinging several points in the Bengals favor. Only to swing back the Chiefs direction when Mahomes was cleared to practice Wednesday – and, indeed, he was a full participant in that session.
So, no worries, right? Well, to quote one of my all-time favorite TV shows: "Some worries, man."
Look, we don't know what to expect from Mahomes here. I don't think the Chiefs are sandbagging here, or anything. Mahomes is going to play. However, there's a big difference between, "Able to practice 'in full,'" and, "Able to do every typically superheroic thing you normally can." I'd guess Mahomes is closer to the latter end of the spectrum, and it introduces an unknown – against a defense that has made even a healthy Mahomes uncomfortable at times in three straight losses over the past two seasons.
Mahomes has been the best player in the NFL again this season, with his production barely taking a hit despite the loss of Tyreek Hill. However, the Bengals might have a more complete team around Joe Burrow than the Chiefs have around Mahomes at this point, so any diminishment of Mahomes' greatness could be enough to swing this one.
Or Mahomes could add another chapter to his already historic legacy with a gutsy win. Oh, and then there's that other game going on this weekend – the one between two teams in the 49ers and Eagles who have one loss combined between their two starting quarterbacks.
We have a pretty incredible conference championship weekend ahead of us, and the Fantasy Football Today team has you covered for Sunday's games. On the website, Jamey Eisenberg has his preview for the games, including best and worst players in DFS for every position plus some lineups he'll be playing on both DraftKings and FanDuel for you to consider. And make sure you check back in on CBSSports.com/Fantasy Friday afternoon, because Dave Richard will have his favorite player props for each game on the site.
And on the podcast side, Sia Nejad and Mike McClure previewed the DFS slate on the FFT DFS pod. They give their lineups, picks, stacks, and roster rate projections for the games, and Adam Aizer, Heath Cummings, and Jamey went over their expectations for the games – plus their picks for the top-six tight ends for 2023 – on Thursday's episode of FFT.
And hey, I have some thoughts on the games, too. In today's newsletter, I'm previewing the games from all four sides, focusing on the biggest question for each team heading into this game with a 2023-centric Fantasy spin, plus the latest on the injuries – you know, beyond Mahomes'.
And then … we'll only have one NFL game left this season. I'll take a few weeks off this newsletter once that happens, but don't worry, we'll be here in your inbox all offseason. Because, while your league-mates are tuning out, you're going to be right here, getting a head start on the competition.
49ers at Eagles
This one is strength vs. strength vs. strength vs. strength, with both teams ranking in the top eight in scoring offense and defense. The interesting thing is going to be if the 49ers can keep Brock Purdy upright against an Eagles defense that got 70 sacks this season. Purdy has probably been lucky to avoid turnovers in his past few games, but things could get ugly if his luck turns.
49ers' biggest question: How do they distribute touches?
Since Purdy became QB, the 49ers have been at full strength for three games – their most recent three. In those three games, here is how touches have been distributed:
- Christian McCaffrey: 35 carries, 13 targets
- Elijah Mitchell: 28 carries, three targets
- Deebo Samuel: 19 targets, eight carries
- Brandon Aiyuk: 14 targets
- George Kittle: 13 targets
It's a small sample size, and two of the games were blowouts – one in Week 18 with little to play for – so it's hard to know how much to take from that. However, we're only going to have four or five games of this group playing together to go on heading into next season, and what we've seen so far makes it tough to say whether any of them will be worth the kind of investment they'll all likely require in 2023 drafts. McCaffrey's usage is especially concerning – 10 or fewer carries and/or three or fewer targets in two of three games just isn't going to cut it for the likely No. 1 overall pick.
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Eagles biggest question: Can they get Miles Sanders going?
Sanders had a pretty awesome season, rushing for 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns, but he heads into free agency with plenty of question marks. Are the Eagles going to be willing to give him a market-value contract, given his limitations in the passing game? Can they reasonably expect to replace his production with a cheaper option? My guess is the answer to the latter question is likely, "Yes." And, a big game here (and, potentially in the Super Bowl) might make it more likely he leaves for a big payday somewhere else. That might not be the worst thing for his value.
Injury report: Christian McCaffrey (calf) and Elijah Mitchell (groin) both missed Wednesday and Thursday practice sessions, but both are expected to play, per Kyle Shanahan.
Chiefs at Bengals
How important do we think Mahomes' ankle is? The Chiefs opened as 1.5-point favorites in this one, then the line moved as far as to -2.5 for the Bengals when some concerning reports about Mahomes came out. However, with Mahomes spotted without a walking boot and moving fine this week, it has moved back to Chiefs -1.0. I genuinely don't know what to expect at this point because mobility is a big part of Mahomes' game even if he isn't a huge runner. I'd be a little surprised if the Chiefs opted to lean on the run a bunch in this one, but I would expect to see Jerick McKinnon much more involved than he was last week when he somehow didn't have a target. For those of you playing in DFS, I think McKinnon is probably one of the chalkier plays on the slate, but I'd probably still go with him in my lineup.
Chiefs' biggest question: Do they unleash Kadarius Toney?
I mean, you know, besides Mahomes' ankle, about which we've already written plenty. Toney is going to be one of the most fascinating players to value in drafts this offseason, especially if the Chiefs let either JuJu Smith-Schuster or Marquez Valdes-Scantling walk in free agency. Toney has been very productive whenever he's been on the field, but he just hasn't been on the field much. Even in the divisional round, when he had seven targets and a carry, he played just 20 snaps; that's the second-most he's played since getting to the Chiefs. They clearly like his potential as a playmaker, but not as an every-down player – yet. He's played a similar role to an early-career Hardman, and Hardman has never really emerged as an every-down player. Toney is so talented, but if we make it through the end of this season without him playing 50% of the snaps in any game with the Chiefs, it'll be tough to trust him with a top-100 pick. For what it's worth, I did take him 86th overall in a mock draft we did last week.
Bengals' biggest question: Can Tee Higgins get back on track?
It's been a tough season for Higgins, who managed 1,000 yards for the second season in a row despite missing time with concussions as well as hamstring injuries – he technically played 16 games, but had no catches in two of those games while playing just 10 snaps and one snap. He has one 100-yard game since Week 13, with 35 or fewer in the other six games in that span. He might not be 100% healthy, because that does coincide with his hamstring injury, but Higgins is likely to be a second- or third-round pick next season, and I'd feel a lot better about that if he has one (or even two!) more good games.
Injury report: Hardman (pelvis) remains limited and questionable at this point, while the Bengals have missed Alex Cappa (ankle) and Jonah Williams (knee) at practice both Wednesday and Thursday. They will also be playing without La'El Collins, though the line held up well enough without all three against the Bills last week.